SEPT 16 — A prominent Sarawakian, Lo Suan Hian, wrote a very personal account of the ceremony on September 16, 1963 which was published in the Sarawak Gazette on September 20, 1963.
It was fair report. Fair in the decorations, the celebrations, the ceremonial uniforms, the grandstands.
Fair in the programme with proclamation of Malaysia, raising of national fl ags, playing of anthems.
Fair in giving credit to the two doctors who attended to the governor who felt faint during the ceremony.
Fair in giving an account of the police on duty to prevent any untoward happenings.
Yet, in the midst of all the fairness and beauty, Lo observed: One lady guest remarked it made her feel sad while a local man said the thought of the police having to face the crowd made his blood boil.
Today, as Malaysia marks her 48th birthday, the Borneo Post examines the path our “Fair Land” Sarawak has travelled from its birth as an independent state, carved out of the Brunei Sultanate by White Rajahs, through to the dark years of Japanese occupation during the Second World War, a brief period of anti-cession struggle to maintain our independence before we became a colony of Britain, the birth pangs of a new nation Malaysia and on to what we are now.
We walk down memory lane with Sarawakians who had themselves — or their loved ones — gone through British colonial rule, the Japanese Occupation, the communist insurgence and the process of the formation of Malaysia.
Recalled former State Secretary Tan Sri Bujang Nor: The period leading up to the cession of Sarawak to Great Britain in 1946 was preceded by a tumultuous time, marked by intrigue, loyalty, greed, deception, politics and murder. Of Japanese Occupation, veteran Sarawakian journalist Gabriel Tan wrote: The heaviest allied bombing by B17 flying fortresess was on June 4, 1945 over Sibu.
Many shophouses were destroyed. The new concrete flat-roof market was flattened.
The number of people killed and wounded was never accounted for but it was in the dozens for sure.
There was a blackout that night after the bombing. The town was practically devoid of people, its eerie silence only broken by howling dogs.
There were many deaths, mostly reputable vendors, in the bombed out market which is now a car park. Today, Sibu has one of the best markets in Sarawak, if not Malaysia.
A former communist cadre recalled: Following the Brunei Rebellion in 1962 when AM Azahari launched his attempt to overthrow the Brunei Sultanate, the British carried out large-scale arrests of anti-colonisation and anti-Malaysia elements.
The “migration” of the mostly Chinese youths to the Indonesian border was prompted by arrest orders issued by the British to round up suspected communists.
About 700-800 CCO members and supporters slipped across the Sarawak border into Indonesia where they received intensive training in guerilla warfare.
James Matthews Hoover, the first Methodist missionary who came to Sibu in 1903, wrote to a friend: Our missionary business included the whole range of human interests: religion, education, politics, medicine, immigration, town planning, road building, machinery, boats, etc. On the formation of Malaysia, one political commentator noted: The 20/18-point Agreement should not be ignored or eroded.
Thus, certain policies and the relationships between Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak must be relooked to address whatever imbalance in terms of infrastructure, social, economic or educational developments between the centre and periphery in the last 48 years.
More financial allocations should be channelled to Sabah and Sarawak.
The federal government should increase the petroleum royalty to at least 15 per cent from the current five per cent.
But still there are many intriguing questions that run through our minds. What, if, the British had not given up Sarawak and Sabah to hasten the formation of Malaysia with Malaya?
What, if, the communist movement had not posed a serious threat to the security of Sarawak?
Would the British have allowed Sarawak to become independent on her own?
There is a school of thought that the communist threat was detrimental to the interests of the British who, in consequence, came up with the formula that Sarawak’s independence must be with the condition of being part of Malaysia.
Changes have always brought about opposition and conflicts just as the anti-cession movement was the prelude to the handing over of Sarawak under Brooke rule to the British, and the communist insurgency and the Indonesian confrontation were the birth pangs of Malaysia.
The early troubled years are still fresh in the minds of those who witnessed the momentous — albeit not altogether troublefree — birth of our nation and some directly involved in events leading up to it are still alive today.
There were fears and hopes when Sarawak mulled the proposal of forming Malaysia together with North Borneo (Sabah), Malaya and Singapore.
The apprehension was reflected by Tun Temenggong Jugah anak Barieng when he asked in Iban “would the sugarcane that is sweet now turn sour in future?” amidst the negotiations.
Will we be better off as an independent country?
It is to be noted that political parties from the peninsula have swarmed into the East Malaysian states in the later years of independence.
Umno is now in Sabah and though the party has declared time and again that it has no intention of coming Sarawak, the state’s relationship with the federal government has remained strong through mutual respect and understanding.
The other peninsula-based parties — both BN and opposition — that have spread their wings to Sarawak are PAS, the DAP, PKR, PPP.
With such a political scenario, one does wonder whether the substance and spirit of the 18-20 Point Agreement has been further eroded when we have apparently already lost most of our safeguards pertaining to our attainment of the independence as guaranteed under the Agreement.
No, it has not been a perfect marriage.
After all, it was not made in heaven but after 48 years of independence, Sarawakians have plenty to thankful for and today we have every reason to celebrate.
Many still remember singing the anthem — “Fair Land Sarawak” — and the lyrics are as follows:
Fair Land Sarawak
We will never cease to honour thee
And with our loyal sons
Defend your liberty
From your high forest hills
Down to the open sea
May freedom ever reign
Men live in unity
Proudly our flag flies high
Above our country strong and free
Long may our people live
In peace and harmony
Yes, Fair Land Sarawak. But have we been fair?
Are we still fair?
Have we been fairly treated? Or have we treated our brotherhood of states fairly?
How are we faring after 48 years of independence?
Former State Attorney-General Datuk JC Fong quoted the late Tun Mohd Suffian: Thanks to the goodwill and commonsense on the part of our leaders and of our people, the constitution has so far worked well, and let us hope that it will continue to work equally well in the future, and that there be peace and prosperity in the country.
Hope is not a word that means mere possibility or good chance. It speaks of a ringing certainty, based upon our commitment and faith. — Borneo Post
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.