Malaysia’s Independence Day, known as Hari Merdeka, is very festive occasion. There are smiling faces everywhere, as Malaysians from all backgrounds, races and religions come together to celebrate with parades, cultural events and fireworks.
Malaysians celebrate this historic event to mark the occasion of achieving independence from Britain in 1957 with much fervour. The word ‘Merdeka’, meaning “’independence’ or ‘freedom’ in Bahasa is derived from the Sanskrit ‘Maharddhika’ which means ‘rich, prosperous and powerful’. ‘Merdeka’ was a much used word in the region during the anti-colonialist and pro-independence movements in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
In agreement with the concept of 1 Malaysia, designed by the Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak, Merdeka celebrations is matched to a different theme every year. These themes have a customised slogan and a special song slogan that is oriented toward unity as Malaysia has a large mix of Malay, Indian, and Chinese cultures with different ideologies and religions.
A historical perspective of the Malaysian Independence Day
The first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj initiated the effort for independence and together, with a delegation of ministers and political leaders of Malaya, he negotiated with the British officials in London for independence. On realising that the Communist threat posed during the Malayan Emergency had decreased, it was decided to grant Malaya independence from the British rule on 8 February 1956. The official declaration was held a year after for administrative and logical purposes like preparing the Malayan Constitution and the administration of justice.
The ceremony took place just past midnight on 31 August 1957, where the Malayan Flag was raised and national anthem Negaraku was sung. Tunku Abdul Rahman called out “Merdeka” seven times at the Merdeka Square called the Dataran Merdeka.
Malaysia of the present day came into existence on September 16, 1963 when there was an official joining of the Malaysia Federation of States that included Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore.
Traditions come alive year after year
Every year, Malaysians and tourists gather at the Dataran Merdeka in the capital Kuala Lumpur to celebrate their independence day and to witness the country’s glorious celebrations.
The Dataran Merdeka is decorated with an impressive row of Malaysian flags called Jalur Gemilang with one flag flying on one of the tallest flag poles in the world at 95 meters off the ground.
The Merdeka Day Parade is a much-awaited event, one of the most colourful events that are celebrated annually. People look forward to the vivid cultural dance performances, open air concerts, carnivals and sports festivals.
The Malaysian Royal Family, Prime Minister, military personnel and government officials participate in this colourful and fascinating parade, and pay homage to those who sacrificed their lives in the fight for the country’s independence. They watch over the events from a stage which is set in front of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and performing troops and marching squads march past the stage to show their respect.
Sultan Abdul Samad Building was built in 1896 by the British A.C. Norman to accommodate the British government administration. It was built in the Moorish style, reflecting the Islamic culture yet with a touch of British architecture that suitably reflects the history of Malaysia. Its 41-meter tower chimed for the first time to correspond with Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Parade in 1897 and has chimed since. The clock has chimed every year at 12 midnight to mark the Malaysia’s independence celebration.
The skies are filled by a majestic display of aircraft by the Malaysian Army, Navy and the Air Force, all saluting to the nation’s commemoration of independence. Military helicopters follow the aircraft carrying the Malaysian national flag, the military flags of the Armed Forces and its three units as well as the flags of Malaysia’s 13 states and three federal territories.
The most anticipated event of Merdeka Day Parade is the vibrant performances of young dancers dressed in kaleidoscopic costumes, jewellery and make up. The programme also includes many drill displays and instrumental performances of the Malaysian ethnic percussion band and the civil and military marching squads.
Similar parades are held in different states of Malaysia. Throughout August, Malaysians display their patriotism towards the country by raising the Malaysian flag wherever possible—along the streets, homes, schools, office premises and also vehicles. It is a common sight to see cars decked up with unique designs, stickers and cut outs of the Jalur Gemilang, as they blast patriotic songs and drive down the streets.
Cities and towns around Malaysia are decorated with fairy lights and make a very pretty picture. Several exhibitions and competitions are also staged in Kuala Lumpur. Being a multi-cultural society, Malaysian government works on strongly emphasising ethnic harmony and Independence Day celebrations serve to remind the citizens of this goal and helps to promote national unity and goodwill.