‘Deep’ Malay Cultural Psychology
In modern Malaysia, attitudes born in the traditional village, as well as Islam, are being used to defend against threats to the Malay world’s important symbolic boundaries.
They, so many of them, would rather have to themselves, unshared and exclusively ‘on their own terms’, 100 per cent of a small and dubious inheritance — to squabble over interminably among themselves — than to have and enjoy a substantial stake in a thriving enterprise that they must share, sensibly, in both material gratitude and human generosity, with others. More on this ‘Malay cultural psychology’ another time…
When Malay villagers in former times felt themselves threatened — by human enemies, by wild animals, by plague and illness, by the supernatural terrors of the surrounding jungle, by the dark and all the unseen dangers that it might conceal — they would huddle together for strength. They would find assurance in and seek protection from the spirit-challenging jampi (spell) of a bomoh and would recite do’a, Islamic pleas and prayers. Together, they would chant especially potent verses and sura from the Quran for protection from encroaching evil.
In a similar way, overall, to that older village social universe, the Malay political world in peninsular Malaysia these days huddles together for reassurance, in kampung-like strength and solidarity, behind a barrier and fortification that is afforded largely by Islam — an Islam under royal patronage and protection and of constitutionally guaranteed standing. It is the old strategy of kampung defence, now writ large.
Through recourse to Islam, threats to the integrity of the Malay world’s important symbolic boundaries can be contained. Islam is used to insulate the boundaries of Malay society against non-Malay intrusion, penetration and subversion — to separate Malay society symbolically and morally from, and elevate it beyond the reach of, its threatening, even contaminating, wider social environment.
This is what, at the deep cultural and psychological level, lies behind, informs and drives the continuing Malay determination to live huddling together for comfort and strength — rather than being eager, ready, or just prepared to engage with others and seek sensibly to share the world with them. They would rather have a smaller, narrower world, but one that is their own, entirely their own, that they may inhabit and hold exclusively on their own cultural terms.
The outside world, the world that surrounds the Malay world, closes in upon it, and asks Malays to engage with it on its broader and more inclusive terms is, somehow, the analogue and functional equivalent of, and is psychologically isomorphic with, the non-human, asocial, non-Malay world of mambang and ghosts, of spirits and wild animals, of strangers and the unknown, that closed in upon the ‘little Malay world’ of the village every night.