As Malaysia hits 55, Sarawakians express hope and frustration in bid for equality

Lawyer Ann Teo says we should ask ourselves what we can do for the country rather than asking what the country can do for us. — Picture by Sulok Tawie
Lawyer Ann Teo says we should ask ourselves what we can do for the country rather than asking what the country can do for us. — Picture by Sulok Tawie

KUCHING, Sept 16 — Despite their increasing vexation at having to demand the return of state rights as agreed 55 years ago, Sarawakians today generally see Malaysia as their home.

The main drawback seems to be a lack in national integration among the people of Sarawak and Sabah with those in peninsular Malaysia.

In a straw poll ahead of Malaysia Day today, Sarawakians told Malay Mail that more must be done so Malaysians from both sides of the South China Sea will come to know and understand each other better.

They said Sarawakians and Sabahans seem to know more about the peninsula, but not the other way round.

“I think it has got to do with our education system which seems to give more emphasis to things happening on the other side,” said housewife Agnes Tiong, referring to the peninsula.

“Look at the history taught to our children, it is almost about Malaya.”

The mother of five said there is an urgent need to rewrite the history textbook used in schools, adding that the current geography textbooks are also no different.

“Perhaps Malaysia Day, which was only declared as a national holiday in 2010, will enhance the spirit of national integration among Malaysians,” she said.

Despite the shortcomings, Tiong considers Malaysia her only home and said she would never think of leaving to live elsewhere.

Lawyer Ann Teo said that it always saddens her when she gets news of her own friends or family migrating overseas.

“In my heart I will be saying, ‘Come on, our country is only 55 years old’, and even if you start the clock at 1957, it would be only 61.

“Why do they give up hope on Malaysia so fast if she is only 55 years old? A sum is only made up of its parts; thus it is us or each one of us that makes Malaysia.

“On this Malaysia Day, ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country,” she told Malay Mail.

Teo said the quicker Malaysians realised this, the faster it will be to “rebuild Malaysia” as a united people and achieve developed nation status.

To her, living and working in Sarawak at this juncture in the country’s life takes on a greater significance.

“Why? I think it is because we Sarawakians may be coming to a point in history in which we have to ask ourselves the more serious questions of what we want in Malaysia and where do we want to go from here.

“We owe it to ourselves and our future generations to maintain the values we hold dear to and to start to do the things today so that we can see the future we want,” she said.

Ahadiah Zamhari said Malaysia Day, to her, is about showing patriotism for Malaysia, a country in which Sarawak has a hand forming.

“This is a day where all Malaysians should celebrate with respect towards another regardless of which state we are from, our race or religion.

“We have to remember that, without Sarawak and Sabah or Malaya, there is no Malaysia. Malaysia is for all Malaysians, not for a single race or religion,” said Ahadiah who works as a company senior manager.

Lawyer Desmond Kho said the federal recognition of Malaysia Day means a lot to Sarawakians in establishing their sense of national identity.

“It is definitive for us being equal partners in the Federation of Malaysia, then it must be remembered, celebrated and cherished if are to have a meaningful Sarawak’s identity.

“Our history syllabus in school textbooks needs to include Sarawak/North Borneo history. Our history and culture is so rich that we might need a separate textbook,” Kho said.

SAVE Rivers Sarawak Network chairman Peter Kallang said as an indigenous person, Malaysia Day reminds him that the struggle for freedom did not end on September 1, 1963.

“Upholding democracy and egalitarianism, the threat we are facing today comes in the form of exploitations, paternalism, bigotry, racism, sectarianism and legitimised elitism,” he said.