Wednesday, March 20

The changing flags of Sarawak

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The current Sarawak state flag has been in use since 1988.

The current Sarawak state flag has been in use since 1988.

AS usual, in August, Federal government and corporate buildings nationwide will be spruced up with the colours of the national flag in the fortnight or so leading up to National Day.

National and state flags can also be seen hanging from windows and buildings in the state.

The national flag is known as Jalur Gemilang — the central theme and pride of the nation.

A month before the National Day celebration, it is not unusual to see vehicles flying the colours of Jalur Gemilang.

The national flag is the symbol of unity. It is flown publicly by the government and the people on historic occasions. This is true of a state flag as well.

For example, on July 22, over 5,000 people converged at Song Kheng Hai Ground in Padungan, waving both the old and new Sarawak flags for the 722 Sarawak Freedom and Independence Day Walk to commemorate Sarawak’s Independence Day (July 22, 1963).

Flags had been used before recorded history as symbols of political and social movements, peoples and even individuals. Every country has a flag — some beautiful, some incredibly boring.

This flag was used by the first Rajah of Sarawak James Brooke between 1841 and 1848.

This flag was used by the first Rajah of Sarawak James Brooke between 1841 and 1848.

When looking at the flags of countries around the world, each holds a special meaning — from the images and colours used to the way it has evolved over time.

Just look at the Malaysian flag. It comprises a field of 14 alternating red and white stripes along the fly and a blue canton bearing a crescent and a 14-point star known as the Bintang Persekutuan (Federal Star).

The 14 stripes of equal width, represent the equal status in the federation of the 13 member states and the federal government while the 14 points of the star represent the unity among these entities.

The crescent represents Islam, the country’s official religion.

The blue canton symbolises the unity of the Malaysian people. The yellow of the star and crescent is the royal colour of the Malay rulers.

In blazon, the Malaysian flag is described as “a banner Gules, seven bars Argent; the canton Azure charged with decrescent and mullet of 14 points. This means a red flag with seven horizontal white stripes; the upper-left (hoist) quarter is blue with a yellow waning crescent

(ie horns pointing to sinister) and a yellow 14-pointed star.

It might be surprising to discover that many flags are updated frequently due to changes in government, territory or beliefs. Just as countries or states evolve and change, so do the messages represented in their flags.

The history of a nation can often be told by chronologically examining its flags, and the reasons for these changes are as strong as the country’s or the state’s beliefs.

Changes can occur for many reasons, including shift in political power, progression in national structure, re-imagining of a country’s or the state’s political or structural future and changing country demographic and national interest.

Many countries or states have retained the same flag design since inception or only undergone slight alterations. However, some national or state flags have seen a variety of designs since their creations.

The first official state flag flown between 1848 and 1870.

The first official state flag flown between 1848 and 1870.

Whether there is alteration or not, each country or state finds representation, individuality and pride in its flag, the meaning of

its design as rich and colourful as the country or the state it represents.

Sarawak is one of the states that has changed its flags a number of times to historically set the state apart from the other states in Malaysia.

From research, it is believed Sarawak is most possibly the only state in Malaysia found to have the most variations of its flag since it was first created in 1845 by the first Rajah James Brooke.

Indeed, the history of Sarawak’s flags is rather convoluted with many variations to the stories on their designs. Let us look at the various Sarawak flags which are unique in one or another aspect from other flags.

It is believed Brooke first flew his personal standard flag that depicted the St George’s cross over his fort at Belidah, now Bau, between September 24, 1841 and September 20, 1848.

Although it could not be counted as the first actual flag per se, it depicted a red emblem on a white background.

The flag was also carried in the war boats of his Malay and Dayak chiefs who supported him during the early turbulent years of his rule over the territory from Tanjung Datu to the Sadong River.

It is understood Sarawak’s first actual flag was designed by Brooke himself, based on his own family’s coat of arms. Consisting of a cross located in the centre of a yellow background with the cross split in two — either side being blue and red in colour — the flag was flown between September 21, 1848 and May 6, 1870.

Sarawak by then had been enlarged from Tanjung Datu up to Oya River in Sarikei Division.

When Charles Brooke became the second Rajah, he altered the flag, changing the colour of the blue side of the cross to black. The real reason for the change was unrecorded and also unrevealed in the state archives.

The second Sarawak flag flown between 1870 and 1941

The second Sarawak flag flown between 1870 and 1941

However, rumours had it that when Charles Brooke was proclaimed the second Rajah on August 3, 1868, representatives of the three major communities in Sarawak — Malay, Chinese and Dayak — presented gifts to the Rajah.

The Malays gave gifts wrapped in yellow cloth, the Dayaks, in black cloth while the Chinese, in red cloth.

Apparently, the three colours had attracted the attention of the second Rajah, said to always have the welfare and interest of the people at heart.

From then on, he decided to change the colour of the first flag from yellow, blue and red to yellow, black and red to suit the favourite colours of the various communities.

The flag was flown between May 7, 1870 and December 2, 1941.

It is also said the Foochow recognised the flag when they first arrived in Sibu and shopkeepers usually flew the flag from the first floor of their shops during various government occasions.

Another slight alteration was again made to the Sarawak flag to distinguish the state from other British Crown Colonies.

This time, a yellow five-point crown was added in the centre of the cross to signify Sarawak as a British Crown Colony. The five pointed triangles on the crown signified the five divisions of Sarawak when it became the British Colony from July 1, 1946 to September 16, 1963.

The flag continued to be flown in Sarawak for about 10 years after the formation of Malaysia.

The design of Sarawak flag finally saw a radical change when it was replaced by the Trisakti flag on August 31, 1973. The Trisakti is, in fact, the first Sarawak flag within Malaysia.

Having a blue triangle occupying the left half of the flag and the top and bottom halves divided into red and white respectively, this new design was credited to then Chief Minister Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’kub.

The blue triangle represents unity among the people, the red half symbolises courage and perseverance while the colour white reflects honesty and purity.

Hoisted at midnight on August 31, 1973 by the then Chief Minister on the occasion of the state’s 10th anniversary of independence within Malaysia, the flag was used until August 30, 1988.

With this new flag, another anthem — Sarawak Bahagia (Peaceful Sarawak) — was also introduced along with a new motto Hidup Selalu Berkhidmat (Live to Always Serve), to replace Fair Land Sarawak, the anthem of the Kingdom of Sarawak.

The Sarawak flag was later changed again. Retaining the colours of the original flags from as far back as 1870, the new version, which many know so well, consists of a nine-pointed yellow star on two black and red diagonal strips, with the remaining corners also coloured yellow.

The nine-pointed star serves to represent the then nine divisions of the state. The Star symbol also embodies the aspirations of the people of Sarawak in their quest to improve their quality of life.

The yellow colour denotes the supremacy of Law and Order, unity and stability in diversity while the red symbolises the courage, determination and sacrifices of the people in their tireless pursuit to attain and maintain progress and esteem in the course of creating a model State.

Black portrays the rich natural resources and wealth of Sarawak such as petroleum, timber etc. which provide the foundation for the advancement of the people.

The new flag was raised by Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud on August 31, 1988, during the state’s 25th independence anniversary at Sarawak Stadium.

The introduction of the new flag also saw the introduction of a new state anthem titled Ibu Pertiwiku (My Motherland) and a new state motto as well — Bersatu, Berusaha, Berbakti (United, Striving, Serving).

The flag of the Kingdom of Sarawak with a five-pointed crown located in the centre, was used between 1948 and 1973.

The flag of the Kingdom of Sarawak with a five-pointed crown located in the centre, was used between 1948 and 1973.