As Sarawak prepares to celebrate Malaysia Day on Sept 16, it’s time to reflect on the noble ideals of our forebears who fought for our independence. After 100 years under three White Rajahs, a short period under the Japanese and 20 years of colonial rule, the people of this once remote and backward state have come of age. It was on this day 56 years ago that our pioneers made the difficult decision to give up our independence to come under a foreign country to upgrade the standard of living of her people. Looking back, Sarawak was once the darling of the Brookes — a country blessed with natural resources enough to last for 10 generations — before she was given away for adoption for the first time.

In April 1946, eight months after the war, the third White Rajah Vyner Brooke mooted the idea of “selling” Sarawak — a country bankrupted by the ravages of the invaders — to Great Britain. War and almost four years of cruel Japanese rule had taken its toll and the British felt obliged to help the Rajah, who was equally broke. Brooke received a small honorarium. On May 21, 1946 a vote was taken by the 36 members of the Sarawak Supreme Council who were convinced by the Rajah that Sarawak would be better off being a British colony.

Eighteen Council Negri members voted for, 16 against and two abstained and the motion was carried. On July 1, 1946 Sarawak became part of Great Britain’s Commonwealth, hopeful that it was the dawning of a new era. But it was a pipe dream because within a year, an anti-cession movement spearheaded by Vyner’s nephew Anthony Brooke led to the assassination of a colonial governor. And all hell broke loose. As the seeds of communism began to germinate and a state of emergency declared in 1952, the colonial government clamped down on the people, especially the Chinese community. This ultimately led to a communist insurgency which lasted for 30 years. In 1963, Sarawak became a stepchild for a second time when the colonial government convinced Sabah and Sarawak to unite with Malaya and Singapore to become part of the Federation of Malaysia. It was untimely because Brunei had launched a failed insurrection in December 1962 and Indonesia’s President Sukarno initiated a five-year-long Malaysia-Indonesia confrontation.

Despite the gathering of war clouds, Sarawak celebrated its independence with pomp and splendour. At 12.30pm on the eve of Malaysia Day, the last colonial governor Sir Alexander Waddell and his wife left the Astana. Waiting on the opposite bank were the new governor Datuk Tun Abang Openg, Chief Justice Sir Campbell Wylie, State Legislative Assembly Speaker Datuk Dr M Sockalingam and Sarawak Affairs Minister Temenggong Jugah, other VIPs and hundreds of Sarawakians.

Also there were the incoming chief minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan and his six-member cabinet comprising James Wong Kim Min, Dunstan Endawie Enchana, Teo Kui Seng, Awang Hipni Pengiran Anu and Abdul Taib Mahmud, who were sworn in on July 22. To present the guard of honour were the British Royal Commandos, Sarawak Constabulary and Sarawak Police Field Force under Supt Barry Lewis. As the constabulary band played, Sir Waddell was escorted by Commissioner of Police P. E. Turnbull and British Army Brigadier-General F. C. Barton on his last march. After saying their farewells, the Waddells re-boarded the Astana barge to cheers while sampans formed a “thick bobbing circle” around the barge. As they prepared to board the British frigate HMAS Lock Killisport, a 17-gun salute rang out as the Royal Marines played “God Save the Queen” and the constabulary band, “Auld Lang Syne”.

The Queen in her Radio Sarawak message said, “I send to the people of Sarawak my best wishes for the future. “During the years you have won the friendship of the people of Britain and have shown in Sarawak how different races can come together in peace and happiness.” On Malaysia Day, the chief minister read the proclamation of independence as the federal and state flags were hoisted to the “Negaraku”. Indeed it was a grand affair befitting an independent nation, but will we be able to put up a grand show next Monday? Or could it be a more sombre affair given the fact that under the new federal government, Sarawak has been under pressure to conform or pay the price? Sarawak has been cornered, confronted, questioned and challenged, sometimes unfairly, not only by people from across the South China Sea but also political forces from within. Over the last three years the main issue hogging the limelight is Sarawak’s rights as an autonomous region and a debt owed which is dangling in the air.

But not all is lost! We must not be cowed by the over-bearing attitude of those out to break our spirit. Take heart that despite the hazy reception and dissention from some quarters, we have a chief minister and politicians who will not allow Sarawak to be hoodwinked a third time. As the saying goes, in every cloud is a silver lining and like a phoenix, Sarawak will rise again. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.