Friday, May 19, 2017

ABC Letter S for slave

There is on internet a story on "My family's slave" by an Filipino American.

Here's an abstract of my grandma's slave from my book, From China to Borneo to Beyond.

The pronunciation of my Quang Ning dialect MUI ZUI, for a slave sounds like the sour plum, and MUI ZAI as a girl is different. I don't know what it is in other dialects.

It must have been 1900s when my grandmother brought her over to be her slave. The girl was very young. It is not sure if her parents gave her the slave while she was a young child, or whether she was given when Grandma married Grandpa.

My father, John remembered fondly of Grandmother’s mui zai (slave) whom he called Ah Jia, (big sister.) In fact he saw her more than he saw Grandmother. Grandmother worked in the rubber garden, the mui zai took care of him and his siblings. She did all the housework. His fondest memory was her  kindly separated the rough green husk of the sweet mung bean soup, so he would have it as a smooth watery thick soup. We used to tease him to be a super spiolt brat because we ate the green bean husk.

There was talk that the British government in Malaya and Singapore was going to pass an emancipation of slaves, and those not releasing the slaves would be punished.

To preempt this, when this mui zai was 16, a marriageable age, Grandfather Kee Seng arranged for a suitable mate and married her off. This was much to the aghast of Grandmother. Grandmother whinged that this mui zai was paid for by her parents; therefore she was her property. This mui zai was her slave for life. Grandfather Chan had no right to sell her property. But Grandfather would not have any part of this old feudal slavery system. They married her off to someone up the Rejang River.

The emancipation law was never passed and Grandfather never heard the end of Grandmother harping on and on about it.

Some of those mui zais maintained a good relationship, coming back to the family as though they were part of the family. In many cases where they had suffered abuse from their owner and hated them; they never came back to visit.  Some, their new family forbidden them to. Grandmother’s mui zai never came back. Father said Grandma was a difficult person  to handle. The Mui Zai was probably so glad to have her freedom.

Father did meet the mui zai many years later. Father was on official duty in a school near where she was married off to. She came and was hesitant and afraid to talk to Father, now an official of the government.

She called him "Young Master" and she wanted Father to help her grand children to get into teachers’ college. She said quietly that it wasn’t that she didn’t want to visit the Chans, it was because she was not allowed to. She had been emancipated from one family into the slavery of another. She mentioned what a good family she had grown up in, and she would rather be old and single and be a mui zai in the Chan’s home. She had always loved Father very much.

I wrote about my grandma's Mui Zai in my book. I also remembered my mum almost got a Mui Zai too. It was after the World War Two. My great Grand Mother aka Ah Tai didn't want my mother to work too hard. So she bought a girl slightly older than my oldest sister. My father declined and packed the girl away. My father's rationale was in this day and age, him being a Christian should not have a Mui Zai aka slave. How could he have the conscience of having a Mui Zai who slaves away while his own daughters went to school. Ah Tai aka Great Grand Mother argued we we just pay for her in the beginning which she had already done, and don't have to pay her anymore. Mother said we just had to feed her. Ah Tai probably argued that we were doing a humanitarian favour. 

We knew about this returned Mui Zai when we had to do house work. We complained and wished we still had the Mui Zai.

My parents had 6 girls, MOI ZAI SEE (bloody useless girls) as my Bodai (maternal grandma) would call us. She said, if we were in China, I would be sold off as a slave. I was the third girl. So would all subsequent girls.

When Father paid for my University education first to Canada and then to New Zealand, Bodai said my fate was very good. Instead of being a slave, I got to fly half way round the world.  Bodai said there was something wrong with Dad's head. He studied too much in England. He educated all his MOI ZAI SEE. She also said my Dad had a Father-in-law look.

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