Last Monday (22 July 2013) was the 50th anniversary of Sarawak independence from Britain. Although it isn’t a gazetted public holiday, local newspapers over the preceding week highlighted the upcoming re-enactment of the independence ceremony, in which the last British Governor, Sir Alexander Waddell, formally handed sovereignty over to Tuan Haji Openg, the first Yang di-Pertua (Governor of Sarawak), on behalf of the people of Sarawak.
The ceremony, forgotten in the past, appeared to be a pointed reminder to the national government in Putrajaya that elements in both Sabah and Sarawak are demanding a more assertive approach to the governance of their own affairs.
The British took over the role of protecting Sarawak in 1888, formally becoming a colony in July 1946. On 22nd July 1963 Britain granted Sarawak full independence, where it became a sovereign state in its own right.
Many, if not most Malaysians are unaware that Sarawak was indeed, if only for a short time, a fully independent state before it entered into the Malaysia Agreement to form the Federation of Malaysia along with Sabah, Malaya, and Singapore, which formally came into effect on 16th September 1963, the actual birth date of Malaysia. Sarawak’s status, like Sabah’s within the Federation was defined by the 18 Points Agreement, which gave Sarawak (20 points in Sabah) sole responsibility in governing many aspects of its territory.
There is a sentiment in many quarters within Sarawakian society that the state’s rich and diverse history has been lost in favor of the ‘national Merdeka’ narratives dominated by the stories of the independence movement within the Malay Peninsula. As a consequence, Liberation Day, as independence from Britain is called in Sarawak, has become a forgotten annal in Malaysia’s history.
After the last planning meeting for the Liberation Day ceremony, Sarawak Resource Planning and Environment Minister (Datuk Amar) Haji Awang Tengah Ali Hasan told the media at a press conference that the facts surrounding this day should be featured much stronger in national history curriculum, as this event had great significance, marking the beginning of the state being ruled by Sarawakians themselves.
This re-enactment ceremony occurred at a time where there is a growing sentiment within Government to tackle planning and development more within local paradigms, in contrast to just following national agendas in the past. Just how independent and “Sarawak-centric” future development policy shapes up between Kuching and Putrajaya will be interesting to see over the next couple of years.
Photos courtesy of Haji Adil Haji Kiprawie