Having found out about this Emergency Festival from u-jean, I decided to check it out, since I have time to spare. Emergency festival is actually a 16 days exhibition of history of the first Malayan emergency from 1948 to 1960. It’s held at Annexe Gallery, Central market, KL from 16th to 26th October 2008, 11am-5pm. The Emergency Festival Exhibition is free for the public to see.
For those who are Malaysian history illiterate, or has been sleeping and drooling their heads off during history classes in school, I suggest you make a trip to this particular event to learn more about our history. One forewarning though, the exhibition and presentations during the emergency festival has nothing to do with textbook. This event gives great insight on history in a rather alternative way. Bottom line, it’s quite thoughts provoking if you really spend time to think and reflect on what’s presented and exhibited during the Emergency Festival.
After attending this Emergency Festival, I would never view our history in a straight line ever again, as I’ve learn from this festival that the victor takes the spoil of war and dictates history while the loser will be buried and fade away with time. There’s actually an underlined message in the whole Emergency Festival. However, for security reason, I would not write the real underlying message that has been send across in various exhibition material. Most artist who have in depth knowledge on Malayan history, would know what it means and relate it to the current political environment, though. You can try and guess if you want.
Emergency Festival exhibition hall has been split into a few rooms, where each room exhibit different material. Below are the pictures taken last Saturday during the exhibition.
The picture above is the first exhibition room during the Emergency Festival. It’s called the ‘Propaganda Room’.The entire room was littered with thousands of papers. This is not just a normal mess. The artist is actually trying to imitate the situation during the Malayan Emergency where throughout the 12 years of emergency, Malayans were constantly bombarded with propaganda materials, by both British and communist alike. Propaganda were spread through both print and broadcast media. The ‘mess’ on the floor is actually propaganda leaflets.
British have more advantage in spreading their propaganda in Malaya, as they are the ones who colonized Malaya and have access to more facilities than the communist. Between the 1948 to 1960 time period, the British air-dropped over 500 million propaganda leaflets in over 2,500 locations in Malaya.
For the British, psychological means were taken into consideration to keep the people in check. Psychological ways such as constantly bombarding the public with propaganda leaflets that instill fear and terror in the minds of the citizens were executed. Different levels of sophistication in the propaganda were employed and targeted at specific Malayan communities.
Posters that offers handsome rewards are plastered all over in Malaya back then. Whoever provide the information that leads to the capture or death on certain people who are considered as the ‘enemy’ by the British would definitely be laughing their heads off all the way to the bank. $150,000 is a large sum of money back then. I guess no matter in which time or era we’re living in, money would always be offered in exchange of loyalty and devotion.
Kill all the ‘rumours’, and you will kill the enemy. One question though. Is all rumours our enemies? How do we differentiate between rumours and truth? Sometimes, ‘rumours’ are ugly truth that some people would love to bury.There’s an important message that should be noted here, which is in order to control people’s mind, we should not have any bad words spreading around against us or else, it would undermine our leadership as our credibility would be questioned. British had successfully ‘killed’ the rumours through their propaganda with the help of the citizens who were more than pleased to provide information about the communist in exchange for the rewards offered.
In the midsts of hunting the communists, the people’s lives are affected. During the course of Malayan Emergency, more than 500,000 people were forced to leave their homes and land and were relocated into 450 guarded camps/village. The British claimed that it’s for the citizen’s security reason. But the real reason behind that is to restrict the citizen’s contact with outsiders as well as keeping them under strict control.
That brings us to the next exhibition room that is built to replicate the camps/village. It’s called The New Village Room.
The ‘New Villages’ were introduced under the Briggs Plan back in 1950. The purpose is actually to defeat the communist by cutting off their sources of support amongst the people. Most of the New Village communities were relocated several times before settling on a permanent location. Note that the perimeters of the New Village’s replica is full of barbed wires, symbolizing tight and extreme security by the British.
Extreme securities means that the New Village was observed by the British soldiers 24/7. The replica of the security tower that was built by the exhibitor is trying to tell us that no one was able to escape the British observation during that time.
