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Sunday, June 06, 2004

Are you a Datuk or a Dato'? Or even a Datok!

Last Saturday, 05/06/2004, Malaysia celebrated the Agong's Birthday (The official Birthday of the Supreme Ruler, who is elected among all the Malaysian Sultans every 5 years). I am not sure whether the present Agong's Birthday falls on that Saturday or not but that is the official celebration day for the Agong Birthday. And we Malaysian have the day off for the celebration. Nothing much really but just a token of respect (for what?). Somehow I feel cheated. That Birthday has always been celebrated in June. I think it used to be Jun 02 but because the Government wants it to be celebrated at a weekend, they shifted it to the first weekend in June (I think). So now every first weekend of June and on a Saturday Malaysia celebrate the Agong's Birthday. Its and illusion, but anyway the Agong is also an illusion. Its just a mirage really, its there but in actual fact when you try to feel it its not there. In a sense you do not feel the power the position holder holds except probably as a tool to open Parliament when Parliament first sits /meet each year (I stand corrected) and to be the Diplomatic Head when any other State Head from outside Malaysia visits the country or when the Government decides that any of the State Head of the another country is to be visited. A sort of figurehead really.

What I want to present here is not about the Agong per say, but about how these Birthdays produce Datuk (for the Federal and the States without Sultans and Dato' for any State with a Sultan). How this came about I am not sure but there is a URL in the Internet that tells you exactly what these Datuk or Dato' gets from these Heads. And there are so many Datuk or Dato' in Malaysia today that before long everyone in Malaysia is a Datuk or a Dato'. In fact everyone is; when you have grandchildren the grandchildren call the grandpa Datuk ( I am not sure how this Datuk is spelt but I am using Datuk here because it has a similar sound to the royal award). And also the Chinese has so many Datuk as well, I do not know what they are but I think they are their God (or is it Ghost? I am not sure). And there is a place in Malaysia called Bagan Datok, a small town on the coast of the State of Perak (I suppose this Datok is not an award by he Sultan). I remember that in that town there is a restaurant that serves the best crab dish that I have ever tasted, it was finger licking That was years ago. I wonder if the restaurant is still there.

Talking about the award of Datuk-ship (or Dato'-ship), almost every one in Malaysia is scrambling for that title. In fact one big gangster in the country has got the title of Dato' and he was charged in Court recently for being the 'head' of gambling, killing, robbery and prostitution over the whole country. How about that? I wonder how the awards was given to him. Is there no committee to vet the giving of such award? Did he purchase the award, or did he bribed into getting the award or did he threatened someone who has the power to recommend for the award that if he does not get the award that someone would get into trouble?. To add insult to injury, this 'gangster' person is also a Justice of Peace (JP). Again how did he get that award?

A couple of weeks ago the small State of Perlis in northern Malaysia celebrated the Raja of Perlis Birthday (the present Raja of Perlis is the present Agong of Malaysia, and that is just by coincident). But what is funny to me is that the State is so small, it was only a sub-district of Kubang Pasu when northern Malaya was under the Siamese Government rule ( Kubang Pasu is a District in the State of Kedah where Dr M had his Parliamentary seat for over 25 years) but at that Birthday many were awarded Dato'-ship. What a situation. I wonder if the Dato'-ship awarded by such a small State as Perlis is equal in all the Dato'-ship awarded by other bigger States in Malaysia. Malaysia is one of the countries in the world that give so many title to its citizen that almost every citizen in Malaysia has got a title. This is where I thought about my original write up which was in blog. The blog has now been canceled and I am revisiting the write up..

Perhaps one of the readers of this essay is a Dato' or a Datuk.
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While traveling in the LRT going towards KLCC one day, sitting there I wondered how many Tun, Tan Sri, Datuk, Dato', Datin, Dr., Ir., Hj etc etc on the train then. Of course I did not expect any Tun or Tan Sri on the train but I was pretty sure that there was a Hj, and Ir on the train. Datuk and Dato' maybe, but Datin, no there will not be any. Tun and Tan Sri, far from it.

