Today Malaysians celebrate their independence day, albeit a bit blindly.
Malaysians know it well, the famous words: “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!”.
It’s always accompanied by the iconic black-and-white image of Tunku Abdul Rahman raising his hand in triumphant celebration. But the Merdeka, or independence, gained on 31 August 1957, was that of the Federated States of Malaya.
Those are the states, which today form west Malaysia. They alone are or were not Malaysia.
Malaysia – Version 1
The first iteration of Malaysia included Singapore, Sarawak, Sabah and Malaya. Brunei was also part of the initial negotiations, but dropped out after the Brunei Revolt.
Singapore attained self-governed status within the British empire in 1959 (but wouldn’t become completely independent until 1965). Sarawak gained independence on 22 July 1963 , and Sabah on 31 August 1963 .
The four entities together formed Malaysia – the date was 16 September 1963.
It has to be said – the original unification was planned for 31 August, and had that happened the contention around these dates wouldn’t exist. Alas, UN referendums of acceptance in east Malaysia and disputes over Sabah by Indonesia and the Philippines delayed it until 16 September .
After many years of quietly sweeping that date under the carpet, 16 September is gaining prominence and is now celebrated, although in muted hues, as Malaysia Day.
Malaysia – Version 2
Malaysia v.2 – the Malaysia as know know it, came to be on 9 August 1965 when, after 2 years of conflict about various issues (some of which persist until today) , Singapore was – according to one version of history – told to leave Malaysia.
So, today’s celebrations are… complicated.
It marks 54 years of Malaya’s independence and 48 years of Sabah’s independence. The date holds no significance for Sarawak.
Only on 16 September 2011 will Malaysia (v.1) celebrate 48 years as a country. While on 9 August 2011 Malaysia (v.2) celebrated 46 years.
31 August 1957 – Malaya independence
May 1959 – Singapore’s initial independence (self governance)
22 July 1963 – Sarawak independence
31 August 1963 – Sabah independence
16 September 1963 – Malaysia Version 1 formed (includes Singapore)
9 August 1965 – Malaysia Version 2 formed (excludes Singapore)
And now you know. 16 September should really be the big celebration of 48 years (in 2011) as Malaysia. But, oh the politics.
Nobody wants to be accused of being a “feelings indicator” (the literal translation of the Malay word for protester – penunjuk perasaan), so I’ll just shut up and enjoy the public holiday.
Selamat Hari Merdeka, Malaya dan Sabah (maaf Sarawak)!