August 31 sees Malaysians of all races and walks of life come together to celebrate the country’s freedom from the fetters of colonisation
August 31, 1957, was a Saturday like no other. A regally-attired bespectacled man stood up in the field at Merdeka Stadium and declared ‘Merdeka!’ seven times to thunderous applause from the thousands of people gathered there.
It was the day the country finally gained independence from British rule and the man was Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, known as Malaysia’s Father of Independence (Bapa Kemerdekaan Malaysia in Malay). Tunku was the nation’s first Prime Minister until he stepped down in 1970.
The new country was known as the Federation of Malaya until 1963, when Sabah and Sarawak joined to create Malaysia. Singapore opted to go its own way in 1965 but the two nations remain close allies with strong cultural and economic links.
Every year since then, August 31 is celebrated as the country’s Independence Day (Hari Merdeka) when the Union Jack was lowered at the stroke of midnight to be replaced by the star, crescent moon and stripes known as Jalur Gemilang.
This month, as the country prepares to celebrate 62 years of independence, visitors will experience a truly festive mood as Malaysians from all walks of life show their love for the country by displaying flags on their cars, outside their homes and on the façade of shophouses. The theme for this year’s Independence Day is ‘Sayangi Malaysiaku: Malaysia Bersih’, which translates to ‘Love My Malaysia: A Clean Malaysia’.
The celebratory mood culminates in the spectacular Independence Day Parade, held predominantly at Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka) until it was moved to the administrative capital of Putrajaya last year. The parade begins at 7am in the presence of Their Majesties, the King and Queen of Malaysia, the nation’s current Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, cabinet ministers, foreign ambassadors and many other dignitaries.
Tun Mahathir, or Tun M as he is fondly known, is in his second term as Prime Minster since last year, having served as premier from 1981 to 2003. Known as the ‘Father of Malaysia’s Modernisation’ (Bapa Permodenan Malaysia), he is the world’s oldest serving state leader at age 94.
Participating in the colourful parade are the armed forces, police, civil servants, non-government organisations, schoolchildren as well as representatives from the private sector. Aircraft flyovers by the Royal Malaysian Air Force, cultural performances and spectacularly-decorated floats add to the festive atmosphere.
Meanwhile, smaller-scale celebrations take place in other cities and towns around the country, many involving parades and performances.
The celebratory atmosphere continues nationwide until Malaysia Day on September 16, which celebrates the formation of Malaysia in 1963. This year’s Malaysia Day celebrations take place in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak.
PLACES TO VISIT DURING MERDEKA MONTH
Tugu Negara (National Monument)
Located in the Lake Gardens along Parliament Road (Jalan Parlimen) in Kuala Lumpur, this impressive statue of seven soldiers holding the Malaysian flag stands 15 metres high and is the world’s tallest free-standing bronze sculpture grouping. Built in 1966 as a tribute to those who perished during the two World Wars and the Emergency, it was designed by renowned American sculptor Felix de Weldon who also created the famous Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. Each figure represents one of seven qualities, namely courage, leadership, sacrifice, strength, suffering, unity and vigilance.
The monument is open to visitors daily from 7am to 6pm.
Proclamation of Independence Memorial
If you happen to be in the historic state of Melaka, a great way to find out more about the country’s history and struggle for independence is to visit the Proclamation of Independence Memorial. Located near Padang Palawan in Bandar Hilir, the building itself dates back to 1912 and used to house the Malacca Club.
The two-storey building showcases ancient documents dating as far back as the 15th century Melaka Sultanate, along with dioramas and audio-visual exhibits depicting significant events in the nation’s history.
Other attractions close by include A’Famosa, the ruins of the 16th century Portuguese fort that once circled the city, St. Paul’s Hill and the Cultural Museum which is a replica the Melaka Sultanate Palace.
The Proclamation of Independence Memorial opens daily from 9am to 5.30pm except on Mondays which hare not public holidays.
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