Make efforts to understand us!

Federalism should be able to maintain unity among all. But this does not mean that we should boycott regional voices and the voices of ethnic groups.

– Khil Raj Regmi, former prime minister of Nepal

Every time a Malaysian prime minister visits Sarawak, the media — the mainstream newspapers in particular — never fail to jump at the opportunity to describe how the visit has enhanced or will pave the path for closer state-federal ties.

The country has had seven (eight if we are to count Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s short-lived comeback from 2018-2020 as the seventh premier) prime ministers since independence. Tunku Abdul Rahman, the prime minister from 1963 to 1970, somehow convinced the then Sarawak leaders to be part of Malaysia.

Actually, we didn’t ‘join’ Malaysia; we HELPED FORM Malaysia! But until today, I dare state that most orang Malaya (Malayans) have not or are not willing to acknowledge this fact.

All our prime ministers had at one time or another visited Sarawak during their term in office, with Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the sixth prime minister, claiming the record as the premier with the most number of visits.

But I don’t see how these brief working trips by the prime ministers have helped cement closer ties between the peoples of the two regions apart from perhaps enhancing some form of understanding between politicians from across the South China Sea.

The understanding is but only a one-way street. I think Sarawak politicians go out of the way to understand and accommodate their ‘big brothers’. However, Malayan politicians do not make reciprocal efforts. They make little effort to understand their Sarawak counterparts.

About time our YBs adopted a tougher stand to stop Malayans from taking us for granted.

To be honest, though we are polite with each other, it is clear that there is no love lost between Sarawakians and Malayans. This issue goes back to the 1960s though it could have mellowed down slightly now. 

I still vividly remember the incidents between locals and Malayans during my teenage years in my hometown, Sibu. We were staying in Kpg Nangka, a predominantly Malay village.

I was in primary one when I witnessed an incident between the village boys and army personnel. No one liked the army fellas as they were accused of ‘exploiting’ the local girls who apparently preferred the Malayans to the local village boys.

The handsome-looking army boys would not hesitate to go out of the way — bearing gifts and other attractive items, including simple gold earrings and bracelets — to woo the young kampung girls, who find the Malayans more romantic. And why not? The army fellas had a way with words and would sweet talk the girls into going out with them.

This infuriated the jealous local boys. One day they decided to teach the Malayans a lesson. An army truck was passing by and local rascals — can’t remember the exact number, perhaps around 20 — surrounded the vehicle and pelted the occupants with pebbles.

You wouldn’t expect the army boys to keep quiet, would you? The Malayans retaliated; they gave the village boys a good hiding and sent them packing with bloodied noses and lips. This incident and other similar encounters set the tone for decades-long animosity between the Sibu folk and Malayans.

Similar incidents also took place in Miri, Kuching and other parts of the state. Most of them were over women.

Thank God, we no longer come across incidents involving Malayan security forces and the locals now.

Nevertheless, many Sarawakians are still slow to fully accept and acknowledge the presence of Malayans in their midst, mainly due to the latter’s superiority complex.

Civil servants from the peninsula working here make little effort to understand us and our customs. Malayans expect us to make the first move to get to know their traditions and way of life.

Also, many of the federal departments here give little chance to locals to serve in top positions. Most Sarawakians serve in clerical positions or as peons or drivers. Come-on lah! Don’t tell me we aren’t qualified or have the capability to serve as directors or assistant directors.

Hopefully, Malayans will change their attitude towards us, the ordinary folk. Give us due respect. Give us more educational, business and job opportunities.

Allocating more Cabinet and other political posts is not the answer and is not going to appease the common Sarawakians. Please our politicians by all means, but in the process, don’t forget to make the common people happy too.

If Putrajaya wants our — the ordinary people’s — continued support for political stability, woo us. Come bearing gifts and goodies that will benefit the state as a whole.