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The Nut Graph‘s Malaysia Day Awards

NO, The Nut Graph did not forget that 16 Sept is Malaysia’s real birthday, and that in 2009, Malaysia turns 46, not 52. Discussions on 16 Sept seem less passionate and visible this year, unlike last year when the date was also the subject of a much-hyped takeover of the federal government by the Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

This does not make Malaysia Day any less meaningful, however. So here, to commemorate Malaysia’s real national day, The Nut Graph presents our pick of the 10 best cultural expressions of Malaysia for our inaugural Malaysia Day awards. Like our Merdeka Awards, we do not claim that this is a definitive or exhaustive list. Share with us some of your picks in the comments section.

Tugu Drum Circle 

(Tugu logo courtesy of Paul Lau)

Started by two dudes named Paul Lau and Salim, Tugu Drum Circle is a group of people who gather in a park to bang on drums, pots, pans, buckets and anything else with a surface to drum on. So what’s uniquely Malaysian about this? The answer is deceptively simple: try going to the National Monument or Tugu Negara at the Lake Gardens on Sundays, around 6pm-ish, and see for yourself.

Watch how men and women, girls and boys, of all ages, races, religions and even nationalities, delight in making rhythm together. When the headlines have been all about cow-head protests, whipping and bitter politicking, we dare you to tell us you’re not cheered up by seeing Malaysians — and non-Malaysians — making music together.

13 May, 1969

At the polar opposite end of Tugu Drum Circle’s feel-good expression of Malaysia is the late Redza Piyadasa‘s troubling visual art work, 13 May, 1969. Malaysians have heard enough about 13 May — mostly from BN politicians and official textbooks — being the reason why we can’t talk about race.

 In Piyadasa’s imagining, though, 13 May is represented by an upright coffin wrapped in the Malaysian flag. So, was 13 May the day Malaysia died? It’s a question Malaysians must answer sincerely if a better Malaysia is what we want.

Mak Bedah 

(Courtesy of Options / The Edge)During the March 2008 general election, the Women’s Candidacy Initiative (WCI) fielded the late Zaitun (Toni) Mohamed Kasim as its candidate. Toni was a non-partisan activist who championed the rights of the marginalised — women, Orang Asli, migrant workers, transsexuals, people with HIV/AIDS, you name it. And then Toni was hospitalised on the eve of nomination day, only to be diagnosed with terminal gall-bladder cancer later.

Instead of despairing, WCI decided to field a symbolic candidate anyway — the totally fictitious and utterly lovable Mak Bedah.

Clad in a purple selendang, Mak Bedah could be seen going to the various ceramah, asking candidates if they would respect true democracy and human rights if they were elected, among other things. Therefore, despite not being an actual candidate, Mak Bedah helped spread an important message: that the everywoman has every right to participate in politics, with intelligence, humour and poise to boot. Given the increasingly intense politicking between the Barisan Nasional (BN) and the PR since March 2008, this is a timely message indeed for all Malaysians.

Shanon Shah was part of WCI, and The Nut Graph forgives him for trying to rap in one of WCI’s YouTube videos.


Sepet was the film that really made Malaysians sit up and notice the late Yasmin Ahmad. The writer-director’s story of a gutsy Malay Malaysian girl who falls in love with a sensitive Chinese Malaysian VCD pirate is not without its flaws. For one thing, do Malay Malaysians actually behave and talk like Orked and her family?

But given Yasmin’s overarching vision — that of a diverse Malaysia in which people are free to love and be loved — the suspension of disbelief is something many Malaysians willingly gave in to.

Kinabalu Series 

There is a giant digital print in Sabah-born Yee I-Lann‘s Kinabalu Series called Anak Negeri, in which a diverse group of Sabahans face the spectator, amid a desolate and cloudy landscape. The artwork is large and sumptuous, but it also asks a host of questions about the very concept and foundation of Malaysia.

The series as a whole asks, figuratively rather than literally, where is East Malaysia in this nation called Malaysia? Yee has exhibited all over the world, including at the Tate Modern in London, the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, and also Galeri Petronas. It is easy to see why.

Yee I-Lan, Anak Negeri Kinabalu Series, 2007 (Courtesy of Yee I-Lann)


The 15Malaysia website describes this short-film project as a collection of “funky little films made by 15 Malaysian voices for the people of Malaysia”. In the era of 1Malaysia, this is a subtle reminder that perhaps Malaysians need to think about unity and diversity in more creative and inclusive ways.

The filmmakers include, among others, Amir Muhammad, Ho Yuhang and Yasmin, and some of the subjects and actors include PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin. Diverse indeed!

