A mat­ter of in­ter­pre­ta­tion

His­tory isn’t just about facts, it’s also about how you in­ter­pret those facts.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - CONTRADICT THEORY -

SO I’ve been work­ing on a doc­u­men­tary about Merdeka over the last two years, and today it finally goes on air at 10pm: Road To Na­tion­hood, air­ing over His­tory, Astro chan­nel 575.

It tells the story of Malaysia’s In­de­pen­dence that is, as our pro­ducer puts it, a lit­tle more in­ter­est­ing than what we find in school text­books.

Per­haps that is be­ing a lit­tle un­fair on our text­books. Chap­ters 1 to 5 of the Form Three syl­labus pretty much cover the pe­riod and sub­ject of our doc­u­men­tary. So why sit in front of the TV tonight in­stead of brows­ing your child’s text­book at your leisure?

Be­cause – I hope – the doc­u­men­tary is, at the very least, en­ter­tain­ing ( ob­vi­ously in a dif­fer­ent way our text­books are). And be­cause it has some­thing im­por­tant to say about our his­tory.

Find­ing the ex­act story we wanted to tell was the hard­est part of the process. I was part of a group of re­searchers who were en­cour­aged to not con­strain our­selves to a pre­con­ceived idea of the story un­til we had learned as much as pos­si­ble.

We started by read­ing books. Lots of books. We be­gan with Road To Na­tion­hood: Malaysia 1941- 1966 ( 2007), the book that in­spired the se­ries in the first place. We then read a large chunk of gen­eral histo- ry by lo­cal his­to­ri­ans like Dr Ooi Kee Beng, Dr Khong Kim Hoong and Dr Ku­mar Ra­makr­ishna.

Once the prom­i­nent char­ac­ters were iden­ti­fied, we then read bi­ogra­phies. This in­cluded peo­ple like Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man, Datuk Onn Jaafar and Tun Tan Cheng Lock.

We also pe­rused source doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing vis­it­ing the Umno li­brary, as well as read­ing pa­pers from the Bri­tish Ar­chives. The lat­ter were ex­cep­tion­ally use­ful, be­ing a col­lec­tion of of­fi­cial Bri­tish gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments, many of them now de­clas­si­fied for pub­lic con­sump­tion and help­fully cu­rated by his­to­ri­ans like Prof A. J. Stock­well.

Then came the weeks of piec­ing the story to­gether. We ar­gued among our­selves what the key points were and made a list of in­di­vid­u­als to in­ter­view ( mainly the au­thors and his­to­ri­ans whose work we found in­trigu­ing).

We also in­ter­viewed peo­ple who were close to many of the per­son­al­i­ties in­volved, in­clud­ing rel­a­tives of Tunku, Tan, Tun H. S. Lee and Datuk Mohd Seth Mohd Said. These peo­ple gave us the un­told sto­ries not read­ily avail­able in the his­tory books. We also in­ter­viewed politicians such as Tun Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamad, Tengku Tan Sri Raza­leigh Hamzah and Tan Sri Ab­dul­lah Ah­mad.

All the while, we re­fined the story we wanted to tell. One key point we re­alised was that many groups fought for in­de­pen­dence, each in its own way. How­ever, only one suc­ceeded.

The main thrust re­mains the con­ven­tional his­tory of Umno’s pres­i­dents lead­ing the charge while col­lab­o­rat­ing with other par­ties. But we con­trast it with the ef­forts of other groups, such as the com­mu­nists and the mul­tira­cial In­de­pen­dence of Malaya Party, and try to iden­tify rea­sons why this one at­tempt suc­ceeded while oth­ers failed.

( Al­ter­na­tively, you can just ac­cept my pro­ducer’s take on it: Malay fights Chi­nese, Chi­nese fights Malay, both work to­gether to get Merdeka.)

After all that, we finally turned on the video cam­era and recorded in­ter­views. In all, I am told we have 100 hours of footage, of which only an hour even­tu­ally was used.

The other vi­su­als come from film ar­chives, and they were not easy to source. What was ini­tially bud­geted at tens of thou­sands of ring­git even­tu­ally rose to hun­dreds of thou­sands. How­ever, I think that the com­bi­na­tion of com­pelling in­ter­views with au­then­tic footage helps sell the story we are try­ing to tell.

And I say “story”, be­cause even after years of re­search, we are aware that we have our own bi­ase s, and that a dif­fer­ent group with th he same facts might tell a dif­fer­ent st tory.

For ex­am­ple, some say that the Bri­tishB gave us in­de­pen­dence and no­bo­dyn re­ally had to fight for it. ButB I think Onn Jaafar’s ef­forts in 1 946 for the Sultans to boy­cott the in nstal­la­tion of the new Bri­tish gove rnor of the Malayan Union was u un­ex­pected and pushed the Bri­tish to o even­tu­ally ne­go­ti­ate for changes inn the Con­sti­tu­tion.

And in a par­al­lel, Bri­tish sources a lso show that they were sur­prised b by Tunku’s call for the boy­cott of gov­ern­ment po­si­tions in 1954, which then led to ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Al­liance ( fore­run­ner of BN) of how seats were to be al­lo­cated in the 1955 elec­tions.

So we give both events promi­nence over, say, Bri­tish doc­u­menta- tion dur­ing World War II ad­mit­ting that Malaya even­tu­ally had to be­come in­de­pen­dent. Or that the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Fed­er­a­tion of Malaya in 1948 had text which stated the even­tual ob­jec­tive was for Malaya to be self- gov­ern­ing.

In fact, both those points can be found in ear­lier ver­sions of the scripts, but they were trimmed away as the story evolved – demon­strat­ing the com­plex­ity of try­ing to ex­plain his­tory.

Ul­ti­mately, I hope that peo­ple who watch this doc­u­men­tary will un­der­stand his­tory is not pat and neat, and that there is a lot more out there to dis­cover.

And in mak­ing an ef­fort to dis­cover more, we be­come bet­ter, be­cause to un­der­stand his­tory is to un­der­stand our­selves and what our fu­ture may be.

Or as Tunku once said: “What­ever its past may be, a nation can only be true to it­self if it learns its his­tory”.

airs at 10pm tonight on His­tory ( Astro chan­nel 575) and at 10pm to­mor­row night on both Astro Prima ( chan­nel 105) and Maya HD ( chan­nel 135).

Logic is the an­tithe­sis of emo­tion but math­e­ma­ti­cian- turned­scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s the­ory is that peo­ple need both to make sense of life’s va­garies and con­tra­dic­tions.

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