Mat Salleh

First published in Voices From The Underground (2008).

Mat salleh is bahasa malaysia for white person or Westerner. It is mildly derogotory. Kind of like being called a honky.

Haram means ‘forbidden’ and refers to syaria law.


She came back and said she had told her dad about me

And he had replied

“So now you are dating that funny looking matsalleh?”

That word again I had heard so often

Accompanied by laughter and soft derision

I am far from home, and this word I don’t own

Fits uncomfortably into my personal composition.

(They even call her coconut; brown on the outside, white in the middle).

Are we really defined by race?

By the colours of our face?

But they feel the same; soft-smooth skin

And our hearts beat the same rhythm.

Her father was unhappy

And now daily tells her not to marry; not to embarrass the family

For I will never be considered their kin

Even if I convert and sacrifice my foreskin

Even circumcised I’ll always be circumspect

Given some respect but always a reject

Simply because of my melanin-defect

For both my race and religion are from the wrong set.

It is HARAM. I am HARAM. We are HARAM.

So maybe I’ll never get my Bumiputra discounted education and housing

And I might remain a heathen and a sinner

In their eyes

But at least I try to transcend skin colour

At best I look beyond the appearances and the differences

At least I seek the humanity within us all

They are trapped by their definitions

We break free and forge new ones

And when she puts her hand brown in my white

And the two become one

I’ll say to all those name-callers and curtain-twitchers

This matsalleh has his own words for you

And that is

That some sons of the Earth are real sons of bitches.


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