“Happy 59th Birthday to Malaysia!”
“There was no Malaysia in 1957. Malaysia was born on 1963, and September, and not August 31!”
Increasingly likely, you will be corrected – more often by east Malaysians and occasionally some Pensinular Malaysians as well.
Okay, let’s not call it “National Day” but only “Merdeka Day” then. Let’s just celebrate Malaysia’s independence from Britain.
Here comes another set of question and rebuttal. “Malaysia could only gain independence if it was colonised. But Malaysia did not exist before September 16, 1963 to be colonised yet!”
You may think this is just a semantic difference. After all, no one could argue that different parts of Malaysia were British colonies right?
No, the question is then: when was colonisation ended for the four former colonies that formed Malaysia in 1963? We all know it ended on August 31, 1957 for Malaya, but for Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, didn’t it end on September 16, 1963?
Many Borneans would point to facts that many Peninsular Malaysians never know.
First, Sarawak attained self-government on July 22, 1963 on the condition it would join the new federation of Malaysia later. On that day, the colonial flag was lowered and the Sarawak flag was raised.
Second, as Malaysia failed to be formed as planned on August 31 indirectly caused by the Indonesian protest, Singapore and Sabah went on to declare de facto independence or self-government on that day.
Were these really independence for Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore?
Certainly not in the eyes of their colonial master Britain.
The Malaysia Agreement 1963 – for many Borneans, the holiest document which is higher than the Federal Constitution – started with Article 1 in a party-spoiler way:
‘The colonies of North Borneo and Sarawak and the State of Singapore shall be federated with the existing states of the Federation of Malaya as the states of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore in accordance with the constitutional instruments annexed to this Agreement and the Federation shall thereafter be called “Malaysia”.’
Note that North Borneo and Sarawak were even stated as “colonies”, unlike the “state” of Singapore.
Article 4 then stated the “the relinquishment, as from Malaysia Day [originally August 31 1963], of Her Britainnic Majesty’s sovereignty and jurisdiction in respect of North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore” which was then to be vested “in accordance with this Agreement and the constitutional instruments annexed to this Agreement.”
Legally, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore only gained independence with the birth of Malaysia.
The gaps between July 22 (for Sarawak) and August 31 (for Sabah and Singapore) and September 16 (Independence through Malaysia) provided a brief period of “statehood” – but neither de jure no de facto independence – as the basis of certain political nostalgia and romance.
Now, some Peninsular Malaysians will ask matters-of-factly: why can’t Sabahans and Sarawakians just take August 31 as everyone’s National Day (and shut up)?
“The United States of America started with 13 states on July 4, 1776 and expanded gradually to 50 states by August 21, 1959 with the admission of Hawaii, did Americans get additional national days every time new states joined?”, some may ask.
Ironically, this question hit the nail on the head – Did Sabah and Sarawak join Malaysia? Are they annexed by Malaya with a superficial change of name?
The answers are unfortunately “yes” for many Malayans. For them, Malaya just expanded like America. Now, how did America expand? It’s colonisation!
If we think that Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaysia (read: Malaya), then how different are we from Americans who gradually colonised the vast continent from their original basis on the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast to Alaska (by purchase) and Hawaii (by conquest)?
Do you know for many Sabahans and Sarawakians, the cruel curse on Project Malaysia by its harshest critic – the late President Sukarno of Indonesia – has unfortunately come true: the formation of Malaysia would only mean that the transfer of Colonial Office from London to Kuala Lumpur, not Sabah and Sarawak gaining independence.
Why are Sabah and Sarawak so rich in resources yet so backward in economic development? For these angry Borneans, the answer is simple: internal colonisation.
For them, the refusal to accept that Malaysia was a new federation with Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners with Malaya – even just in name and as lip-service – is too obvious a proof of Malayans’ colonialist mentality.
Where were you in all the years from 1963 to 2009 when Malaysia Day was not at all celebrated nationally? Did you speak up against the Malayan-centric arrogance? Did you even notice what was wrong?
If you did, perhaps you are qualified to critique Sabahans’ and Sarawakians’ obsession with a national day they can claim as their own.
Wong Chin Huat