THIS year, Sarawak has seen festivals of all descriptions: beginning with the Chinese New Year on Jan 22 and the Chap Goh Mei, to the Christians’ Good Friday and Easter, to Hari Raya Aidilfitri of the Muslims in April. Then came the Gawai Dayak, followed by His Majesty Yang Di-Pertuan Agong’s birthday celebration in June.
After these came the Rainforest World Music Festival and the Borneo Cultural Festival in Sibu, and on to the commemoration of the Sarawak Day on July 22.
Have I missed some major festivals? Sorry, if I have; not intentional, by any stretch of the imagination. There’s just too much going on!
Don’t imagine that it’s over yet! The next ‘Big Day’ will be Hari Kebangsaan (National Day) on Aug 31; and, yet to come, in September, the Malaysia Day itself.
And before one can say ‘Jack Robinson’, there will be Christmas! Oh yes, and Auntie Di’s birthday in November!
Family events are one thing, but then there are the big public festivals.
Where do we get the energy for all these celebrations, and the money? Are we not sending the wrong signal, though, that we are all enjoying a high standard of living and that we have a plenty of time for leisure?
I’m puzzled. It’s surreal, considering the incidences of extreme poverty among us; the rampant corruption in high places, complaints of discrimination and marginalisation of certain communities in a country blessed with abundance of natural resources.
Most of the major festivities were held in Kuching, except for the Borneo Cultural Festival in Sibu, the Gawai Dayak procession in Betong, and the regatta in Gedong.
But the rest of Sarawak has been relatively quiet. It’s a conundrum of sorts.
However, I asked an anthropologist and a psychologist about the latent functions of these festivals. They told me that festivals must indeed have a function in society, especially those involving religious rituals devoted to the deities who are called by various names, for protection and blessings or even for favours.
By and large, we Sarawakians are tradition-bound people, given the fact that we have come from various cultural and racial backgrounds. By design or by providence, these are actually assets, not liabilities.
If only the politicians knew how to harness the various spiritual strengths in these people, they could have converted these assets into the recipe for national unity.
In addition, there are festivals that are not strictly religious. They have their own significance and objectives. All rulers of any country want to keep continuous support from the ruled, the longer the better. The more gregarious and noisy the supporters are, the better, for the ruling elite.
However, if these festivities are intended to be catalysts of harmony and investment in national security, then the expenditure incurred would be worth the effort and the time.
One good example of a festival with a specific aim is the celebration known as the state-level ‘Sarawak National Month’ and the ‘Fly the Jalur Gemilang’.
It is especially created by the statesmen and stateswomen of Malaysia to rouse the ‘we-feeling’ by instilling in the members of the Armed Forces, the Police and the Fire Brigade, the love for the nation, for the rulers.
Why is it necessary? Because, I assume, it is good to remind members of our security fraternity of their oath of loyalty to The King and The Country taken when they entered the service.
This is an exercise with a noble aim and Sarawakians, having just celebrated July 22 as Sarawak Day, have nothing to lose in supporting it. Do not look at it as the ‘Malayan Independence Day’ as such, but deem it to be the National Day of immense significance in terms of the sustainability of the Federation of Malaysia, of which Sarawak is an essential component.
And Sarawakians, as citizens of that Federation, have nothing to lose in celebrating it too, remembering the role of our Iban Trackers and our Rangers in the guerrilla war in Malaya in the 1950s.
Of course, the real test of patriotism is not in the raising of the Jalur Gemilang or the banners, or the songs or the long convoy of vehicles carrying the celebrants from Kuching to Sipitang – though these are all symbols of patriotism – but in the actual acts of bravery displayed during a war.
Hopefully, this would not happen any time in the near future and there is no need for a test of patriotism in the battlefield.
However, there is now a need for an open display of patriotism by all Malaysians in uniforms or in T-shirts to defend the sovereignty of the country on another front: we are at war against an enemy composed of extreme racism and religious bigotry.
In this war, the politicians need the support of the common men and women who support the armed men and women, the Police, the keepers of law and order, the civil administrators, the firefighters and the volunteers of all descriptions, never forgetting the doctors and the nurses.
They will come to the defence of the country in support of the Security Forces to help win any war by providing services of all kinds while the security forces repel the enemy and secure the borders. They are the heroes and the heroines too, although they are seldom highly regarded like the recipients of gallantry awards are.
Malaysians of all races and creeds must, therefore, pledge to forces in an open declaration of patriotism in another instance, not only to defend the sovereignty of this nation from external enemies, but also to protect it from the insidious encroachment by an internal enemy.
I think the No 1 enemy is the creeping extreme racialism and religious bigotry, aided and abetted by kleptocracy.
Fly the National Flag by all means and rally behind that flag whenever and wherever our nation is under threat from without or from within!