The exhibitor encourage people who came to the exhibition to participate in the Emergency Festival by moving and rearrange the house around in the New Village room. Symbolic of the relocation and impermanence during the New Village plan that was implemented by the British to achieve their goals.
The British not only relocate the citizens in New Villages during the Malayan Emergency, but they also introduced a form of identification to differentiate the civilians and the communist. They introduced IC to the Malayans. That brings us to proceed to the next room, which is the ID Room.
Above is the exhibition material that was exhibited in the Identification Room. Various replicas of IC were imprinted on large piece of glass and was hung on the wall for viewer’s viewing pleasure. One of them were the first IC issued by the British, which belonged to Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. I did not manage to get the picture of it though, as the room was too dark and was unfriendly to my camera.
IC ( Identity Cards) were first introduced during the Emergency to seperate the communists and the general populace. The content of IC were used to discriminate its holder during the frequent checks and searches conducted by the British.
In 1952, the Jus Soli, granting of citizenship gave the IC as secondary purposes and its holder an official nationality. Dear precious readers, IC may have evolved and gone through several changes and upgrades, however, something remains the same since the Malayan Emergency, which is its holder still have no say or control over what’s written in their own identity cards.
In the times of uncertainties where British was desperate to chase away the communist from the land that they colonize, innocents were killed. And that, dear readers, brings us to the next exhibition room which is the Batang Kali Room.
The 24 pair of clothes that’s exhibited here is used to described the Batang Kali massacre that took place on 12th December 1948 where 14 members of the Scots Guards captured and shot dead 24 unarmed civilians in a line up and set fire to the village.
At that time, the Batang Kali massacre was claimed the most successful anti-bandit operation during the Emergency. As I see what’s exhibited, some questions came into my mind, which is who were those civilians? And what did they do to deserve death by shooting? Since they were unarmed, were they ‘enemies’ that spread the ‘rumours’? Their homes were burn, why did the British do that? Were they trying to destroy some evidence or they are merely trying to instill terror in the civilians minds?
Unfortunately, no one can answer my question as the truth was all but buried.
Fake tombstone was built by the exhibitor, symbolizing the death of the 24 innocent civilians. Honestly, I felt that the Batang Kali Room was haunted, as I felt that I was watched by unknown forces even though I was alone. The room really gives me the creep and goosebumps on my skin. The booklet in front of the tombstone described the Batang Kali Massacre, but did not explain why it happened.
After the Emergency was declared, there were campaigns, operations, movements and plans made all over Malaya to provide security to counter offense or to seek freedom. So that brings us to the next room, which is the Planning Room.
While the plans made and executed were claimed to be made in the interest of the people, the ones who were affected are the civilians, no matter how small the decision that was made by the leader.. Note the colours used for the exhibition material in the Planning Room. White is representing the British and a certain Malay party that soon will claim independence from British while the red is representing the communists.
Never look only at the surface when it’s regarding to history. While the leaders were planning and negotiating, things happened underneath as depicts in the picture below.
Beneath the surface, violence were ongoing and countless lives were sacrificed while the leaders were planning and talking. People were suffering.
I have to admit that history was not my strong point, and I’ve slept in my history class more often than staying awake as the way the teachers taught history was very boring. They were merely feeding us facts and dates and never provoke us to think in a different perspective. History, in most classes were always a straight line, where one side is bad and another is the hero. But after going to this exhibition, I do not feel the same, and learn that despite 51 years of independence from British colonization, there are things that still haven’t change. Some things are still implemented the same way as it was before.
Despite of being sponsored by various local agencies, including Kementerian Perpaduan, Kebudayaan, Kesenian dan Warisan, this Emergency Festival does not attract much locals. Instead, there are more foreigners who are interested in our history. Young man and woman from England flooded this exhibition and seems to be fascinated with the whole thing. Sad to see that Malaysian youth these days are not concern about out history, instead, they prefer to loiter around doing God knows what during weekends.
Cleffairy: To control a country, one would have to control the mind of the people. To cripple the enemies, one would have to work together with people that we dislike in order to achieve our goals. In any era, any country, the victors will claim the spoils of war while the defeated fades away and buried. The one’s who were buried were silenced forever.