Great Sarawak transformation

Sarawak can be an example for other countries of different races, languages, and religions that in Sarawak the people can live peacefully as in a large family.

– Jofri Jaraiee, politician

As Sarawak prepares to welcome Malaysia Day, it’s good to remember the significance of the month of September.

September was the month when the history of Sarawak was changed by three major events — a Brooke centenary ushering in a New Sarawak Constitution, the end of WW2, and the formation of Malaysia.

On Sept 24, 1941, Kuching came alive as people of all races waited in anticipation for Sir Charles Vyner Brooke and Ranee Sylvia. Among the people were Chinese, Malays, Land Dayaks, Indians, Javanese and Eurasians and the 136-strong Japanese

To add to the colour, Brooke officers and from the European of 300, civil servants, detachments from the British Royal navy, Indian Army, Sarawak Rangers, Volunteer corps and Coastguards lined the way to the old Sarawak courthouse.

At 8am, a battery from the Sarawak Constabulary parade ground fired a 12-gun salute and the small town of 30,000 waited in anticipation for the “Royal Couple” to arrive by barge from the Astana across the Sarawak River.

An hour later after inspecting the guard of honour presented by the Sarawak Constabulary and three speeches by Malay chief Datu Patinggi Abang Abdillah, “Kapitan Cina” Ong Tiang Swee and Sea Dayak paramount chief Temenggong Koh and Jubang, the Rajah made his keynote address.

It was the proclamation of the New Sarawak Constitution and the nine cardinal principles — the devolution of power to the people of Sarawak.

Vyner said that he was about to institute measures designed to hand over Sarawak’s legislative power to a committee to enable them to form a Constitution to protect the interests of all “Native and other Peoples who dwell in Sarawak”.

It was a noble gesture because the war against the Japanese was about to start because three months later on Dec 16, they invaded Miri and by Christmas Eve, had occupied Kuching.

On Sept 11, 1945, almost four years in Borneo, the Japanese surrendered and Sarawak was liberated with the signing of the document between Brig-Gen Eastick of the Allied Forces and Maj-Gen Yamamura.

By then Sarawak was in shambles and bankrupt — worse off than it was during the 100 years of rule by the White Rajahs.

However, when Vyner returned to Kuching seven months later in April, he made another historic announcement — that he was going to cede Sarawak to Great Britain.

This broke the hearts of the Brookes’ closest allies — the Malays of Kuching, triggering almost two decades of rebellion, political upheaval and confrontation leading to Independence.

The cession of Sarawak to Great Britain on July 1, 1946 ushered in anti-cession protests culminating with the assassination of Governor Sir Duncan Stewart four years later.

But when the political storm dissipated, Sarawak prepared for an era of great transformation — the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.

It was Sarawak’s first local governor Tun Abang Openg, a descendant of Datu Patinggi Abdillah, and a young Melanau lawyer, Abdul Taib Mahmud, who took centre-stage.

As we look back we need to be reminded that Independence came at a price at a time when Sarawak faced a transformation that would mould the character of our people.

On Aug 31, 1963 as Sarawak’s first full Cabinet was sworn in, Taib prepared a keynote speech on Radio Sarawak that very night.

He outlined the 120-year history of Sarawak when it was a “baby of the white Rajahs through a crown colony” who within five years of forming its first political party proved to the world it could shoulder the responsibilities of self-government.

On Sept 15, the last governor of Sarawak, Sir Alexander Waddell, and Lady Waddell said farewell to Sarawak.

The Sarawak Tribune wrote: “In the bright sunshine they were paddled across in their gleaming white and yellow-roofed barge to Pangkalan Batu.

“Sir Alexander, resplendent in the ceremonial uniform of a Colonial Governor, moved on to take a salute from the Guard of Honour of the Sarawak Constabulary, the Field Force and the Royal Marine commandos.”

A 17-gun salute boomed from Fort Margherita.

It was a touching moment when the couple sailed on HMS Loch Killisport down the Sarawak River for the last time as the band played “Auld Lang Syne”.

A large crowd lined the bank to wave goodbye while “three cheers” rang out sounding the closure of one chapter of the country’s history and ushering in an independence with its great challenges and promise.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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