‘Merdeka’ – a word so powerful that it stirred a nation. Four centuries under European power, our forefathers desired nothing more than the freedom and liberty that we enjoy today as masters in our own country. Revisiting briefly some historical moments, when utters of ‘merdeka’ brought ecstasy to a great many, ignited by speeches from our country’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Excerpts as below.
Kirkby College, 7 February 1956
In 1956, the Malayan Teachers’ Training College in Kirkby, about 10km north-east of Liverpool, hosted about 300 Malayan students between the age of 17 to 21. Established in 1952, the college was part of a government initiative to expose young Malayans to education principles, teaching techniques and to broaden their perspectives abroad. This generation of pioneer Malayan teachers, about 1900 of them trained between 1952 to 1962, would return home to nurture thousands of local teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals. Some even ended up as lecturers, professors and politicians themselves. The future of Malaya was in their hands.
On 7 February 1956, the Kirkbyites were called to the assembly hall to greet the Malayan delegation who had just concluded the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Conference in London a day before. Memorandums had been presented by Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Haji Omar, Tun Ong Yoke Lin, Tun V.T Sambanthan and Tun Sardon Jubir from the Alliance Party along with representatives of the Sultans, Dato Panglima Bukit Gantang Haji Wahab (Perak), Dato Nik Ahmad Kamil (Kelantan), Dato Mohd Seth (Johor) and Abdul Aziz (Selangor) to discuss matters of Malaya’s Independence. Members of the Alliance Party arrived at Kirkby College with good news, announcing the date agreed for Malaya’s Independence Day for the first time – 31 August 1957. Spontaneous shouts of ‘Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!’ filled up the room – the earliest Merdeka chants heard on British soil.
“For the next few months, the new greeting at meetings in our country will be ‘Merdeka!”
“I can now make the disclosure that I have just returned from the Constitutional talks with the Government of Her Majesty. The talks went off very well indeed – so well, in fact, what we had set our minds to get, we got. Other matters which we discussed have been settled amicably. The talks began in an atmosphere of friendliness and cordiality and ended on that very happy note yesterday afternoon”
“We had reached London determined to obtain self-government and independence and had been prepared to quarrel about it. But after the talks had gone on for no more than a day, we found that we had won over Her Majesty’s Government to our side.”
“Important tasks still lie ahead. Our independence is won. We must retain it at all costs. We had worked hard to get it. We must work very much harder to retain it. We have enemies all around us. There are also enemies within.”
“It was one hundred and seventy years ago that the first Treaty had been signed between Malaya and England, between one of my own ancestors, the King or Sultan of Kedah, and Captain Francis Light, to cede off Penang Island. That was in 1786. It is now 1956. I have just concluded negotiations that would result in the return not only of Penang but of the whole country.”
- Tunku Abdul Rahman’s speech at Kirkby College, 7 February 1956
Padang Melaka, 20 February 1956
Di Atas Robohan Kota Melaka,
Kita Dirikan Jiwa Merdeka,
Bersatu Padulah Segenap Baka,
Membela Hak Keadilan Pusaka
– Dr. Burhanuddin al-Helmy, President of Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) 1956-1969
Returning to Malaya from the talks for Independence in London, the delegation of Malayan ministers and officials landed at Batu Berendam Airport on 20 February 1956. Tunku Abdul Rahman, Dato Sir Tan Cheng Lock and Dato Panglima Bukit Gantang Haji Abdul Wahab led a motorcycle and car convoy in a Nash Rambler 1951 to Melaka’s recreation ground. This was the site of the Malay kingdom of Melaka that fell to the Portuguese in 1511. The streets and the padang that morning was jammed packed with more or less 50,000 people who were eager to hear the news of Independence directly from Tunku himself.
“Whereas, in the course of human history, no nation, in order to salvage itself, will ever remain static for a long time. It will be compelled to decide on one of two directions, to go forward of backward. This depends on the ability and adaptability of that nation in facing change and developments.
When the people are in a state of complete complacency with their present status, they tend to fear anything that may produce changes.
They will suspect any move or anybody who comes out with new ideas or inventions.
But since human history is the history of changes and developments of making things better and more perfect, this type of self-satisfied nation will be left further and further behind and eventually disappear and remain only to be revealed by future historians.
For us we are lucky that our nation is endowed by the grace of God with fortitude, courage and dignity. We were once a nation with a great national heritage.
Although the circumstances of our history have changed us from an independent, proud nation to shameful and subjected one, we have managed to maintain our God-given pride, dignity, justice and indomitable spirit while being under continuous colonial rule for more than 400 years. Let it be known that we, the peoples of Malaya, are united in our endeavour to achieve independence by constitutional means and today we fulfilled it.
Therefore, in the name of God, the most merciful and the most compassionate, I hereby proclaim on behalf of the peoples of Malay that full independence for the Federation of Malaya within the Commonwealth, in accordance with the agreement reached in London, will take effect by August 31, 1957, if God permits.”
– Tunku Abdul Rahman’s speech at Melaka’s padang on 20 February 1956, after announcing the date of Merdeka.
Cries of ‘merdeka’ were thunderous, accompanied with waves of clench fist salutes!
The merdeka mood continued even after the delegation left at 4.30pm for Kuala Lumpur. A pyramid shaped obelisk (which still stands today) was later erected near the spot of the announcement to mark the occasion.