Take me to your leader

“Take Me To Your Leader”

Most of the interviewees were initially suspicious of my enquiries. Not having any contacts in the community, I went up to every African-looking person in Sunway Pyramid and requested, in so many words, “Take me to your leader”. When initial contact was made, it took some time convincing them that I meant well before I was directed to Bandar Puteri Puchong, where these four African-owned restaurants are to be found.

In their experience, Africans always get a bad rep in the local press. Communities such as the Nigerian Muslims are extremely sensitive to how locals perceive them, and take pains to assure authorities that there is nothing nefarious about their activities.

“We are very careful because when Malaysians see 10 or more Africans together, they automatically think we are up to no good,” says Lawal Abdul Raheem, an uztaz in the Nigerian community.

It is almost a cultural shock for Nigerians, as they see in Malaysia a reflection of the multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual society that exist back home. Nigeria has three main and distinct cultural-linguistic groups, the Ibo, the Hausa and the Yoruba. There are about 200 other ethnicities and dialects, and members of different groups often cannot understand the other’s language.

In my view, friction often follows such diversity. Despite the denials of those I interviewed, there are occasional flare-ups between groups in Nigeria, as reported in the press.

Perhaps this is what makes the two countries seem so similar and which makes Nigerians continue to come and want to stay, despite the wanton racism. Perhaps they accept that there will always be a current of tension that runs beneath the lived reality of pluralistic consociation.

“Malaysia is good. Everything is good. Except for that one thing, racism. Everything else is fine.” is a common response to the question “Why did you come” and “What made you stay?”

For the time being, that “one thing” has been overshadowed by the “everything else”.

“It used to be bad, but things (in Malaysia) are slowly getting better and better every day,” says Lawal.

Indeed, over the past few years, the community’s roots have begun to grow into the local landscape as an informal structure of services and businesses have sprouted up to serve them.

There are about 20 eateries all over the Klang Valley that cater specifically to African taste buds. And that’s not counting the Malaysian-run joints that are appealing to African tastes with specialised dishes.

The African-run eateries also vary from the slightly up-scale to the no-trimmings, quick-meals types which are similar to our mamak joints.

There are also stores in Subang, Cheras and Puchong that sell African food. The Giant supermarket branch in Bandar Puteri Puchong rents out stands to Africans who sell imported yam, cassava, rice, semolina, beans and hot peppers.

For Nigerian Muslims, a close-knit formalised leadership structure has taken shape in the Klang Valley. For the past two years, a committee of uztaz and elders have found a place to worship, provide counselling and even settle disputes. That the group has permission from Malaysian Muslim authorities to hold their religious classes speaks of a degree of acceptance by the native populace to this network.

Like the restaurants, which are the community’s lepak points, “For-African, By-African” hair salons are also servicing a new market in Malaysia. Collectively, they make up an informal matrix of hubs that provide services and communal identity in a country that is as alluring as it is unfriendly.

Audio: Sheridan and Grace discuss how discrimination against Africans have
coloured their views of and relationship with Malaysia | Duration 5:22

Colour Tinting

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