Sarawak Self-Government Day celebrates the day that Sarawak declared its independence from British control, joining the country of Malaysia.
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It is sometimes incorrectly identified as Independence Day although British legislation did not provide for independence before the country joined the federation of Malaysia. It is celebrated on July 22 each year.
History of Self-Government Day
In 1841, the kingdom of Sarawak was given independence by the Sultan of Brunei but it fell under British control in 1888. It became a Crown Colony after World War II, leading to major protests by the Sarawakian citizens who wanted the country to be independent.
The unrest led to the assassination of Duncan Stewart who was the second governor of the Colony. He was replaced by Anthony Abell who helped bring Sarawak and North Borneo into the Federation of Malaysia. On July 22, 1963, Sarawak was granted self-government as long as it joined the Federation of Malaysia. July 22 was named a public holiday in 2016 in celebration of the proclamation of self-government.
Separate from Merdeka Day
The decision to declare the holiday was amid growing demands for Sarawak to gain expanded autonomy. Many residents felt that Merdeka Day, the day of Malaysia’s independence, was too Malaya-centric and did not provide insight into the culture of Sarawak. Malays make up only 23 percent of the population in Sarawak, one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. The state is also a founding member of the Federation of Malaya along with North Borneo and the Federation of Malaya. Singapore was also a founding member but was expelled in 1965.
The hope was that establishing a day recognising the culture and history of Sarawak would preserve the ethnic background of the country, including the culture of the Ibans, Sarwakian Chinese, Melanaus, Orang Ulu and Bidayuhs, each with their own culture and history.
Traditions and Celebrations
Because the holiday is new, there are no specific traditions or celebrations. The day was designed to allow the people of Sarawak to honour past leaders and promote historical awareness throughout Malaysia. Citizens had been celebrating the day since 2012, but it has only recently been named a public holiday. The day is celebrated with programs and festivals designed to promote the culture and history of the people of Sarawak. Each ethnic group in Sarawak celebrates the country’s self-government with their own traditions.