September 19, 2014
Whither Malaysia, asks Balan Moses
The 51st Malaysia Day came and went, and life as we know it in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak continued without much change. It has been pretty much the same for decades with little achieved by way of emotional attachment between the two parts of the country separated by nearly 1,000 miles of sea.
While a large number of East Malaysians work and study in the peninsular, the same may not be said about Orang Semenanjung working and studying in Sabah or Sarawak. I know of students from the peninsular studying at universities in Sabah and Sarawak but am not sure of their overall numbers. I also know of members of the uniformed forces from Sabah and Sarawak stationed here.
I made my first acquaintance with Sarawakians in the mid-70s at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang where they proved to be a friendly but sometimes rambunctious lot, especially after a few drinks. They generally wore their emotions on their sleeves and what you saw was what you got.
After learning about them in geography at school and from stamps in the early and mid 60s, it was refreshing to meet some of them in person and know more about their culture and traditions.Malaysians in the Peninsular in general still don’t know much about their brethren in Sabah and Sarawak and vice versa with the same ignorance and prejudice that existed decades ago still prevalent on both sides.
The Semenanjung Malaysians still at large look at Sabahans and Sarawakians as distant cousins best kept at arm’s length, a sentiment probably stronger in the two states across the South China Sea with the traditional suspicion of “Orang Malaya” still very much alive and kicking.
The fear that Peninsular folk will change the East Malaysian way of life due to their numerical superiority, stronger finances and an arguably better knowledge of the twists and turns of life still persists. The safeguards for Sabah and Sarawak contained in the points of agreement between Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak is testimony to the 51 year old fact that that Sabahans and Sarawakians have always felt the need to be protected from us across the pond.
I would like to talk about the possible reasons for the formation of Malaysia in 1963 by leaders from Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore.I will not go into Singapore’s exit from Malaysia in 1965 as that is a topic to be elaborated upon in a future column.
First Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, probably foresaw the advantages that Malaya would accrue from a merger of North Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei and Singapore with their relative strengths in terms of population and natural resources.
Sabah and Sarawak would have been on the radar of both Indonesia and Philippines prior to the formation of Malaysia as later events would prove true.Tunku, the great statesman and visionary that he was, would have seen the possibility of the larger neighbours eyeing the huge tracts of land in Borneo at some point and pre-empted them with his Malaysia proposal.
That it was taken up by the majority of Sabahans and Sarawakians was proof that their sympathies lay with Malaysia with their common British heritage and not with the Philippines with its Spanish legacy or Indonesia with its Dutch colonial background.
Why then is there limited assimilation among West and East Malaysians? Is this by accident or design? The very fact that Sabahans and Sarawakians asked for and received special privileges at the formation of Malaysia is probably proof that they wanted safeguards for the long term to preserve their way of life and practices.
Can we expect this to remain for the foreseeable future?Yes. This is a distinct possibility as East Malaysian politicians by and large agree that they want to rule their land through home-grown political parties although UMNO has anchored itself in Sabah. Sarawak is a different kettle of fish as the people of the Land of the Hornbill have always jealously guarded their relative independence by supporting indigenous political parties. The exception would be the DAP which has won several seats in the state largely through Chinese support.
So where does this leave Malaysia in its 51st year? Probably where it has been for some time now with the cracks in the political and cultural mosaic intact for years to come. The large number of East Malaysians in the peninsular, however, engenders greater assimilation with the Orang Malaya with more intermarriage bringing both parts of Malaysia closer.
I, for one, would like to speed up the process with greater interaction despite the daunting distance between us. How shall we take this off?