BORN in 1953 in the remote district of Lawas, I consider myself a witness to the history of Sarawak in Malaysia. This year, I am 65 years old and Sarawak in Malaysia has reached the magical age of 55. Unfortunately, we are in turbulent times, which people call the political tsunami that toppled the Perikatan/Barisan Nasional government in the May general election.
The tsunami has yet to reach the shores of Sarawak, perhaps in two years’ time. This is not the only political turbulence and crisis that Sarawak has experienced, there were many along the way to nationhood but we withstood all, such as the Confrontation in 1963 to 1966, 1966 Crisis, Communist Insurrection, Pajar Crisis in 1976, and Ming Court Crisis in 1987. These were the pains of nationhood.
The newly-minted and recycled government seems to have dismissed everything that Malaysia and Sarawak have achieved in the last 55 years, which sounds more like political rhetoric. As I said earlier, being born 10 years prior to Malaysia, I think it is grossly unfair to belittle what Sarawak and the people have benefited from the old government. What I am now relating could be a common story of Anak Sarawak.
My story, perhaps, could be also a story of Sarawak in Malaysia, a journey to success and progress. I came from a big poor family in a village in Lawas, the last district in Sarawak at that time, the Fifth Division. My village was in the middle of a forest without anyhing – everything available was provided for by Mother Nature. Perhaps beginning about 20 years ago, my village has enjoyed all the basic amenities such as roads, electricity, water supply, school, and a mosque. The once-isolated district is now linked by good roads to Kota Kinabalu, Limbang, and Brunei, and of course to Miri and the rest of Sarawak.
Before that we had small planes flying to Miri, Limbang, and Kota Kinabalu, making the people of Lawas among those who flew in planes the most. I first took a plane to Limbang in 1967 to enter Form 1 at Lawas Secondary School when it was temporarily housed at Limbang Secondary School.
Life was tough, of course. In terms of education, secondary schools were far and few. I had to go to Limbang Secondary School for my Form 4 and 5; then travelled to Miri for Form 6 at Tanjong Lobang College. At the college, I met students from every corner and nook of Sarawak of every ethnic group, from the remote interior and from isolated dwellers from the swampy coasts. In other words, people from all over Sarawak at that time already had access to education. Many of us continued our journey in search of further education in universities around the world. I went to the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in 1973 and pursued my master’s degree after graduation. I would remain and work in Kuala Lumpur for 12 years and became a city boy. Many years later, I obtained my PhD from my alma mater.
Today, my story may sound like a Stone Age narrative. Primary schools are everywhere now for everyone, even if there are only 20 pupils in the whole school. If in the past it was a great privilege to enter secondary school, today they are everywhere too – in Lawas alone there are four secondary schools. Yes, Sarawak has its own universities too. My daughters went through the school system in the 1990s, and did and achieved that which was once impossible for Bumiputeras, to pass the toughest subject, medicine, and became medical doctors. This was a breakthrough as soon two daughters of my neighbour also became doctors, and now two children of my younger neighbour are studying medicine.
My American Peace Corps teacher, who taught me in Form 1 in 1966, and became a professor of economics, came back 35 years later to discover that only two of my classmates were farmers like our fathers, while 90 per cent of us became government servants, businessmen, police, doctors, teachers, and other modern jobs. A respected scholar, who has worked in Sarawak, described the changes as a Copernican revolution!
I am certain that my success story is a Malaysian success story too. And I am not alone, there are thousands of them. It’s a dream come true! Keep on dreaming and stop blaming!
Congratulations and thank you, Sarawak dalam Malaysia!
Datu Dr Sanib Said is currently Badan Hak Adat Melayu Sarawak (Baham) president. He was formerly an associate professor at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and University Brunei Darussalam. The former director of Sarawak Museum Department is a historian and author of several historical books about Sarawak.