Happy Independence Day… Malaya & Sabah

Today Malaysians celebrate their independence day, albeit a bit blindly.

Tunku Abdul Rahman 1957 from Wikipedia.orgMalaysians 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.

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 [1][2], and Sabah on 31 August 1963 [3].

These four entities together formed Malaysia – the date was 16 September 1963.

It has to be said – the original unification was planned for 31 August, but UN referendums of acceptance in east Malaysia and disputes over Sabah by Indonesia and the Philippines delayed it until 16 September [4].

After many years of quietly sweeping that date under the carpet, 16 September has gained prominence over the last few years and is now celebrated, although in muted hues, as Malaysia Day.

Malaysia – Version 2

Merdeka Day Google DoodleMalaysia 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) [5], Singapore was officially 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 will Malaysia (v.1) celebrate 48 years as a country. While on 9 August Malaysia (v.2) missed its 46 years celebration.

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 (included Singapore)
9 August 1965 – Malaysia Version 2 formed after Singapore expelled

And now you know. 16 September should really be the big celebration of 48 years as Malaysia – but oh the politics.

And 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)!


  • SleeplessInKL

    1 September 2011 at 05:14

    Thanks for clearing this up. Although…to be honest, isn't it weird to have a South African living in Sabah having to be the one doing the explaining? Hehe 😉

  • 1Earth

    1 September 2011 at 05:27

    No la, you know how it is. Plenty of Malaysians know this but nobody wants to stir the pot. South Africans, on the other hand, are expert pot stirrers.

  • Priscilla

    5 September 2011 at 05:03

    It looks like you have better Malay than me! I didn't even know that Penunjuk Perasaan = Protester.

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