AS we approach the celebrations on Sept 16, it is timely to reflect on the history of the formation of Malaysia.
In the context of the challenges we are facing now – be they social, political, economic or even personal challenges – it would be helpful to understand how Sarawak came to be in the position she is in today.
Historical truth is critical when taking stock, because any deception or distortion of the truth would be a dishonour to our forefathers, and a disservice to future generations.
In my mind, the biggest deception spawned by politicians is that our ancestors fought hard for independence from the British.
Certain politicians are fond of using this line when urging the public to be grateful for what we have.
All Sarawakians should make it a point to read the numerous historical documents to better understand the events that took place before and after the formation of Malaysia, rather than believing the romantic fiction that our forefathers fought for our liberation from the British.
Putting aside the accusations of imperialism and colonisation, it is undeniable that our forefathers were contented with the way things were.
A reading of the Cobbold Report shows that many of the ethnic groups were, in fact, not in favour of the merger.
The Lun Bawangs (or the Muruts, as they were called in those days) were ‘very happy and peaceful as they were’ and feared the effects of the British leaving Sarawak, placing emphasis on the importance of freedom of worship and also freedom to propagate their faith.
The Kenyahs and Kayans wanted the British to stay, did not understand the Malaysia Plan and had sent a petition to the Queen seeking reassurance that the British government would not relinquish responsibility for the development of Sarawak until they were satisfied that the people were ready.
The Kelabits were not ready for Malaysia and the Chinese were also not in favour for it.
Paramount chief of the Orang Ulu, Temonggong Oyong Lawai Jau, spoke for six hours at Long San, warning that the people were not ready for Malaysia.
The Ibans were divided, while the majority of Bidayuhs were in favour of remaining under British rule.
The Malays appeared to be the only group that wholly supported the idea, but among their concerns was the need for customary and other native rights to be protected; and that Islam should be the national religion, but there should be freedom for other religions.
It is clear that there were widespread anxiety and lack of confidence about the idea of Malaysia.
Many were not at peace with the proposal.
This unease is best summed up by Temenggong Jugah Barieng in his prophetic words: “Anang anang Malaysia sebaka tebu, manis di pohon, tawal di hujung” (“Let not Malaysia be like the sugarcane; sweet at the head and less sweet at the end”).
One could say that Malaysia was a foregone conclusion in some ways.
The doubtful Sarawakian leaders were taken on a tour of Kuala Lumpur to be persuaded about how Sarawak could look like with Malaya’s help.
Many other external forces were at play, including the tensions between Indonesia, Philippines and Malaya, and also the communist threat.
Our leaders signed on the dotted line.
Malaysia was borne out of political manoeuvrings, most of which were beyond the Sarawakian players’ control.
Our forefathers, to their credit, only agreed after extracting guarantees to preserve and protect our rights and our special status.
These rights were set out in the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) Report and the Malaysia Agreement signed in London.
I recall that in the 70s, there was a radio interview on RTM Lun Bawang programme where Murung Ilan, a Lun Bawang elder, was asked to compare the Sarawak he knew before Malaysia and the one that it had become.
His telling answer was that there was no comparison – the British were better, as they gave the people shotguns.
The interviewer told him that he should not say things like that.
The question is – why should he not say what he thought? Repeated incidences like this have led to many generations of Sarawakians not knowing the truth of our history, because people are told not to say what they think as that would be disloyal and unpatriotic.
Few Sarawakians know about the Nine Cardinal Principles of Governance laid down by Charles Vyner Brooke in the preamble of the Sarawak Constitution 1941.
The government of today would do well to observe these principles, which are as relevant today as they were in 1941.
The principles set out the ideals of ownership of heritage, social and educational services, protection of rights, accessibility of justice, freedom of expression and worship, the duty of public servants, equal employment opportunity in the civil service, working towards a goal of self-government, and policies to ensure the collective happiness and harmony of the various races.
Looking at what is happening in this country, one cannot help but observe that the government and political leaders of the day make decisions and policies without any consideration of these timeless principles.
Grand scale corruption of top government officers, suspicious deaths, irresponsible spending on dubious projects while cutting allocations for essential services, poor educational and health services, lack of electricity and clean water, land grabs, racial discrimination, curtailment of religious freedom – the list of our trials and tribulations seems endless.
In Sarawak, the people are beginning to express resentment about the erosion of our rights and the neglect by the federal government.
Sarawak and Sabah have been relegated to being mere states of Malaysia rather than being equal partners with Malaya; we have become two of the poorest ‘states’ in Malaysia, even with our abundant natural resources.
It is necessary at this point to address the criticisms hurled at Sarawak and Sabah in response to the growing voices calling for our rights to be recognised and respected.
Many of those vitriolic people asking us to leave Malaysia are ignorant of the history of the formation of Malaysia.
It was not Sarawak that asked for Malaysia to be formed – it was the Tunku Abdul Rahman’s idea, formulated to address the exigencies of the time.
As the late James Wong wrote so succinctly in the foreword of his book ‘The Birth of Malaysia’: “The covenants stipulated in the IGC Report and the London Agreement are sacrosanct and must be honoured, respected and preserved, both according to its letter and spirit.
No two ways about it.
All Malaysians must demonstrate a firm, genuine commitment towards this undertaking.
Our powers must be restored and our rights returned.
Our status as a partner must be recognised.
” Tunku Abdul Rahman said that one of the objectives of the formation of Malaysia was to improve our standard of living and our technical skills so that ‘the gap between a relatively backward state and the advanced would be narrowed , not widened’.
Not one reader would disagree with me that the gap has not narrowed – on the contrary, it has stretched and widened beyond imagination.
The Chief Minister of Sarawak said it too, as reported on The Borneo Post, dated Sept 8: “If we are left behind by 10 to 20 years, I can still understand; but if we are behind by half a century, I can’t tolerate it anymore’.
The CM was speaking in the context of our schools and education policy, but the same observation also applied to many other aspects of our beloved Sarawak.
We have been in a dreamless time warp and it is time to snap out of it.
The people must not tolerate being exploited and ignored anymore.
We must cast off the ‘poor cousin’ mentality and demand that Peninsular Malaysia live up to their end of the agreement.
The chief minister has to put the interest of Sarawakians before his ties with the Umno/Barisan Nasional (BN) political leaders.
The PM was camped in Sarawak for many days during the recent election campaign, promising endless goodies for Sarawak if the BN won the Sarawak election.
True to his reputation and that of Umno/BN, nothing has been forthcoming from him since.
He refuses point blank to increase our oil royalties and gives us the runaround about autonomy for Sarawak.
How much longer is our CM going to take this insult? For the sake of Sarawak, I suggest that the chief minister dissociate himself from BN so he can truly fight like a Sarawakian warrior.
The people of Sarawak would stand behind him fully and we can, hopefully, start to live the dream we had lost for 53 years – the dreams that our forefathers had for us.
Let us all shout ‘Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban’ so that our future generations could truly cheer ‘Ooo Ha’ in the years to come.
I have the faith and confidence in my fellow Sarawakians that we can work together to make Sarawak the glorious land of our dreams.
Baru Bian is Ba Kelalan assemblyman and chairman of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Sarawak