Sunday, 28 June 2015

Sabah and Sarawak at 50, ignoring history at your own peril

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Federation of Malaysia, there will be a lot of articles about three things.

First, Sarawak (and Sabah) did not “join” Malaysia but helped establish the Federation of Malaysia. Second, Sarawak (and Sabah) should be treated as equals, rather than merely a state in the Federation.

After all, Sarawak became “independent” or “self-government” on July 22, 1963 while Sabah achieved the same on August 31, 1963.

Third, the promise of autonomy in the “20 Points” was never kept. For example, how many of you know that there was supposed to be a review of the guarantees 10 years after Federation? As far as I know there was no formal review in 1973 although some letters were exchanged.

Where you stand on the three things I mentioned above will largely depend on your political leanings. It is also dependent on how well you know your history.

And this is where the problem starts.

In general, Malaysians do not know their history because the “official” history taught in secondary school is a version of history that is supposed to shape you into a Malaysian nationalist, i.e. do not challenge Malay authority. It is not meant to provide an unbiased view of history.

Also, as I understand it, the history textbook was actually written by a historian who also happens to be a supreme council member of Perkasa. Do I need to say more about the sort of history that is being taught in school?

In short, Malaysians know little or next to nothing about Malaysian history and East Malaysians know even less about the history of Sabah and Sarawak.

Each state was unique and before the federation, had little in common with the peninsula. Sabah was ruled for more than a century by a British company while Sarawak was ruled by the White Rajahs, an English family.

I am not here to teach history but rather to question what is being done to document what really happened in the past? For example, the seminal event in Sarawak’s history is the cession of Sarawak to the British in 1946.

Many people, especially the Sarawak Malays, did not want the White Rajah to give away Sarawak to the British.

According to the “official” version, Rosli Dhoby, a young Malay Sarawakian from Sibu, Sarawak, stabbed Sir Duncan George Stewart, the second governor of colonial Sarawak in 1948. He wanted Sarawak to be independent. Rosli Dhoby is hailed as a hero who paved the way for Sarawak to be independent in the federation of Malaysia.

Recent research undertaken overseas suggests something else. I am not going to give you any hints and suggest you listen to the full story here.

I just want to make a simple point - how come there are no Malaysian historians studying their own country in an unbiased way?

Must historians in this country show their “patriotism” by only studying non-controversial things? How come all the interesting bits of history are done by non-Malaysians?

If I am not mistaken, there are four universities in Sarawak and two universities in Sabah. They keep producing ethnography work but little in the way of peoples’ history.

It is as if historians in both states are afraid of telling the world what really happened during colonial and pre-colonial times.

The “official” history is almost never challenged and after 50 years of Malaysia, Malaysians from Sabah and Sarawak only know the history of Malaya. How sad. - September 11, 2013.

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