Saturday, January 05, 2008

Perak's lack of identity: We need a Yeob Goneng

I am sure by now many of you would have heard, or read, about the book “Growing Up In Terengganu” (GUiT). It is written by Wan A. Hulaimi aka Awang Goneng.

I have not read the book yet. However, I have read and heard a lot about it from my Terengganu friends.

GUiT is a collection of tales on growing up in a Malaysian village in Terenganu and the sense of pride at being part of it. It is said to capture the very essence of life in Terengganu back in the 1960s and 70s.

My Terengganu friends – as expected – wax lyrical about the book. I can just see the glow in their eyes as they enthusiastically talk about it. Reading GUiT has undoubtedly managed to evoke a sense of nostalgia amongst them.

What’s more interesting is that GUiT has also rejuvenated and reinforced their sense of identity as Terengganu people. What with the book being sprinkled with Terengganu slang (or Terengganuspeak as Awang Goneng puts it), GUiT is a godsend for enhancing a sense of identity among the rakyat of the state.

Not surprisingly, the book is said to be something of a phenomenon, not least in Terengganu itself, where Awang Goneng was welcomed back for a book signing function at a bookshop.

I listened with a tinge of jealousy as my friend AO rattled on (bragged, actually) about his meeting with Awang Goneng at the bookshop. But it suddenly dawned on me: where is the Perak version of Awang Goneng? Or, if you don’t mind the pun, our very own “Yeob Goneng”.

Maybe it’s just me, but I for one think that there is a dearth of sense of identity and pride amongst us Perakian.

When we migrate to KL, for example, our character and identity will be ‘compromised’. And we’d easily drop the loghat Perak, so much so that we’d all be lost without a trace amongst the KL denizens. Unlike the Kelantanese, we do not much look out for, nor look after, each other either.

But then, even back home we do not have much to show to be proud of and bring us close together, is there? So, what’s new?

We don’t have a bustling city like George Town in the north and KL in down south. We don’t have mega projects that inject billions into the local economy. Nor do we have any major resorts, Taman Negara, international airshows or the monsoon cup to draw in the crowds.

*Yawn*…it’s all rather characterless and boring isn’t it? And to think that up until the 1970s Perak was still such a vibrant and bustling state.

That’s right, folks. Perak, at one time, was the world’s number one producer of tin ore in the whole wide world! In fact, the first people to own private cars in the country is said to be the super rich tin-miners from Perak. Yup! So, now you know why Perak cars are registered with the letter “A”.

As evidence of Perak being THE place to be back then, one could easily draw on the historical facts which reflect the level of development of the state in comparison to others in Malaya.

For example, the birth of the current-day Department of Survey and Mapping Malaysia (JUPEM) can be traced to Taiping where the first Trigonometrical Survey Section was created under the Perak Public Works Department.

The original batch of rubber seedlings brought into Malaya from London's Kew Gardens found its way to Kuala Kangsar, where till this day, the last surviving original rubber tree can still be seen at the district office.

The historical town of Taiping is famous for many firsts in the nation. This includes the first railway line (Taiping to Port Weld), museum, and hill resort (Bukit Larut).

The Taiping prison was the first purpose-built prison in Malaya. And of course, the Taiping Zoo, a fine zoo which runs till this day, was the first zoo in Malaya.

But when the tin mines started closing one by one, so went the great days. And, unfortunately, as other states re-fashion and rebrand themselves, Perak was stuck in a rut.

So, let’s bring back the glory days, shall we?

But, where art thou Yeob Goneng?

Interestingly, the answer to this question might be found on the cover of Awang Goneng’s book itself.

For on the cover of GUiT is a tag line by Dr. Annabel from the British Library which goes: “Awang Goneng does with words what Lat did with pictures.”

“Lat” here, of course, refers to our cartoonist Dato’ Lat who hails from Perak. Lat is now famous world wide for bringing to countless number of readers the joy of growing up and living in Malaysia.