There are so many personal titles in Malaysia, it can be quite boring to name them and confusing to identify them. You really do not know who is what nowadays, and who holds what title. And to make it worse for yourself, you have to address them correctly. The YB shall not be called YAB, or Yang Bhg, Yang Ariff must be addressed correctly Your best friend may be a Dato ' or a Datuk something like that but you would not know unless he/she tells you or you read the newspapers. I do not read the newspapers so I do not know who are the Datuk/Dato' and the Datin and the Tun and the Tan Sris. And every year with the many Head of States/Sultans in Malaysia, there are so many awards given that to follow them properly and precisely will be a voluminous task. Datin? That is peculiar. If the husband is a Dato'/Datuk then the wife is a Datin. But is the wife is Dato'/Datuk what do you call the husband. But again what do you call the Dato'/Datuk second wife or if his wife had died earlier, is the new wife a Datin?. Very confusing. Why Dato' and Datuk? And in the old days they spelt it as Datok. And lately it has been reported that you can even buy your Dato'/Datuk title. Now that is something, so if you pay the correct amount to the Sultan/Head of State concerned then you can negotiate for a Dato'/Datuk title.

There are so many Dato'/Datuk on the street today that you can almost throw a stone in the air in any street, and the probability is that it will land on a Dato's/Datuk's head. But what Dato'/Datuk? So they invented Dato Seri, Dato Paduka etc etc only God knows what. Its a strange worlds in Malaysia with all these invented titles. And mind you, they are official titles recognised by the Government protocols.

What use are all these titles? Many. You can be invited to be a member of the Board of a Co., you can get the proper treatment from say airline reservations (Malaysian Airlines only probably), car rental, hotel reservation. etc etc, in Malaysia. You benefit in a way. But beware, when come to the Sultans birthday, I am told that you may be invited to the Birthday ceremony but with the consequence that you have to contribute towards the birthday expenses. So I suppose a Sultan can create so many Dato' that he can have all his birthday expenses paid for. In reality I do not know about this arrangement, its all hearsay. I am not a Dato' so I do not know whether what I hear is the truth. But can the Dato' title be withdrawn. Yes, cases have been known in Selangor and in Johore. A friend, who has now passed away, had his title withdrawn by Johore.

Tun and Tan Sri, those are special. Those are Federal titles and they are only awarded by the Agong. Can anyone buy the title? Not that I have heard of. What use are these titles? Plenty. Up and above the Dato'/Datuk title. You can get lots and lots done with them. You are the friends of the elite of the country, even foreign diplomat have that respect for you, if they know that you hold that titles.

Now lets see what other small titles are. There are Hajis. These are not title really, the holder just would like to be known that way. The title indicated that the person have been to Mecca, to perform the Haji Pilgrimage. To the poor it mean a lot to go on this Pilgrimage, but to the rich its just a drop of water in the ocean of their wealth. So the poor are very particular about this, if you do not call them 'Haji' they get very insulted. So be aware. To those who have been to Mecca to perform the Haj, try not to call them by their names (first name if in Malaysia). They may not even respond to you. It happened to me in Pahang sometime back. This guy I have known for a long time, one day I called on him and used his name. He said, "You mean Hj,...so and so.". I was taken aback but to please him I call him 'Hj so and so'. Sometimes I forget, so I call him by his name and later adding Hj. so and so. But to the rich the title don't have any real meaning to them,. In a way no meaning but in away yes, they want to portray that they are good Muslims so they would like to be called 'Hj'. So if this rich guy has got so many other titles (rich guys in Malaysia normally have other titles) he may be called Tan Sri Dato' Hj...so and so.

