Mahathir utterly ignorant about history and geography

When Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that the Bugis are pirates and hence Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who is of Bugis descent, should go back to ‘Bugis’ (wherever that country may be), he is demonstrating his utter ignorance about history and geography. That is like calling all English pirates just because Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh were privateers or free agents.

THE CORRIDORS OF POWER

Raja Petra Kamarudin

The Malay Archipelago (Malaysian and Indonesian: Kepulauan Melayu/Nusantara, Filipino: Kapuluang Malay, Visayan: Kapupud-ang Malay) is the archipelago between mainland Indochina and Australia. It has also been called the Malay World, Indo-Australian Archipelago, East Indies, Nusantara, Spices Archipelago, and other names over time. The name was taken from the 19th-century European concept of a Malay race, later based on the distribution of Austronesian languages. (Wallace, Alfred Russel (1869). The Malay Archipelago. London: Macmillan and Co. p. 1.)

The Malay Archipelago is the largest group of islands in the world, consisting of more than 17,000 islands of Indonesia and approximately 7,000 islands of the Philippines. Situated between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the group of over 25,000 islands is the largest archipelago by area, and fourth by number of islands in the world. It includes West Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, East Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor. (Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.)

When Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that the Bugis are pirates and hence Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who is of Bugis descent, should go back to ‘Bugis’ (wherever that country may be), he is demonstrating his utter ignorance about history and geography. That is like calling all English pirates just because Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh were privateers or free agents.

In fact, during that era (the 1500s-1600s) not only England but Portugal, Spain, Holland, France, etc., also had many privateers who were appointed by European Kings and/or Queens and their expeditions to Africa, the Americas and Asia were financed by the crown. The job of these adventurers/explorers was two-fold. One was to export Christianity to the pagan natives of the lands they colonised (by applying the convert or die doctrine). And second was to plunder the wealth of those lands they colonised and bring it back to their motherland (or fatherland) and share it with the King/Queen who financed their expedition.

To make it more lucrative, the English, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, and so on, plundered each other’s ships that were bulging with gold and other valuables on their way home. For example, the British shipped opium from India to China and when their ships passed through the Straits of Melaka the Dutch, who were in Melaka, would plunder those ships and steal the opium.

This was all part of the game of imperialism and colonisation and the western powers would attack one another not only at sea but on land as well. For example, in India, the British and French attacked one another and used Indian soldiers to kill and die for England and/or France. The many battles that Robert Clive and Joseph-François Dupleix fought is a case in point.

Being a successful privateer — meaning bringing a lot of gold and jewels home to share with the King/Queen — meant you were not only rewarded with wealth but would receive land, titles and a knighthood as well. That is why history remembers people such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh as knights of the court and not as pirates, robbers, thieves, thugs, or whatever.

Yes, those were the days back in the 1500s and 1600s when marrying off a 9-year-old girl to an 11-year old boy was morally acceptable and legal mainly because religion and social norms allowed it. Today, if you marry off a 9-year-old girl to an 11-year old boy you would be sent to jail, as you would if you plundered a ship in the South China Sea or the Straits of Melaka.

If you go to Holland you will read in the National Archives of the Netherlands (National Archief or Arkib Negara) about a certain Bugis warrior named Raja Haji Fisabilillah ibni Daeng Chelak a.k.a. Raja Haji al-Shahid Marhum Teluk Ketapang a.k.a. Raja Api (or the Fire Prince). Daeng Chelak was the father of Raja Lumu, the first Sultan of Selangor (Sultan Sallehuddin Shah ibni Almarhum Daeng Chelak, 1705–1778).

Now, at that time the Dutch ships from Melaka would attack and plunder the British ships passing through the Straits of Melaka to and from China-India (many of those ships were loaded with opium). Raja Haji, in turn, attacked the Dutch ships and plundered from the Dutch what the Dutch plundered from the British.

The Bugis were so fierce and feared and the Dutch were so scared of them that they called for a peace treaty. The Dutch agreed to share half the plunder from the British ships with the Bugis if the Bugis agreed to not attack the Dutch. This was the first ‘Ali Baba’ arrangement in history and the Bugis were the only people the Dutch made a treaty with. Basically the Dutch did all the work and the Bugis just came to collect their 50% share. It was just like what Yap Ah Loy did 100 years later — collect protection money from opium traders…(hmm…how come he is not called a pirate as well?).

One day the Dutch plundered a British ship rich in opium and kept the loot all to themselves. When Raja Haji found out he attacked Melaka and laid siege to the city. The siege lasted months and eventually Melaka ran out of food and water. People were dying of disease and starvation and the Dutch were about to surrender to the Bugis when help arrived. The Dutch had employed Minangkabau mercenaries who sailed to Melaka and attacked the Bugis from behind.

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