When our politicians keep shouting “Bangsa Melayu, Bangsa India, Bangsa Cina” (M-I-C) you may hear eerie protests from the ancient bones in Lenggong Valley. Some distance north of Taiping, this abandoned valley spells hope for the unlikely dawn of non-racial politics in Malaysia.
Shunned for its lack of glitter, Lenggong is a world archaeological diamond at our feet. Evidence has long been unearthed that the sediments at Sungai Perak running through the valley were used as a base for making stone tools as far as 100,000 years back.
But the Orang Asli first stepped foot in Malaysia only 50,000 years ago. Who were in Peninsular Malaysia before the Orang Asli came? Very likely Denisovans, an extinct breed of earlier humans labelled as a species apart from Sapiens (the species name for living humanity). Neanderthals, another extinct breed also labelled as a separate species of humans, populated Europe before the arrival of Sapiens in that region.
Compared to the Denisovans of 100,000 years ago and the Orang Asli of 50,000 years ago, the big ethnic clusters in Peninsular Malaysia are recent arrivals dating from 5,000 years ago. Some came only yesterday or the century before. However, in our racial obsession with M-I-C we usually skip over the Orang Asli. But now we have possible Denisovan ancestry to think about.
What Lenggong Valley tells us is that Malaysia is a great place to settle in, and there is no “first race” because we don’t know who came before the Denisovans. Also, there is no “last race” because new arrivals are constantly reaching our shores.
More importantly, we should rethink our usage of the word “race”: are the Malays, Indians, and Chinese three races? A continuing debate among scientists is whether racial labelling has any genuine biological foundation or is it a manufactured political play. The debate has livened up with confirmation that Sapiens, Denisovans, and Neanderthals intermarried and produced healthy virile offspring. It may be that all humans living today carry traces of Denisovan or Neanderthal genes or both, in addition to being Sapiens.
How can three species mix and produce virile offspring? If they can, what does the boundary term “species” mean? Hence the question: are Sapiens, Denisovans, and Neanderthals three species or three races of humans? If they are races and not species, then the Malays, Indians, and Chinese are large ethnic clusters and not races. Confirmed.
The more inter-connectedness we see, the less divisiveness there will be and the faster we abandon the need to justify our communal self-importance.