Remembering the BIRTH of our nation
Posted By rajlira On 16th September 2007 @ 00:03 In Local
Forty-four years ago today, Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaya, Singapore and Sabah to form a new nation — MALAYSIA
THE birth of Malaysia came at 12.30pm on Sunday, September 15, 1963 when the last British Governor of Sarawak Sir Alexander Waddell and Lady Waddell officially vacated the Astana to board a decorated barge which was to take them to the waiting Royal Navy frigate HMS Loch Killisport berthed at the Sarawak Steamship Wharf a short distance downstream.
Prior to that, in typical British pomp and pageantry, Sir Waddell, resplendent in his ceremonial uniform, took a salute from a Guard of Honour mounted by the Sarawak Constabulary, the Field Force and the Royal Marine Commandos. Lady Waddell received a bouquet of orchids from Theresa Chung a brownie from the 5th Pack of the St Teresa’s Primary school.
The out-going British Governor and his wife first proceeded across river to be greeted by Datu Abang Openg who would take over from him the next day as the first Sarawak Governor in the new nation of Malaysia, Stephen Kalong Ningkan who was appointed Chief Minister of Sarawak in July that year, and the rest of his fledging cabinet, which included a young lawyer, Encik Abdul Taib Mahmud who was the Minister of Communications.
It must have been an emotional scene, which was very well described in this excerpt from the book ‘The Formation of Malaysia’ written by the late Ho Ah Chon: “On getting abroad the HMS Killisport, the Governor took another salute from a Royal Navy Guard of Honour.
“A 17-Gun Salute boomed from Fort Margherita. The Governor returned the salute. It was a touching moment. Made sadder as the frigate sailed past
Fort Margherita, where the Sarawak Constabulary played ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
“As HMS Killisport gathered speed downriver, the crowd lining the river bank, seemed conscious that as the last of the British Governors of Sarawak departed, one chapter of the country’s history — 17 years of benevolent British rule — had closed and a new chapter — independence with its great challenges and promises — had opened.”
The next day, September 16, 1963, Malaysia was born… 16 days behind schedule because originally, the formation of Malaysia was slated to be on August 31 to coincide with the Independence Day of the Federation of Malaya.
The delay was owing to Indonesia and the Philippines at a meeting with the Federation of Malaya on the formation of Malaysia in Manila from July 28 to August 31, 1963, making a strong demand for an assessment by the UN in the form of plebiscite or referendum to be carried out for the people of Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah) to reaffirm their wishes to be part of the new nation Malaysia although the Cobbold Commission had already submitted their findings that the majority of the people in the two States were in favour of the idea.
That demand threw a spanner into the plans to declare August 31 as the birthday of Malaysia, resulting in a flurry of heated exchanges between all the parties involved in the Manila Summit Conference.
Indonesia was the more vocal of our two neighbours in opposing the formation of Malaysia, fearing that it was a British plan to attract some regions in Indonesia into the new Federation, ultimately leading to the disintegration of the Republic.
Dr Subandrio, the Indonesian Foreign Minister then, said: “The imperialists are trying to form Malaysia as a manifestation that aims to attract a number of regions in Indonesia so that Indonesia will collapse.”
That fear was, of course, unfounded but despite the assurance of Tunku Abdul Rahman that Malaysia had no such design and the insistence of the leaders of Sarawak and North Borneo to the UN that the people in the two States did not want any more delay in the formation of Malaysia, the tension was only defused after U Thant, the UN Secretary-General, worked out a compromise that an assessment on the wishes of the people be carried out in the two States instead of a referendum.
The reaction to this ‘Manila Agreement’ from Sarawak and Sabah was quite strong. Chief Minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan sent a telegram to U Thant in which he stated it was not necessary to hold a referendum or plebiscite as the people of Sarawak had agreed on the formation of Malaysia.
When he received news that an assessment would be carried out instead, Ningkan replied: “We welcome the Manila Agreement on the assessment of the wishes of the people by a UN team. We will assist the UN team in its work; we are confident Malaysia will be established as declared already … on 31st of this month.”
Ningkan’s confidence was misplaced and in the end, it was agreed that the UN assessment team would start work towards the end of August.
In the meantime, the Sarawak State government was inaugurated on August 31 following a statement from the Chief Minister’s office which said: “It has been decided that August 31 shall be held as a holiday to mark the inauguration of the State government. The celebrations for Malaysia will take place when our partners in independence can participate.”
The UN assessment team’s mission was fraught with problems. Indonesia refused to send any observer to verify its findings in an attempt to obstruct the formation of Malaysia. What followed was ‘Konfrantasi’ — a low level of undeclared war by Jakarta.
On September 7, the UN Malaysia Mission ended its 10-day tour of Sarawak and proceeded to Sabah.
On September 14, U Thant released the mission’s report which found that the majority of the people of Sabah and Sarawak strongly supported the formation of Malaysia.
With the last hurdle cleared, Malaysia was finally formed two days later on September 16, 1963. Messages flowed in from around the world, congratulating the new nation — one of them came from the Queen of England, a part of which said: “As you go forward on your chosen way of independence within Malaysia, the warm and sincere good wishes of the British people go with you. May God bless and guide Sarawak and Malaysia in all the years that lie ahead.”
