The day Sarawak was briefly an independent state

KUCHING: The memory of what transpired that fateful day on July 22, 1963 still remains fresh in the minds of many senior citizens who lived through the historic time.

On that day, the last governor of the British Government, Sir Alexander Waddell, left the Astana and boarded a white sampan to cross the Sarawak River to hand over the government of Sarawak to its people.

The Union Jack was then lowered for the last time, and the Sarawak flag was proudly hoisted onto flag poles around the state. The first State Cabinet meeting presided by the first chief minister Datuk Stephen Kalong Ningkan was then held.

The state was a sovereign nation for awhile, but it soon joined what was then known as the Federation of Malaya to eventually form Malaysia.

However, as a young nation with very little military strength, the state was facing the threat of an Indonesian invasion and the communist insurgency.

Decorated military man Corporal Paul Nyopis Noyab, who also holds the tile of Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) related to The Star what he did on July 22, 1963, and how he felt at the time.

“I was already a part of the British Armed Forces then and was stationed in Kampung Stass, Bau to fight the communist insurgency,” he recalled.

“Those were turbulent times. The communists used guerilla tactics to manoeuvre their way around the area, and we were fighting an uphill battle.

“When the news came that Sarawak was becoming an independent nation, I was jubilant. I thought that the fighting would come to an end, and that the Dayaks would be able to be independent and free once more.

“That excitement soon died down as the communists grew more and more daring.

“They were opposed to independence and were influenced by the ideology of creating a communist nation. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that things settled down,” the ex-Ranger said, now 71 years old.

“It is my wish that more and more Sarawakians will become aware of the significance of July 22, 1963, and our history of being a sovereign nation, if only for a little while.

“I hope the Government would be able to recognise this important date as well, just as they did with Sept 16, 1963,” he added.

For 57-year-old retired government servant Tambi Pilang (pic), the day remains a fond memory, even though he was only seven years old at the time.

“I was there, you know, in the crowd at the waterfront with my father as we watched the last British governor cross the Sarawak River.

“Being very young at the time, I didn’t feel anything in particular. But what I do remember, is seeing the faces of the people in the crowd.

“Some were very happy and were cheering, while others wore more sombre expressions.

“I suppose they had mixed feelings watching the British leave, but were also happy that we were now independent.

“These days, so few people know the significance of the date, especially the younger generation.

“Something needs to be done so that the importance of this date is preserved,” he said.

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