No excuse these days not to know your history

March 29, 2015

One would do well to be absolutely clear about the difference between heritage and history. The only reason why I feel the compelling need to underscore this difference is its all too easy to be seduced by heritage. Heritage is after all like a phantom mirror – most of us can’t but help find tradition and the past consoling. They link us to the familiar, binds us to those with whom we share a common history, and thereby supplies us with a sense of belonging….a vantage where we are able to relate not only to ourselves, but also makes sense of where we might fit in the community.

These are powerful trappings. As since man is intractably a social animal – one could say he always needs a sense of scale along with placing to help him make sense of where he stands in this world. People who do not understanding the gravity of this emotional pull – can very easily be manipulated by others. This is the very reason that accounts for the constant success of bent politicians, self serving pastors and confidence trickster.

It is only when we begin to understand the delectable nature of heritage and how it is able to warp the mind trapping us in a web of sugar coated lies. That we are able to distinguish between heritage and history.

While history is open, comprehensive, collaborative, aimed at winnowing truth from lies, at keeping scrupulously close to supporting evidence. Heritage is none of these things. It is instead a declaration of faith….a fait accompli which relies of the raw material of historicism to paint a picture that serves specious goals. Heritage unlike history has nothing whatsoever to do with the quest for the truth – instead it leverages explicitly on the power to omit, bend, exaggerate, elide, invent and embellish the truth to wordsmith a narrative that satisfies certain needs: to pal locate our fears, to lull us all into a false sense of confidence, to connect us all to our identity and roots and founding myths….unlike history which is always testable and open to intellectual inquiry. Heritage is a hermetically sealed chamber…it is neither open or challengable and has even a supernatural quality that elevates it to the realm of the sacred.

A wise man knows the difference between history and heritage. Above all he knows why one needs to be absolute clear to enable one to winnow truth from lies. As for the fool….he will just follows blindly….to the fool, it’s all one homogeneous mass like peanut butter.

That is the nature of the world.


‘Should you drive on the old colonial road between Beruas and taiping in Malaysia and stop at the many side road Tamil shrines. It’s not unusual to make out a strange somber figure standing alongside the pantheons of Indian dieties. Take your time about it….look closely…standing alongside the Pandavas, he always there.

It’s a figurine of the great planter…with his large oversized briar pipe, stern bush jacket and square framed glasses.

Kampung folklore remains divided concerning how this strange figurine came to occupy this revered space…the Tamils believed such a man to be immortal like the perpetuity of the wheel of life. To rubber tappers the very sight of the stern landowner represents an allegory of the continuum of their way of life. As for the Malays, they remember him as the man who brought law order along with electricity and piped water to the provinces. The Chinese both revere and loath him – as they remember him as the marauder who gave them no quarter during the tumultuous period of the Malayan emergency when the communist roamed the countryside with impunity.

But all agree the image of the man is as old and sacred as the hills….he will never perish….he will always live on……he is always there like the all seeing sun. Oldmen often recount stories to wide eyed kampung kids – how the man once waged war against the forces of darkness…how he vanquished them all…crushed the head of the serpent and restored light….how good won over evil by the narrowest of margins. As for the womenfolk whenever they walk beneath the shade of the saffron bearing ficus tree – they would draw blood by bitting their lower lip during the full moon as they believe, this is where the man’s spirit reside…..he is always there….always watching over the villagers…protecting the young, old and stupid….he is the great planter.

But it’s all an elaborate lie. A tragic deception conceived solely to perpetuate the aristocracy of the landowning classes. Or maybe it isn’t….perhaps it’s a necessary lie that supplies hope to the masses like one of those sobriquet phrases that the powerless and damned so often mutter to themselves…we are the salt of the earth…tomorrow will be better than today….the best is yet to come.

Such is the nature of power and politics. It is always harder to fight faith than knowledge…..and so the man who never was will live on forever in the hearts of all kampung folk.’

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