Merdeka is possibly the only other birthday I remember besides my family and my own. And today, Malaysia is as wise as our parents, uncles, and aunts.
For a nation that survived the colonial rule and World War II, this country had been through it all. If Charles Dickens had a say in this, he would tell us that for every worst of times, there will be the best of times.
Our Independence Day, fondly known as Merdeka, was one of our best times. It was a far-fetched dream made possible by our brave forefathers.
Freeing ourselves from the clutches of colonial rule wasn’t easy, but our Father of Independence, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and other political leaders made it happened.
And that is worthy of a lifetime celebration.
You might think this article attempts to feed you with stories about how and when it happened. Or who were the independent heroes of Malaya and what their contributions were?
Who are we kidding? Of course, you know everything there’s to know about it.
…Or do you?
Fact 1: Tunku Abdul Rahman crowdfunded his trip to London
You would think that a return flight to London was cheaper in 1957, but you’re dead wrong. Not even to a royal prince who lived in the Istana Pelamin Palace in Kedah since birth.
However, Tunku was different. He was the man of the people.
To everyone, he wasn’t just a prince but also the Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya (for brevity sake, let’s call it ‘Malaya’). When it dawned on him that a trip to London would cost him an arm and a leg, he sought the help of his party members.
It was in a UMNO Conference in Bandar Hilir, Melaka, where he shared this financial hitch.
Inspired by Tunku’s determination, one woman stood up and gave her most prized possession: a gold wedding bangle that was gifted by her father.
That woman was the late Datuk Siti Rahmah Kassim, and that jewellery became the Bangle of Independence in our Merdeka chapter.
Of course, a single bangle wasn’t enough to get Tunku as much as an economy class seat. It was there and then, Siti Rahmah rallied everyone in the conference to do the same. On the spur of the moment, everyone gave whatever they had.
Some donated their precious rings and wrist watches, while others unclipped their brooches and dress pins. There were a few who even took off the gold handle from their walking sticks. Basically, everyone chipped in to give the Independence dream a fighting chance.
Speaking of dates…
Fact 2: If Merdeka didn’t happen in 1957, we’ll celebrate it five years later
When the National Federation of Malaya Agreement was drafted, Tunku didn’t pick Malaya’s Independence date because it conveniently fell on a Saturday or you know, just because.
He made a special road trip to Kepala Batas in Penang to seek the advice from the famed Islamic scholar, Sheikh Abdullah Fahim.
Off he went with politician Haji Sulaiman Palestin and the Sheikh’s son Haji Ahmad Badawi (also the grandfather of the former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) to seek an auspicious date for Malaya’s Independence Day.
Sheikh Abdullah Fahim recommended two dates.
If everything fell into place (and thankfully, it did), our Independence Day should fall on 31 August 1957. In Arabic, the date signifies that “Good Year Has Come to Us”.
What if the Independence negotiation didn’t work out?
Well, we have to wait five years for the next best date, which was 31 August 1962. (Source)
Fact 3: Melaka was the first to receive the good news
You might think it was rightfully so since the story of Melaka was where our history began. But the reason why Melaka received the news first was simple.
…It was where Tunku’s plane landed after his trip from London.
Rewind to 20 February 1956, Tunku and his delegations landed at Batu Berendam Airport in Melaka.
That day, over 100,000 people gathered and cried “Merdeka” while witnessing this historic moment. The special homecoming included motorcycle and car escorts from the airport to Padang Bandar Hilir where the news was officially announced. (Source)
Padang Bandar Hilir was also the first place where the Union Jack flag was lowered during the eve of Merdeka. It signified the end of the British occupation in Melaka after 133 years. (Source)
Fact 4: “Negaraku” isn’t exactly an original tune
Selecting a national anthem was a huge deal. You would think that the best songwriters and composers in the country were behind the patriotic tunes of “Negaraku”.
Malaya’s national anthem was only decided four weeks before the Declaration of Independence. If we were Tunku preparing for the big day, we would freak out.
On 5 August 1957, they booked the entire Police Depot Hall in Kuala Lumpur for a special audition called the National Anthem of the Federation of Malaya Selection Ceremony.
Evidently, Tunku chaired the entire thing. The judging panel included other selection committees such as Dato’ Abdul Razak Hussein (then Minister of Education), Tuan Ong Yoke Lin (then Minister of Transportation), and Haji Mustapha Al-Bakri (then Keeper of the Malay Ruler’s Seal). So the panel was no joke.
That day, the Federation of Malaya Police Force Band had only one task, which is to play all four songs that were shortlisted for the Malaya’s national anthem. At the end of the day, one song made the entire panel went “A-hah, that’s the one!”
It was Perak’s state anthem, “Allah Lanjutkan Usia Sultan”, which was played to the tune of “Terang Bulan”.
Whether the state anthem was adapted from a French melody, La Rosalie or inspired by a Hawaiian classic, Mamula Moon, that’s another story for another time.
All in all, everyone loved it. So they sent it over to the Council of Malay Rulers for permission, switched up the lyrics, renamed it as “Negaraku” and belted it on 31 August 1957. (Source)
Despite the number of facts we memorised in school, there’s always something to learn outside of our textbooks. One thing is for sure, there are always forgotten or untold stories that we wish our history teachers had taught us.
I mean, who knew we had a Bangle of Independence?