I wrote this article almost ten years ago in August 2003. I had actually forgotten that I wrote this article until an ‘Old Boy’, Zin Dahari ZA, emailed it to me early this morning. I thought I would republish this article, without any editing or amendments, as my views then have not changed much until today. Anyway, read on and maybe you can understand how my mind works and what are the issues close to my heart.
NO HOLDS BARRED
Raja Petra Kamarudin
Today, the newspapers are carrying a story about eight Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) students transferred out for threatening a teacher with parangs and Rambo knives. No one in authority, however, seems overly perturbed about the alleged affair. It appears like they are taking this incident in their stride, something as normal and something schools all over Malaysia experience every day. The only punishment the eight have been subjected to is “transfer to a day school”. In our times the punishment would have been worse.
Anyhow, I am sure those who are products of MCKK are not taking this matter lightly. This is certainly a blemish on our reputation as the “King of Schools, School of Kings”. Other schools may take this incident as normal and not something one should lose any sleep over. But MCKK is not a normal school and an incident of this nature is not normal.
Her Majesty the Queen of England once called MCKK “the Eaton of the East” when she visited Malaysia a couple of years ago. It is said His Highness the King of Malaysia then corrected her by calling Eaton “the MCKK of the West”. This, of course, cannot be confirmed but ask any “Old Boy” -- what an ex-Collegian is called though, let me assure you, none of these Old Boys act old -- and they would all agree that Eaton is what it is because they copied the traditions of MCKK.
The Battle of Britain was won on the playing fields of Eaton, they say. Well, Malaya’s independence was won on the playing fields of MCKK. The history books fail to mention is that many of those “independence fighters” were products of MCKK. Granted it was a “peoples’ struggle”, but the rakyat were like a herd. They just follow the leader, and it needed a leader to lead them to independence. And MCKK provided these leaders of independence.
No study of early Malayan history would be complete without a mention of the Malay College Kuala Kangsar, better known as MCKK.
MCKK was founded 98 years ago on 2nd January 1905. It was then called the Malay Residential School and was initiated with a vision and mission to produce a vigorous and intelligent race of young men who would be in touch with modern progress but not out of touch with old traditions.
“...establishing at a suitable locality in the Federated Malay States, a special residential school for education, of Malays of good family and for the training of Malay boys for the branches of the government service ...”
Thus were the words of the British Inspector of Schools for the Federated Malay States, R. J. Wilkinson, during a Rulers Conference (Durbar) in 1903.
Wilkinson’s efforts paved the way for the birth of Koleq, as it is fondly referred to by the Old Boys of MCKK. Invariably, MCKK was the first residential school in Malaya, and its syllabus would contain the essence of modern education with knowledge of Islam and Malay culture.
Some say MCKK was a secret weapon of the British colonial masters of that time. They realised, one day, they would have to hand this country back to the locals. The British decided that the Chinese would inherit commerce while the Malays, the administration of this country. If they had to hand the administration of this country back to the Malays, reasoned the British, they might as well groom these Malays who would eventually take over.
The British knew their only hope for the future -- in an independent Malaya -- would be if they could deal with cricket-playing, whisky-drinking, English-thinking Malays, rather than with a bunch of “religious-minded fanatics” who would probably kick the British out the first chance they got. And so these cricket-playing, whisky-drinking, English-thinking Malays would need to be groomed, and then sent to England for the final “polishing”.
England’s doors were first thrown open to the Malays immediately after the Second World War, and my father, Raja Kamarudin Raja Sir Tun Uda, was amongst this first group of Malayans who stepped onto England’s shores. Others were the likes of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Dr Ismail, and many future leaders of Malaya, most whom received their education in MCKK.
In the beginning, MCKK was only open to the sons of royalty and of the elite; that is, sons of the Datuk Bergelar (titled Datuks) of the various Istana (palaces) all over the country. Then, more and more scholars but sons of the orang kebanyakan ('common people' or proletariat) were let in and the elite crowd dwindled to but a mere fraction of the total intake. Invariably, amongst some of these sons of the masses, were people not too fond of royalty or of the British colonialists.
What the British did not anticipate then was, educating the Malays had its drawbacks. While they were able to mould the minds of these young and impressionable boys to become more English than the Englishmen, education also gave the Malays the power to think. And think they did. And they thought, why allow the British to continue mismanaging this country when the locals can do exactly the same? (And the Malays did eventually take over from the British and screw up the country worse than the British did).
The Japanese occupation also brought new ideas into the heads of the Malays. If the all-mighty and all-powerful British could be defeated by a lesser power like the Japanese, then the British were not that invincible after all.
1946 was a significant year for Malay nationalism. That was when UMNO was formed. UMNO was merely a collection of many societies, associations and what we would now call NGOs. With it saw the emergence of many independence fighters.
I cannot resist mentioning that many of these early independence fighters like Sir Dato Onn bin Jaffar (Hussein Onn’s father), Dato Abdul Wahab (Dato Panglima Bukit Gantang and one time Menteri Besar of Perak), Dato Laksmana Razali, Tun Aziz bin Abdul Majid (one time Governor of Melaka), Dato Haji Kamaruddin bin Haji Idris (Dato Suhaimi’s father), Tun Abdul Razak (Dato Seri Najib’s father), Raja Sir Tun Uda (my grandfather), Dato Bahaman, Dato Andika Indera, and so on, were mostly old boys of the MCKK.
MCKK had become the seat of Malay nationalism. This was probably the biggest blunder the British ever made in Malaya. If R. J. Wilkinson was still around today, he would probably say, “Give the Malays education, old chap, and they start having VISIONS!”
