Yesterday’s seminar on the history of Sarawak entitled: ‘A Journey to Merdeka: Sarawak in Malaysia’, dramatically exposed the need for further research into this subject, according to Sarawak 4 Sarawakians, as the academics on the panel failed to agree even on the simple chronology of events.

From there, further seminars should be held and there should be a greater emphasis on Sarawak history in Sarawak schools so that the younger generation can gain greater pride in their home state.

The pressure group further asked that this research be done at State level to avoid the kind of indoctrination that lead to an academic from University of Malaysia Perlis insulting Sarawakians in this open forum for which a public apology is needed.

The seminar was given to a packed house on a Sunday. Clearly Sarawakians are motivated to learn more about their own history, something that has been overlooked throughout their schooling and adult lives so far.

However, it became clear that little research has been done into the circumstances surrounding the Malaysia agreement and even about Sarawak history before that amongst local academics.

The panelists clearly continue in 19th Century thinking and have not read any of the more recent analyses of the Brooke era which claim that James Brooke ruled as a Malay leader would have, and this is why he had the support of the Abang Abang and the Malays of Sarawak and various Penghulus against the rule of the Brunei Sultanate, also a non-local ruler, which had preceded him.

The panel simply ignored an excellent question by former YB, Dona Babel on the anti-cession movement, the real moment in Sarawak’s history which clearly marked the transition from a locally-based administration to a colonial one.

As is often the case in modern Malaysia, there has been an assumption that the Brooke administration and the Colonial administration were the same because of skin colour whereas Sarawakians of the time clearly had more discernment, supporting the Brookes while objecting vocally to their later colonization by the British Government and all its machinery.

This myth and many others currently circulating in the academic world must be exploded by further research so that Sarawakians, particularly the younger generation, can truly understand the role their forefathers played in the building of their own state.

This is why English is important and why S4S support Adenan in his call for greater emphasis on teaching and learning of the English language. As he himself said, it is impossible to translate all scientific papers and articles, including those on Sarawak history, published predominantly in English.

This may be why our local academics and our students are not updated on current analysis of their own history. It may also be why all questions came from the older generation, who have been able to read extensively, often stumping the panel.

This is despite the rude assertion by the West Malaysian academic on the panel that only those with a Phd have the ability to know anything about history. I suppose she also thinks that a 28-year-old Phd student has more knowledge of law than a 60-year-old with a lifelong career in the field!

This West Malaysian academic went on to insult all Sarawakians openly. Professor Datin Paduka Dr Ramlah Adam, in spite of her long list of titles, obviously has not informed herself on the current situation in Sarawak as she proceeded to tell the packed room that any Sarawakians who wanted to raise questions about the position of Sarawak in Malaysia should just get out of the country!

Does she feel that all Sarawakians should leave their homeland for the West Malaysians to fully occupy? Perhaps she also means that to apply to our own Chief Minister who is currently raising exactly these questions with the Federal Government as he made clear immediately following her statement?

This academic also went on to state that the Malays in Malaya had lost their dignity when they changed the name of their country from Persekutuan Tanah Melayu to Malaysia when the Borneo States and Singapore joined with them to form a new country. Clearly, she does not feel that Malaysia is a new country and continues to ignore the individualities of Malaya’s partner states!

This must be why the moderator limited the number of questions for this academic to two – to prevent further embarrassment to them and further insult to the people of Sarawak.

Therefore, the group are calling for locally-based universities and perhaps even the Sarawak Museum, who have a number of research fellowships on offer, to promote high-level research into Sarawak history.

This can then filter into the schools so that Sarawakians can truly appreciate their own individualities in history as well as in culture and geography. They are also asking for this West Malaysian academic, who has clearly demonstrated the very mindset that has given birth to the drive for autonomy, to apologise to those in attendance and the people of Sarawak at large.

As Adenan himself stated, if we had never formed Malaysia, we may well have achieved independence on our own at that time. We chose to form Malaysia and this is why we have the right to demand what we were promised under the Malaysia Agreement 1963.

We have the right to celebrate our own unique history. We have the right to ask questions and have them answered. We will not leave because West Malaysians like this poorly informed academic do not accept our role and our position. This is Tanah Sarawak. We will protect her.