On Pointe - The stories we tell

WE'VE heard similar statements like these before – "you can't know where you're going until you know where you've been".

While we don't want our past to hold us down, knowing our history helps us understand who we are and where we fit in.

In that vein, it is also important to know what version of history we are subscribing to, who commissioned its writing and on which side of history the authors stand on.

Remember Disney's Pocahontas? With all its glamour and romance, somehow the truth of the story got mangled up into a fairytale. Disney had taken significant liberties in its telling of a real life historical figure.

But of course we shouldn't be fooled, after all it is a cartoon and a Disney adaptation. Therefore, creative licence is accepted.

But sometimes, adaptations and creative licence spread false versions of history and because of its Hollywood sheen, it ends up becoming the more popular version remembered, which can be problematic.

With Pocahontas, there was a solid body of historical work in place and so people were quickly able to differentiate between fact and fiction.

This is why history is important. It creates an archive of memories and happenings. Of course like selective memory, there is selective history based on the authors world view and memory.

Not every piece of writing can be taken in its entirety and no one author is able to capture everything that is true or significant at any given time. Therefore we need different perspectives.

There is a process of sifting out what is truth and what is significant. This process is marred by a person's world view and so having different perspectives and people from different backgrounds who write our history is necessary.

Something significantly important especially for a multicultural country like Malaysia.

The past is fixed. It is unchangeable. However, the people writing about it tend to change it based on the time of its recording, adapting the historical narrative to the values of the present day.

So the truth currency is tampered with even if it is well supported by facts. Now if recording history is only written or commissioned by the victors, then how does this affect society's memory?

In Malaysia we see that our history books are changing with every generation. The recorded history of the nation has vastly changed the configuration of the country through the years.

There is an underlying embarrassment to acknowledging defeat or accepting the roots of our multiculturalism. Instead of looking at it as a strength, our history books paint a different picture – a form of half truths.

And because there is limited access to what our true history is, our present day is shaped by these half truths. See history teaches us values and when our history books are tampered with, our values ended being skewed. Imagine what this does to our children who are shaped by the values and beliefs of the history they read in their school textbooks.

More so, when the accuracy of history is questionable, one is unable to verify political speech that raises claims to such historical fact like social contracts or political concepts like "ketuanan Melayu" which suddenly came into prominence in the last few years. Without accurate historical facts, how do we know what is truth, truthful and right?

Generations are bound by the history of the nation and by extension these concepts. These concepts then inspire laws that are created to protect the history prescribed. However if what was and is being recorded is not accurate, then that law continues to protect what is untrue and deprives generations.

History creates our ideology and world view. It also has the ability for reconciliation or discrimination and can create stereotypes. Something that affects the unity of a country like Malaysia.

Of late, there is an increase of how history is being adapted. Productions aimed at educating that depict the history of the country. While these productions are informational and professional, the storylines are biased and lopsided.

It tells a very different history where characters are depicted in a very ethnically stereotypical manner. Almost insulting in nature. Admittedly, it is creative licence and an historical adaptation, however if this is the only version of history told, then it shapes the views, values and beliefs of those who watch it, building a false understanding of the truth.

It is easy to laugh it off as something unimportant but the telling of history is powerful. That is why we need to be more vigilant about the stories we tell ourselves and the next generations because it has a far more reaching effect than we care to realise.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com