Monday, May 16, 2011

How Sarawakians Become Malaysian

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THE normative story of Malaysia goes something like this: in 1961, the newly independent Federation of Malaya’s Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, suggested the formation of a wider federation. This would consist of Malaya, Singapore, Brunei, Sarawak and Sabah.

Malayans and Singaporeans agreed, but Sabahans and Sarawakians were not wholly convinced. Neighbouring Philippines objected, asserting claims over Sabah. Indonesia saw the suggestion as a neo-colonialist project. Nevertheless, in 1962, the Cobbold Commission found that the majority of Sabahans and Sarawakians agreed to the new federation. On 16 September 1963, the Federation of Malaysia consisting of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak was formed. Brunei declined to join, and Singapore left the federation in 1965.

Normative historical narratives are often contested, and this narrative is no different. But this commentary is concerned with how the narrative took shape after the formation of Malaysia, specifically in relation to Sarawak. In other words, it was one thing to make Malaysia, but then how did the founders of Malaysia go on to make Malaysians?

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