By ZB OTHMAN / Pic AFP
On August 31, 1957, Merdeka Day, the country that we now know as Malaysia had already marked itself in history.
Unlike many other nations, Malaysia’s fight to free herself from British colonial chains was not marked by violence or bloody uprisings. There were no birth-pangs, death or destruction.
It could have turned bloody because the British, who could be bloody if it suited them, were not about to relinquish their jewel of South-East Asia with its strategic location and rich resources. On the other side, Malayans were equally determined to become free men no matter the cost.
But a combination of timing, luck and circumstances would have it, Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first prime minister, went to England and came back to announce that we were independent from British rule. Probably half the country didn’t even know it when he made the proclamation in Melaka, but by the time Malayans of many races and hues gathered at the Selangor Club padang to witness the lowering of the Union Jack before midnight of August 31, our grandfathers knew the significance of that date.
Merdeka Day for Malaysians, on both sides of the South China Sea, is a day where we celebrate our luck with destiny and thankful for a peaceful transition.
I was born some considerable years after Merdeka, but I remember the stir everyone has when this sacred date comes around every year. People would busy themselves with their own way(s) to celebrate.
At school, those who weren’t involved in the official school Merdeka concert were more than likely to be conscripted to line up the roads where the Independence parade took place, miniature Malaysian flags in hand.
As a 12-year-old I was forced to memorise a whole song in Maori, as part of the celebration. It wasn’t until the age of Google did I find out that “Pokarekare Ana” was about some island boy missing his girl. I had thought it had something to do with freedom or something.
These are the memories that come to me on Merdeka day. There were no real emphasis on getting everyone to love the country or to be grateful for our freedom as I can remember. There weren’t even reminders that all races made up Malaysia. I think this was because everyone was living that way and people were more laid back and not so uptight.
But this time last year, Malaysians were worried about the future. There was a palpable air of discontent among the people who were not satisfied with the way things were.
The economy was not moving, our institutions were apparently being eroded and our liberties were not respected.
At this time last year, Malaysians were also ready for change, much like how our grandfathers felt the need for change in 1957.
That opportunity came on May 9 this year, when change we did. Malaysians overwhelmingly voted to let a new government in after 61 years of rule under the same party.
And like in 1957, the world was also amazed that we did this without violence or bloodshed. For this we must thank the previous government, but even more so, we should pat ourselves on the back for being so civilised.
The economy is still “meh”. The new government is still finding its sea legs at governing, having promised changes but discovering there were many holes left behind by the previous administration. It will take time, but Malaysians must move away from from blaming each other and start to build this nation anew.
2018 is like 1957 again, where we need to work together because our destiny is intertwined.
As we celebrate this special Merdeka as Malaysians first and forget our many subsets that can be used to divide us, let us remember our parents, spouses and significant others. The teh tarik guy and the TNB meter reader, the policemen, the firefighters, the airline pilots and the civil servants.
So on Friday, August 31, let us not just celebrate our independence from Britain on that date so long ago.
Let us also celebrate our dependence on fellow Malaysians, light blue or dark blue, who will see us through this challenging period of renewal. Just like our grandfathers who waited for midnight one night in August 61 years ago.
- ZB Othman is the editor-in-chief of The Malaysian Reserve.