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Staff Pick: Revisiting Malaya: Uncovering Historical and Political Thoughts in Nusantara

Name: Magdalena Anak Lampas
Book: Revisiting Malaya: Uncovering Historical and Political Thoughts in Nusantara
Editors: Show Ying Xin and Ngoi Guat Peng
Publisher: Strategic Information & Research Development Centre
Publication Year: 2020
Book Language: English
Pages: 532

Book Synopsis:

Revisiting Malaya seeks to explicitly address problems of colonialism and its legacy, taking regional Cold War divisions as well as historical links and fractures into consideration. By considering a wide range of topics presented by speakers at two landmark conferences, from the propaganda efforts of the Malayan Film Unit to the writings of visionaries and revolutionaries, ranging from Usman Awang to Tan Malaka, this book uses ‘Malaya as method’ to better understand historical and contemporary realities.


This engaging book will be useful to anyone interested in historical and regional research, especially comparative studies of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Philippines. The concept of “Malaya” continues to exert a strong pull on our imagination, one that is tinged with exoticism and Orientalist reductions. Even decades after the end of the colonial era, it casts a long shadow over contemporary Malaysia and the rest of maritime Southeast Asia.

This comprehensive book is a compilation of conference papers and subsequently published articles that were contributed by Southeast Asian scholars such as Francis Loh Kok Wah, Abdul Rahman Embong, Budiawan and many more. For the benefit of the reader, the editor has organised the 21 articles into five major themes: “Envisioning Malaya,” “Malaya in Art and Literature,” “Anti-colonial Struggle and Nationalism,” “Imagined Communities in the Malay World,” and “The Nation-State and Beyond.”

I am particularly interested in the chapter “Ethnic diversity and the nation state in Southeast Asia: From centralisation in the age of nationalism to decentralisation amidst globalisation” by Francis Loh Kok Wah. In his writing, he menti oned that political parties also play important roles in facilitating unity amidst diversity. Rather than catering to members of a single ethnic group, nowadays. politicians should aspire to mobilise and represent all peoples, regardless of ethno-religious backgrounds.

If you want to better understand historical and contemporary realities, you should add this book to your reading list! 


“Some of the urgent questions that had to be resolved after the war in the struggle for independence relate to the form of the new state and citizenship. Would the state be a Union or Federation? A monarchy or a republic? Would it be a democracy, and if so, what type of democracy? What about the question of citizenship of the emerging independent state?”
Chapter 1: Revisiting Malaya: Envisioning the nation, the history of ideas & the idea of history, page 25                                       

“After the Second World War, Kuala Lumpur gradually overtook Malacca and Ipoh to become the largest city first in the Peninsula and, subsequently, in Malaysia. This was realised by the requisite installation of political and physical infrastructure, urban planning, and architecture that progressed alongside the country’s development into a post-war nation, when independence was proclaimed in 1957 and afterwards. Its continued designation as a capital city, now of a nation, ensured its status as a political centre for administration and governance.”
Chapter 5: Malaya in Art & Architecture, page 138                                        

“British colonialism caused adverse effects. The late 1984s ushered in a turning point. Both internal and external conditions contributed to this. The Japanese occupation of Tanah Melayu demolished the supposed invincibility of the British. It exposed the defeat of a foreign power. This led then to the galvanisation of internal factors. Political and nationalistic ideas emerged and different communities organised themselves into various political organisations and parties.”
Chapter 8: Usman Awang: Justice, Literature & Society, page 218

“The success of the attacks carried out by the Basic Unit on Tekai and Gong Estates did not just shock the colonisers, but also encouraged peasants in the villages up and down the Pahang River. After these battles, many people stepped forward to send food, necessities, money, and other items to the unit. What was more heartening were many young men and women who came forward to join the forces.”
Chapter 10: A history of the Tenth Regiment’s struggles, page 269

This book is available at the Perdana Library. If you are interested in reading or borrowing the book, please visit our Library in Putrajaya, or contact us at 03-8885 8961 (Library Counter).