A nation is not a state and vice versa, unless a nation-state is in the equation. Many however do not comprehend the difference between the two concepts. The comprehension of the difference is crucial in understanding why Malaysia as a state and a nation is not 50 years old come this August 31.

There can be no confusion that on a federated state — Malaysia — was formed on September 16 1963. The accumulation of thousands of years of history converged at that one point to allow us to live in Malaysia. It is true that the new state that is Malaysia inherits the institutions of the previous states but just as Russia is not Soviet Union, the state of Malaysia is not the state of Malaya. This historical fact alone insists that Malaysia is almost 44 years old when history remembers the 50th anniversary of a free Malaya.

The idea of state is very straight forward, unlike the concept of nation. The term nation is so vague that its beginning is open to interpretation. So, when an UMNO member from Tambun says that Malaysia as a nation is older than 50 years, he is not at all wrong. His opinion is of course dependent on an assumption that the Malaysian nation is really a Malay nation. This is not new. During a recent debate on Bangsa Malaysia, the chief minister of Johor believes that a Malaysian nation is a nation spearheaded by the Malays.

Throw away the political explosive and the emotional debate, rationally under this assumption a Malay nation would originate as far back as between the second and the sixth century of the common era, when possibly, the first recorded Malay nation was established as Srivijaya.

Even if one disagrees with idea, a Malaysian nation that is neutral of ethnicity exists before the formation of Malaysia and the day Malaya achieved its independence from the United Kingdom. Within the context of this entry, the question that needs to be asked is this: when actually is the birth of this nation? Was the beginning point 1963? Or 1957? Or 1948? 1946? 1824? When?

If the favored idea is the potpourri of nations, then this nation was born some time after the mass migration of Chinese and Indian into pre-existing nations living in Malaya, Sarawak and North Borneo. That would be in the 19th century. It is this nation — no state — that we now call Malaysia. The name may be different then but in essence, those names, refer to the same nation.

August 31 1957 signifies only one thing: a free Malaya. That however does not mean there was no Malaya on August 30 1957. Malaya as a state was established on January 31 1948, after the Malayan Union was disbanded. If Malaya is the reference point for the supporters of “50 years”, then really, logically — throw away the meanings of nation and states for a moment — 59 should be the magic number.

In conclusion, on one hand, as a nation, it is an insult to say we have lived for such a short lifespan, as if all those events, all those interactions before that day in 1957 matter not. On the other hand, as a state, it is boosterism to say that we are older than we are. No nation or state was born on August 31 1957.

I personally do not subscribe to nationalism but if an organic Malaysian nation is a goal one seeks, then embracing unvarnished history is an important step one needs to take. Without understanding one’s past as well as the difference between nation and state, Bangsa Malaysia will be an unsolved riddle, interpreted differently by different community within Malaysia, the state.

18 Responses to “[1287] Of searching for the origin of Malaysian nation”

  1. […] After some rethinking – I have to agree with my Uncle. 50 Years or 44 Years, it does not make any difference to some people if they have not experienced the fruits of the Merdeka cake, especially to those in the remote areas – the tempo of development there is slow and negligible – so let’s not get carried away with that ‘50 – 44′ argument. To our political masters, policy makers and administrators, I would say lets spend more time delivering those development packages to where it matters most. But its intesteing to read some people’s feedback at The Earth Inc. […]

  2. […] September 16 2007 is the 45th Malaysia Day, marking the 44th year of the Malaysian federation. […]

  3. […] flip-flopping along the way, only strengthens such perception. Then there is the matter surrounding the age of Malaysia; are we 50 or 44 years old? And no less but forgotten, the issue surrounding Malacca and […]

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