We aren’t a nation of documenters

Pictures of Malaya

The national football team will take on Vietnam in the two-leg AFF Cup final – but there’s little history of Harimau Malaya’s past battles against the Vietnamese team and detailed facts involving the Malaysians at previous competitions.

Despite already being in the digital, mobile-first era and nations adapting the rapid changes brought about by Industry 4.0, sports associations in Malaysia are not alone in lacking rich resources from the past.

Many organisations, including government agencies, scramble to find information about their beginnings, key personnel involved during major events and milestones set over the years – a peculiar problem coming from a rather young nation that just turned 61.

How did people dress up in the early 1940s? What was the hit song on the radio a month after Merdeka? What were the common accessories seen in the average home throughout the 60s?

Reason? We aren’t a nation of documenters.

One person who cannot agree more is Eddin Khoo.

A seasoned journalist, lecturer, and founder of Kuala Lumpur-based cultural organisation Pusaka, Khoo agreed many establishments in Malaysia do not seem to know their history.

“It’s true. There doesn’t seem to be the need to value history and the lessons learnt … to document and preserve such information,” said Khoo, the son of historian Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim.

“My father helped set up the National Museum and sadly it turned into a museum of mannequins. I’m glad the scriptures about Malaya are being kept in the UK and not here … because they have experts who value such documents.”

Khoo added there was a difference between being informed and knowledgeable.

“Statistics, data are just information. Being able to understand, rationalise and put the information to good use is knowledge. That’s why we first need to document what happens to then understand and evaluate the lessons.”

“And when you don’t document stuff, you see the same thing (or decision) being repeated … because no one knew it existed.”

Many are still confused over who founded Kuala Lumpur with the common perception being Kapitan Yap Ah Loy.

As Kay Kim had, during the MYKL exhibition in Kuala Lumpur last year, pointed out, it was a Sumatran prince from Mandailing, Sultan Puasa, who founded Kuala Lumpur.

Many are today obsessed with documenting their lives online.

This may not be a bad thing provided it is properly documented for every picture taken and message posted could help document the various facets of life in Malaysia.

The next time you take a selfie – document it as detailed as possible. It could one day serve as a history lesson.