(All pics below courtesy of Nancy Shukri)
NANCY Shukri is the Member of Parliament for the Batang Sadong constituency in Sarawak and Wanita Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu secretary-general. Formerly the political secretary to Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, she was active in the Sarawak Federation of Women’s Institute (SFWI) and various non-governmental organisations before she entered politics. She also owned her own firm, NS Training and Consultancy Services, before being called to serve public office.
She was one of nine new faces introduced by Sarawak Barisan Nasional for the March 2008 general elections, and won in the largely conservative and rural area of Batang Sadong despite not being a local. She holds a law degree from Hull University and an executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Ohio University, and is married with three children.
A firm believer in national harmony and development, Nancy told The Nut Graph about her growing and formative years in this 15 Apr 2010 interview in Kuala Lumpur.
When and where were you born?
I was born in Kuching, on 5 Aug 1961, in the kampung where my mom still lives. We live across the river and we still have our house there.
What was your childhood like, some of your early memories?
Nancy, right, with a school friend, circa age 15I can never forget that I swam across the Sarawak river when I was 14. When I was small I liked to go into the jungle, because we were from the kampung and there were still loads of fruit trees at the time. So on weekends my friends and I would always go swimming or go and look for wild fruit.
I didn’t actually know how to swim at first. My mother didn’t know at the time, but I was a naughty girl, and when I was supposed to go for Quran reading, I would take the opportunity to learn how to swim. I would practise at the back of people’s houses, and in very dirty water (laughs). But so I learnt, and at age 14 I [wore] the sarong, turned into a “balloon” of sorts, and then swam across the river. I was the only girl [along] with the boys in the kampung who did that.
The Sarawak river was huge, and if you ask me to do it again now, I wouldn’t. It was fun and I was not scared at the time, but I was told that there were crocodiles in the river.
Can you trace your ancestry?
My mother was adopted by a Malay family during the Japanese Occupation. My mother’s father was Scottish, under the British government at that time. My late grandfather was the Resident of Kuching. He was also the magistrate, and my mother told me he had many responsibilities. He married an Iban-Chinese.
But when my mother was 11, the Japanese came and were looking for British children, so my mother and her brother were taken to be hidden by this Malay family. My grandfather died in a massacre by the Japanese. My mother was looked after by the Malay family [as she grew up], but was also well taken care of by the British government.
Nancy’s father (centre) and mother (right) in preparation
for the umrah to MeccaI remember the last Brooke, Anthony Walter Dayrell Brooke, came to Kuching in 1982 and looked for my mother and uncle. He invited all of my family members to Holiday Inn Kuching for a meal.
On my father’s side, there is a big family from Kuching. My paternal grandfather died when I was a baby. He was a Malay who married a Melanau, and they came all the way from Rajang.
How has all this shaped your identity as a Malaysian?
As far as I know, to my family and me, everybody is a brother and sister, regardless of religion. Because that’s the lifestyle we have been living all these years, with our Chinese and British cousins. We even forget about so-and-so not being Muslim. In fact, I have a Chinese Malaysian cousin whom we keep calling Mat — we forget his Chinese name!
In our family, and for most Sarawakians, if a Chinese Malaysian invites us to their house, we don’t bother asking whether things are halal or not. We just start eating; that’s us.
But of course, now people are always asking, and you think, what has happened politically? Suddenly someone starts using racial or religious issues, and then you realise [that this situation exists], and you start getting questions like, “Who are you? Are you Malaysian first? Malay first? Or Chinese first?”
And what do you say when people start asking you that question?
I am just Nancy! Why would it concern you whether I am Malay or Chinese or what? I am just Nancy and I am a Malaysian, that’s all.
Upon graduating with her Bachelor of Law (Honours)
Are there any stories or advice from your mother or father that you hold dear to your heart?
My mother does not give us advice, actually, she shows by example. She is a very active woman, in both the NGOs and politics at the ground level. It’s because of her that I got involved in politics, I guess. She had a hard life because she had to take care of so many people. She only studied up to Primary Three, but she does artwork, handicraft and works with NGOs, [and] teaches people.
Do you often look back now and compare your busy life as a politician with your blissful past?
In the kampung I was also very active and community-orientated as a child. I played the kompang and zikir as a teenager. I guess because of my mother’s influence, I was not just a follower, but a leader in singing and other activities. I followed Saberkas (the Sarawak National Youth Organisation) from the age of 12. Whenever there was a kenduri in the kampung, or if people wedded or passed away, we would all be very much involved in everything.
I thought that all this would be over when I went off to study. I remember telling myself, perhaps I want to be on my own and lead a private life. But like it or not, when it comes to these things, people actually pick and appoint you. And I just didn’t know how to say no.
After my mother admitted she was getting old, people took me into the NGOs and expected me to be there. They also put me in high positions. After my term was over, I thought that was it. But then suddenly I was involved in politics.
With other politicians and administrators in Sarawak
I was running and enjoying my own business already, which revolved around training. As long as I had fun and could go on holidays with my family, I did not want to pressure myself. A while later, I was pulled in to become a political secretary, which I had no experience in. And then after that, I was asked to stand to become an MP. It was a real shock to me actually, and something totally out of my plans.
What do you hope for Malaysia?
I want to see a more peaceful Malaysia. Look at Parliament. It is not too bad now, but in the first three months when I first came in, I almost gave up. Because this is not my culture — fighting, arguing, shouting. In fact, if you observe the Sarawakians in Parliament, we do not shout. To us and to me, it does not do us any good.
At first we were criticised, even by the [deputy speaker] (Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar), that we did not speak up. But who said so? We were speaking, but not in that tone, not that way. However, during recent proceedings, it was the speaker himself again who gave credit to us. He said, “I’m glad that you Sarawakians always kept cool and did not participate, or it would have worsened the situation.”
I want to see men and women moving forward, instead of talking about the past. I want to see people become more advanced in their thinking, and realise that we don’t have to kill each other in order to reach somewhere.
With her mother (left) and other relatives during her wedding
ceremony in Kuching. She wore several different traditional
dresses that day, including this kimono
As in the debates on race and religion?
Like it or not, we have sentimental values as Malay or Chinese [Malaysians] for example, but that does not make us different from [one another].
It spoils the whole country, the whole nation, when we talk about racial and religious issues. On the “Allah” issue, for example, Sarawak did not comment on it. I led the hymns for Christian songs in my school and I treated it as a singing activity. That is you and this is us, and it doesn’t turn me into a Christian.
There is a difference in how we handle things in Sarawak. Once, I said in Parliament: “We don’t want anyone from outside Sarawak to come and teach us about harmony or peace or living in unity!” I think we are the ones who can become the model, for we are the ones who have been living in a very peaceful surrounding.
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