The rise of the Tongkat Ali society


Dr Azly Rahman

How does a society move from industrial to informational and then to a libidinal economy? And what would the social consequences of such a movement be in Malaysia?

If we were to characterise the socio-economic development of this nation from the time of independence through its phases of base-superstructural growth – we could see that Malaysian society has moved from pre-industrial to industrial, then through an informational stage to a libidinal one.

We have seen the change from race-harmony to madani (modern) to hadhari (civilised) to a ‘tongkat ali’ society, based on the national slogans we ascribe to each period.

We saw a genuine effort to engineer an evolution of society based on respect and accommodation of the variety of ethnic groups in the 70s and 80s. In the 80s and 90s, we saw the rise of sophisticated racism and the bipolar, yet subtle breakdown of race relations.

And as we entered the 21st century, we witnessed the rise of a strange brew of post-industrial tribalistic show of arrogance amongst and between different social, religious, and political groups.

We are seeing the rise of the ‘tongkat ali’ society – a society named after the male libido enhancement formula. The name itself may have derived from the name of Islam’s fourth and most famous Caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was assassinated by the clan of Muawiyyah in the battle of Siffin – a violent episode in the early history of Islam.

Driven by pleasure

‘Tongkat ali’ in the Malaysian context is a phenomena in itself. The root of this ‘miracle sexual enhancement herb’, common in the northern states of Malaysia, lies in a sectarian, religious historical movement and the marketing of it to Malay Muslims.

These days, one can find the extract in virtually all food and beverages – and even in toothpaste – so that society may become “sexier” and able to evolve masochistically. But exactly how this extract works scientifically is not known in the cultural context of Malaysia although its popularity is remarkable.

Malaysian men might be going libidinally crazy these days with the mass intoxication of this extract in all spheres of things edible. It is as if tongkat ali is the best discovery for Malays since their fool-mistaken-as-hero, Hang Tuah. This libidinal hero – who lacks both the intelligence and the critical sensibility to revolt against the libidinal sultan – embodies the ethos of this ‘tongkat ali society’.

The ‘tongkat ali society’ is here. And for Malaysians it signifies the advent of an economic system that produces leaders and a rakyat that are hyper-ventilating in their pursuit of the meaning of the words peace, harmony and happiness.

Rather than seeking cerebral solution to social issues and meaningful living, we are seeing libido at play. Massive gambling, politician-buyouts, the awarding of billion-ringgit projects to political cronies, the birth of hate-groups and the rise and slow demise of racist politicians. All these are manifestations of the rise of the ‘tongkat ali society’. 

The death of reflective thinking

It is characterised by the death of a reflective society and the muting of critical sensibility. Because so much libido is embalmed in the minds of the powerful and so much power is given to the robber barons to plunder – society is now becoming an enhanced entity that cares more about the acquisition of wealth and property by any means necessary and less about the fate of generations to come. 

The game plan in this libido-enhanced economy is to accumulate as much wealth as one can in the shortest period of time by using other people’s money to become the best bubble economy in a country where bankruptcy is a guarantee.

A ‘tongkat ali society’ is also characterised by a libidinal economy and dispossessed youths. We put band aids on problems that could have been prevented through a sound education system and a thorough understanding of cultural change.

We also see the use of massive public funds to educate a small number of people who we call “gifted and talented” – leaving the intelligence and creativity of a large number of children unattended to.

The ‘tongkat ali society’ is now manifesting itself in the crudeness of ultra-nationalistic Malay political and non-governmental groups whose libido is wrongly channeled. Instead of improving race relations and ensuring a just and equitable economic system, it is channeled towards destructive and divisive ends.

The rise of the ‘tongkat ali society’ in Malaysia is a reality – as real as the proliferation of this libido-enhancing commodity.


DR AZLY RAHMAN, who was born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Bahru, holds a Columbia University (New York) doctoral degree in International Education Development and Masters degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies, and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and have written more than 400 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience spans both in Malaysia and in the United States and in a wide range of teaching context; from elementary to graduate education. He currently resides in the United States.