‘We did it our way’


The date 22/7 is of particular significance to Sarawakians because it is gazetted as the Sarawak Independence Day. — Bernama photo

I AM still in a celebrative mood after the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia)’s ‘Thank You’ dinner held at IPG Rajang on June 27.

This year we, in Sarawak, have been having festivals of all descriptions – cultural, religious, political, economic – you name it. And the mood continues as we welcome July 22.

This date is of particular significance to Sarawakians because it is gazetted as the Sarawak Independence Day. The odd thing is that at the time, there was no law passed to declare it as the Independence Day either here or in London, to say that the colony of Sarawak was given independence.

Independence was declared by Proclamation only.

That is the curious part of the arrangement. That is why, I think, when Pehin Sri Adenan Satem was the Chief Minister of Sarawak, he decided to ‘regularise’ the occasion.

Anyway, the government decided to have at least an official notification in the gazette to recognise the independence.

It is the spirit of freedom that must have moved Adenan to do so.

I know Adenan’s family had a strong connection with the leaders of Berjasa, a party now part of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB). Leaders of Berjasa, Parti Negara, SNAP and later, Pesaka, were in favour of Malaysia because it was a shortcut to the road to independence – direct grant from Great Britain.

Also, it must be remembered that even Rajah Vyner Brooke wanted self-government or loosely called independence for Sarawak when he introduced the Constitution of Sarawak 1941 and the Nine Cardinal Principles. On key principle is ‘self-government’ for Sarawak.

Sarawak nationalism

Following this public notification of the independence in the Government Gazette, there was a sudden surge in what may be called Sarawak nationalism. The movement called ‘Sarawak For Sarawakians’ popped up like a mushroom after the rain, but faded away when too many cooks spoil the soup.

Everyone claimed to be the champion and the leader of the movement, while the initiators like Peter John Jaban were sidelined and ignored. Typical of the crab mentality.

July 22

A couple of years ago, many Sarawakians were not sure whether or not to celebrate July 22 as an Independence Day for Sarawak, or is it real independence.

They ask:  “Independence from what country?” An academic exercise now.

From their perspective, a country gains independence when it declares its freedom from political dependence from the country which had colonised or administered it for years.

For instance, India achieved independence from Britain, or Indonesia from the Netherlands.

In Sarawak’s case, the path to our independence was rather different from that of India or Indonesia.

We did it our way.

We got our independence from Great Britain via the formation of Malaysia in 1963. By proclamation, and a process of merger with an existing independent state – the Federation of Malaya.

In August 1957, the Federation of Malaya (composed of the Federated and Non-Federated States and the Straits Settlements of Penang and Malacca) had gained full political independence from Great Britain.

Sarawak gained a kind of independence when the British Government granted Sarawak self-government status on July 22, 1963 after the local government elections were successfully held.

A ministerial system of government was adopted. Tan Sri Datuk Amar Stephen Kalong Ningkan, his party SNAP having won the majority of seats in the state legislature, was appointed the Chief Minister of Sarawak.

When the Federation of Malaysia was finally formed on Sept 16, 1963, Sarawak was merged with the Federation of Malaya in the form of the Federation of Malaysia.

That is why there was no new Constitution of Malaysia. The Constitution of the Federation of Malaya was cut-and-pasted and this amended constitution of the Federation of Malaya was adopted as the Constitution of the Federation of Malaysia.

In this context and in one sense, Malaysia was an enlarged Federation of Malaya. Certainly, this was the understanding of many West Malaysians I used to talk to many years ago.

On the other hand, some early advocates of the Malaysia Project were telling the people in Sarawak that they were not joining Malaysia; they insisted on their role in forming Malaysia for their own good. Malaysia is here – a fait accompli, warts and all, nonetheless, my beloved country all the same.

For the time being, this part of the history of Malaysia may be treated as being academic. But we learn from it.

As Dr Steven Runciman in his book ‘The White Rajahs’ Cambridge University Press, 1960: “History cannot explain the future for us, but it can help to explain the present.”

It is right that Sarawakians celebrate July 22 every year in the spirit of independence, even though we only achieved self-government in 1963 and be grateful that our independence was achieved without the spilling of too much human blood.

Many countries had to fight for independence and many people died for freedom in the process. In Sarawak, not many people died for freedom. Some of those who did are being forgotten anyway.

So folk, celebrate and enjoy the freedom. Every home and shophouse should raise the Sarawak flag and be thankful that we are in a country that is generally free from serious natural disasters.