In August every year, the date Malaysia became ‘Merdeka’ will become a debating point. It bothers many as well, when the term ‘Hari Kemerdekaan’ is used to signify Malaysia’s independence.
Some say Aug 31 is the Independence Day, while others argue that it should be Sept 16.
For the record, whether it is Aug 31 or Sept 16, it is factually and historically wrong to say “Malaysia gained independence”.
You cannot receive independence if you were never colonised. And since Malaysia was never colonised, it is impossible for Malaysia to “receive independence”.
Malaysia was never colonised, it was born as a new federation formed by three entities after these three entities received independence separately.
The entities that received independence were Malaya (Aug 31,1957), Sarawak (July 22, 1963) and Sabah (Aug 31, 1963).
Countries like the Philippines or Indonesia who are a single entity have their independence day because when the Spanish and Dutch arrived, they ruled the country as a single entity. When they left, the country remained as it is, until today. There were no changes or mergers with other entities. Philippines is still Philippines and Indonesia remains as Indonesia.
The British meanwhile, did not colonise Malaysia. They colonised Malaya, they colonised Sarawak and they colonised Sabah, separately. And only after these three entities received independence separately, they came together to form Malaysia.
To understand Malaysia in a different perspective, think of Malaysia as the United Kingdom (UK).
UK only happened after sovereign nations namely England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the other Islands came together. Only later on Ireland opted out, and the Northern part of Ireland preferred to stay on as part of the UK, but that is a different story.
Similarly, Malaysia came into existence only after Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah as a sovereign nation came together. Singapore then opted out, leaving Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah as part of the Federation of Malaysia.
So, we should stop using the word ‘Independence Day’ when it comes to Malaysia. The term ‘independence’ is only applicable to the respective regions – specifically Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah.
Malaysia as a whole, can only celebrate Malaysia Day on Sept 16. For the ‘independence’ part, Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah should be celebrating it individually on Aug 31, July 22 and Aug 31.
As a united nation, we should also be more focused on Malaysia Day which falls on Sept 16.
For more than 50 odd years, national scale celebrations fell on Aug 31. This means many Malaysians do not even know the history of the formation of Malaysia.
Errors only recently rectified
It was only as recently as 2010, that these errors were rectified. Even then, it was a hesitant and reluctant one.
In September 2009, Anwar Ibrahim proposed to the five Pakatan Rakyat parties to declare Sept 16 as a public holiday to mark Malaysia Day. It was received with a lukewarm response, and his political rivals even accused him of distorting historical facts. A year later on in 2010, the prime minister announced Sept 16 as a public holiday.
Today, both Aug 31 and Sept 16 are public holidays, but the scale of celebrations on Sept 16 is still very much lesser than celebrations on Aug 31.
While public holidays are a norm to mark an occasion, this should not be the end goal. The significance of patriotism goes beyond a public holiday, and it should be incorporated rightly in the Sejarah textbooks. The weight of emphasis should also be proportionate.
The independence of Malaya and Sabah should be celebrated on Aug 31, the independence of Sarawak should be celebrated on July 22, and most importantly the greatest emphasis should be Malaysia Day on Sept 16.
As of now, greater significance is still given to Aug 31. There are efforts to increase the significance of Sept 16, but unfortunately these are done mostly by the private sectors, or individual groups.
Instead of celebrating independence, we as a nation should actually be celebrating the formation of Malaysia of Sept 16, and not ‘Malaysia’s independence’ on Aug 31.
Adrian Lim Chee En