Ironically, the father of all visions (Vision 2020), Dr Mahathir, did not get his education at MCKK. Maybe that is why he turned out the way he did. Some say he did try to get into MCKK but was rejected because he is not Malay, but this could not be confirmed.
The independence movement had begun and the British knew they could not resist it. But they needed an independence movement they could control. (As they say, if you can’t beat it, join it). And UMNO fit this bill perfectly. While many of the other non-UMNO political dissidents and independence fighters were rounded and up and jailed by the British, the UMNO “fighters” were left unscathed.
Was it a coincidence that the early UMNO leaders were mostly sons of the elite, nobility, and those who had received an education in MCKK and Britain? Certainly not! And Dato Andika Indera (another MCKK Old Boy) related a very interesting story that gave an insight into the British plan for UMNO.
“I was then the ADO (Assistant District Officer) for Dungun (Terengganu),” said Dato Andika. “The DO was, of course, an Englishman.”
“At that time, the UMNO leaders were touring the country to set up branches and campaign for support in the fight for independence. Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Razak were due in Kuantan that weekend and the DO suggested that I attend the gathering.” (Today, the FRU and their water cannons would be out in full force and the organisers arrested under ISA for holding an “illegal gathering”).
“The DO gave me five days leave so that I could attend the UMNO gathering in Kuantan,” related Dato Andika. “In those days, there were no bridges so it would take a day and a night to travel from Terengganu to Pahang, unlike today where it would take just three hours or so.”
“At first I did not want to go, but the DO convinced me that I should. He explained that I should join UMNO so that Malaya could one day achieve independence. He was not only supportive of the idea, in fact, he even gave me the money to go there.” (Dato Andika later set up the UMNO Dungun Division and became its first division leader).
The British were in full support of UMNO. Not only that, if anyone opposed UMNO, they would be arrested as “anti-British elements”. Clearly, not only was MCKK and a British education aimed at controlling the minds of the future Malayan leaders, but UMNO itself was an “independence movement” that not only received encouragement, but full British backing as well. The British wanted to ensure that the future Malayan political leaders as well as their political party would, as the Chinese say, become British running dogs.
Yes, the British were certainly the architects of UMNO, and UMNO the architect of Malaya’s independence movement. But it was the MCKK crowd that was the prime mover to both UMNO and the independence movement.
In those days, MCKK was an “elite club”. You were handpicked to enter MCKK. Of course, in the beginning, only the sons of the rulers were admitted into MCKK. Eventually, however, even the “normal” people were allowed in, but there were stringent criteria in accepting these “non-elite” children.
Even in my days, in 1963, when I first entered MCKK, I had to go for an interview before I could be accepted into MCKK though my uncle was the Sultan of Selangor and my grandfather the then Governor of Penang. It was not automatic though I was clearly from an elite family.
I spoke very little Malay or Bahasa Malaysia then. But this was no problem as MCKK was an “English” Malay school. In fact, I did not really want to go to MCKK and this was how my interview went.
Interviewer: Raja Petra, why do you want to go to MCKK?
Me: I do not!
Interviewer: Excuse me. But you have applied to go to MCKK.
Me: I did not. My father applied on my behalf.
Interviewer: Oh, and why is that?
Me: Well, my grandfather went to MCKK, my father went to MCKK, all my uncles went to MCKK, in fact the entire Selangor Royal Family went to MCKK. So my father wants me to maintain the family tradition and be the third generation to go to MCKK. In fact, I will be the first from my generation to go to MCKK. So they want me to go to MCKK just to maintain the family tradition.
And, with that, they admitted me into MCKK.
But I did not enjoy my stay there. I obtained my early education at the Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur, a school for expatriate children, and I was the only Malay in that school (my “official” name while in the Alice Smith School was “Peter Kamarudin” and not “Raja Petra Kamarudin” -- my family still calls me “Peter” till today). My mother was English and my father, a barrister, a graduate of Lincoln’s Inn. Understandably, with this background, I only spoke English and very little Malay, so I was bullied like hell.
“Hoi, Mat Salleh, tak tahu cakap Melayu,” were the daily taunts I was subjected to. My punishment for this was to clean the shoes of the seniors. One student, however, came to my defence, a boy called Anwar Ibrahim who was then in form four. He helped keep the bullies at bay.
But I did not like Anwar Ibrahim. Even then he was a great orator and would give anti-British speeches (the Merdeka fever was still blowing strong in 1963). My mother, as I said, was English, so I took this as a personal insult. I would walk off in disgust whenever he spoke.
MCKK then was not about passing exams. It was not a paper chase. It was about character building. And MCKK certainly built character in all those who passed through its halls.
Today, MCKK is just another residential school, and Malaysia has many. It is no longer an elite school. You need not be people of character to be admitted into MCKK. The rulers no longer oversee MCKK but it comes under the jurisdiction of the local education department. Today, MCKK is not about traditions.
Those in power after Tun Razak, the only Old Boy Prime Minister, did not like the idea of MCKK being so far ahead. If they could not bring the level of the other schools up to that of MCKK, then MCKK would have to be brought down to the level of the others. And that was when MCKK deteriorated.
MCKK no longer is a school that breeds leaders. Gangsterism is now prevalent in MCKK. The Malays destroyed what the British so painfully created. The British paid the price for creating MCKK. It was because of MCKK they were kicked out of Malaya. But the British never regretted their “folly” as what they left behind was a great independent nation led by great leaders educated at MCKK. However, out of jealousy for MCKK’s success, the Malays of independent Malaya tore all this down and today MCKK has traditions equivalent to a kampong school.
By the way, as my parting shot, Sir Onn Jaffar, the first UMNO leader, was a product of MCKK. Maybe that will show how progressive MCKK was. It was ahead of its time.