It is time the state government restudy the definition and interpretation of the Sabah Native Ordinance 1952.
The recent disclosure at the Sabah State Legislative Assembly that Sri Tanjung assemblyman Jimmy Wong was stripped of his native certificate is interesting in more ways than one.
Some who are against Wong may argue that as a matter of principle, he as a leader should uphold the truth and the law, hence admit and correct an error where it is due.
Sulaman assemblyman Hajiji Mohd Noor told the House that Wong did not have “even a single drop of Kadazan blood inside his body as both his parents are Chinese, as stated in his birth certificate.
“With that the [special] Board [appointed by the Head of state through the Government Gazette in 2010 after a thorough investigation into the issue] found that Jimmy Wong does not fulfil Section 2 (I) Interpretation (Definition of Native) Ordinance.”
As such Wong cannot declare himself a Sino-Kadazan.
The case against Wong is pending the decision of the Kota Kinabalu Native Court (KKNC) which will deliberate on what to do next. It will also decide on how to handle the matter of native lands which, Sekong assemblyman Samsuddin Yahya put it, were acquired by Wong by “faking his status.”
Wong’s experience is a double-edged sword. While the opposition leaders can condemn this as another case of selective persecution by the BN, they should also be glad that with the rights of genuine natives have been protected with the legal precedence, albiet a belated one.
We need to admit also that a few decades ago, we made the serious mistake of opening a huge loophole in the law by allowing the loose certification of natives.
This gave rise to a new breed of ‘natives’ who openly admitted (among friends) they were not natives but were “certified natives.”
With native certificates in hand, acquired through ‘good relationships’ with Ketuas Kampung and Native Chiefs, these adoptive natives were more powerful than real natives because of their financial superiority. What about the others?
They also commanded respect and following among villagers who went out of their way to accommodate them into their communities as “towkay,” or “tuan,” which in today’s lingo would be “boss.”
The ever hospitable KadazanDusunMurut (KDM), until this very day still calls all well-to-do or long-nosed and bearded foreigners, including Pakistani cloth traders, “tuan” which to me is difficult to morally accept!
It never seems to occur to us that we, as the hosts, are the ones who should be called “tuan”
But the assembly sitting on March 27, also went into some argument about the definition of natives.
Balung assemblyman Syed Abbas Syed Ali wanted the Indians, Bugis and Arabs classifed as natives.
He said: “I brought this to the House because in the past, the Indians and my grandfather, who is an Arab, were appointed as native chiefs. My question is, if they were recognized as natives, why were their grandchildren denied the status?”
The answer is simple. The past recognition of non-natives as natives were errors, and their descendants have no right to enjoy the privilege.
Even Melalap assemblyman Raden Malleh mused, rather sarcastically, if he was a native in Sabah.
Perhaps he is aware that the Sabah Muruts, his ethnic group, are immigrants from Indonesia’s Kalimantan, where they are more Muruts than anywhere else in the region.
Said Syed Abbas: “There are Muruts in Indonesia but they are called Indonesians. If they are Muruts in Sabah, then we are called Murut Sabah….
“We, the Arabs, are considered as Malaysians but when you mention the word Malay, we are not recognized as Bumiputera… In short, I do not know what my race is.” Ordinance untouched
Abbas was confused between the matter of ethnic origin and nationality, and between nationality and native or Bumiputera status.
I believe he is an Arab Malaysian who is a Bumiputera and Malay because by the definition of the Federal Constitution, he is a Malay.
But whether he is a native in the context of Sabah is subject to discussion and deliberation. This is because the definitions of “Native” in the Ordinance does not cover Arabs.
We think of Constitutions, Acts and Ordinances as laws that are sanctified by legal processes and traditions.
But the fact is that laws are not so sanctimonious as to be untouchable because they are not perfect – that is why they are subject to amendments.
The idea that the Interpretation (Definition of Native) Ordinance 1952 needs to be amended to give a more accurate definition of “native” is nothing new.
It’s just that the successive State Governments had never got down to doing it.
I think this is because of the various technical difficulties of redefining the term, and not the least is the fear of extending the definition of native beyond what is acceptable to true natives, which I define as the original peoples of the land.
As it is the definition of “native” under Section 2(c) of the Ordinance is already very discomforting.
Ambiguity in definition
The definition under Section 2 (c) states: “any person who is ordinarily resident in Sabah, is a member of the Suluk, Kagayan, Simonol, Sibutu or Ubian people or of a people indigenous to the State of Sarawak or the State of Brunei, has lived as and been a member of a native community for a continuous period of three years preceding the date of his claim to be a native…”.
And under Section 2 (d), it states: “(a native) is a member of a people indigenous to the Republic of Indonesia or the Sulu group of islands in the Philippine Archipelago or the States of Malaya or the Republic of Singapore.”
This clearly states that immigrants from the Sulu region who haven’t violated any immigration law can be a native of Sabah.
Note also that the Constitution of the now defunct United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) stated that it accepted membership from, among others, the “Sabah Nationals” which was defined (in the Usno constitution) to include immigrants from Sulu.
And this then begs the question of why Arabs and Bugis can become Bumiputeras overnight, and Suluks can become natives in three years, and yet Chinese and Indians can never do so, hence must remain “immigrants,” and never to become Bumiputeras or natives, till the end of time?
Doesn’t the issue of human rights arise in this matter?
In the United States and Canada, the definition of “native” refers to the brown-coloured Red Indians who, like the Orang Aslis of the Peninsula have very little rights or opportunities in their own lands, while anyone else – white, black, or yellow – can become an American citizen and enjoy every right available.
While cracking our heads trying to sort out the muddle, let’s not forget that ‘nativeness’ has other angles to it.
Wikipedia defines “indigenous peoples” as “ethnic groups that are … the original inhabitants of a territory…. ethnic groups that have historical ties to groups that existed in a territory prior to colonization or formation of a nation state, and which normally preserve a degree of cultural and political separation from the mainstream culture and political system of the nation state within the border of which the indigenous group is located.”
The true native, or original people, whose existence in a particular geographical location can be traced way back to the stone age are called “original people,” “natural people,” or “aboriginal people,” “aborigines,” or in Malay “Orang Asli” or in Kadazandusun “Pasok Momogun.” Time to re-classify
The Kadazandusuns and their many subethnic groups, as well as the Kwijaus, the Muruts and even the Lundayehs (more recent immigrants from Kalimantan and Sarawak) qualify to be classified in this category of original peoples or original natives, perhaps more suitably called “supernatives.”
If the definition of “natives” is already so loose, to include all sorts of immigrants, then I would rather redefine my status to “original people,” “aborigine,” or “Orang Asli” – hence a “supernative”, regardless of the derogatory inferences of the names.
I simply stand by the full knowledge that my ancestors were here as early as the stone age, who perhaps could have been contemporaries of the dinosaurs.
Hajiji rightly said that: “This is serious and sensitive, so we would need to check it thoroughly before coming up with a decision.”
I hope Hajiji does not forget to take into consideration that it might not be a bad idea to institutionalize two categories of “natives” – “natives” and “supernatives.”
And as a Supernative, I deserve more rights than a mere Native!