Boria, a tool to fight for independence, says activist

 |Aug 31, 2017
Yussof with a photo of himself when he was accorded the Tokoh Merdeka award in 2011 from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak for his involvement to achieve Independence. MO Photo by Zalinah Noordin

GEORGE TOWN: Sixty years have passed but boria, which is synonymous with Penang still reverberates with activist Tan Sri Yussof Latiff.

Yussof, who used to take part in boria performances back in the day, said such performances helped ignite the spirit of Merdeka and the will to fight for Independence from being occupied.

The businessman added that every Merdeka would bring back memories of him being actively involved in boria, a performance filled with messages, at times cynical and snide to evoke awareness on various issues.

Even though boria is not as popular these days, Yussof believes it was somewhat instrumental in achieving Merdeka through the parody and messages carried in the performances.

Yussof recalled how he was once the “tukang karang” of the Penang boria movement which went around to ignite the spirit of many youngsters to come together to fight against the Japanese and British at that time.

“Although it could seem comedy-like, it contained strong messages that made many people think and realise and that was how we spread awareness on the importance of being independent,” he said.

“You see sometimes all you need is some clever arrangement through performances, arts and culture to get the message across just like how boria did to spread awareness on achieving independence.”

Yussof was in his early 20s when he held a state position in Penang Umno circa the time of Merdeka and was also involved in helping to organise national day celebrations in the early years.

He recalled how it was welcomed with much splendour adding that it was a “big deal” for people lived through the Japanese Occupation and British colonisation.

“At first we had welcomed them with all their propaganda; the Japanese with their low-priced goods and then the British back then with their promises of good governance and economic opportunities but how we had to suffer back then with no freedom of movement,” he added.

“Eating proper meals was a luxury and we had to follow curfew orders. It’s a good thing the younger generation now welcomes Merdeka by celebrating in their own style but I wish they knew the struggle back then and the real spririt and meaning of Merdeka.”

He said he also wished some would realise and admit how Umno played an instrumental role in helping the country gain independence through negotiations with the British.

The octogenarian, who is Persatuan Melayu Pulau Pinang president, said he could never forget how Penang’s first chief minister Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee made the Merdeka proclamation at the Penang Esplanade.

For his contributions, Yussof was accorded the Tokoh Kemerdekaan award by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2011 for championing various bodies in their fight to gain independence.

Comparing Merdeka celebrations back then to the present day, Yussof noted while patriotism is very much alive today, its understanding may be different.

“The younger generation celebrate Merdeka in their own way these days but back then, we had a very high regard for the word Merdeka as it held a big significance for people who have been through the struggles of not having freedom,” he said.

“Today’s generation is very lucky so they should always maintain what has been fought so hard for by their forefathers.”

He also said that the nationalistic spirit had waned over the years which he attributed to over-politicking.

“It’s good to see flags being put up to welcome the auspicious day but somehow it’s not the same as those days,” he said.

“Whatever differences should be set aside as what is most important is to celebrate the freedom as Malaysians.”