What of the Dr. title?. One has to be very careful here, one has to distinguish between Doctor of Medicine or a PhD holder. Anyone can make a mistake here. And if he lives in kampong, people may wake him up in the middle of the night to seek treatment when anyone is ill. If you are Doctor in Medicine it is OK, but if you a PhD holder then it will quite embarrassing, except of course you can offer to drive the sick person to the nearest Clinic that may be opened 24 hours a day, or to the nearest hospital. But Dr is a useful title. If you are Doctor of Medicine you have a good public image and you gain a lot of respect, you can work in a Government hospital or open a private practice or work as a locum or work in private hospitals or even work outside the realm of medicine, say in safety or even health and environment. And if you are a PhD holder, you can be appointed as a Professor in a U or be invited into some high level committee in the Govt. And also with that title as you grow old you can still earn a living by writing books..

Ir is a strange title, invented and used by Malaysian Engineers. These people are registered Professional Engineers, who are recognised by the Govt. What can they do?. Just sign technical drawings on their specialty for submission to the approving authorities. Not much use really. Unlike those Engineers in other countries who do not have titles before their names and these people are really the elite of technical fraternity of that country. But again many would like to seek that title just to sign technical drawings and earn a meager living.

The above are the major titles that I can think of at the spur of this moment. Other small titles are such as ranks. 'General' are life title for military people, so are Colonel or Major. But they are always careful here, they always add the word '(Rtd)' which stands for retired. I have not heard officially recognised of Lt. Rtd or Capt. Rtd, or ASP Rtd or Commissioner Rtd. Probably there are such titles. On a smaller scale there are the Bekas Penghulu (ex-Penghulu), Bekas Tok Empat or Bekas Sidang. They held those posts once in their life and now have retired. Its nothing more than to remind society of whom they are and if you want to locate them in their kampong you can easily ask people in that kampong where to find them.

Unlike awarded title or rank title there are other titles attached to ones name. To name a few, Syed (or Sayed), Sharifah, Sheikh, Nik, Wan, Raja, Tengku, Ungku, Cikku, Awang, Dayang, not necessarily in the order of importance. I cannot rank them in the order of importance, each area has its own order. In Pahang for example, Syed is just below Tengku, and in Kedah I am told its the same. These are not surnames as such, maybe family names but in reality, I suppose, its a traditional name to indicate their family origin or their usefulness to society (mind you not a trade but usefulness; where as I understand it that surnames are trade names - I stand corrected here). To the best of my knowledge Syed and Sharifah are of Arabic origin (from anywhere in the Arabian Peninsular), Nik are from Kelantan, I am told that they originated from China, became Muslims after being adopted by the Sultan of Kelantan, And Wan, I do not know where they come from but I am told that they were worriers. Tengku of course are of the declared royal family, the same for Raja but in different form and in different State. Ungku I only see names from Johore and Trengganu. Cikku, I only meet them in Trengganu. Awang and Dayang are names in the Borneo region. Anyway these are only of the Malay stock, which are in existence today. Maybe in the past they have some other titles which may have died way over time.

Titles are important. They give an idea as to where one stands in a society. To some its a real nuisance but to others its a mean to keeping up their dignity. But to some its a escapism. Some say, "I am so and so,. so I am entitled to that and this". Some may say, "These people are not to my status and standard so I shall not bother to be there", say at a function, wedding or a gathering. And some snooty ones may say ":This person is below me, so why bother to call on him/her. Let him/her call me". There are so may approaches are made when there is titles consciousness in society. Its a sort of indication of strata in society. Its not a cast system as such but close enough.

Is having titles good or bad? I have no thought in that area. I suppose it depends on where you are,. If you are in the upper crust, then you feel happy. But if you are in the lower crust then you suffer and just learn to like it (attitude of most Malaysian in my opinion). Most I suppose would like to be in the middle crust and remain there where you get the best of both world.

Try reading a book called "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" by Thomas Hardy to see what happens when you do not know where you really are but forced to play a role of being in a different crust in society.,

Eid Adha Greetings to all Muslims.

To shout back, e-mail: mylias@tm.net.my


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