Recognising Malaysia’s true birthday
You are probably going to see loads of people on your social media timelines wishing Malaysia a ‘Happy Birthday’ on the 31st of August, and while this greeting is well-meaning, it’s unfortunately not actually accurate. Also, many people go back to 31st August 1957 when calculating the age of the country, meaning that ‘Malaysia’ ought to be turning 64 in 2021, which is also unfortunately, imprecise.
As we prepare to hear ‘Tanggal 31 Ogos’ by the late Malaysian popstar Sudirman playing on the radio (or even in our heads!), many Malaysians unfortunately still do not know how to clearly distinguish between ‘Merdeka Day’ and ‘Malaysia Day’.
In encouraging the ‘muhibah’ spirit and sense of patriotism for the upcoming Merdeka and Malaysia Day celebrations, here’s a little fun history refresher on the important significance of these two dates.
We were granted independence from the British, but not as ‘Malaysia’
Led by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman (who would later go on to become our first Prime Minister), a delegation of leaders from the major Malaysian (or at the time, Malayan) political parties including UMNO, MCA and MIC went to London in 1956 to meet at the British Colonial Office to negotiate for independence, and the British Empire eventually agreed to grant independence to what was then known as Malaya.
The historic moment of independence we still commemorate to this day, is the famous Merdeka Square (Padang Merdeka) gathering. Starting at 9:30 am with some 20,000 people in attendance, the British Union Flag was lowered, and replaced with the Malayan flag, and Negaraku was played. And of course, forever emblazoned into history and into the hearts of all Malaysians, was the chanting of the word ‘Merdeka!‘ seven times by Tunku Abdul Rahman that was rapturously repeated by the crowd, still heard in national day campaigns and advertisements to this day.
However, it’s important to acknowledge, that the name ‘Malaysia’ was not yet used as the name of our country.
The independence of Malaya did not include East Malaysia
Formerly known as British Malaya, the states that now make up Peninsula Malaysia were the only ones included in the 1957 proclamation of independence. This included nine Malay states namely Johor, Terengganu, Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, and Selangor (of which Kuala Lumpur was the capital and later separated from to become its own state / Federal Territory); as well as the two British Straits settlements Penang and Malacca.
Sarawak later achieved its independence on 22nd July 1963, and was followed by Sabah (then known as North Borneo) on 31st August of the same year – giving Sabah the same independence day as the Malayan states 6 years apart.
However, neither Sabah nor Sarawak were truly independent until the formation of Malaysia.
Our real birthday: Malaysia Day
While the significance of independence and Merdeka Day cannot be understated, Malaysia Day is our true birthday.
The Federation of Malaysia which included what are now the states of Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah (converted to a state from British North Borneo), Sarawak, and Singapore was almost officially declared on 31st August 1963, but due to delays was postponed. This meant the name and country of Malaysia wasn’t actually official until 16th September 1963, making Malaysia’s true age this year a young 58 years old.
[Singapore was later expelled from the country some two years after on 9th August 1965, now known as Singapore’s national day.]
However, for decades Malaysians from Sabah and Sarawak petitioned for Malaysia Day to be recognised more widely, as commemorating only the events of 31st August 1957 did not include the country as a whole. It was only as recent as 2009 that then Prime Minister Najib Razak declared that Malaysia Day would become a national public holiday, thus granting the country an annual twin celebration.
And so this year, despite the challenges of a global pandemic and ongoing observance of sanitary SOPs, don’t forget to let your Jalur Gemilang fly and sing Negaraku at the top of your lungs, as you celebrate both Merdeka and Malaysia Day with your fellow countrymen.
Selamat Hari Merdeka, and Happy Malaysia Day 2021!
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