National Day is celebrated every year in Malaysia on the 31st of August to commemorate the momentous occasion when the Federation of Malaya achieved independence from British rule in 1957. On the 30th of August, Malaysia’s then Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman took to the Royal Selangor Club Padang, now known as the Merdeka square at 11.58pm and observed two minutes of darkness. At the stroke of midnight, the Union Jack was lowered and raised with the Flag of Malaya. The morning after, Tunku Abdul Rahman read aloud the Proclaimation of Independence, followed by seven chants of Merdeka, with the crown at the square joining following each chant. The moment is considered to be one of Malaysia’s most memorable and significant points in history.
National Day shouldn’t be confused with Malaysia Day, which is celebrated on September 16 and declared an official public holiday since 2010. Malaysia Day marks the day where Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya had joined together to form the federation of Malaysia, although Singapore has since become its own country.
This year would be the 55th year that Malaysia celebrates her independence from British rule. However, times have changed Malaysia into a newer, more politically aware and conscious young nation. It can certainly be argued that the patriotic spirit has dwindled especially in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, partly due to increased dissatisfaction and racial discrimination felt by a growing number of young Malaysian Chinese and Indians. Unity among races and a greater patriotic spirit among Malaysians are certainly stronger now than two decades or three decades ago. Nevertheless, Malaysian citizens would be quick to proclaim their love for their country, despite their misgivings for the country’s current administration.
Government buildings and corporations would start decorating the buildings with the colours of the national flag in the weeks before National Day. Decorations with themes of red, blue, yellow and white along with the national and state flags would hang off almost every window and building in the city. Malaysia’s national flag is proudly known as the “Jalur Gemilang” and the flag is usually the central theme and pride of the nation and her people. Old and torn flags are frowned upon and will usually be replaced by newer and brightly coloured flags. Vehicles are not to be missed out, and during the month leading to the celebrations, it will not be unusual to see vehicles decked out as colourful as buildings in the colours of the Jalur Gemilang.
In the past decade or so, to young urban Malaysians, National Day usually means looking forward to commercials from Petronas, an oil and gas company which is solely owned by the Government of Malaysia. Around this time, Petronas-commissioned commercials with themes centralized around unity and love among the three biggest races in Malaysia are aired. These commercials were originally the brainchild of the late Yasmin Ahmad, a very much loved and veered figure in the entertainment industry, until her untimely death in 2009.
Public schools usually have class-decorating, essay writing and poetry competitions, all with National Day themes. The more creative classes would be completely decked out in red, blue, yellow and white decorations and poems and essays about unity and tolerance are usually written. There will also be nationwide competitions held by many corporate and government bodies to commemorate the glorious event.
On the eve of National Day, fireworks will light up the sky at the stroke of midnight, usually set off in Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur. In recent years, the fireworks have been moved to Putrajaya where they are equally, and if not more beautiful, dazzling the crowd who would stop their cars on the highway and people who would gather at the parks in Putrajaya to witness this few minutes of splendor. It is truly a sight to behold. In 2008, the fireworks were moved to Titiwangsa lake in Kuala Lumpur, where a giant ferris wheel named the Eye of Malaysia had been set up a year before. The fireworks and the lights from the city and the ferris wheel added a touch of scenic splendor to the entire patriotic affair.
The National Day Parade
The highlight of National Day is the National Day parade organized every year. Every year, there will be an official theme and slogan for National Day and this year will be no different. The slogans usually resonate with the country’s current prime minister and his policies. Since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is known for his policies to transform and change the country ever since he took office in 2008, the themes for National Day have been about transformation and the catchphrase “1 Malaysia” signifying unity and tolerance among different races. In 2011, the theme was “1 Malaysia, Transformasi Berjaya, dan Rakyat Sejahtera” (1 Malaysia, A Successful Transformation, Peace among the People). This year’s theme is yet to be announced but there is no doubt it will again be centered on transformation. One of the more famous slogans and themes was the recurrent theme from 2000-2006 which was “Keranamu Malaysia” or “Because of you, Malaysia”. The inaugural guest of honour presiding over the National Day parade will be the Yang di Pertuan Agong (King) of Malaysia along with government dignitaries and other VIPs.
The parade is slightly different every year depending on the circumstances and decisions made by the federal government. The parade is usually held in the streets of the city culminating in Merdeka Square, where it all began in 1957. However, since 1985, the celebrations have been moved to other states in the country so that citizens all around the country have a chance to participate and revel in the celebrations as well. In the year 2009, it was a smaller scale celebration limited to only 4000 people as there was the H1N1 flu pandemic at the time. In 2010, the parade only lasted for 40 minutes as it was in the midst of Ramadan month where Muslims have to observe fasting rites during the day. Of recent years, the national parade has been held in Putrajaya three times seeing that it was the main administrative capital of the country.
