In reading history, I have issues in applying the boundaries of modern states into the past, in times before modern states were established. While history is indeed continuous in nature unless we are referring to the beginning of time itself, the act of applying modern boundaries into the past before establishment of modern states knowingly falsely assumes that these states existed long before its establishment date. With respect to Malaysian history for example, there are those that take everything that occurs within modern Malaysian states as Malaysian history while those occurring outside Malaysian boundary as someone else’s. If one wishes to understand history, such perspective restricts overall comprehension of history.
In Malaysia, there are those that assert Malaysian history begins with Malacca. I opine that this is done to legitimize the position of those in power through religion. Like what been written earlier, history is continuous and Malaysian history is no exception. It is improper to assume that Malaysian history began at the beginning of the 15th century. For an event to occur, there must be a background, or a precursor, to it and that precursor for Malacca is the decline of Srivijaya, just as how the background for the establishment of Malaysia is everything related that occurred in that past, be it Sulu, Brunei, Langkasuka, Srivijaya, Chi Tu, Johor, Negeri Sembilan and the other modern states of Malaysia, etc.
While I have addressed how the time barrier placed on Malaysian history is a form of denial, I have yet to address how modern boundaries — within our context, Malaysia — are irrelevant in the distance past. As much as history is continuous in time, it is continuous in space as well. This is the purpose of the post.
The idea that Malaysian history is confined within the border of modern Malaysian border is acceptable to as far as the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in 1824 or maybe slightly earlier in the 19th century. History of this region only officially developed separately after that. Prior to the understanding between the Dutch and the British brought in part of the result of the Napoleonic War in Europe, history of the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, and to some extend part of Borneo and Java, mostly moved on hand in hand, at one point of time or another. Our society, we, in the past, especially before 1824, were a society unbounded by the boundaries of modern nation states.
During the era of Srivijaya, the commonality occurred close to a thousand years. And indeed, during Malacca, the history of the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra was one of the same. Whatever happened to these powers affected the timeline of Malaysian history. Srivijaya was part of Malaysian history as much as Malacca; Malacca was part of Indonesian history as much as Srivijaya. On Borneo. the history of the Sulu belong to both Malaysia and the Phillipines. This history of Brunei is part of Sarawak and Sabah’s history and vice versa as well.
Our history, Malaysian history, cannot be taken in isolation. Malaysian history itself occurred within and without the modern boundary of our federation. What happened within the boundary of the modern states of Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines in the past may be part of our history as well simply because our history is a history of trade. It is a story of interaction among us, our neighbors and strangers from afar. A substantial amount of history, especially before 1824, is shared.
If we insist that events occurred outside the boundary of modern Malaysia are not part of our history, we are denying part of ourselves. Reading history in isolation might be tantamount to living inside a box, being simply unable to see the big picture.