Sarawak Independence Day - A Quick Sejarah Recap | The Full Frontal

Sarawak Independence Day – A Quick Sejarah Recap

Ask any Malaysians and they would proudly tell you that we gained independence in 1957 after years of adversity and colonisation but pop that question to a Sarawakian (or Sabahan) and you might get a slightly skewed answer.

As the largest among 13 states, Sarawak only reached its long-due freedom six years after Tunku Abdul Rahman raised his unforgettable Merdeka chant about 1,000km across the South China Sea in capital Kuala Lumpur.

darul hana bridge
The early (struggling) years. Photo by

With years of foreign administration by the British Colony Crown holding the colourful state down, 22 July became the day when Sarawak finally could celebrate the establishment of self-government and also a de facto independence. It was when Sarawak was given the go-ahead to form its own administration ahead of its participation in the foundation of a new federation called Malaysia.

On that fateful day in 1963, the last commanding British governor, Alexander Waddell passed his baton of administration to a newly-appointed Chief Minister, Stephen Kalong Ningkan while forming the state’s first Cabinet. That fateful day also saw the people of Sarawak rise to witness the Sarawak flag raised, for the first time.

1920px-Flag of the Kingdom of Sarawak (1870).svg
The Kingdom of Sarawak flag

Sarawak The Empire

The state’s administration, however, dates back as early as the 15-century at the height of the Bruneian Empire. But how did a stronghold empire fell to the governance of a foreigner? Let’s back up a little.

The Bruneian Empire was predominant in the growth of Borneo but the civil war between the Ibans, Kenyah-Kayan and the Malay leaders escalated to worrying unrest, leading to Pangeran Muda Hashim (the Sultan of Brunei’s uncle) to reach out for help in 1841.

Pangeran Raja Muda Hashim
Pengiran Muda Hashim

This call for help was sent to a British soldier and adventurer, a man of many wisdom and traits to put the unrest, to rest. His name was James Brooke and he came, saw and conquered Sarawak to a proper, contained administration and this victory has led the Bruneian Empire to award him property and governorship of Sarawak. The rest, as they say, is history.

The old map showing different pre-Malaya empire and government administration

The Kuching Uprising

It was at this era of colonisation that the Brooke family (called the White Rajahs) set itself a lifetime plan of expansion. And similar to the concept practised in Malaya’s British regime, The Rajahs applied a subtle Divide & Conquer technique where the Ibans and Dayaks were hired as militia, the Malays administrators and the Chinese given the rights for plantations and mines.

James ‘ Rajah’ Brooke. Photo by The Patriots.

It was all a very thoughtful, controlled plan yet when World War came, the plan falters to the brink of extinction, only to be revived again once Japan raised the white flag where Sarawak later became a state under the British Crown Colony, 17 years before Tunku Abdul Rahman initiated the Cobbold Commission to rope in Sarawak and North Borneo (now Sabah) for the grandmaster plan – Malaysia.

darul hana bridge
The Darul Hana Bridge, one of the most captivating sights. Photo by

Fun Facts!

While we’re in the topic about Sarawak and its independence, let’s look at some interesting, thought-provoking and mind-boggling facts that you should know!

– The date 22 July only became a Public Holiday in 2016 when Pehin Sri Adenan Satem decided to honour the long-due independence observation.

– The Rhinocerous Hornbill (the cultural symbol for the Dayak) is one of the 8 species of hornbills in Sarawak. The state has eight of the world’s 54 species.

– The Perak Man at 11,000 years old wasn’t exactly our oldest evidence of modern humans. It was actually the Niah man, found near the famous Sarawak caves believed to be 40,000 years old.

– Chinese ceramics as early as the Tang (8th century) and Song (13th century) Dynasties were found as proof of long trade history in Sarawak.

– Sarawak had its first dollar (Sarawak dollar) circulated officially in 1858, almost a hundred years before Malaya gained independence!

– And despite its slower progress, if there’s ever an award for the Most 1 Malaysia state in the country then Sarawak would find itself in a tie with Sabah, every single year.

Simply breathtaking. Photo by

Happy Birthday Sarawak!