17 July 2014: One Man’s Will

We have heard the cries for freedom before … to want freedom is a natural tendency, but acquiring real freedom is not easy — Dato’ Onn Jaafar

One Man's WillIn a nutshell, the name Dato’ Onn Jaafar is indelibly linked to the creation of Malaysia’s present ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation, formed to oppose the British-dominated Malayan Union.  As the years passed, Onn became increasingly disillusioned with UMNO’s race-based policies and attempted to open the party to all Malayans. His recommendations fell on deaf ears. Dejected, he went on to form Parti Negara which, ironically, placed membership restrictions on non-Malays in an attempt to win over the dominant Malays.

With a near-deluge of biographies on Dato’ Onn Jaafar in circulation, is there a need for another? Two of these autobiographies are flawed to some degree, according to author Pamela Ong. An eloquent one by academician Dr. Ramlah Adam is available only in Malay. One Man’s Will, the title of Ong’s biography of the Dato’, is, unlike some of its predecessors, neither flattering, skewed nor self-serving. Instead, it presents its subject – to borrow a musical parlance – in an ‘unplugged’ state. She quotes Thomas Carlyle – history is but the biography of great men, and biographies are full of semantics, psychology, misfortune, folly, disease, coincidence and every other source of chaos imaginable or unimaginable.

onn with captionOne Man’s Will is as much about the great potential of a towering figure in Malaysian politics as it is about failure to sustain the demanding momentum required to succeed in a dog-eat-dog world. Despite a chequered life, history will remember the name Onn Jaafar with fondness and his contributions to the country’s growth. It is now available at Areca Books.

One Man’s Will is Pamela Ong’s second book. Her debut was entitled Blood and the Soil: a portrait of Dr. Ong Chong Keng. Her third book Fortitude was recently published.