With the onset of the half century since Malaya became independent, my thoughts turn to history. In 1957 Malaya was granted independence but Sabah and Sarawak remained British. Those two states only became independent when they joined Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963.

So I wonder if there’ll be another large celebration in 2013 which will be Sabah and Sarawak’s own 50 anniversary? Will Singapore also mark 2013 or will 2015 be more appropriate as it will be 50 years since the island was ejected like a faulty CD from Malaysia. Malaysian history is not so clear cut. And how different would the course of history be if Brunei had joined Malaysia? And what if Singapore had stayed on?

I have books on my shelves. Details from that time can be found in their pages. Where better to start that Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra’s Looking Back. A tome I frequently refer to are A History of Malaysia by Barbara and Leonard Andaya. Easier reads though are Virginia Hooker’s A Short History of Malaysia and Jim Baker’s Crossroads: A Popular History or Malaysia and Singapore. There’s of course my own book A Children’s History of Malaysia.


My grandfather became the first Agong. In the above photo you’ll see the two Tunku Abdul Rahmans, on either side of the group. One is the Prime Minister, the other the Agong. It is independence day. The man in the middle with the feathered hat is Sir Donald MacGillivray, the last High Commissioner of Malaya.

This nascent country’s form of rotating monarchy existed nowhere else in the world. The PM must have wondered if it really would work. And it has. But for the Rulers, challenges to their dignity, their very constitutional position, lay ahead.

What strikes me about 1957 was how much a simpler time that was. No mobile phones. No PCs. No internet. No traffic jams. Maybe even no corruption. It was a time of gentlemanly politics.

Yet this was a period of great uncertainty. The Emergency still existed. The Vietnam war still raged. Confrontation with Indonesia and Singapore’s ejection was only a few years away. The bloody streets of May 13th were still to come.

A lot has happened since those early days . . .

But recall Tunku Abdul Rahman’s words as he spoke to the crowd that day:

“Independence is only the threshold to high endeavour. At this solemn moment I call on you all to dedicate yourselves to the service of the new Malaya.”

I wish all Malaysians a happy Merdeka day!