Hmm, funny words, only two of them, must be a recipe, right? It’s not. I (TP) have come across this term a couple times over the past couple of months when reading about the reformasi (reform) movement in Malaysia after the sacking of then-Deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, ended up heading the National JUSTice Party (KeADILan) after Anwar was arrested and jailed for sodomy and corruption.
So what about this term. It’s funny because it’s one of those terms that you think that you are misunderstanding when you first read or hear it. It translates as "dragon brand" or "dragon stamp". Now, when you’re in this part of the world you learn pretty quickly that "dragon" is a codeword for Chinese. So I was sure that I was misunderstanding when I encountered this term being used to describe Wan Azizah. As the elections right after Anwar’s sacking approached, a number of Malay politicians remarked that Wan Azizah was not a suitable leader for Malays because she is cap naga. What could they be talking about?
Well, it turns out that Wan Azizah has some Chinese ancestry. OK, but that’s weird: in Malaysia, by law, the definition of a Malay is someone who follows Malay customs and is a Muslim. Wan Azizah certainly falls into that category, and there is precisely no legal provision for genetic requirements for Malayness. Once I met a guy, Tan Sri Noordin Sopiee, who was certainly Malay but very openly was proud that he had very little Malay ancestry (here’s a picture). No one disputes that he’s a Malay. In fact, this accusation against Wan Azizah is quite shocking; JM and I have never heard or read about anyone seriously disputing whether or not anyone was a Malay based on appearance or ancestry. In fact, the newspapers here occasionally run stories of saudara baru (literally, "new siblings"), usually Chinese Malaysians who have converted to Islam and "become Malay". This accusation against Wan Azizah is the lowest of the low blows that we can think of in Malaysian politics (and anyway, check out her picture).
I looked up cap naga on Google, and the only hits I found were articles about these accusations against Wan Azizah and products by a company named Cap Naga that sells Chinese herbal concoctions in Malaysia and Indonesia. This suggests that either the term was created for Wan Azizah, or (more likely) that it’s a term that you rarely hear out in the open.
At any rate, this is a nice additional commentary on politics and ethnicity in Malaysia. Everybody knows that everyone is supposed to fall neatly into one of the ethnic categories that the government perpetuates, and everybody also knows that these categories are sort of fake, but everyone has to act as if these categories have objective bases in reality. And the government can try to marginalize you by taking away your ethnic affiliation.