Sarawak Day Is On 22 July. Here Are 5 Things To Know About The Celebration

The fourth annual Sarawak Day was held virtually.

Cover image via New Straits Times & Sanib Said

Did you know that Sarawak Day is celebrated annually on 22 July?

What is the history behind Sarawak Day? How has it been observed?

Here are five important facts to know about the public holiday:

1. Sarawak Day is only four years old

It was gazetted as Sarawak Independence Day in 2016 by the late Sarawak chief minister Tan Sri Pehin Sri Haji Adenan Satem

Known affectionately as 'Tok Nan', the popular leader was quoted by The Borneo Post as saying, "Today is a historical day for all of us. To honour and remember past leaders who have struggled for Sarawak's independence, I declare 22 July as a public holiday for the state of Sarawak."

Adenan entertains the crowd with a few songs after his announcement in 2016.

Image via The Borneo Post

The announcement, which was met with loud cheers from the crowd present at the time, took place in MetroCity Matang on 23 April 2016.

Adenan first informed the public that he had submitted a proposal for 22 July to be a public holiday to the federal government in February that year.

2. Sarawak Day celebrates the state's self governance after 120 years under foreign rule

22 July 1963 signifies the day when British governor Alexander Waddell proclaimed Tan Sri Stephen Kalong Ningkan as Sarawak's first chief minister. The outgoing governor also appointed new Supreme Council members who formed the government's first ministerial Cabinet of Sarawak.

The Star reported that the ceremony in 1963 saw Waddell, the last Governor of the Colony, leave the Astana - a palace in Kuching - and board a white sampan to cross the Sarawak River. The British Union Jack was then lowered while the Sarawak flag was raised. 

First ministerial cabinet of Sarawak.

Image via Sanib Said

A pantomime depicting the historical events was performed at the Kuching Waterfront in 2013 to commemorate 50 years of freedom from the British Government. 

Sanib (waving) and other Sarawak Malay Graduates Association members playing out a scene during the pantomime at Kuching Waterfront.

Image via The Borneo Post

3. People contest over whether it should be called Sarawak Independence Day or Sarawak Day

Although the initial announcement of the holiday was well received, it has since sparked much debate surrounding what is actually being celebrated. 

According to Malay Mail, Sarawak Pakatan Harapan chairman Chong Chieng Jen called for the state government to amend Sarawak Independence Day to Sarawak Day. He alleged that the state government had twisted historical facts for the sake of political propaganda. 

Offering his perspective, historian Datu Dr Sanib Said told The Borneo Post, "22 July (1963) was just the beginning of a process towards independence."

Several experts and politicians have concurred that 22 July 1963 was not the date of independence as the region was not yet fully decolonised from the British Empire. Instead, Dr Sanib cites 16 September 1963, Malaysia Day, as the moment when Sarawak became independent within the country.

Sarawakians gathered at the Kuching Waterfront in 2016 to commemorate the state's inaugural Sarawak Day celebration.

Image via Che Rani Che Din/New Straits Times

However, State Reform Party (STAR) president Lina Soo argued that it was not wrong for Adenan, who envisioned an autonomous Sarawak government, to refer to 22 July as Sarawak's Independence Day.

While the issue has yet to be resolved officially, the celebration is commonly referred to as Sarawak Day by local news sites. However, The Borneo Post found that when interviewed, local residents describe Sarawak Day as being a day to celebrate independence.

Meanwhile, it has even brought up questions of whether Hari Merdeka should be celebrated in Sarawak. New Sarawak Tribune reported that Soo clarified 31 August as being the independence of Malaya (consisting of Peninsular Malaysia) from the British.  

State Reform Party (STAR) president Lina Soo.

Image via Sulok Tawie/Malay Mail

4. The independence movement has used Sarawak Day celebrations as a platform to voice their concerns

Sarawak Association for Peoples' Aspiration (SAPA) called on the federal government to meet their demands during a Sarawak Day celebration last year. It marked the first time the non-governmental organisation (NGO) was given permission by the state authorities to hold a peaceful rally at Padang Merdeka. 

Image via Malaysia Today

The Star quoted SAPA president Dominique Ng as saying, "We are not just talking about the 20% petroleum royalty… We are talking about taking back everything that belongs to Sarawak. If [not], independence is always an option."

SAPA president Dominique Ng delivers a speech during the Sarawak Day celebrations 22 July 2019.

Image via Sulok Tawie/Malay Mail

5. Typical activities on the day include performances, exhibitions, and sports tournaments

Sarawak Day is celebrated on a large scale, with events often starting a few days or even a week prior to 22 July.

In the past, the government has hosted futsal tournaments, mini concerts by local artistes, and ceremonies at various places of worship.

The main event is usually held at Padang Merdeka where thousands come together to enjoy dance and drama performances, observe the raising of the flag, and listen to speeches by prominent political figures. 

Exhibitions portraying the history of early Sarawak have also been put on display. 

This year's theme is 'Sarawak Cemerlang' (Glorious Sarawak). Due to COVID-19, however, all festivities will be livestreamed on an official Facebook page

Due to the pandemic, Gawai Dayak festivities were also modified to better suit the standard operating procedures (SOPs):

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Sarawak is also home to some of the most beautiful places which you can pay a visit to the next time you're there: