Diary of a Missing Village
Juxtaposing Malayan Emergency archival footage with a travelogue essay, ‘Diary’ charts a psychogeographic journey through history to explore the forced relocation of over 500,000 Malaysian Chinese during the British occupation.
Diary of a Missing Village attends to a traumatic resettlement history during the Cold War. It engages the resettlement archives of the Malayan Emergency, which witnessed the forced relocation of over 500,000 people from their homes over a period of 12 years (1948-1960) — as part of a wider counter-insurgency and anti-communist measure by the British.
These mainly Chinese populations were resettled in more than 600 guarded areas of marshaled confinement, a strict curfew, and monitored control throughout Malaya to prevent them from potentially aiding the communist guerrillas by any means necessary. These resettlement areas were renamed “New Villages” in 1952. While much has been written about the Emergency from both the British and communist perspectives, history has been less kind to the villagers themselves whose voices have been largely forgotten and marginalized today. This documentary is an attempt at recontextualization.
Structured as a travelogue by an inquisitive British researcher looking into this past, Diary weaves together a series of encounters with current new villagers, including those who were part of the resettlement process and their descendants, to foreground the intimacy of memory, as a way of critiquing the limits of the historical archive. Driven by a film essay voiceover, the film asks the question of what it means to remember this past after the world has moved on from this history. It does so by depicting village subjects, old houses, objects, and places of interest such as the tropical jungle, alongside colonial-era archival material from the Emergency, such as photographs and propaganda footage, to resurface buried village memories. It also recalls Emergency-era music, folk traditions, poetry about resettlement, and the villagers’ own remembrances of this time, to weave together a visual diary that shows how history haunts the present, even as it is increasingly forgotten amidst the development of these villages.