French writer’s view of Malayan historical past is a crucial learn for Malaysians

What I Noticed In Malaya: Lectures 1934-1938

Creator: Jeanne Cuisinier

Writer: Matahari Books/Buku Fixi, sociology

A number of weeks earlier than the launch of Jeanne Cuisinier’s What I Noticed In Malaya in November in Penang, I had been studying a e-book by an Englishman about his go to to Malaya in 1935 after an absence of some 25 years. Revealed in 1936, his account of a sentimental journey from Singapore to Negri Sembilan is interspersed with frequent, surprisingly candid, criticisms of colonial insurance policies and administration then in place.

After I discovered that Cuisinier’s e-book was about her experiences in Malaya within the 1930s, I grew to become curious – would she be as important?

As I quickly came upon, Cuisinier’s e-book gave me little foundation for comparability. As a substitute, I used to be struck by the contrasts between the Malaya the Frenchwoman noticed and the one the Englishman noticed. She wrote primarily about her experiences in Perlis, Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu, totally on the East Coast of the peninsula, whereas he wrote in regards to the West Coast states. They could as nicely have been writing about two completely different nations.

Jeanne Cuisinier (1890-1964) was a French ethnologist. Her early pursuits had been in literature and music however after her travels in Madagascar and South-East Asia within the 1920s, she started to review ethnology and Asian languages. In 1932, probably due to her data of Malay, the French Ministry of Nationwide Schooling despatched her to Malaya on an ethnological and linguistics analysis challenge.

She spent 18 months in Kelantan, the place she studied not solely the Malays but in addition the Orang Asli and the Thais. She subsequently printed two books on conventional Malay performing arts, The Magic Dances Of Kelantan (1936) and The Shadow Theatre Of Kelantan (1957). She additionally gave lectures – on radio to most people and in particular person to curiosity teams and at universities.

What I Noticed In Malaya is a number of these radio talks and lectures, in addition to excerpts from her unpublished experiences. The benefit of that is that the model is conversational and non-academic, and the data she gives is definitely accessible to the overall reader.

As well as, the editors have accomplished an admirable job of guiding the reader. The essays are organised into three sections with every part launched by an explanatory observe. The part and essay headings clearly sign the origin, context, and focus of the contents to comply with. And a beneficiant variety of authentic, well-captioned images (about 25) give the reader a visible grasp of the folks, objects and landscapes of the world Cuisinier describes.

The primary part, “The Radio Paris Lectures”, options Cuisinier’s experiences and observations of social life in Kelantan: Malay guidelines of courtesy, marriage, and delicacies; wayang kulit (shadow play theatre) and the manora dance; and an fascinating an essay on how she gained the friendship and belief of the Orang Asli. What comes throughout very strongly is how a lot she loved and cherished her work and the folks she studied.

Jeanne Cuisinier (1890-1964) was a French ethnologist who was sent by the French Ministry of National Education to Malaya on an ethnological and linguistics research project in 1932. — Public domainJeanne Cuisinier (1890-1964) was a French ethnologist who was despatched by the French Ministry of Nationwide Schooling to Malaya on an ethnological and linguistics analysis challenge in 1932. — Public areaRegardless of the e-book’s title, Cuisinier describes not solely what she noticed, but in addition what she heard. I significantly like her copy of conversations amongst Malays, exemplifying their conventional, courteous method of expressing themselves obliquely and by indirection – an artwork all too usually misplaced on, or misunderstood by, non-Malays.

The second part, “Behind The Scenes”, is a number of quick excerpts from Cuisinier’s much less formal lectures and unpublished experiences, giving us a greater understanding of the sensible elements of her work. Some excerpts are in regards to the bodily hardships of doing subject analysis in distant elements – falling sick, the dearth of dependable transport, and trekking for miles via forests.

Others relate to particular analysis strategies and ways, which college students engaged in related sorts of analysis might discover helpful: “Overcoming Suspicion”, “Learning the Malay Theatre”, “Analysis Routine with the Indigenous Individuals”, and “Learning the Siamese Communities”.

The third part, “Eighteen Months in North-East Malaya”, is a lecture delivered to the Royal Asiatic Society in London, in 1934. On this common overview of her life and work in Malaya are many nuggets of historic and sociocultural info we’re unlikely to search out in historical past books.

I discovered significantly fascinating what she has to say in regards to the social permeability and mutual sharing of tradition and language among the many Malays, Thais, and Orang Asli in Kelantan; the organisation of hierarchy and authority among the many Semang; and the secretive transmission of bomoh (shaman) “magic” and data.

The worth of What I Noticed In Malaya to Malaysians immediately can’t be overstated. Many might learn it merely because the story of a Frenchwoman’s quest for the hidden, little-known and forgotten elements of Malaysian life. Some might recognise it as a primary supply of our historical past. To me, it’s above all a reminder of what makes us who we as soon as had been and could possibly be once more. I feel it must be translated into our nationwide language and be given a spot in each residence, faculty, and public library.

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