Greeted with love

Royal rice: The Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Raja Permaisuri Agong trying their hand at pounding padi the traditional way at the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association complex during their Kembara Kenali Borneo tour. — Photos: Bernama

JUST before his installation as the 16th Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah sat down for a series of interviews with the media – divided into several small groups – at the Istana Negara.

The Star was invited and this writer went together with colleague Rozaid Abdul Rahman. The tone of the interview was serious at first but as the questions touched on family and his favourite things, the King was more relaxed. We were already feeling nervous waiting for him to conduct the interview and were about to heave a sigh of relief at the end of it when Al-Sultan Abdullah caught everyone off guard as he asked palace staff if lunch was ready and indicated he would join us.

Alamak! was my initial reaction. The King joining us for lunch was not part of his schedule. Anxiety started to build up because that means more protocol needed to be observed at the dining table. Before the interview, palace officials taught us and we practised how to greet the King as he enters the room. They, however, did not advice us on the appropriate decorum at the dining table! There was no time for that.

The King led us to another room for lunch, headed straight to a small buffet table, passed us the plates and after taking his own food, he joined us at the table. For more than 30 minutes that day, we saw the other side of the King – a chatty, down to earth man who is witty and funny.

This is the side that many of his subjects in Sabah and Sarawak witnessed first hand when the King went on the Kembara Kenali Borneo tour.

As the King is finishing his five-year reign early next year, he indicated to palace officials his desire to embark on a trip to Sabah and Sarawak. It was unfortunate that the long movement control order due to Covid-19 had limited his travels around the country for two years after the pandemic began in 2020. He had told the media earlier in his reign of his plans to meet his subjects throughout Malaysia, in the same way he travelled around Pahang when he was the Regent.

The palace started making preparations from early this year. The King’s instruction was that he wanted to drive through the two states.

Relevant government agencies informed the palace to expect bad road conditions especially in some parts of Sabah. That did not deter the palace from going ahead but what Al-Sultan Abdullah and the rest of his entourage didn’t expect was the overwhelming show of love by massive crowds lining the roads of Sabah to greet him and the Queen.

The Istana Negara convoy started the Borneo Expedition in Tawau, Sabah, on Sept 3. The trip from the airport to the hotel, usually a 40-minute ride, took six hours because thousands of people queued along the roads, wanting to catch a glimpse of the King and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah.

My Kota Kinabalu-based colleague, Muguntan Vanar, said all formalities and protocol were abandoned amid the thrill of meeting royalty, a first for many Sabahans.

“In the 60 years since Malaysia was formed, no royal family has ever made such a trip. No senior ministers or prime ministers have ever embarked on such a trip. If they came, it was usually a quick helicopter pit stop at villages or towns for organised events.

“They don’t take road trips between the main town and the areas where an event is taking place, let alone take a drive across Sabah,” said Muguntan.

“Hug uncle Agong” “Bolehkah beta bergambar dengan Tuanku?” “Bye, daulat” were among the numerous and humorous exchanges between King and subjects well captured in thousands of videos shared on social media.

One of the funny videos was an unseen woman telling the crowd to practise the “Daulat Tuanku” greeting when they see the royal convoy drive through. But as soon as the first few cars drove by, the crowd ran towards the slow moving convoy. “Daulat Tuanku” was nearly forgotten and instead the same voice was screaming “Ya Tuhanku” and “Where are his children?” Another couldn’t contain her happiness as she was allowed to approach the King when he stopped his 4WD vehicle for a selfie. One of the bodyguards had to remind her several times to kawal perasaan (calm down)!

Despite all this, no one was offended. It is a road trip which drew the fascinated attention of the ordinary people. They came out of their houses, waited for hours, rain or shine, to greet the royal entourage.

Never in their wildest dreams had they thought they would be able to shake hands and take photos with royalty. Never did they think one day the King and Queen would bestow blessings on their wedding day or hold their babies. Even the bachelor princes and princesses were getting a lot of love from the rakyat who even knew all their names. These were unscripted, unplanned scenes and repeated many times throughout the trip.

Security personnel were instructed not to stop the rakyat from shaking hands with the King whenever he made the first move. This is because some fear the rakyat may commit protocol faux pas, and of course there were safety concerns.

Datuk Wan Ahmad Shihab Wan Ismail said the expedition underscores that respect and support for the monarchy is alive and well even in Borneo where they have no Sultans.

“In a very demonstrative way, the visit was the embodiment of ‘Raja Payung Negara’ as it showed quite clearly how people from every walk of life came together ‘under the Crown’ to celebrate their Majesties.

“The monarchy, especially of late and particularly during this Merdeka month, has reasserted itself as a much needed force of unity, and are arguably the main reason why Malaysia’s founding fathers enshrined into the Constitution the system of constitutional monarchy in the first place,” said the special advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof.

Praise should go to those who dared to take up their grievances with the King in his role of Head of State. It was heartening to see the Queen writing down all these problems raised by the people.

“Tuanku drove almost 87 hours covering 2,332km to see his rakyat. Despite fatigue and sometimes driving at night and in rainy conditions, he continued on, stopping and waving to the people.

“Along the way during these stops he listened to their woes and took all the letters and read each one,” said a palace official

It is understood the letters expressed concerns about the rising cost of living, electricity and water supply problems, bad roads, schools in dire need of repair, and old folk requesting welfare aid.

“He came across a derelict bridge in Sabah and asked the state government to repair it immediately. In one rural area in Sarawak, a 70-year-old resident told his Majesty he has never met his own state leaders,” the official said.

Many times palace officials were lost for words to see the massive reception from the people for the King and Queen. They did not even dare to advice him to take a breather.

“At the end of the day, he just wanted to be with his rakyat and show that he appreciated their show of love too. We didn’t want to take that away from him,” said an official.

The King has set a benchmark for politicians, local community leaders and civil servants, and the message is clear: Go to the ground, see the rakyat and listen to them.

The monarchy is proof that “unity” comes naturally when leaders are sincere. There is no need for special programmes or to introduce some official song purportedly to unite the people.

Throughout the 11-day road trip which ended in Teluk Melano, Sarawak, Al-Sultan Abdullah has proven that there is no division between Sabah and Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia. We are truly one Malaysia.

Now the question is, after this Sabah and Sarawak road trip, will there be a Kembara 2.0 on the peninsula?

Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!

Next In Columnists

Anwar out to attract investments
I want my rainbow back
Comeback chronicles sums up weekend’s premium drama
Despite its flaws, Malaysia Airlines is ours
Malaysia, China strengthen relationships through cross-border e-commerce
UTIs dampen desire for intimacy
Taxation blues
Strange days for Malaysian politics
Fostering greater ties among Malaysia’s territories
Contingent underpromise but set to overdeliver in Hangzhou

Others Also Read