I took yet another YouTube expedition yesterday and I found a childhood friend, deep in the Malay jungle. Bunga! He's in a video of the Pre-War Orang Asli or aboriginals of the Malay Peninsula.
You can see the video here. Malay Aboriginals
It looks obvious to me that this is the video that inspired the Bunga of Malaya story in Visits in Other Lands, the social studies or geography text used across North America from the 40's to the 70's.
The video has the Orang Asli men on a hunting expedition with blow-darts, the women pounding something, children fishing, girls weaving baskets. It's Bunga all right! (A Malay woman told me Bunga means flower in Malay.) Here's a clip from the book.
I've written about Bunga before, in an essay I have since put on my website. It's called YouTube and Yams. At least once a week someone looks up BUNGA Geography Book, etc. and lands on my essay.
The first story you ever read in the first geography book you ever had sticks in your head. And "Bunga" and the "yams" he ate were funny-sounding words for Canadian children in the 1960's.
Indeed, a Canadian Poet, Carl Leggo, has written a poem called Grade 4 Geography. It's a brilliant thing. Leggo describes the 'characters' in the text book Visits in Other Lands, including Bunga and his yams, and Nanook and all the other colourful children living far away and he wonders why he, himself, isn't in the book: Carl, the kid from Newfoundland, who eats cod tongues.
Leggo is making an important point here, I think.
Why was the Visits in Other Lands Geography book focusing on aboriginals of another country, Malaya? I mean we were 10 years old and we got the impression Malaya was a jungle with stone-age tribes and not a bustling multi-cultural country, ruled by Colonial Brits, or sort of ruled, providing rubber for our every day needs.
As Canadians (and Americans) post war, the rest of the world was infantilized for our information. The argument would be that children learn by reading about other children, but why couldn't we have learned about the other more modern Malay children? Clearly this Bunga story had impact, or so many Canadians wouldn't be looking his name up today on the Internet.
Another thing the Bunga story did was "nuclearize" Bunga's family. Had we children seen the video, we would not have seen a nuclear family, but a tribe. Children very unlike Dick and Jane. We would have noticed, as well, how beautiful the tribes people were. The drawings in the book did not do them justice, I can now see.
Above: Kuala Lumpur in 1964, when I was learning about Bunga in my fourth grade classroom. Not quite a jungle.
What made things weirder for me, my grandmother was living in that city back then. My father had been born there at the European Hospital in 1922. My grandmother visited us in 1967 (for the first and only time) and I wrote about it in a play Looking for Mrs. Peel,
My grandmother had been a spy during the war, but that didn't impress me as a child of TV. She was an old woman and I admired beautiful young female spies like Emma Peel or Honey West!
I must have been quite mixed up about Bunga, when I first read the story. Possibly I asked my Dad about Bunga and he replied that this was an aboriginal. But I don't recall it.
Possibly he pulled out the copy of Time with the portrait of Tenku Abdul Rahman, the Supreme Head of State of the new country of Malaysia. Perhaps he knew that my grandmother took tea with this man, on her birthday, or his birthday, can't recall which and told me about it. (My Aunt told me (again?) just a few years ago.)
The end of Bunga's story has him looking up seeing War Planes, at least in a version I bought off eBay. I wonder if they expunged that part in the editions used in the 60s.
Anyway, my story Looking for Mrs. Peel is about my grandmother's life in Malaya and her internment at the hands of the Japanese in WWII. I used her diary for info.
Our Reading Text, Wide Open Windows, I think, also portrayed Canada as a kind of Father figure Country.