Every year, a human graphic display of the Jalur Gemilang will be readied by members of Soka Gakkai Malaysia, and will usually be formed on the parade grounds or on the streets where the celebrations are held. The Royal Malay Regiment or another military unit of the three services of the Malaysian Armed Forces will form the Guard of Honor Company, usually joined with a military band. When the Yang di Pertuan Agong and the Raja Permaisuri Agong (Queen) arrives at the venue, the Guards of Honor render the Royal Salute to His Majesty and Her Majesty, and the national anthem, Negaraku is played by the military band. Immediately after this, the Guards of Honor order arms, readying for inspection by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
The Royal Inspection
When the inspection starts, the military band plays “Menungjung Duli March”. After the inspection, the national anthem is played again, and the human graphic display will then arrange itself to show the words, “Daulat Tuanku” (Long Live the King). The Guards of Honor will then perform a march past after the display.
A 21-gun salute will also be performed by members of the Royal Artillery Regiment after the flag has been raised to the national anthem. The Rukunegara (National Principles) will then be recited by the emcee and is usually started with a pledge, Maka Kami (translated into ‘And therefore, we…’), the left hand at shoulder level. Following the reciting of the Rukunegara, seven shouts of Merdeka! (translated into ‘Independence!’) will follow with the left hand raised.
The Rukunegara was proclaimed in the year 1970, a year after the deathly riots between the races that make up Malaysia’s population on May 13, 1969. The government of Malaysia at the time sought to resolve the tension and instill unity among the races in the aftermath of the riots. As a result of these efforts, the Rukunegara is a declaration of national philosophy for the people to follow and live by these principles. The pledge is recited at every official function and weekly at assemblies in schools around the country.
The literal Malay verse of the Rukunegara is as follows:
BAHAWASANYA NEGARA KITA MALAYSIA mendukung cita-cita hendak:
- mencapai perpaduan yang lebih erat di kalangan seluruh masyarakatnya;
- memelihara satu cara hidup demokratik;
- mencipta satu masyarakat adil di mana kemakmuran Negara akan dapat dinikmati bersama secara adil dan saksama;
- menjamin satu cara liberal terhadap tradisi-tradisi kebudayaannya yang kaya dan berbagai corak; dan
- membina satu masyarakat progresif yang akan menggunakan sains dan teknologi moden.
MAKA KAMI, rakyat Malaysia, berikrar akan menumpukan seluruh tenaga dan usaha kami untuk mencapai cita-cita tersebut berdasarkan atas prinsip-prinsip yang berikut:
- KEPERCAYAAN KEPADA TUHAN
- KESETIAAN KEPADA RAJA DAN NEGARA
- KELUHURAN PERLEMBAGAAN
- KEDAULATAN UNDANG-UNDANG
- KESOPANAN DAN KESUSILAAN
And when translated into English, it is as follows:
Our nation, Malaysia, is being dedicated to:
- Achieving a greater unity of all her people;
- Maintaining a democratic way of life;
- Creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably shared;
- Ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural tradition;
- Building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology.
We, the people of Malaysia, pledge our united efforts to attain these ends, guided by these principles:
- BELIEF IN GOD
- LOYALTY TO KING AND COUNTRY
- UPHOLDING THE CONSTITUTION
- SOVEREIGNTY OF THE LAW, and
- GOOD BEHAVIOUR AND MORALITY
The Rukunegara has become an important and integral part of the nation as it is beyond politics. It talks about a democratic nation founded on a steadfast faith in God, honor and love for the King and Country, and a wholly just and democratic society which upholds the Constitution and the Rule of Law.
The fun starts after the formal and solemn proceedings have ended. Patriotic songs accompanied by members of the ethnic percussion group will be sung, and the stage will be filled with young dancers dressed in the many colourful costumes that make up the various races and ethnic groups of the country. Every year, there will be a new theme song and this song will be sung as well.
The skies would not be missed out in the celebrations as well, and planes of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, the Malaysian Army Air Force and the Royal Malaysian Navy will take to the skies in a salute to the nation. The fleet is led by military helicopters flying the Malaysian flag, the flags of the Armed Forces and the flags of the 13 states of Malaysia and the flags of its 3 federal territories, with the rest of the military aircraft following behind.
The march past then begins with the three divisions of the Armed Forces, the Royal Malaysian Police, civilian and business organizations. Each contingent will march past the parade stage where the Royal Highnesses preside over the celebrations and give a royal salute. There will also be floats, representing their organization and is decorated with intricate designs and decorations which symbolizes the heart of their organization.
Where to be and what to do
Tourists should be sure not to miss out the exciting parade every year and join the crowd at Dataran Merdeka to watch the parade on the morning of National Day and partake in the festivities. The roads in and around Dataran Merdeka will usually be closed in preparation for the festivities but due to the prominence of the location, Dataran Merdeka is easily accessible via public transport as it is in the vicinity of KTM stations and LRT stations nearby as well as a bus station. In other states such as Penang and Sabah which are also known as tourist hotspots in Malaysia, other Merdeka Day festivities will be held as well. An annual regatta organized by the Kinabalu Yacht Club will take place in Sabah from the 31st August until 2nd of September to commemorate the occasion. In Penang, a parade will usually also be held in the city centre with a considerably higher number of tourist turn out due to the island being a popular holiday destination.
For every patriotic Malaysian, no matter how they celebrate, each year brings a special meaning to National Day. This year will surely be no different and perhaps even more important and relevant to the people as the country’s national elections will be declared this year as well.