Wednesday May 13, 2009
By MICHAEL CHEANG
My New Village Stories documents the rich history and tales of Chinese new villages in the country.
SIXTY years ago, soldiers descended upon Chinese settlements all over Malaya, forcing thousands of families out of their homes and into “villages”. The event not only changed the lives of those who were forced into the so-called “new villages”, but also shaped the history of Malaysian Chinese for years to come.
Throughout the history of the Malaysian Chinese, there are few events more monumental and controversial than the creation of the new villages.
Devised by the British as a way to cut off food supply to the insurgents from the Malayan Communist Party (then operating guerrilla style from the jungles), more than 600,000 Chinese were placed in these communities.
Today, these new villages are homes to over a million Chinese, transcending three generations. One of those who grew up in a new village is Wong Kew-Lit, CEO of Yellow Pictures, and executive producer and director of the documentary, My New Village Stories, currently showing on Astro AEC every Sunday.
Hailing from the new village in Raub, Pahang, Wong has very deep feelings about his life in a new village, and reckons many others have the same impression as well, which is why he decided to come up with the documentary.
Wong and his company have chronicled the history of Malaysian Chinese for more than four years now.
Yellow Pictures’ cooperation with Astro started in 2005 with the programme, Malaysia, My Home, which produced a second season the following year. Following that were My Roots (2007), My Malaysia (2008) and Living in Malaysia (2008).
However, while he has always dreamt of producing a series on the country’s unique new villages, he held back until now before launching it because this year will be the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the new villages.
“This series is an effort to chronicle the lives and history of Malaysian Chinese, and to record the landmark events of our history.
“In Malaysia, out of the six million Chinese, more than a million are still living in new villages. Then there are others like me who moved out, but still go back during important festivals to visit our families,” said Wong after the launch of the programme recently, which was officiated by MCA president and Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat.
“Almost half the population of Chinese in Malaysia have ties with the new villages, making it a unique cultural heritage,” said Wong.
Wong and his crew picked 13 (out of over 400) unique new villages for the first season of My New Village Stories.
These include the largest new village (Ampang), the only new village situated on an island (Pasir Hitam) and the most developed (Serdang).
“Many people might think that all new villages are similar – a place inhabited by old people and that all the young people have moved out,” said Wong. “But in fact, each new village has its own unique characteristic. Our crew went all over the country and we found plenty of stories in every one we visited.”
For instance, in Pasir Hitam, they found out that the entire village is not connected to the national electricity and water grid. From the day it was formed until today, the people there are still using their own power generators and collecting rainwater for daily use.
And in Cameron Highlands, where there are as many as six new villages, they listened to stories about how the British would bomb the jungles nearby almost every night to flush out the guerrillas.
Each episode of the series focuses on four generations of each new village – the old generation of people who were originally relocated to these villages, the generation who grew up in them, the young people between 20 and 30 years old who have moved out but still return home every year, and finally, the children who are currently being raised there.
Interviewing the older generation left a deep impression in the minds of Wong and his crew, and gave them a deeper sense of the cultural and historical heritage associated with new villages.
“Many people we interviewed shared with us stories not found in history books. One of them told us how they were moved to the new villages.
“The soldiers just showed up one day and ordered them to pack up whatever they could grab within 15 minutes, after which the soldiers would burn down their houses,” he said.
“Back then, they had to do whatever they could to survive such as farming and rearing pigs. Curfew was imposed on them. It was a hard life, but it made them who they are today.
“The younger generation should treasure these memories and history, because the reason why we lead such comfortable lives today is because of the previous generation’s hard work.”
Because of its rich historical and cultural significance, Wong reckons that the new villages are a living, breathing part of the country’s history, and should be preserved as a historical and cultural heritage.
“This is one of Malaysia’s treasures, but it has been taken for granted. The authorities should sincerely look at them as a world heritage sites and preserve them.”
My New Village Stories airs at 9pm every Sunday on Astro AEC (Channel 301).