Sarawak folk were opposed to Malaysia 2 years after its formation, says academic

Desmond Davidson

American history professor Craig Lockard says Sarawak folk in 1965 were opposed to joining the federation of Malaysia. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, December 2, 2023.

AN American history professor who was in Sarawak in 1965 researching the state’s history for his doctoral thesis said the local folk were generally opposed to joining the federation of Malaysia.

Professor Emeritus of History Craig Lockard, who had taught courses in Asian, African and world history for 35 years at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, recalled an interaction with some indigenous Ibans in a Sibu coffee shop where he said they were “arguing vehemently that Malaysia was a terrible thing for them”.

“They were opposed to it. The SUPP was opposed to it for a long time,” he said, referring to the Sarawak United Peoples’ Party, which is now a component of the state’s ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak coalition.

He said this when replying to a question during an online talk show.

The show, “Kuching, Yesterday & Today: Observation on a changing state”, was organised by the Sarawak Initiative – a civil society group that believes in “laying the right foundations for a progressive and modern Sarawak society”.

He said people in Kuching felt the same way.

Lockard said when he returned to Kuching in 1970 to spend a year doing more research, “people were still saying it was a big mistake”.

The host was Kuching-born James Chin of the University of Tasmania.

Asked to describe what the atmosphere was like when it was announced that Singapore had pulled out of the federation, Lockard said Sarawak folk were “very unhappy”.

“I think (it’s because) Sarawak sees Singapore as a counterweight and an ally against Malaya’s (attempted domination).

“A lot of people did. They felt betrayed.”

Singapore pulled out of the federation on August 9, 1965 to become an independent nation.

He also said at that time, Sarawak’s economic ties were much more to Singapore than they were to Malaya.

Lockard said even after 60 years, he still sensed bitterness among Sarawak folk about what Singapore did.

Replying to another question, Lockard said if it were up to him, Sarawak and Sabah would have been be better off as independent states.

He said they could then consider having “some kind of loose confederation” with Singapore and Malaya.

For Sarawak to remain under the Brooke rule or a colony of Britain was not an option, he added. – December 2, 2023.

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