Why I am Sarawakian first, Malaysian second


COMMENT | I realised that I’ve been fiercely Sarawakian in some of my articles here and I make no apology for it. Some readers have even called me “anti-Malaya”, with one even stating that I should be charged for treason.

I’m flabbergasted why some could think that way as their perceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. Being pro-Sarawak does not make me anti-Malaysia. Yes, I’ve often declared that I’m a patriotic Sarawakian and I’m baffled how others construe that as being anti-Malaya.

If this article makes some feel that I’m drifting more into my perceived anti-Malaya stand, so be it. I cannot control what others think and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I cherish freedom of speech too.

When I was born in 1956, there was no Malaysia. I was born a citizen of Sarawak, a crown colony of Britain. My birth certificate has a stamp bearing the British crown featuring Queen Elizabeth II. I was not born a Malaysian.

Therefore, Kuching is my place of birth and Sarawak is my homeland and always will be. I owe every allegiance to my place of birth and my homeland. Whatever entity I was forced to be part of later, without my knowledge or consent, takes the second precedence. That is my stand.

In fact, when overseas, I would even say I’m from Borneo if people are unsure where Sarawak is. I do not mind describing myself as a Bornean too, in conversation or in writing.

If you are Penang-born, I see nothing wrong if you were to tell me that you are a proud and patriotic Penangite. If others take exception to your declaration, then the problem is not yours, but theirs.

The same goes for those born in Johor or Kelantan, or in any other state in Malaya. Go out and proudly declare that you are a patriotic Johorean or Kelantanese. Pay no attention to those who pick on you, calling you anti-Malaya. How could you be anti-Malaya if you are patriotic to a state within Malaya? Does that make sense?

When Malaysia came into being in 1963, I was in Primary One and struggling with ABC and how to string a proper sentence. I knew nothing about how Malaysia came about and who made the decision for me to become a Malaysian.

I had never travelled to this peninsula called Malaya and I didn’t even know where it was and who Malayans were. Those of my generation in Sarawak have zero connection with Malaya. That is a fact which must be recognised.

I didn’t decide to be a Malaysian. Our forefathers who decided to ink the Malaysia Agreement 1963 did not ask me whether I wanted to be a Malaysian or not. They did not give me a chance to speak up, nor hear me out on the matter.

Why, even a father would gladly ask his seven-year-old what he would want to be when he grows up and would go all out to support and help the son achieve his ambition.

My point is this: when those of my generation, who are now in their sixties, have no say when they were kids, perhaps now is the time to hold a referendum for Sarawakians to decide their fate in Malaysia.

I recall asking my late father in my adult life whether those of his generation ever had the chance to vote to be in Malaysia or not. His reply was in the negative.

My conclusion is this: Sarawak entered into MA 1963 because some Sarawakians (only a handful) who stepped forward claiming to be leaders of Sarawak made the decision. They are all gone now, but they caused us, Sarawakians, to be stuck in a union which many could hardly wait to divorce from. This is another fact which must be recognised by those in power today.

Some Sarawak groups, including Sarawak United People’s Party, opposed the Malaysia idea and called for a referendum. But the demand was cast aside and this eventually led to state-wide protests and the communist insurgency in Sarawak. Did we bother to learn anything from that chapter in our history?

I have gone on record in support of fellow Sarawakians opting for a referendum. Following my article, I received several emails from Sarawakians, including those living overseas, urging me to never stop harping on the referendum issue.

I’ve publicly declared that “I’m Sarawakian first, Malaysian second” in the past. It was at the time when then Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (above) made the statement that “I am a Malay first, Malaysian second”.

As we now enter what is supposed to be a ‘New Malaysia’ era with a new government in place, has anything changed to make me feel more Malaysian? I wish so, but I doubt it.

Yes, we have been told by Pakatan Harapan leaders that there are plans by the new government, which we should be grateful for, but I’m not sure how that will benefit the majority of Sarawakians.

I have not heard my fellow Sarawakians exclaim in glee on how the new government has led them to the Promised Land, so to speak. Perhaps except for those within Harapan circles who have had been rewarded following the GE14 victory.

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Many Sarawakians have long been unhappy with Putrajaya’s neglect and nonchalant stand on many fronts concerning our homeland, which we deem unfair and unjust.

I am one of them. Am I wrong to stand on the side of fellow Sarawakians and lend my voice to their chorus demanding that Putrajaya gives us what is our due?

To me, being a good patriot means caring about your homeland, your friends, neighbours and community. Didn’t someone say that “patriotism is not a choice, it’s a duty”? It’s also about being proud of where you come from.

I come from Sarawak and I’m pumped up to declare once again that “I’m Sarawakian first, Malaysian second”.

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FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at sirsiah@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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