Upholding a legacy of peace and harmony

The Sarawak Legislative Assembly Complex and Darul Hana Bridge are seen by the Sarawak River.

A PUISSANT sense of togetherness and purpose has evolved from the potpourri of unity in diversity in Sarawak and this spirit of solidarity is becoming ever stronger.

While such a proud Sarawakian heritage “radiates with the iridescent colours of plurality”, as one observer put it, there is also a stark reminder attached: Do not to take things for granted.

It takes time and great effort to grow and sustain the existing mutual inter-communal goodwill and trust, yet it could all crumble in a fraction of the 54 years it took to build since independence if we let our guard down.

Differences are inevitable in a diverse society but there are opportunities to grease the wheels of unity as well, allowing people to communicate and understand issues from different perspectives, grow through them and then try to get on the same page.

So the need to renew commitments and strengthen unity and harmony must be constant, involving people of all walks of life.

Bidayuh community leader Temenggong Austin Dimin noted that the people in the peninsula are more divided now than when Malaysia was formed — with polarisation evident among the different communities or groups.

“The communities across the waters are perhaps too preoccupied with their own agendas that they fail to look at the bigger picture. So a collapse of harmony becomes apparent.

“But in Sarawak where the various ethnic groups have lived together since time immemorial, we have inherited the time-honoured legacy of peace and harmony passed down by our ancestors. And to ensure continued concord and kinship, we will continue to uphold the Rukun Negara,” he told thesundaypost.

Austin said even though there are problems, unity in the Land of Hornbill has remained intact, adding that credit is due to the state’s leaders for laying a strong foundation and fostering good values among the population.

He pointed out that all political and community leaders should continue to safeguard the prevailing peace and harmony as well as mutual tolerance, respect, acceptance and understanding.

“We should, in fact, promote goodwill on a greater scale during the many festivals celebrated in our state. As community leaders, we need to do more to strengthen community development — for example, by also helping the people to develop a positive mentality instead of merely emphasising on physical and infrastructure development.”

The Sarawakian spirit radiates with brilliant colours of plurality.

Avoid sensitive issues

Austin said politicians should not play up racial and religious sentiments to gain mileage, pointing out “the fact that the country and state were built by people from different ethnicities, religions and social backgrounds is undeniable and unchangeable”.

“No one religion can claim to be above another. We are different, yet the same, and when come together with our cultures and traditions, it makes us special,” he said, adding that the uniqueness of a church being built next to a mosque in Lutong, Miri, is a fine example of religious harmony in the state.

“Indeed, all of us, including religious leaders, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) need to play a greater role to cement this unity and harmony.”

Austin advised people not to blindly believe whatever is posted on social media but approach issues in a positive manner.

“Although this isn’t an issue in Sarawak yet, we shouldn’t be complacent. We need to continuously emphasise and safeguard our unity,” he said.

Stronger harmony and unity

Chinese community leader Temenggong Tan Joo Phoi agrees that racial harmony and unity in Sarawak is very strong, in fact, stronger than in the past.

“This is apparent, especially during the festive seasons where entire communities from different races and religions will come together to celebrate.”

He noted that in Sarawak, the people could easily mix with one another.

“This has never been a problem. The bond is further enhanced with infrastructure like roads that have brought people closer together and also provided more opportunities for education and employment.”

Tan said racial and religious issues should not be exploited, adding that reaching a compromise should instead be the key to attaining something more important — unity and strength to develop Sarawak into a prosperous state.

“However, I don’t see this as an issue in Sarawak because I believe Sarawakians value their unity. We’ll continue to adhere to the Rukun Negara.”

Kapitan Lucy Lingam from the Indian community hopes the polarisation in Peninsular Malaysia, causing people to become “group-oriented”, would be temporary.

“Here in Sarawak, racial harmony has prevailed for a long time — and is getting stronger.

“Moreover, interfaith marriages have contributed to this melting pot of diversity in our state, not forgetting that Sarawakians from different communities have always come together to celebrate the various festivals.

“During such festivities, we should take the opportunity to promote our rich cultures and instil a greater sense of togetherness by celebrating, instead of highlighting, our differences.”

Lucy urged the various communities to play their roles in strengthening social cohesion.

The Sarawak flag and Jalur Gemilang flutter in the wind.

Mingling effortlessly

Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) Kuching chairman Datuk Dr Anthony Nait Mani said Sarawakians could mingle with each other effortlessly because “we see ourselves as one”.

“We’re well known for having coffee shops where people of different races do business together. Also, people from different religions or races can hang out — what more to say of celebrating the various festivals together.

“From here, you can see there are no barriers between people in our diverse society. As Sarawakians, we don’t divide ourselves into races or religions or even think of that as an issue because we have learnt to embrace and respect our differences.”

Anthony pointed out that mutual respect and understanding were key to fostering unity and harmony in a plural society like Sarawak.

“We must appreciate the spirit of togetherness that binds us. We must respect one another, regardless of race, religion and status — that’s the way to safeguard our unity 54 years after independence and in the future.

“In fact, we’re setting a good example by upholding the Rukun Negara — we’re now much stronger and more united.”

He said love is the reason for this phenomenal existence, adding hate would only cause harmony and unity to disintegrate — even among the smallest political groups such as our family.

Better situation

Malay community leader Temenggong Chek Bujang stressed the importance of mutual respect, tolerance and understanding.

“If we look at the situation in our state from 1970s until now, we’d notice that things have changed, life has improved and society has evolved.

“We’re now enjoying a much better life compared to the hardships the older generations had endured.”

Closing the gap

While noting that Sarawak is still behind in terms of the economy and development, he believes the state is fast catching up, especially in education.

Chek said the pursuit of peace and harmony is “an endless commitment” as well as the result of the positive values people uphold in life, including cooperation, tolerance, compassion, understanding and compromise.

“People in our multiracial society are close-knit, reflecting, in my humble opinion, a genuine 1Malaysia. Furthermore, unity is part of our culture recognised by others.”

While acknowledging that every society has its own issues, he said no issues would last forever “because they can be overcome if people come together”.

“So let’s always remind ourselves to have peace in our hearts because we want every community in Sarawak to be able to enjoy lasting peace and harmony. It is all about give and take.”

According to the principles of Rukun Negara, our country Malaysia nurtures the ambitions of achieving a more perfect unity amongst the society; preserving a democratic way of life; creating a just society where the prosperity of the country can be enjoyed together in a fair and equitable manner; guaranteeing a liberal approach towards the rich and varied cultural traditions; and building a progressive society that will use science and modern technology.

Perhaps our great waterways such as the mighty Rajang and Sarawak rivers best capture this sense of unity. And here’s a quote to ponder, “The river runs into the sea, and its waters mingle with the waters of the sea. The sea is not the river and the river is not the sea. Yet who can separate one from the other?”

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