Connexion: Lesson for voters from 300,000-year-old artefacts

By Joachim Ng 

For a lesson in multi-ethnic inclusive politics, hop on a bus in Taiping and ride 73 km northeast to Lenggong Valley. Before doing so, find out whether the Lenggong Archaeological Museum is open to visitors and the site reachable by vehicle. Despite Lenggong being recognised by Unesco as one of the world’s top prehistoric discoveries, few Malaysians have visited it and fewer have learnt to draw political lessons from it.

If you have never heard of Lenggong, or have heard of it but have no desire to visit it, that’s because Lenggong is not situated in Europe. A large Stone Age settlement anywhere in Europe would draw a million visitors a year from around the world. In Malaysia, there is no sense of prehistory and no one seems keen to develop this exotic valley so that it can be placed in the world listing of 25 top-rated tourist destinations.

The museum and caves in the valley display abundant prehistoric artefacts just outside your door, so to speak. Most important is the complete human skeleton of a homo sapiens who lived 10,000-11,000 years ago. Named the Perak Man, he was probably an ancestor of the Orang Asli tribes who were the first homo sapiens communities in Peninsular Malaysia.

UCSI professor of architecture Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi commented last month that “the hated word pendatang (immigrant) has been thrown about by one race against all others by none other than parliamentarians and even opportunist academics that have created a quagmire of mistrust and hatred among the people of this country.”

The professor said “the politics of original inhabitants and immigrants fall apart in the face of the 10,000-year history of the Perak Man and his tribes and families after that,” adding that the “politics of who came here first and who was here the longest should no longer be relevant as an issue.”

The word pendatang has no value because every Malaysian can be classified as one. Even the ancient Perak Man’s ancestors had trekked to Malaysia by following the trails along the coasts of Myanmar and Thailand. So Perak Man was also a pendatang.

Artefacts from prehistoric settlements in Lenggong’s Bukit Jawa and Kota Tampan are respectively believed to be 300,000 years old and 75,000 years old. But tribes of homo sapiens left East Africa on a long migration to Asia and Europe less than 100,000 years ago, and the ancestors of Orang Asli reached Malaysia only some 50,000 years ago.

So the people who left behind these 300,000- and 75,000-year-old artefacts must have been an ancient race of human beings known as Denisovans. Although they became extinct, Denisovans would likely have intermarried with Orang Asli settlers in the peninsula and hence are still with us.

Denisovans were earlier thought to be a separate species from homo sapiens humans. However, later research findings show that indigenous tribal Asians carry Denisovan genes which means there was intermarriage. Species classification is based on the inability of two organisms to produce offspring together. Since Denisovans and homo sapiens can intermarry and produce offspring, they are not two species but two connected races.

What does this mean for the Malays, Chinese, Indians, East Malaysian bumiputras, and Others? It means that we are not separate races but separate ethnic communities. Should we call each other pendatang when even Perak Man 10,000-11,000 years ago was himself a pendatang? The Denisovans were also pendatang, for they originated from East Africa. So only the indigenous people of East Africa are non-pendatang.

Homo sapiens or modern humans cannot be divided into races, although politicians insist on doing so. Nor should they be divided by any kind of politically created barriers. Politics and governance should be inclusive, and Datuk Seri Saarani Mohamad as Mentri Besar has set the pace for a necessary partnership of leaders who are keen to work for the welfare of all residents in Perak.

At the start of the year, Datuk Seri Saarani who is with Barisan Nasional officiated at an event hosted by the state DAP. Two years earlier, Datuk Seri Saarani had announced an equal allocation of RM200,000 for all 59 state assemblymen regardless of their party affiliations.

One year later, Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad also announced that all 56 assemblymen in the state would each receive RM200,000 and an additional RM50,000 to organise community programmes during the four major festivals. Last February, Datuk Hasni had declared that there is no room in Johor for race-based politics and that “there should not be any attempts to allow Johor to be governed by only one race.”

Perak and Johor are leading the way to a better Malaysia with inclusive governance. The push is coming from the Sultans of Perak and Johor wo want a less confrontational political culture.

In fact, the entire political structure of Malaysia should follow the common-sense logic that since all MPs and state assemblymen are elected by the people, get salaries drawn from public taxes, and enjoy pensions, there should be no such term as “the opposition” as a bloc of rival legislators. This label is divisive.

All representatives should feel equally bound to support what is right and oppose what is wrong. Instead, we have legislators who define right and wrong as “my party is right, and your party is wrong.” This is the false morality of party politics. It cannot and will never produce good governance, because the incriminating factor is loyalty to “my party, right or wrong” — not alignment to what’s right and rejection of what’s wrong.

The alignment to the party carries even worse consequences if it is based on narrow ethnic or religious considerations. Political analyst Lim Teck Ghee has been urging all communal-based parties to dissolve and merge with other communal-based parties to form single multiracial parties. This would require Umno-MCA-MIC to merge into one, and likewise with DAP-PKR-Amanah.

Lim took his cue from one of Perak’s greatest statesmen Dato Panglima Bukit Gantang Datuk Seri Abdul Wahab, who has a road near St Michael’s Institution named after him. In the 1950s Dato Panglima formed the non-communal political grouping National Association of Perak that comprised people of different races to promote non-communal politics in Perak and throughout the nation. Unfortunately, few shared his vision.

Three months ago, on the occasion of our 65th National Day and 59th Malaysia Day, another great son of Perak Tan Sri Dato Seri Jeffrey Cheah in a call for broad inclusivity wrote that our political system should be collaborative in addition to being competitive and that the focus should be on policies and not politics.

On Nov 19, may all voters remember the long trail from East Africa that brought us to where we are today. We share this land as one race — homo sapiens.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ipoh Echo

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