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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dato’ Onn Jaafar – the man who defined “Malay”

I have been re-reading “Reflections of Pre-independence Malaya” by Dato’ Mohamed Abid (Pelanduk Publications). It is a book telling the author’s personal experiences with Dato’ Onn Jaafar, the founder of Persatuan Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu (UMNO – United Malays National Organisation) and reproducing many of Dato’ Onn’s pre-independence speeches.

Here is the man who, according to his nephew, Professor Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, gave the definition of “Melayu” in the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1948. The same definition is then adopted in our Federation Constitution (article 160) which stands till to date. Here is also the man who requested the good Professor to draw up the UMNO logo. That logo was apparently adopted at a meeting attended by, among others, Dato’ PanglimaBukit Gantang, Dato’ Zainal Abidin Abas, Colonel Musa, who was also known as Pak Lomak, who was the originator of the Malay ghazal. That logo too stands as UMNO logo till to date.

Perhaps Dato' Onn's humility and his tireless fight for freedom and independence could be gleaned from the advice that he gave the author when the latter was a teenager. He said the "Malays should never "sembah" anyone except God." And when somebody from a higher social order meets with somebody from a lower social order, the latter should not be ignored.

He did not only say that but he actually practised what he said. In 1927, Dato' Onn was told to leave Johor by HRH the Sultan for criticising the Sultan. As a result he spent almost 9 years in exile. On this, Dato' Onn said:

"I opposed my own Ruler because his actions towards his subjects, and as a result, I was dismissed from government service. Later, because of my subsequent opposition to the Ruler for his injustice towards his subjects, I was once again removed from my government and was banished from the State of Johor.... Are such actions the actions of one chasing after wealth and grandeur for himself?"

In 1936, he was recalled to Johor by HRH Sultan Ibrahim. He did come back. However, after the war, when he was the Chief Minister of Johor and the drive for independence was taking shape, HRH the Sultan gave him an ultimatum. He was told to choose whether to remain as the CM or accept the post of UMNO President.

Dato' Onn resigned as CM of Johor and took the position of UMNO President. He then moved to Kuala Lumpur, living in a single story house at Stonor Drive. Even though he was appointed to a post which was equivalent to the current Home Minister by the British Government and the country was in the middle of an emergency, he did not have any police protection. He said "even if you have many bodyguards, when it is time to go, you will go!"

He was clear in his direction. His understanding and appreciation of the duties and responsibilities that came with his position as a leader would put many  leaders and civil servants to shame. On the UMNO Presidency, which he held from the formation of UMNO in May 1946, he said:

"The post of President of UMNO is not one that I desire, it is one entrusted to me by the representatives. I do not wish for this or that. I was willing to shoulder the responsibility because I was aware of my responsibility, as long as the Malay people and the members of UMNO placed their trust in me."

Again, Dato' Onn practised what he said. In 1950, when accusations were made that he was not doing enough for the party and the Malays, he willingly resigned from the post. The post of UMNO Presidency, to him, is not one which is to be coveted and held on, especially when one is not wanted. He said:

"Had I known that there were some from amongst the UMNO members and the Malay people, who did not have faith in me, it would have been appropriate for me to resign, in order that the post be held by one more qualified and skilled..."

After resigning, he went back to Johor. However, appeals were made for him to retract his resignation. Thousands of UMNO members marched to his house. Finally, on 27.8.1950, he was once again elected as the President of UMNO.

Clearest in his mind was the concept of fiduciary duties owed by the people in power. And the duties, in his mind, are owed to the people of the nation as a whole, and not to any particular race or people. To him a Minister is subject always to the law. And he or she must discharge his responsibilities solely for the benefit of the country and the people. He said:

"It would appear that some people of this Malay homeland have the mistaken impression that one holding the post of Minister of Education may do whatever he or she wishes, without needing to consider the Country's Constitution, the Federal Legislative Council or the Federation of Malaya Agreement....

As for myself, who was proposed to assume an appointment in the Ministry of Home Affairs, I pledge to this Assembly, to perform the tasks associated with such an appointment to the utmost of my abilities. ........ I will discharge my responsibilities and my tasks solely for the benefit of the country and its people."

Dato’ Onn was absolute in his pursuit for independence and the struggle for the betterment of the Malays. He did not see the fight for independence as just that, namely, the fight for freedom just for the sake of it. In his words:

“We have heard the cries for freedom before. One may say that these cries have existed since the creation of the world, because to want freedom is a natural tendency, but acquiring real freedom is not easy. ….

What is the use of reaching for the moon, if we cannot grasp it? The only way is that we must have initiative to find the best path to follow in order that we may extend our reach so that we may grasp the moon. Cries of freedom, bathing in blood, and so on, will not cause the moon to fall into our laps. Unity, cooperation and initiative, these are the secrets of success.”

Here, I think, is a man with a clear conscience and an almost absolute grasp of what and how things should be.

Malaysia is indebted to Dato’ Onn Jaafar.


elemen.subversif said...

I respectfully disagree that he is a great man. He was bred in privileged circumstances and is steeped in feudal ways. Further he did not make an impact on the masses. Countless stories abound on how an aristocrats felt for the lower class. But few about plebeians who felt for the lower class and advanced the underprivileged masses.

Anonymous said...

I think the definition of Malay was made by the British at least 50 years before 1948.

Anonymous said...

correction....at least 30 years..

Anonymous said...

