With Independence Day upon us tomorrow, it is not uncommon to see flags and banners being put up everywhere. But what irks me most are banners which read "49th Independence Day celebrations". For Malayans, this might not be a problem, as they achieved their independence 49 years ago. However, the same cannot be said for Sabahans. This is because 49 years ago, Sabah was still a British colony.
To be fair to all Malaysians, be they Malayans, Sabahans or Sarawakians, this year's independence celebrations should be correctly identified as the 43rd National Day celebrations. This is because before the Sept 16, 1963, there did not exist a country called Malaysia.
There was some debate about this last year when Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Bernard Dompok and Sabah's Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan stressed that the anniversary of Malaysia's independence should be counted from 1963. Finally the then information minister Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir acknowledged the problem and said that beginning this year we would just call it the 2006 Independence Day celebrations. But since Abdul Kadir is no longer the information minister, I wonder if the new information minister acknowledges the problem.
The date of Aug 31, 1957 is of no significance whatsoever to Sabahans and Sarawakians. Yes, Sabah achieved independence on an Aug 31, but that was in 1963. For two weeks, Sabah was an independent nation before merging to form Malaysia on Sept 16 that same year. Therefore, if we want to celebrate independence day on Aug 31, that is not a problem as both Malaya and Sabah achieved their independence on that date. But please do not say we, as a nation, are 49 years old. That is not true. Come Aug 31, we would be 43 years old. Historians, too, should take note of this fact.
Another thing that irks me is the lack of mention of the patriots from Sabah in articles on patriotism. There is seldom any mention of Donald Stephens (Tun Fuad), GS Sundang, Datu Mustapha Datu Harun as well as the political parties which helped in the formation of Malaysia. Without the Sabah Alliance which comprised the United Pasok Momogun Kadazan Organisation (Upko), the United Sabah National Organisation (Usno), the Sabah Chinese Association (SCA) and the Sabah Indian Congress (SIC), Malaysia might have not been formed.
It is also disappointing that only the British and the Japanese have been identified as former colonial masters in Malaysia. And only those who fought against the British and the Japanese are considered heroes. What about the Brunei and Sulu colonialists who once ruled over Sabah? These colonial powers were not without their misdeeds too. And also, what about local heroes such as Monsopiad, Dugassa and Tomanggond Kuratud who fought against the colonialists? The indigenous people of Sabah had suffered a great deal under the rule of the Brunei and Sulu sultanates.
Must we in Sabah also celebrate Malaya's independence day and glorify Malayan heroes? If that is so, what about our own independence day and our local heroes? When celebrating independence, let us acknowledge the contributions of everyone of us. That would be better than practising selective patriotism!