Sarawak’s flag has evolved through the generations with each signifying an era of different governance, most notably during the Brooke family’s administration era and following the formation of Malaysia in 1963.
It is believed that the first Rajah of Sarawak, Sir James Brooke, flew his personal standard flag that depicted the St George’s cross over his fort at Belidah (now known as Bau) between Sept 24, 1841 and Sept 20, 1848.
Although the flag could not be considered as the first actual flag per se of the state, it depicted a red emblem on a white background with a V-shaped cut with two pointed ends. It was carried in the war boats of the Rajah’s Malay and Dayak chiefs who supported him during the early turbulent years of his rule.
The first flag of Sarawak was actually designed by the White Rajah himself, basing it on his family’s coat of arms. It consisted of a cross located in the centre of a yellow background with the cross split in two, flanked by blue and red colours.
The flag was flown between Sept 21, 1848 and May 6, 1870.
When Charles Brooke was appointed as the second Rajah of Sarawak, he altered the flag by changing the colour of the blue side of the cross on the flag to black. The reasons behind the change are undetermined.
However, it is believed that the colours are connected to the gifts presented to Charles when he was proclaimed as the second Rajah on Aug 3, 1868.
The gifts from the Malays were wrapped in yellow cloth, the Dayaks’ wrapped in black cloth and the Chinese wrapped their gifts in red cloth. The colours were believed to have attracted the attention of the second Rajah and thus, the state’s flag colour was changed to suit the preferred colour of the various communities.
The second flag was flown between May 7, 1870 and Dec 23, 1941.
Between 1941 and 1945, Sarawak was occupied by Japanese forces before the Empire of Japan surrendered on Aug 15, 1945 and ending World War II. Sarawak was under British military rule administered by the Australian military from August 1945 to April 1946.
The Japanese flag of the Rising Sun replaced Charles’ flag from Dec 24, 1941 to Sept 10, 1945 during their occupation.
When the Australian forces fully liberated Sarawak on Sept 11, 1945, the Australian flag was hoisted in Sarawak to replace that of the Rising Sun. It was later replaced by the Sarawak flag when the civil government was restored on April 15, 1946.
The second version of the Sarawak flag was again flown until June 30, 1946.
Sarawak was then ceded to Britain and became a British Crown Colony on July 1, 1946.
Another alteration was made to the state’s flag design to distinguish the state from other British Crown Colonies by adding a yellow five-point crown design to the centre of the flag. The flag was also flown together with Britain’s Union Jack flag during this period. This was to symbolise Sarawak as a British Crown Colony.
The five pointed-end of the crown on the state flag represented the five divisions of Sarawak when it became a British Crown Colony from July 1, 1946 to Sept 16,1963. The crown was also to symbolise that Sarawak was part of the British Crown Colony.
After the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, the third chief minister of Sarawak, Tun Datuk Patinggi Abdul Rahman Ya’kub was credited for the radical changes in the design of the state flag.
The new design of the state flag, which was known as The Trisakti, featured a blue triangle occupying the left half of the flag, and the top and bottom halves were divided into red and white.
The blue triangle represented unity among the people, the red half symbolised courage and perseverance, and white reflected honesty and purity.
It was hoisted at midnight on Aug 31, 1973 by Abdul Rahman on the occasion of the state’s 10th anniversary of independence within Malaysia. The flag was used until Aug 30, 1988.
On Aug 31, 1988, a new Sarawak flag was introduced which retained the colours of the original flags during the Brooke era. The new design featured a nine-pointed yellow star on two black and red diagonal stripes, with the remaining corners coloured in yellow.
The yellow colour signified the supremacy of law and order, unity and stability in diversity, while the red symbolises 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.
The black colour portrays the rich natural resources and wealth of the state.
The nine-pointed star represented the then nine divisions of the state, and embodies the aspirations of the people in their quest to improve their quality of life.
The redesigned flag, which is being used until today, was raised by the fourth Chief Minister Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud on Aug 31, 1988 in conjunction with Sarawak’s 25th Merdeka Day celebration at newly completed indoor stadium at Petra Jaya.
The current state anthem of Sarawak, titled ‘Ibu Pertiwi Ku’ was adopted in 1988, along with a new state flag design and the coat of arms. Dato Wan Othman Hamid is credited as the composer of the music, while Ismail Hassan wrote the lyrics.
Before ‘Ibu Pertiwi Ku’ was adopted, Sarawak had three different anthems since the 1800s.
The song titled ‘Gone Forth Beyond the Sea’ was the anthem during Brooke’s administration from 1872 to 1946; followed by ‘Fair Land Sarawak’ from 1946 to 1973, which was considered to be the first state anthem, and from 1973 to 1988, it was ‘Sarawak Bahagia’.
IBU PERTIWI KU:
Sarawak Tanah Air Ku,
Negeri Ku Tanah Air Ku Sarawak,
Engkaulah Tanah Pusaka Ku,
Tanah Tumpah Darahku,
Ibu Pertiwi Ku.
Rakyat Hidup Mesra Dan Bahagia,
Damai Muhibbah Sentiasa,
Bersatu Berusaha Berbakti,
Untuk Sarawak Ku Cintai.
Sarawak Dalam Malaysia,
Aman Makmur Rahmat Tuhan Maha Esa,
Kekallah Sarawak Bertuah,
Teras Perjuangan Rakyat,
The present Sarawak state crest or coat of arms was adopted on Aug 31, 1988 along with the new state flag. It features a rhinoceros hornbill or ‘Burung Kenyalang’ with its wings and tails each comprising 13 stripes representing the 13 states in the country. The shield at the centre of the bird bears the present Sarawak flag and the country’s national flower Hibiscus is on the right and left sides of the bird’s legs. The bird also clutches a scroll with the state motto ‘Bersatu, Berusaha, Berbakti’.
The state crest signifies the proud ‘Land of the Hornbills’ flying high in aspirations and achievements in all fields of endeavour, guided by the ideology of ‘politics of development’. It also serves to distinguish Sarawak from the rest of the World.
Not widely known by many, Sarawak’s state flower is actually Orkid Normah, scientifically known as Phalaenopsis bellina. It can be found in the forests of the Lundu district. Orkid Normah was officially unveiled as state flower at a ceremony on Aug 28, 1983.
The orchid, which was previously known as Lundu Orchid, was officially renamed as Orkid Normah in honour of the late Toh Puan Datuk Patinggi Normah, the wife of the fourth Governor of Sarawak and third Chief Minister Tun Datuk Patinggi Abdul Rahman Ya’kub. It is reported the flower measures 3.5cm by 5cm but can be as large as 5cm by 7cm.