HISTORY – his story, my story, your story, their story
By:M Rajah
Date:

History is a tool used by politicians to justify their intentions.

Ted Koppel, British-American broadcaster

Almost anything in Malaysia can be turned into a controversy and send one rushing to the police station to lodge police reports. Makes me wonder whether this young country of ours is on the right track, or is it headed in the wrong direction?

We are so used to controversies and polemics over race and religion that we have learned to live with it. Even a neighbour keeping dogs as pets can be an issue. No joke!

Be prepared for an even greater joke; history or rather historical facts too can be an issue these days. Laughable? Indeed it is!

Recently, historian and former Sarawak Museum director Datuk Dr Sanib Said revealed that Sarawak is the second oldest Malay state in the world after Kedah.

He quoted research findings that showed Sarawak, previously known as Santubong, had existed round 300 BC while Kedah – the oldest Malay state – existed around 500 BC.

You would have thought the matter would end there. No, a politician decided to question his methodology and this slighted the historian, prompting him to lodge a police report last week.

“I found his (PBDSB politician Andrew Bugie Ipang) statement has shamed me as a credible historian. He has questioned my eligibility to do research and write about Sarawak …,” he said.

Andrew had questioned Sanib’s claim that Sarawak was previously known as Santubong, arguing that human remains in Santubong should undergo DNA and radio carbon dating tests to determine the ethnicity of the remains and their estimated date of existence.

The opposition politician advised historians not to make claims unsubstantiated by scientific proof which would disrupt racial harmony and unity.

PBDSB president Bobby William further escalated the issue by countering with his own police report claiming the historian had allegedly incited racial tensions by showing several racially provocative placards outside the Kuching central police station.

Bobby also alleged in his report Sanib was misleading Sarawakians with distorted facts.

Even netizens have joined the bandwagon!

Now, things seem to be getting out of hand when there are more important things in this country that needs urgent attention – and history appears to be the ‘victim’ here.

What is history? It can generally be taken to mean everything that happened in the past. But believe me,  this is not a clear definition because, until one invents a time machine, one cannot know everything that had happened in the past.

So, a more acceptable definition, I think, is this (which I googled): “History is the written record of what happened in the past or put another way, history is what historians write.”

If you asked me, I would say history is always ‘evolving’. It’s not stagnant. English fiction writer E.M. Forester puts it aptly when he said, “History develops, art stands still.”

Evidence can be fragmentary, incomplete, and contradictory. Hence, the reason for historians to re-examine new facts and information.

Take Malacca historical figure Hang Tuan and his four comrades who served under Sultan Mansur Shah in the 15th century as an example. For centuries, Hang Tuah, in particular, was touted as a Malay warrior.

However, a team of scientists discovered the remains of Hang Tuah and conducted DNA testing. The findings came as a shock to all in Malaysia,  Hang Tuah was a Chinese from mainland China!

All of a sudden, Hang Tuah appears to have disappeared from our history. Anyway, what I am driving at is that we should not look up to historical facts as “the whole truth nothing but the truth”. History changes with the times.

Let me quote something that I found on the internet: “Historians know that all sources, even those original to a particular historical time period, have some biases, omissions, contradictions, or various other limitations. That does not mean that such sources are completely invalid and useless; rather it means that historians have to know and study much to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of different sources.

“Historians who write history emphasise the value of primary sources, that is those sources

actually dating from a particular time period, while understanding the limitations of such sources.

“They must work to recognise the difference between facts and interpretations in their field.”

Personally, I feel history in this country was written by foreigners and therefore, should be rewritten from a local perspective.

For example is it accurate to say Penang was discovered by Sir Francis Light, or Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles, or America by Christopher Columbus when the natives have been staying in these states for centuries? Come on-lah!

I hope the ongoing issue involving Sanib and politicians –netizens included – will be put to rest. Of course, vested groups are free to hire their own historians to conduct comprehensive researches to come out with new findings. 

Please understand that history is all abouthis story, my story, your story and their story!

I will conclude with a quote from19th century French historian Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges: “History is and should be a science … History is not the accumulation of events of every kind which happened in the past. It is the science of human societies.”

New Sarawak Tribune e-Paper

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