31st August: A Celebration Dillema

31st August 2013

Friendly warning & post script: This is not a racist/evangelist/extremist post or anything. Just a dedicated post of some facts and truths to enrich our knowledge in hope of eliminating the ignorance. 

In recent years where I came finally decided to come back to my hometown, whenever it came to August month I can always see posters and banners with captions “XX Tahun Sarawak Merdeka Dalam Malaysia” which means “XX years Sarawak Independence within Malaysia” written on it. They even put that on billboards around the cities. Than it makes me think, is it really true? Hmm… is Sarawak and Sabah also celebrate their independence day on the 31st August? Well yeah! Sabah do celebrate thier Independence Day on the 31st August but unfortunately not for Sarawak.

Local cartoonist expression on 31st August as Sabah Independence Day

Local cartoonist expression on 31st August as Sabah Independence Day

Apparently Sarawak was granted their independence from the British Kingdom on 22nd July 1963. In 1941, a new constitution was granted by the Rajah which paved the way for self-governance by the people. Among others, the constitution specified the composition of the Supreme Council and Council Negeri. Before the enactment could be effected, however, the Japanese invaded and occupied Borneo.

When Sarawak was liberated in 1946, the third Rajah declared his intention to cede Sarawak to Great Britain, a decision which was opposed by many especially the natives who formed what was known as the “Anti-Cession Movement”. However, the Council Negeri voted 19 to 16 in favour of cession and Sarawak became a British Crown Colony on July the 1st, 1946. Dissatisfaction mounted, resulting in mass resignation of the of 388 Malay civil servants and the assassination of the Second British Governor of the colony of Sarawak in 1949. The British reaction to this attack was swift and the protest movement virtually eliminated by 1950.

A number of the anti-cessionists continued their involvement in politics and won for the State its “second independence” by supporting the formation of Malaysia mooted by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the then Chief Minister of Independent Malaya. In 1963, Sarawak achieved its independence within Malaysia.

An illustration from Jian Goh to the Sarawak Independence Day notary.

An illustration from Jian Goh to the Sarawak Independence Day notary.

Why the formation of Malaysia?

Although the Tunku and his Malay colleagues in the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) did not want to have a Left-leaning Singapore as their neighbor, neither did they wish for a merger with Chinese-dominated Singapore that would mean upsetting the racial arithmetic in favor of the Chinese.

The Borneo territories then became imperative components in the wider federation scheme. Nearly 70% of the nearly 1.3 million inhabitants (1960 census) of North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak comprised Malay-Muslims and non-Muslim indigenous peoples, the Borneo territories were viewed favorably as a counterweight to Singapore’s Chinese majority. The racial factor, however, was not then publicly emphasized. This racial arithmetic, however, hinged on an assumption: ”that in extreme racial issues the indigenous population of Borneo might choose to align themselves with the Malays (of Malaya), to whom they were racially akin, rather than to the Chinese”. But there was no guarantee that the Borneo indigenous would swing to the Malays in times of crisis.

The United Nations Malaysia Mission Report made public on Sept 13, 1963, confirmed that the entry in the proposed Federation of Malaysia was the result of the freely expressed wishes of the territory’s peoples acting with full knowledge of the change in their status, their wishes having expressed through informed and democratic processes, impartially conducted and based on universal adult suffrage”.

Therefore, on Sept 16, 1963, Sarawak achieved its independence through Malaysia (so called).

Well, yet again I didn’t deter the concept of 1 Malaysia, Negaraku Tanah Tumpahnya Darahku and Sarawak Ibu Pertiwiku. I just want us to know how things are briefly begin and we should always appreciate our people as a unique and exotic races who lives in harmony and independence. Remember the dates!



  • Dr Ooi Keat Gin is author of Japanese Empire in the Tropics Vol 1 and 2 (Ohio University Press, 1998) and Rising Sun Over Borneo (Macmillan/St Martin’s Press, 1999). He is a lecturer in Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Humanities and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of Britain.
  • “Brief History”. Sarawak Planning Unit (2011). http://www.spu.sarawak.gov.my/history.html
  • “Sarawak”. From wikipedia, free encyclopedia (2013). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarawak#Independence

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