Revisiting Malaya: envisioning the nation, the history of ideas and the idea of history
ABDUL RAHMAN Embong
ABSTRACT Political and historical thoughts pertaining to “modern Malaya” and Malaysia are phenomena of the emerging modern era characterized by the stirrings and the rise of nationalism in Southeast Asia since the early twentieth century. One of the most compelling ideas in envisioning the nation and fighting for independence then was Melayu Raya, articulated by a group of visionary leaders of socio-political movements who professed to fight for the creation of a political entity, a new independent “nation.” Using the history of ideas approach, this article argues that nations are envisioned, and that we need to contextualize the discussion within what has been termed as “Malay world,” the old kingdoms in the region, and the subsequent struggles against colonial powers and the “nationalist” projects for independence. To help understand this background, the article uses the concept of “culture zone” as used by Fernand Braudel in his study of civilisations. This article examines the debate on the “Malay world” and Melayu Raya, and also the post-World War II envisioning of the nation and the approaches taken by various groups to foght against British colonialism and for independence. Despite almost six decades of independence, some of these ideas keep coming back, resonating with some aspects of the present in today’s Malaysia. In the course of this article, a brief reference to the history of ideas and the idea of history is made.
Keywords: cultural zone, nation, history of ideas, Melayu Raya
Abdul Rahman Embong, PhD, a development sociologist, is emeritus professor and principal research fellow at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. His research focus is on development, middle class, nation-state and globalisation. He has written many books, including State-led Modernization and the New Middle Class in Malaysia (2002); The Nation-state: Processes and Debates (in Malay) (2006); Globalisation, Culture and Inequalities: In Honour of the Late Ishak Shari (ed. 2004), and Transforming Malaysia: Dominant and Competing Paradigms (ed. with Anthony Milner and Tham Siew Yean, 2014). He was President of the Malaysian Social Science Association (2000-2010), and is currently the Association’s Advisor.