In the Foreword to the book “Lat 30 Years Later”, Adibah Amin wrote of Lat: “ People from other lands have found in Lat a merry guide to Malaysian ways”. That being the case, in my reckoning, we will also find in Lat a merry guide to the Perak ways.

For one, Lat is adept at bringing to life the traditional and quirky ways of his home state. Browse through his record of the Perak Wedding, and you will know what I mean.

Lat also simply treasures the memory and nostalgia of his childhood days and living environment.

He has a deep attachment to his kampong roots. But his endearment towards live in the “big town” which opened him up to new experiences in life was equally strong. Two of his greatest works “The Kampong Boy” and “The Town Boy” are pure testimonies to this.

But what really convinces me that Lat is the Yeob Goneng is the fact that Lat can also write. His crime reporter days at the NST notwithstanding, one can sample his whimsical style of writing in his book-length cartoons.

Now, just imagine. Lat’s writing flair combined with his exquisite drawings of a rollicking world which is uniquely Perak in flavour. Boy, what a potent combination.

And it may not just be restricted to a full-length book or cartoons. Lat, with his creative imagination, can run riot and develop our very own theme park, theme resort and what have you.

Pesta durian and pesta tanglong ala Kota Lama Kanan will be featured strongly in the theme park. As for food, the park will be filled with the strong smell of gulai tempoyak and rendang tok all day long.

Now, how does that sound?

It’s a dream, yes. But I hope this dream could materialize.

How? I do not know yet.

Perhaps the Perak State government should sit up and take notice of the dire need to build up our character as a people. The need to create our sense of pride and identity as being Rakyat Perak.

For we should not leave Perak, for our future generations, devoid of history, culture, tradition as well as a strong sense of identity and character.


KotaStar said...

Sdr Azizi,

Not to be too taken aback by the publication. I was also intriqued since there were three launchings. One at UK. next Singapore and then K.Trengganu. Hebat betul. Pula the nspaper gave good report too. People began to look for the book I searched high and low when at KK. None belum sampai lagi.On 3/1/2008 I was at MPH Putrajaya. Got a copy.
Have read. Verdict? biasa saja. Old reminisce, old tales and memories and would strike a note to those who have not got their roots. Awang being post Merdeka in his early teen could account for tales around that period. With many who seldom read or familiar with events of that period it is indeed a good find. I am sure there are accounts of Perak in many books already written but the publicity was not there. Get yr dad and friends to tell you about the past. Become their writer and you have abundant stories to tell. Awang is lucky that he is trained, a professional, lived in London where reading and writing is a formed habit. So the book. Anyway it is another addition in my book shelf and some of the points and episodes described will certainly spurt me to explore. He described how we wrote letters to our friends and parents esp. How we addressed them formaly, No Hi,No apa khabar but starting with " Kehadapan Ayahanda yang di kasihi ....."dll. Get those old letters from yr dad and you have a story to tell.

I look forward to the YEOB episode from you'
Have a good and marvelous day. How are children going in their studies?

Azizi Ahmad Termizi: said...

Pak Non

I hope, as you said, there are already some books on Perak. I will do some search -- that would be great.

But I really hope people like Lat, or other writers from Perak, could come up with something new which could be given the full blown publicity and rally the Perak people together. Apart from Lat, my friend Zainul Ariffin (NST) would fit the bill too, he's good.

Your comment on letter writing, re: "Kehadapan Ayahanda yang di kasihi ....." is very true. At the summer camp that my sons went to the camp organiser alluded to this point. There were blank faces all around...todays's children just can't relate to this anymore.

BTW, Syafiq and Anas are now safely deposited at their boarding school where I hope they will study more seriously than last year. My eldest, Sakinah, is at home having a break from her accountancy course at the Poly. The baby, Nadiah is in Std 4.

P.S. I look forward to your book; is there one in the pipeline?