So Aunty, So What?

Published: Wednesday August 26, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday August 26, 2015 MYT 7:53:35 AM

Empower our symbols of unity

But apart from the flag and anthem, do we even know what these symbols are?

OVER dinner, I confessed I had yet to hang out the flag at my house for Merdeka this year. Angry young woman at the table sarcastically said: “Why, you supporting the Govern­ment ah?”

Oh dear me, here’s yet another misguided citizen who thinks the national flag belongs to the ruling party.

I immediately corrected her: The flag is a national symbol of our sovereign state and it belongs to all citizens. Just because the Government flies it the most at its buildings, on street lamps during important G2G meetings and official visits by state leaders, it doesn’t mean the Jalur Gemilang is government property.

Unfortunately, this young lady is not alone. Two years ago, a colleague was equally stumped when his neighbour made a similar remark about the flag as a government propa­ganda tool and he wasn’t even as angry as many Malaysians seem to be these days.

My curiosity piqued, I asked my young lady diner if she could name our other national symbols; which animal (she couldn’t), bird (she made a lucky guess), flower (she got it right on second attempt after Rafflesia) and fruit (“Durian!” she exclaimed confidently and wrongly.)

When I told her the animal was the Malayan tiger, she was gobsmacked. “But isn’t it some bank’s logo?” she asked.

The bird is the distinctive rhino­ceros hornbill, native to Sabah and Sarawak, and the flower is the hibiscus rosa sinensis, which is not native to our land. According to Muzium Negara, the flower originated from China and was brought to our shores by traders in the 12th century. Sinensis means “Chinese” and is colloquially known as “China rose”.

Well, this “immigrant” bright red flower truly bloomed on Malayan soil. It grew abundantly everywhere, which was the very reason it was chosen as the national flower in 1960 by our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman.

I like to think Tunku and other leaders also wanted the hibiscus rosa sinensis because it represented the many Malayans who came as immigrants, took root and prospered on this soil. We had that kind of inclusive leadership then. But if we were choosing a national flower in today’s racially bigoted political climate, would a species with a name like China rose have a ghost of a chance to be adopted?

As for our national fruit, we may be totally in love with the magnificent durian but the king of fruits is displaced by the humble ... papaya.

I couldn’t find any information online as to why it was the chosen fruit but it’s another hardy immigrant we have embraced: the papaya is from Central America.

To be fair to the young lady I quizzed, I didn’t know about the papaya’s national standing either. And I had plain forgotten the national motto, Bersekutu Bertam­bah Mutu, which is on the national crest that was adopted in 1965. It is traditionally translated to mean “Unity Is Strength” even though the words don’t quite match up.

Now, 58 years after independence and 50 years since the birth of Malaysia, we are more than ever in dire need of unity in order to have the strength to beat down extremists, racists and bigots.

I strongly believe a distinction must be made between our national motto and government slogans like “Kepimpinan Melalui Teladan” (Leadership by Example) and “Bersih, Cekap dan Amanah” (Clean, Efficient and Trustworthy) during the Mahathir era and “Rakyat Didahulukan, Pencapaian Diutamakan” (People First, Performance Now) introduced by the Najib administration.

These catchy phrases indeed belong to the government of the day; they are the mission statements for elected leaders, ministers and civil servants to uphold, not the citizens.

What we citizens should uphold and protect is our national motto, Unity Is Strength. That’s why it’s our right and responsibility to tell off divisive leaders who come up with cockamamie ideas like an IT mall for just one race without any proof of concept.

It’s also unnecessary to have new slogans for different years to mark Merdeka. The ridiculous and petty squabble between the Federal and Penang state governments over differing slogans underscores this point. Just promote and reinforce Unity Is Strength until it’s second nature to us.

Likewise, the other symbols should be glorified so that the moment we see any image of the Malayan tiger, we think of our country and not that bank. Look at how the American bald eagle has become a proud US icon for patriotism.

A bit of commercialisation of Merdeka and Malaysia Days, similar to our key festivals, could help the process along. Why can’t malls sell majestic tiger and colourful hornbill soft toys, key chains, badges and other collectibles in the run-up to Merdeka? Why doesn’t the Federal Agricultural and Marketing Authority (Fama) issue or subsidise stickers for papayas to remind people and tourists this is our national fruit?

In the 1960s and 70s, neighbourhoods were replete with hibiscus shrubs. Instead of fancy palm trees and other ornamental plants, why don’t local councils encourage its revival by getting housing developers and residents to plant the bunga raya?

There’s a lesson to be remembered in how one national icon was built: Masjid Negara, the national mosque, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It was beautifully designed with uniquely Malaysian elements – umbrella motifs instead of the stereotypical dome – and funded from donations from all races.

When it was officially open, people from all faiths came by the thousands to visit and celebrate its completion. Malayans responded to such an initiative because they could see and feel the sincerity and inclusiveness of their leadership. All we ask for as Malaysians today is a return to that same sincere, truly multi­racial leadership.

Happy Merdeka and Malaysia Day!

Aunty agrees with socio-cultural adviser to the Government Tan Sri Dr Rais Yatim that Bersih rally ­supporters should wave the Jalur Gemilang to show their patriotism and so should she even if it’s on a wristband. Feedback to The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: national symbols, patriotism, unity

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