Sarawakians ‘Confused’ Over Merdeka Day

Sarawakians on both sides of the divide are unanimous that Aug 31, the common day for Sabah and the peninsula, is not their Hari Merdeka (Independence Day).

Otherwise, they appear divided on what should be seen as their independence day.

The Sarawak Government, for the first time in 50 years, recognised July 22 as Sarawak’s Independence Day which then Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud referred to as Liberation Day.

The Sarawak Association for People’s Aspirations (Sapa), an NGO for Sarawak rights, has vowed that it will observe Sept 24 as the “real” independence day of Sarawak. That was the day in 1841 when the Sultan of Brunei ceded 3,000 sq mls around the Sarawak River in Kuching to English adventurer James Brooke.

From that day, Sarawak steadily expanded with more territory joining it until it reached its present size. Brunei escaped being swallowed up by Sarawak when the British stepped in and declared it as their protectorate.

Sapa President Lina Soo said that her NGO will urge all Sarawakians to observe Sept 24 as Fair Land Sarawak Day after the old Sarawak anthem, “Fair Land Sarawak”.

“Sarawak does not need to observe Aug 31 as it did not gain independence on that date,” said Soo whose organisation has the support of several other NGOs on not celebrating Aug 31.

Sept 24 is something new to other Sarawakians but her stand on Aug 31 has struck a cord with Parti Rakyat Sarawak President James Masing, Sarawak Opposition Leader Baru Bian, social activist Peter Minos, Deputy Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly Roland Sagah, Temenggong Lu Kim Yong, Management of Kuching Chung Hua Primary Schools No. 1-6 Committee chairman Dr Chou Chii Ming, and Welfare, Women and Family Development Minister Fatimah Abdullah.

They were commenting on Minister of Communication and Multimedia Ahmad Shabery Cheek’s announcement that Malaysia would continue to commemorate Aug 31 as its Independence Day from next year, without mentioning the anniversary year.

“It’s important to put forward actual and accurate historical facts,” said Fatimah in rejecting Aug 31.

“We can continue with all the celebrations. We need to respect and compromise as well as take care of each other’s sensitivities,” said Lu.

James, joining several others in extending an olive branch, thinks that Sabah, Sarawak and the peninsula should decide on Sept 16 as the common date to celebrate National Day.

“We can join them – Sabah and the peninsula – on Aug 31 if they invite us,” he said.

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