So what is Dato Onn's definition of Malay? I don't see that in the article.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 22 November 2012 17:47,

From the article, "The same definition is then adopted in our Federation Constitution (article 160) which stands till to date."

So just go read the Constitution. It's in there.

Old Fart said...

Sorry Harun, this is the pre-Merdeka and pre-Mahathir Malay you have defined. Few of them left anyway. Very few. I might be wrong. Could be a majority too that is out there who have been stumped and muted. I hope it is the latter as they can still have their voice heard.

The voices that you hear of today listen to the new Malay. to them the old Malay has been abrogated and you now have a new Malay.

Old Fart said...

I just read some of the comments. It is the man himself, Dato Onn Jafaar, his conduct and character, who defines and epitomises the Malay that Art has defined!!

Anonymous said...

What happened after two generation? The Onn Jaafar that is left with us now wants to use his Kris on fellow Malaysian who are not Malay! Not only the gene have mutated but also the Otak! Even Hussein Onn's gene and Otak did not mutate yet. Something must have gone wrong when the third generation Onn was born!

Jeyan said...

For me , what I respect most about Onn Jaafar was seeing beyond our race differences and wanting a truly multicultural party to lead the country . Pity that our ancestors , Malay , Chinese and Indians , were not so far sighted and chose to go with the race based system of UMNO , MCA and MIC . Our current generation are paying the price for the shortsightedness of our ancestors and we remain divided based on our ethnicity when we should be looking at ourselves as Malaysians after so long

James said...

I respectfully fully agree with Jeyan's view. He was a man beyond his times, so too was Tun Dr Ismail, the Deputy PM during Razak's tenure.

Anonymous said...

argue likewise, (i wonder) IF race can be changed by constitution, then Obama can become a 'white' if say, he speak white language, adopt white culture etc..who need genetic scientist?

Anonymous said...

in indonesia, it has malay, bugis, menangkabau, javanese race.

Ellese said...

A couple of years back, there was a write in foreign affairs pertaining to ethnocencentric political system. It was telling in that almost democracies including the liberal democracies are ethnocentric driven. See Germany Christian democratic party. You can see even in the US democratic politics which actually accept that people vote by ethnocentric motives. All over the world political parties are bind by a core value and invariably it's ethnocentric which has race and religion as common denominator. This is a fact of life in social studies.
Way forward for Malaysians are not many. It must be based on common values and idealism. We recognize now race based politics. All our parties including DAP and east Malaysians parties are raced/ ethnic based. Except for PAS which is religious based. But if overwhelming Malays unite under PAS believe me we will then have politics based on religious schism. These are the only two options available.

What we lack is an ideal based parties which no one has been able to articulate. Until then we live with race based or move towards a religious schism when PAS becomes stronger which it will. Until then let's make it more livable and tolerant with what we have. Other liberal democracies have moved along that way. Was it not long ago GOP were for slavery?

art harun said...


I have no problem with race-based party. I do however have my reservation about people who claim God is on their side.

Be that as it may, it is my wish to have a governance which is anchored to the Constitution. That's all.

By the way, please don't blame me. The DPM had just used the term liberal-secular (in BM, sekular liberal) in his speech at the UMNO YOuth/Wanita?Puteri assembly 10 minutes ago. :-)

I swear I am not responsible for that.

Ellese said...

You're funny Art. I'm sure you have a hand in this. He is probably one of your blog follower kot?. :) Anyway as I said, politicians find many means to debate on semantics. Btw are you one? :-) Just joking.

Onn Jaafar terrible legacy... said...

The Malays are the predecessor of the earliest human being. In Perak tools were found that are 2 million years old. The MB btw is from India ancestry so does nothing to promote Malay forward. The indian migrants fought the hardest to assimilate vis a vis Mahathir, Anwar Ibrahim, Khairy Jamaluddin, Subahan Kamal, nor yakcob all swallowing their Tamil pride to don the Malay Hang Tuah costume. Albeit they do this self consciously among the other Tamils and a few snigger but the pay off is in billions.
Lim Kit Siang said KJ is the richest unemployed man...
All hide their mother tongue Tamil though anwar is known to break out in Tamil in unguarded moments.

Onn Jaafar is such a man who was influenced by the British. he thought he was above the common Malay and he feel his position allows him to be at par with the Chinese. But events proved other wise. Pot,pot bunyi kereta, Dato Onn cabut UMNO merdeka.. that was how unpopular he was with the Malays.

His son Hussein is the caused of current malays poverty. He bypassed the Ghafar in favour of the Indian Mahathir and the rest is history.

Mahathir proudly declare (read RPK)
I have helped the Chinese and Indians to be billionaires. The Malays have become beggars in their own country!!!

The Malays have to undo 22 years and continuing blatant rampage of our oil wealth through Petronas of whom Mahathir and sons have their hands in the kitty through SapuraKencana.

So Onn Jaafar is despised and his sons and grandsons Hishamuddin are also despised by Malays.

Hisham is well known to kowtow to Chinese tokays. Chinese tokays can threatend him to stop catching of illegal immigrants can you imagine.

Anonymous said...

hi art,

dato onn was the best leader of malaya. we are still waiting for next dato onn to save bangsa malaysia. i hope see someone to soon.


Anonymous said...

malaya or malaysia is ruined not because of the malays race or whatever chinese indian.....but the racist mahatirism.he is not malay land malay he is just like chinese indian.the malays were being used cheated and trapped just to favour his power grasp,forever ever his family.musa,ghafar,anwar,paklah and coming this najib will be eradicated by his hands.