Readers may be familiar with the term Anglophiles. In the Malaysian context Anglophiles can be loosely defined as those who strive to become an English person despite their Oriental or native origin. This situation leads to the derogatory Malay term – orang kulit pulit sawo matang – white folks with brown skin.

Anglophiles are emulatitative lovers of United Kingdom. In Malaysia Anglophiles was commonly with the ruling elite.

The unique thing for Malaysian Anglophiles is that they aspire for the lifestyles of the British colonialists in Malaya, not for the average English people in England or in the UK. So such lifestyle was more associated with the elites rather than for common people. However, this is not to say that common people can not become Anglophiles. Nevertheless, it is difficult for common people to become Anglophiles, even though during the height of the Age of Anglophiles in Malaysia, Anglophilism is the rage. This age runs from the Independence up until the sad events of the 13th of May 1969. The difficulty is of course due to the expensive lifestyle of the Malaysian Anglophiles; on top of that the aspirant Anglophiles would find it difficult to practice even the basic lifestyle i.e. speak a good English (like the standard English as it was spoken in the BBC) if people around him or her don’t speak English or, even if they do, they speak the Malaysian style English. And then the average common people don’t have the means to go to the parties and social events that are associated with the Anglophiles.

I think one of the best descriptors of Anglophilism is the P. Ramlee film: Antara Dua Derajat. There is also a novel called – Bukit Kenny. Readers should be aware that I am recalling these film and novel from my vague memory, so the caveat definitely applies in this instance.

These literary works (especially the Bukit Kenny novel) describe how Anglopholism or the love of anything English (albeit directed towards the upper crust of English society) was the norm of the Malaysian elites.

The best example of an Anglophile is Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first prime minister of Malaysia. He basically loves many things English.

This love for many things English however, remains mostly at a personal level. Obviously Tunku has done a lot good things for Malaysia. For an Aristocrat, Tunku lived rather modestly. Although he has an air/aura of an English upper crust gentleman, he lived rather modestly.

More importantly, he “secured” the independence of Malaya and he was very instrumental in the creation of Malaysia. He is basically conservative in economic policy and like the Conservative elites of the UK, Tunku prefers a hands-off policy in economic management. Another of his other best contribution is that he managed to keep defense costs reasonably low despite the volatile situation the country was facing due to Emergency and Konfrontasi. This had been done largely via his good relations with the Englishmen. Tunku managed to ask Britain to shoulder the burden of defending the country. It should be noted that the British military maintains significant presence in Malaysia (and Singapore) up until 1970 (or is it 1971….have to check the history books!). So when the British were here, Malaysia can get by with a small military. It was only after the departure of the British that the Malaysian defense spending shot up. Coincidentally, the departure of the British co-incided with Tunku’s retirement. Of course we can’t correlate or impute causality in these two events – Britain by 1971 was totally finished as Empire; and therefore large military commitments in former colonies east of Suez had now become untenable.

Currently there are not many visible Anglophiles around. This perhaps has to do with the increasing nationalism in the NEP (New Economic Policy) era governments in Malaysia. The increasing nationalism was first accommodated by leaders like Tun Razak and then by Tun Hussein Onn [see this further clarification]. These leaders though at face value nationalistic, were actually still Anglophile. It was under Mahathir that the hold of the Anglophile elites was finally broken.

Remember Mahathir with his Look East policy? This Look East policy was the final death knell the Anglophiles’ era in Malaysia. Under Mahathir’s Look East policy, those ordinary people who aspires to be Anglophile must have had a terrible time. (Of course, the elites still have Anglophile lifestyles – you can see and envy their lifestyles by reader the Malaysian Tattler and some other upscale magazines which I can’t remember anymore). Yes, it was Mahathir who exhorted that we Malaysians must not ape the West. Of course, in reality Mahathir’s policy was actually ambivalent as it was under his administration that thousands upon thousands of students, many of them ordinary Bumiputras were sent to Western countries to pursue tertiary studies. And it was under his rule that many academically gifted Malays went to top universities in Western countries – and quite a few went to elite universities in the UK!… And a few managed to get into Oxford…..


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