Intermarriage is a very common phenomenon in our Malaysian plural society.
In fact, long before former premier Najib’s ‘One Malaysia’ concept, our society had started practising racial bonding and fusion, and the various intermarriages becoming one very instrumental item in such matter.
It has led Sarawak to be the leading example and role model of racial integration.
I don’t have to go far but just confining myself to Saratok, my hometown whose lingua franca is Iban. Even in my former school Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Saratok that I had the privilege to serve for a while as its principal, Iban was the main language — resulting in low usage and many a time poor command of English and Bahasa Melayu (BM) among Iban students.
As a prelude to intermarriages between the dominant Iban and their Malay or Chinese neighbours, these three dominant groups had been friends since time immemorial. For that matter, Saratok Chinese traders need the other two ethnic groups as customers to sustain their trading ventures. In the 50s and 60s, Iban customers would stay a night or two at the loft of shops for free as there was no road connectivity like now.
Intermarriages in the district in the 50s were not so common but more were to come later, starting from the 60s and beyond, especially among former schoolmates. Education brought a lot of changes to the mindsets. Many Saratok friends and relatives are also happily married to those outside the district, including to foreigners.
Strangely my first teen crush was half Indian, then a rare breed in Saratok.
We first met during one Christmas Eve dinner hosted by my uncle and auntie, both
The girl’s mom was Iban while her father was an Indian teacher from West Malaysia. When we met again the following year, she was in Form Two while my poor self just entered the same school in Form One but we remained close friends for another year as she left the school to follow her parents who transferred to Kuching. End of our story.
During my five years in the school, I had two Chinese girlfriends — both of them speaking fluent Iban, perhaps better than some city Iban kids. But our affairs ended in the school too. Perhaps my destiny was not to end up in intermarriage.
Though during Form Six days in town school and later during my four years in varsity, there were close unions with girls of Chinese, Indian and Malay origins, and even a Korean girl. None stuck longer than half a year.
These bonds were all thanks to my engagements in music and the arts, including painting, drawing and photography.
In my immediate family, I have a niece who is happily married to a Simanggang Malay and a first cousin who is married to an Indian from Johor.
Both marriages have produced good-looking children. There is a cousin whose wife is an Orang Ulu and few cousins whose husbands are Indians, including one coming all the way from Benares (aka Varanasi), India. These marriages have thrived through the tests of time.
All the Indian husbands, including the Benares native, speak fluent Iban.
One of them, formerly from Seremban, who was the closest to me, passed on in 2004, aged 55. The children are more Indian than Iban, but they speak not a word of Malayalam.
Through schools and tertiary institutions, we have been exposed to the multi-racial and multi-cultural facets and fabrics of our society and as such, have learnt to accept pluralism as ours to embrace.
Over the years, I had the privilege to be an emcee for holy matrimonies between couples of mixed marriages. These included unions of Iban-Dayak Selako, Iban-Kadazan while one intermarriage was between a groom of mixed parentage (Iban father and Indian-Iban mom) whose bride was Iban Remun. So these mixed marriages are very common nowadays, thanks to open-minded Malaysian society, especially in Sarawak.
In Saratok I have a cousin, fondly called Ujang, who has been married to a Filipina for nearly three decades. Their eldest son has graduated from a local university.
Ujang’s elder sister Caroline is happily settled down in Glasgow, Scotland with her English husband and two children, one of whom is a medical doctor.
Despite it having been said zillions of times in the immediate and distant past, love is truly blind to the colours of our skin and many other items.
Love is patient, kind, does not envy or boast, not arrogant or rude, does not insist on its own way, not irritable or resentful.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.