P Ramlee – the Musical 

Enfiniti Productions’ P Ramlee the Musical allowed Malaysian theatre audiences to discover a few things. But the most intriguing aspect of this musical is its signposting of Malaya’s independence, and the eventual birth of Malaysia, as the background to P Ramlee’s life story. Yes, when Malaysia was born, funky Malaysians, including Malay Muslims, were partying, too!

The Other Malaysia

Spearheaded by Malaysian scholar-activist Dr Farish Noor, The Other Malaysia (TOM) is a resource website that aims to uncover untold and even repressed Malaysian stories and history. That the website has been chugging along regularly for some years now is proof not just of Farish and gang’s tenacity, but of the site’s relevance to thinking Malaysians.

TOM casts a wide net indeed, from its own critiques of current Malaysian politics to talking about Sir Salman Rushdie‘s controversial knighthood in 2007 and revealing to Malaysians the problematic origins of the Jalur Gemilang.


When the pre-March 2008 BN government was busy trumpeting “Malaysia’s” 50th anniversary as a nation in 2007, a coalition of civil society groups begged to differ. They organised a 10-day festival, 50:44, at the Annexe Gallery at Central Market to commemorate the “everyday people” who helped build this nation “for the past 50 years since Independence and 44 years since we became Malaysia”.

(Pic courtesy of Amnesty International Malaysia)

The festival consisted of talks, film screenings, performances and discussions on a range of issues, including refugee and migrant workers’ rights, gender and sexuality, freedom of religion and expression, and indigenous people’s rights. The Nut Graph remembers and salutes this attempt by Malaysians to reclaim Malaysia from political elites.

Fast for the Nation, Peace for Malaysia

(Pic by cyborg1us /

A small but diverse group of Malaysians — of all faiths, races, and with a healthy balance of men and women — are fasting and going vegetarian today, 16 Sept 2009, for peace and harmony in Malaysia. Fast for the Nation, Peace for Malaysia is a symbolic act; it will not change policies and politics overnight. But it is also an attempt by a humble group of Malaysians to light up the candle of inclusiveness so that the rest of us do not have to curse the darkness.

The Nut Graph believes in an inclusive Malaysia in which citizens are free to express diverse views in civil public forums.

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6 Responses to “The Nut Graph‘s Malaysia Day Awards”

  1. navin says:

    Thank you for raising awareness on these groups and their contributions. It is sad that [traditional] media like newspapers and television rarely highlight these grassroots movements that really aim to educate and inform. Thank you, The Nut Graph.

  2. suryani says:

    Excellent choices of what are really meaningful to all Malaysians and reflect the thinking of the times…

  3. Anonymous Coward says:

    Thank you for posting the link to The Other Malaysia. This will definitely give me a lot more to read about our country that’s not been pre-approved by any sort of ministry. 🙂

  4. oh my god! says:

    How about Top Ten Stupid Waste Of Money [Award]?

    Lotus aims to be the best of the four new teams entering the Formula One race next season. That is according to technical director Mike Gascoyne, following Tuesday’s confirmation of Lotus’s entry in the 2010 championship.

    The new team, which will see the Lotus name return to the grid for the first time since 1994, is a partnership between the Malaysian government and a consortium of Malaysian entrepreneurs.

    “We’re realistic that it’s a tremendous job we’ve got in front of us to be fully prepared on the grid in Melbourne, but we’ll do it,” Gascoyne told British F1 broadcasters, the BBC. “With the work we’ve done, we’ll target being the best of the new cars on the grid and that’s a very clear – and realistic – initial target. I’d hope that by mid-season, we’re challenging the bottom rung of the current teams and I think that’s achievable.”

    Lotus will initially be based near the UK headquarters of Lotus Cars (owned by Malaysian auto giant Proton), before moving to a new purpose-built base at Kuala Lumpur’s Sepang International Circuit.

    “We are a very substantial team,” added Gascoyne, who has over 20 years’ experience in the sport. “We’ve got our own factory, the RTN factory in Norfolk, which is fully equipped for Formula One, plus the facilities we’ll be looking at in Malaysia. We’re not just a small new team, we have the possibility to be a very substantial new team and the FIA recognises that.”

    Headed by Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia, Lotus already has a wind tunnel programme underway with Fondtech in Italy and will be starting wind-tunnel testing within the next few weeks.

    “We’re very confident with the group, with Tony Fernandes leading the team, that we’ll be able to put in place a package that will allow us to be very competitive,” concluded Gascoyne.

  5. Hwa Shi-Hsia says:

    This list is an antidote to bitterness. Thank you.

  6. tearsformalaysia says:

    How about Top Ten Stupid Waste Of Money Award (in alphabetcal order). Let’s get the list rolling…

    1. Angkasawan
    2. Lotus

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