The federation of Malaya, not Malaysia, was created in 1957. Sabah and Sarawak did not join Malaysia – they formed the country together with the then Malaya and Singapore on Sept 16, 1963.
ON AUG 31, I spent my Merdeka Day holiday tweeting history lessons. I found certain historical inaccuracies on my Twitter timeline as annoying as – to misquote a tweet from @ATM2U – seeing a straight man eat cupcake.
For example, one of Malaysia’s tycoons tweeted: “Independence day for Malaysia today.”
As a Sabahan, I just had to correct him even though he is worth a billion times more than me. So @PhilipGolingai admonished: “Sir, independence day for Malaya. Malaysia was formed on Sept 16, 1963.”
Then someone – not the billionaire – tweeted: “Why Singapore not celebrating Malaya’s Indepen-dence day?”
History was definitely not her favourite subject.
I replied: “When Malaya declared Merdeka, Singapore was under the British. On Sept 16, 1963, Singapore, Malaya, Sabah & Sarawak formed Malaysia.”
My colleague @ChiaYingTheStar (Lim Chia Ying) tweeted: “How can a tv station say Happy Birthday to M’sia on Aug 31?? My gosh, no wonder kids can never learn real facts?”
On Merdeka Day, Faridah Stephens, daughter of one of Malaysia’s founding fathers, Tun Fuad Stephens (Sabah Chief Minister), reminded her Peninsular Malaysian friends of our country’s history.
“(Some of) my friends wished Happy 54th Birthday Malaysia. They always say Malaysia. But it is not Malaysia’s independence but Malaya’s,” she lamented.
On Facebook, Faridah watched a video clip of Negaraku sung in Chinese. The rendition was “beautiful” but the ending of the video was a “dampener”.
“Alamak, I thought, when I saw ‘Happy 54th Birthday Malaysia’ at the end,” she said.
How did her friends’ respond to her reminder?
“Some people went quiet,” she said, laughing heartily.
Some Malaysians mistake Aug 31 for Malaysia’s birthday, according to Faridah, because “we tend to be West (Peninsular) Malaysia-centric”.
“Many forget that Malaysia did not exist until 1963. Malaysia was not created in 1957. Sabah and Sarawak did not join Malaysia, they formed the country,” she said, adding that “I’m just stating a historical fact.”
To get my historical facts right, I called my old classmate, then a history buff, at La Salle secondary school in Tanjung Aru, Sabah.
“Why are there Malaysians who confuse Hari Merdeka as Malaysia’s birthday?” I asked Danny Wong Tze Ken, a history professor in Universiti Malaya.
Wong lectured me on the birth of Malaysia. Here’s a summary: On Aug 31, 1957, the Federation of Malaya was established. It was expanded into the Federation of Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963. The country became larger with the inclusion of Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah. And in 1965, Singapore left.
“If you think of the day for independence for Malaysia, then Sept 16, is logical for Sabahans and Sarawakians as that was when both states achieved independence, in 1963. But for the people of Peninsular Malaysia clearly it was Aug 31, 1957, as that was when Tunku Abdul Rahman declared Merdeka,” Wong explained.
“So when is Malaysia’s birthday?” I asked.
“The best answer is to take the case of the United States. Their independence day is July 4, 1776, even though at that time there were only 13 colonies. Although the rest of the United States was incorporated only later, all the 50 states observe July 4 as Indepen-dence Day,” he said.
“So when is Malaysia’s birthday?” I asked again.
“As a newly formed Federation of Malaysia the birthday of Malaysia will be Sept 16 whereas the Independence Day of the country remains on Aug 31,” he said.
Wong said over the years, Sept 16 was no longer celebrated as Malaysia Day.
“In Sabah it was celebrated as the TYT’s (Governor’s) birthday. And Sabahans wondered why that day was then celebrated as the TYT’s birthday and not as Malaysia Day,” he added.
“It was only last year that Sept 16 was declared a public holiday to commemorate the formation of Malaysia.,” the historian said.
So, on Friday, if you are on Twitter, don’t forget to tweet “Happy 48th Birthday Malaysia!”