Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Burghers

I was surfing to find something on the Sri Lanka Malays when I stumbled upon the Burgher people.

The Burghers keep many precious records of their existence. They are a close knit clan but are widespread on the globe, and they have photos and intact marriage records, etc. They keep a lot of details including family feuds and what happened. Within the Burgher society itself, they are fun, happy and merry. Malays either join in Burgher parties or request the Burghers to organise parties for them so they (the Malays) too can "enjoy" parties.

In British Malaya, the Burghers were hired mainly as clerks or accountants. After Merdeka, the Burghers were reportedly sidelined. Thus, many Burghers emigrated though a few chose to stay. The ones who left were of Jewish lineage. The ones who remained were mostly Christians.

In Malaysia today, Burghers intermarry or marry outside of the Burgher clan. Thus, Burghers have Portuguese, Dutch, British, German, Swiss, French, Jewish, Sinhalese names and surnames.

Now the European colonials have gone and so have their cultures. European names have disappeared from many registers after Merdeka. However, it is not surprising to find a Burgher name in Malaysia today. It is not surprising to find a Burgher Malay in Malaysia today. It is not difficult to distinguish a Burgher descendant within any Malay society. Though Malaysia is a multi-ethnic multi-cultural society, by Malay standards, the Burgher though socially acceptable is often a social outcast at many Malay functions, festivities and culture. Why?

Assimilation of the Burghers with the locals and local culture and tradition takes time. Even though the Portuguese were here in 1511 (501 years ago), and the Dutch were here in 1641 (371 years ago), it takes a long time for the Burghers to fully assimilate into the Malay social fabric. The Burghers are devoted to their religion. It is therefore, very difficult for the Burghers to relinquish their colonialist religion and become Muslims. Language could be another factor.

Appearance-wise, it is not surprising to find a Burgher lady dressed in saree/kain sari, Western dress or tank top or midi.