It’s a great honour to be writing with the knowledge that its publication today falls on Malaysia Day, celebrated for the 58th time this year.
Today is also a reminiscence of our marking of the first-ever parade related to the birth of the Malaysian Federation in 1963 on Sept 16. We were given a plastic badge each worded ‘Merdeka Malaysia 31 August 1963’, but I was too naïve then to ascertain whether the parade was on Aug 31 or Sept 16.
In fact, at one time, I had two of such badges, as I also kept one given to my elder brother Jon @ Chandi, who also joined the parade held at Saratok’s football field.
Then Saratok ‘cowboy town’ (named as such due to all being on stilts with some similarities with Hollywood movie sets) and better known locally as ‘Segatok’, was a picture of excitements and merriment with all shops being adorned with the national flags (that were yet to be known as Jalur Gemilang).
All those in town, namely customers and shopkeepers were truly astounded.
Jon and I were studying Primary Two at Nanga Assam Council School (now known as SK Nanga Assam) that was into its second year of existence — we were the school’s pioneering batch and it was common for a 15- and 16-year-old boys and girls to be in their second year of schooling.
All of us pupils were accompanied by our respective parents and used a pom-pom motor launch to Saratok town, a trip full of three-hour anxiety down the Melupa and then the Krian, the latter being already notoriously infested with the ferocious river kings, usually referred to as ‘datuk’ in our conversation instead of ‘baya’ (Iban word for crocodile).
A trip when we needed to stay for two nights in town, my parents, Jon and I together with our headmaster Michael Abunawas, whose wife Duri, was mom’s cousin. He was accompanied by his son Brownie, then about five years old.
We lodged at the loft of Chop Chuan Ann better known as Kedai Ah Chu with free access to then very cheap anchovies better known as ‘ikan pusu’ — one handful only cost five sen. Others took lodge at the shops of either Kachui, Ahling or Changkok, among others.
We put on our school uniforms of white shirts and blue shorts while some preferred going barefooted (as most of their parents) and some used slippers and perhaps only a few were using rubber shoes, Jon and I included. During the parade at the football field near SK Abang Abdul Rahman, all were in their best attires but many were without footwear, my poor dad and mom included.
I recall we school kids were given a plastic badge each as aforesaid. Some vendors selling bottles of lemonade must have made a fortune during the event. It was certainly spectacular and memorable but upon recalling, sadness blankets me as both my parents, Abunawas and Brownie have been called home.
Ten year later on Sept 16, while studying in Sibu, our school was visited by some unknown individuals who were against the idea of Malaysia but they left after some minutes when hearing the police siren — our principal must have made a call to the station upon being informed of the intrusion by those subversive elements.
That year I won an essay writing for senior secondary school students in Sibu division — the topic being Tenth anniversary in Malaysia.
Fast forward to the present, we have been served by eight prime ministers (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad served twice).
However, three stand out from the rest in terms of the word ‘Malaysia’, namely Tunku Abdul Rahman who was given the moniker Bapa Malaysia — I was among the few brought by USM’s Fine Arts lecturer Dr Peter Gelencer who visited his Tanjung Bungah home in Penang in 1976 to do his bust now housed in Kuching’s complex bearing that name; Datuk Seri Najib Razak with his ‘One Malaysia’ concept while current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri propagated ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ (Malaysian Family), a concept described as an approach that is being very fitting to preserve the harmony among multireligious, multi-ethnic and multicultural Malaysians.
School children are always featured in these celebrations featuring unity in diversity among our Malaysian plural society. But this year, just like in the previous year, our celebratory spirits have been mellowed by the unsafe environment due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Even the schools are still closed and that speaks volumes of the predicament we all face.
Nevertheless, we need to bear in mind that a strong spirit is able to overcome our challenges and adversaries. We must support each other during this difficult time.
Happy Malaysia Day.