In Part 3 of a series, Sinjoro Eng talks about unity versus culture.
“How many ethnic tribes are there in Malaysia?”
If you were asked this question, what would be your answer ?
Three decades ago, you might positively get this reply:
Perhaps, you might get :
“Many — I don’t how many.”
Of late, you could hear people adding Iban and Kadazan-Dusun to the list of languages in Malaysia.
For years, I have been searching for this answer too. Malaysians are not able to tell the world how many ethnic tribes are living together in Malaysia like Chinese can, for instance. (‘ We have 56 ethnic tribes in China.’) The Vietnamese are also able to tell you that there are 54 ethnic tribes in Vietnam. Even the Indonesians can tell you there are more than 600 ethnic tribes in their country.
I tried hard to search for such data after years of missing out the report in The Star which reported that there are 214 ethnic tribes in Malaysia. The report was deleted from the The Star news portal not long after it was published.
What is the population censorship board doing ? After 13 general elections, we still cannot complete documenting the different ethnicities in Malaysia. But instead conducting this census properly, the authority is damping everything together in the name of ‘unity’.
Many Malaysians who support this form of assimilation have even suggested via political parties that we erase all the ethnic tribes options in the application forms and just put in one word: ‘Malaysian’.
I believe that if Malaysia takes that path, it will be a big mistake. All the races will as good as be wiped out from this earth. At least one hundred languages will be killed with this silly form of ‘unity’.
What I worry about more is how long would it take for the Orang Asli languages to be forgotten, not only by their respective children, but also the world.
In Malaysia, we have many NGOs but there is not a single NGO which looks into the extinction of languages, or in more simple terms, study the death of languages. There are animal rescue teams but the language and culture of the people is apparently worth less than the life of a cat or a dog.
Is there a way that we can live in ‘unity’ without killing any one language off in the process of nation building ?
Are the Selatar people still able to speak their language after this short film was made?
Though I do not totally agree with the talk, however, it is worth a watch.
Featured image is of Taiwan’s indigenous Bunun tribe by Ralph Repo on flickr.