The Avatar of 1786: Decolonizing the Penang Story makes a strange revisit to pretension of a fact/event around 1786 treaty, and it counters the terra nullius doctrine. The narrative continues independent of each other, representing an uncomfortable conscience glancing at each as two separate polities of Penang and Kedah, socially and intellectually structured by the year 1786. Malay collective memory maintains that Pulau Pinang is integral to the Kedah Sultanate. The island has law, order and society before the presence of the Europeans; not a “band of natives and fishermen” as stereotyped by the colonial narrative, even in the colonial courts. The Malays in Pulau Pinang in recent decades have become ‘beggars’ to their own history.
The history of Pulau Pinang needs closure. It addresses a blind spot committed by historians from both sides—that of prejudice of each other’s past in the narrative. It is guilty by omission, just like the crime of Francis Light in stealing Pulau Pinang from the Sultan of Kedah. In so doing, the identity and the history of both Kedah and Pulau Pinang are fragmented and distorted. The avatar of 1786, viralled throughout and ever since, becomes the pivot for all enterprising interests on both polities.
This book is addressing a national problem, one of deception. This volume is an outcome of the author’s observations on the character of the narrative, in the representation on Pulau Pinang history. The mainstream narrative has been exclusive—colonial, Eurocentric and ethnicized. And certainly, the history of Pulau Pinang is also consumed by the nation and the world. The Malays have largely remained consumers. Much of their narrative has been socially, intellectually and institutionally sidelined. And undercurrents over the previous two decades have revealed much frustration over the mainstream narrative, with more recent visible voices revealing the impropriety of Pulau Pinang in 1786. These voices called for justice and recognition of the early population on the island, and integrity in the Pulau Pinang story.