Have you ever wondered why some history books are called “A People’s History or so-and-so”? If the book is about the history of a country, why not just call it “A History of so-and-so”? Why is it necessary to put a disclaimer in front of it? For one thing, there are many ways to look at history, especially a history of a country. Different perspectives can lend a huge difference to the telling of history; for example, the colonization of India during the colonial era was considered by the British people to be the height of the British Empire where the English lords benevolently guided the natives into a more civilized future, whereas for the Indians, that era was a dark period in their history where the white colonizers drain their land of the natural resources and enslaved the native people. In order to tell a fair history, all sides’ perspective must be considered in the narrative.
Author Syed Husin Ali considered this historical perspective, and recently published a book on this topic boldly titles A People’s History of Malaysia. Covering from the prehistory of Malaysia to the current years, this slim yet informative book offers an alternative take to the events that we learned in school. While not claiming that “official” history is fabricated, Syed Husin Ali tells the story of our nation from the point of view of the common people and the contributions of the everyday people towards shaping the Malaysia we know today. Furthermore, it is written in a straightforward style that makes the book easier to read by a layperson.
As we grapple with the direction our country is heading towards the future, it is important to look back to the contributions of the workers, women, students and indigenous people in shaping the country. A People’s History is an important addition to the guide us in a direction of a country that benefits all, and not the elite few.