Sarawak was in a festive mood despite the tension caused by Indonesia’s Confrontation and efforts by Clandestine Communist Organisation (CCO) to derail the celebration.
Today, looking back on that momentous day thesundaypost talked to people across the State about Malaysia Day and whether we should celebrate the birth of our nation on September 16 and mark next year as the 45th anniversary of the birth of our nation.
In Miri, Dennis Ngau, Information Chief Federation of Orang Ulu, Sarawak said: “It doesn’t matter to me as long as we have equal share. There is no significant point to argue whether it is 44 or 50. We are happy to be part of Malaysia and have equal opportunities.
Peter Kallang, chairman of Orang Ulu National Association, Miri branch has a different view: “We in Sarawak and Sabah should celebrate our 44th anniversary this year, not the 50th anniversary of Merdeka. To celebrate the 50th anniversary is like celebrating the British colonial rule. The British took over from the White Rajahs in 1946. On August 31, 50 years ago (August 31, 1957) Sarawak was still a British colony.
“It was in 1963 that Sarawak gained her independence and formed Malaysia together with Malaya, Singapore and North Borneo. It is a straightforward and simple fact; counting the years from 1963 to 2007, it is now only 44 years. Malaysia is 44 years old and Sarawak’s independence is 44 years. We ought to celebrate Sarawak’s independence counting from 1963. It is important to note this fact because it is a landmark in our history and it must not to be blurred by any opinion or bias.”
In Sibu, bank officer Vincent Yu said the words of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at the just-concluded National Day celebration in Kuching should embrace this feeling of oneness when Pak Lah assured a national development for East Malaysians in the principle of fairness.
“He assured equal blessings and opportunities although we might not have gained independence along with Malaya on August 31, 1957.”
He said Pak Lah had stressed a national progress on equal footing, and in this, the people of Sarawak and Sabah had enjoyed the fruits of Merdeka.
Nangka State Assemblyman Awang Bemee Awang Ali Basah agreed on this feeling of oneness as the core of the celebration “but we should also remember September 16 as an important day that changed our lives forever in the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.
“In 44 years, we have surged forward as a people to become the top 17 developing nations. This is an effort of one Malaysian people, and this is important to us.”
Although September 16 was a significant day, he said the people should also accept a common date for celebrating their independence… “and that common date for all Malaysians is August 31″.
Deputy chairman of Sibu Municipal Council Daniel Ngieng agreed that there should not be too much focus on the debate on whether to celebrate Malaysia Day on September 16 or August 31.
“The fact is, in the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, we have built a nation that is fair and just for all and in togetherness as a people.”
However, Ngieng felt that Malaysians must remember their history and understand the path to Malaysia’s independence.
“The Federation of Malaya was formed in 1957. The Federation of Malaysia was formed in 1963. From the days of our struggle then, we see the fruits of a blessed Malaysia today.”
In Kuching, Army veteran Captain (Rtd) Mohd Johari Ibrahim, 67, said Malaysia Day — which falls on Sept 16 — should be celebrated independently from the Merdeka Day.
The two events have their own significance and should not be merged or incorporated into one, he insisted.
“Everybody knows that Merdeka Day which falls on August 31 is Independence Day. It’s meaningful to the states in Semenanjung because Malaya gained independence on August 31, 1957. But Malaysia Day falls on September 16, when Malaysia was formed. On September 16, 1963 all the Malayan states, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore helped to form Malaysia,” he pointed out.
“As far as I am concerned, Independence Day and the formation of Malaysia are two different events,” he insisted.
Asked to comment on whether Malaysia Day — Sarawak will be celebrating its 45th anniversary next year on a grand scale — should also be celebrated on a national scale annually, Johari said that was his wish.
On September 16, 1963, Johari was in Sri Aman (then Simanggang) listening to a live radio broadcast on the grand celebration in Kuching. He was then 21-year-old and a technical staff with Sesco.
“I heard everything on the radio. It felt wonderful knowing we were finally free from colonialism. Prior to that, even police officers were Mat Salleh (foreigners). The wonderful feeling was due to our freedom,” he said.
“We in Sabah and Sarawak should always try to tell our brothers in Semenanjung that, while we respect the decision to celebrate Merdeka Day together with them, they must be sensitive to our feelings here,” he added.
Former Tebakang (now Tebedu) State Assemblyman Datuk Michael Ben, 72, felt that Malaysia Day on September 16, 1963 should be a significant event and be forever remembered by all Malaysians.
Michael, now a Temenggong (a community leader), said he still could remember the celebration very well because he was among the celebrants taking part as a Red Cross member.
“It (September 16, 1963) was a very memorable day. I was among the crowd as a Red Cross member taking part in the parade to mark the formation of Malaysia. Everybody was happy and morale was high.
“September 16, 1963 was the day when the country was formed with the merger of Malaya, Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore. If we (Sarawak) did not join Malaysia, there would be no Malaysia,” he said.
Asked if September 16 should be celebrated on a national scale, Michael said the decision should rest with the government of the day.
“We cannot argue with government decisions. However we must remember what September 16 is all about,” he added.
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