Is Aug 31 the independence day of Malaysia or Malaya? Referring to the former, which is what we have for so long been doing, has caused a lot of unhappiness among the people of East Malaysia, that is, Sabah and Sarawak.
As of 2010, the population of the two states stood at six million (3.5 million in Sabah and 2.5 million in Sarawak), representing roughly 20% of the population of Malaysia.
Historically, the term “Malaysia” came into being on Sept 16, 1963. Prior to that, this country was called “Malaya” which in the Philippine national language of Tagalog also means “free” or “freedom”.
This being so, the people of Sabah and Sarawak want Aug 31 to be addressed as the independence day of Malaya, not Malaysia.
The first prime minister of independent Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman, in 1961 mooted the idea of forming “Malaysia” which would comprise Brunei, Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore, all of which had been British colonies.
Tunku’s reasoning was that this would allow the central government to combat and control communist activities, especially in Singapore.
Then there was also the fear that if Singapore achieved independence, it would become a base for Chinese chauvinists to threaten Malayan sovereignty. It was decided that to balance out the ethnic composition of the new nation, the other states, with their Malay and indigenous populations, would be included.
The objections raised by the people of Sabah and Sarawak in being included in the Aug 31 independence brings to mind the rejections then made by the political parties in Sarawak in merging with “Malaysia”.
Sabah’s community representatives also opposed the merger and so did the Parti Rakyat Brunei (PRB), albeit the Sultan of Brunei supporting the “marriage”. A revolt staged by PRB was seen as a threat to destabilise the new nation, hence the decision to leave Brunei out of Malaysia.
After a review of the Cobbold Commission’s findings, the British government appointed the Landsdowne Commission to draft a constitution for Malaysia. The constitution would essentially be the same as the 1957 constitution, the only difference being in the rewording. For instance, recognising the special position of the natives of the Borneo states plus granting Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore autonomy which was unavailable to other states of Malaya.
Post-negotiations in July 1963, it was agreed that Malaysia would come into being on Aug 31, 1963 consisting of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore. The date was to coincide with the independence day of Malaya.
However, the Philippines and Indonesia fought against this development, with the latter claiming Malaysia represented a form of “neocolonialism” and the Philippines claiming Sabah as its territory, causing the formation of Malaysia to be delayed.
This situation led to an eight-member United Nations team being formed to re-ascertain whether Sabah and Sarawak truly wanted to be a part of Malaysia. Malaysia was formally established on Sept 16, 1963 comprising Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore.
The above quick-take on how Malaya and Malaysia came to be forces the question of why then is Aug 31 referred to as the independence day of Malaysia, instead of Malaya?
Natives of Sabah and Sarawak upset
Repeatedly addressing Aug 31 as Malaysia’s Merdeka day has been rankling the natives of Sabah and Sarawak for sometime now. Their argument is that the Malaysian government has got its facts wrong by referring to Aug 31 as the independence day for Malaysia. Aug 31, they point out, should be addressed as the independence day of Malaya.
How should this issue be dealt with? Should the term “Malaya” henceforth be used to address the country’s Merdeka come Aug 31? The irony, however, is that for so long a time now, Aug 31 has been synonymous with the birth date of “Malaysia”. How did this anomaly happen?
Looking at some of the comments made by those unhappy with the reference of “Malaysia” to Aug 31, it appears that they want this matter to be dealt with as soon as possible.
These comments made in conjunction with FMT’s Merdeka edition articles reflect the anger of the people of the east at being forced to accept Aug 31 as the Merdeka day of Malaysia, which, to them, is both senseless and meaningless.
One comment went: “31 August 1957 was the independence of Malaya not Malaysia and this year is the 54th year of independence of Malaya.
“Sabah , Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya formed Malaysia on 16 September 1963. This year is the 48th anniversary of the formation of Malaysia. There is no independence of Malaysia as Sabah (independence on 31 August 1963), Sarawak (independence on 22 July 1963) and Malaya were all independent nations on 16 September 1963.
“Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya (now together as Malaysia) and Malaysians should be celebrating the formation of Malaysia on 16 September and not independence.
“When can the facts of history be corrected and the true facts are disclosed in our History books and not distorted as it is now as though Malaysia became independent on 31 August 1957. Malaysia never existed on 31 August 1957.”
Yet another comment argued: “Why celebrate 16 September 1963, the date Sabah and Sarawak were annexed by Umno as colonies? It is meaningless for anyone to talk about Malayan freedom and independence when Malayans take part in the colonialisation and plunder of the two colonies. Sabah and Sarawak also want freedom and independence!” Wanting out of Malaysia
The fact that Aug 31 refers to Malaya’s independence and not Malaysia’s was never stressed in school History books. Not surprising, keeping in mind the manipulation of history, leaving one wondering what really was and is the purpose behind the teaching of History to pupils.
Meanwhile, the swelling hostility of the people of Sabah and Sarawak vis-à-vis Malaysia has to be dealt with, quickly. As a writer pointed out, their resentment and eagerness to get out of Malaysia took shape in the form of a caption “Sabah and Sarawak should get out of Malaysia” on social network Facebook.
The postings represent the youths of Sabah and Sarawak who have little to rejoice in whatever the Barisan Nasional coalition has done for their respective states. These young minds have made it clear they resist the colonialisation approach taken by the federal government.
One posting reads: “Unfortunately the current state leaders are corrupt to the bone. The whole BN component parties members are longing for fast short-term financial gains.
“They have left the poor people with little or nothing to enjoy. The ‘racialist’ policy of BN Umno are bringing disunity instead of a strong, united country. But the leaders of BN refused to acknowledge their folly. BN think that they are all powerful and whatever they say goes.
“Educated young people do not agree to such approach. We are building a nation – not a race, or making a religion supreme. Our history and identity are different; how are you going to make that homogeneous. As citizens of Malaysia we should have equal rights.
“It seems Malaysia is practising ‘Animal Farm’ politics as written by George Owell. In Animal Farm, Orwell wrote that ‘all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’. That statement seemed to describe what is Malaysia today very well”.
Saying ‘No’ to Malaysia
Another posting on Facebook on wanting out of Malaysia goes:
“Many people have been put under the Internal Security Act (ISA) detention because they advocate the idea that Sabah and Sarawak should get out of Malaysia if they want to progress. Sabah and Sarawak are prohibited to get out of Malaysia by law.
“If you want Sabah and Sarawak to get out of Malaysia, you have to hold a referendum or get ready to fight a civil war with Malaya as the ‘colonial master’.
“But we do not need to resort to fight. The 18- and 20-point agreements possess all the elements to make Sabah and Sarawak autonomous. Some of the points have been incorporated in the Federal Constitution but (past and present) BN leaders, either out of greed or simple ignorance, if not plain stupidity, did not take these historical circumstances seriously.
“The ‘National Integration’ policy pushed for Ketuanan Melayu ideas and by doing so marginalised the people of Sabah and Sarawak. It has deprived us of equal rights and opportunities.”
Looks like the BN-government has messed up big time. Malaya or Malaysia – either way the damage done is more than meets the eyes. Come today – Sept 16 – when both Aug 31 “Merdeka Day” and “Malaysia Day” are celebrated, the rancour felt by the natives of Sabah and Sarawak is going to raise its ugly head yet again.
Due to the fasting month which coincided with the Aug 31 Merdeka, the federal government decided to defer its commemoration to Sept 16, where a double celebration will be held. What remains to be seen is whether the BN government has any intention of paying heed to the frustrations and anger coming from the East or will it be conveniently dismissed and forgotten?