Why not batik for Rio Opening Ceremony?

batik ceremony

By KJ John

Malaysia is a nation-state of multiple ethnicities, cultures, and languages. The overlay of too much religion without much spirituality is another burden imposed on all and sundry… once too often.

I was personally utterly disappointed with the drab dressing of the Malaysian contingent at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics last Friday. Yes, I did not like the colours or even the imagination of the Baju Melayu.

Why can’t Malaysia evolve a different multi-cultural symbol which is neutral of any feelings or overtures, but still proposes and pronounces our national sense of pride and patriotism – what we call Malaysia, Truly Asia.

Pride and patriotism can never be imposed but must be nurtured and motivated from within persons. It must never be imposed outside in.

My generation of Malaysians, as well as our parents’ generation, may have a somewhat negative attitude towards the Baju Melayu as a Malay cultural symbol. Nevertheless, over the many years and after one generation, we all seem to like and appreciate Malaysian batik silk.

However, maybe not enough is being done to promote batik as one national and multi-cultural Malaysian symbol.

Weddings as one cultural symbol

Every wedding has a religious and also a cultural dimension to the multiple ceremonies. Often the religious dimension is conducted in religious places or homes. The more public wedding dinner is often a truly multi-cultural and community event, to celebrate with all and sundry the joyous occasion of the marriage of a young couple

When I considered getting married, I told my father that if I got married in the Mar Thoma Church (my religious and cultural heritage), I would want to wear a Baju Melayu as my wedding attire during the church service.

He was not too happy with my proposal. I said I did not appreciate or value the traditional Indian cultural attire. Neither did I want to wear a three-piece suit.

Fortunately, as it turned out my wife and I got married in the United States and I got to wear my Public Service No 1 Suit for the wedding, instead of a western suit. My wife wore her wedding dress in all its glory, meaning and modesty. It helped pronounce her beauty and elegance.

My question therefore is: Why did the Malaysian contingent to the Rio Olympics wear the Baju Melayu as the national costume? Why not silk batik? Allow me therefore to make my case.

It is not that I think that the Baju Melayu is not pretty or is unfit to be worn, but rather unfortunately, it has been too much identified with only Malay culture to the point that other Malaysians (especially our parents’ generation) have not learned to appreciate the art and culture positively embedded within it.

So, as I observed, the Malaysian contingent marched with little pride and patriotism.

Yes, we expect and hope we win a gold medal this time around.

Lee Chong Wei needs to win, and I pray he does for his own sake and for the good of the nation-state. I am also equally confident that his dressing would not have been any part of that pride and patriotism, it will have to be his motivation for real and final success at the Olympics.

For example, when I participated in the Bersih 4 rally last year, I saw that most of the younger generation wore the Bersih 4 T-shirt with pride even though, in Chinese culture, the no 4 is associated with “death”, as both words sound similar.

So, why were they okay with wearing it? The reason is simple – they identified with the cause and knew why they had to wear the no 4 on their yellow T-Shirts, in spite of knowing that the number was “pantang” for them.

What is national pride?

National pride and patriotism are when the citizen of a nation-state takes ownership of the reason, purpose, and meaning of that nation-state and what it stands for, and then makes it personal and valuable.

Mr Khan (father of slain US marine Khizir Khan) did that in the US recently, at the Democratic National Convention, and therefore could take on Donald Trump with his, “have you read the Constitution?” line. Mr Khan is now an American household name because of his son’s bravery and death in service of the US of A.

Such pride and patriotism comes from both the mind and the heart. First, the mind must be convinced and then the heart is moved to make such a commitment and then one’s passion and beliefs speak.

Organisational versus Personal realities

The recent case of the Russian Federation being banned from the Rio Olympics systemically for substance abuse is a clear case in point.

It is only natural that the IOC could not ban the entire Russian team for the systemic failure of standards, monitoring of ethics, or a culture of corruption. Olympics are competitions based on competence, endurance and training of specific skills and abilities by individual athletes and sports people.

They are not about standards and ethics, both of which are part and parcel of organisational culture-related issues. Nevertheless, with the advancement in science and testing methods, more revelations are expected, and such cheating will be recognised and publicised as unfair competitive advantages.

Sports is always driven by personal determination and motivation but which also drives athletes and sports people to seek to excel without cheating, however great their desire to win is.

The Olympic spirit must always be maintained and remain amateur, where possible.

KJ John was a member of the National Information Technology Council (NITC), that was responsible for the National IT Agenda.

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