Sarawak Reenacts Independence from Britain

Last Monday was the 50th anniversary of Sarawak independence from Britain. Although it wasn't a gazetted public holiday, the local newspapers over the preceding week highlighted the upcoming reenactment 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—on behalf of the people of Sarawak.

The ceremony, forgotten in the past, appeared to be a pointed reminder to the national government in Putra Jaya 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, like Sabah's status 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 been forgotten in the annals of Malaysia's history.

After the last planning meeting for the Liberation Day ceremony, Sarawak Resource Planning and Environment Minister Haji Awang Tengah Ali Hasan told the media at a press conference that the facts surrounding this day should feature much stronger in the national history curriculum, as this event has great significance, marking the beginning of the state being ruled by Sarawakians themselves.

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(Photos courtesy of Haji Adil Haji Kiprawie)