31 August is celebrated each year in Malaysia as Hari Merdeka, ‘Independence Day’. It marks the momentous occasion that took place on 31 August 1957, when at a great ceremony at the national stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed the independence of the Federation of Malaya, after a long period of British colonial rule. In 1963 the expanded nation of Malaysia was formed from the Federation of Malaya, the Borneo states of Sarawak and Sabah, and Singapore, although two years later in 1965 Singapore left Malaysia to become independent.
The only known copy of a rare publication on Malayan independence published in Colombo by Francis Cooray, a Sri Lankan journalist who had lived in Malaya for 29 years, for 21 years as Special Correspondent for the Financial Times. Francis Cooray, Merdeka for Malaya (Maharagama: Saman Press, 1957). British Library, 8025.c.96
In 1511, the Portuguese captured Melaka, the ‘Venice of the East’, the greatest Malay sultanate and port-city in Southeast Asia. Over the next three hundred years, Melaka was tossed about like a ping-pong ball by rival European powers: in 1641 it was wrestled from the Portuguese by the Dutch, and in the early 19th century passed into British hands. Entering the era of ‘high colonialism’, following the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 a British Resident was appointed to the state of Perak, and by the early 20th century, the whole of the Malay peninsula was under British control. The proclamation of Merdeka in 1957 thus marked the end of over four centuries of the presence of European power-bases in the Malay peninsula.
In 2007, to mark the 50th anniversary of Merdeka, the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur requested help from the British Library to compile an album of images from souvenir publications in its collection commemorating Malaysian independence, for presentation to the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Some of the most interesting pictures are reproduced below to mark today, the 59th anniversary of Merdeka.
The first featured guide is Merdeka Celebrations Guide 31st August 1957 (10059.d.13), published in Penang just before Independence Day itself, to publicise the celebrations prepared for Merdeka.
Merdeka Celebrations Guide 31st August 1957: showing programmes of Penang, Province Wellesley & Kuala Lumpur. Penang: G.K.M. Dean, 1957. British Library, 10059.d.13
Timetable of Merdeka celebrations planned for Georgetown, Penang. Merdeka Celebrations Guide 31st August 1957: showing programmes of Penang, Province Wellesley & Kuala Lumpur. Penang: G.K.M. Dean, 1957. British Library, 10059.d.13
The other three souvenir booklets shown here were published after the event and include photographs of the Merdeka celebrations. The Merdeka Anniversary Souvenir 31st August 1958 (Cup.25.e.50) was published to mark the first anniversary of independence.
Merdeka Anniversary Souvenir 31st August 1958 / Sambutan Ulangtahun Merdeka yang pertama Persekutuan Tanah Melayu 31 August 1958. Kuala Lumpur: Lai Than Fong, 1958. British Library, Cup.25.e.50, front cover
Merdeka Anniversary Souvenir 31st August 1958 / Sambutan Ulangtahun Merdeka yang pertama Persekutuan Tanah Melayu 31 August 1958. Kuala Lumpur: Lai Than Fong, 1958. British Library, Cup.25.e.50, p. 41
Malaya Merdeka Souvenir (X.702/1766) was published in Ipoh, Perak by O.S. Pada, and includes a pictorial record of the process of political negotiations leading up to independence, as well as of the great day itself.
Malaya Merdeka Souvenir, 31st Aug., 1957. Ipoh: O.S. Pada, Pada Advertising Agency, 1957. British Library, X.702/1766
Malaya Merdeka Souvenir, 31st Aug., 1957. Ipoh: O.S. Pada, Pada Advertising Agency, 1957. British Library, X.702/1766, p.43
The fourth and final commemorative booklet, Kulim Merdeka Souvenir Magazine (X.700/13428) is particularly interesting in presenting a record of the Merdeka celebrations not in the federal capital, but in Kulim, a small town in Kedah. It features on its front cover the famous Kulim Merdeka Clock Tower, unveiled by Sultan Badlishah of Kedah on 15 September 1957 to mark the declaration of independence.
Kulim Merdeka Souvenir Magazine, 31st August 1957. Kulim: Chan Khuan Ooh, 1957. British Library, X.700/13428
A record of Merdeka celebrations in Kulim, including the unveiling of the Clock Tower, a parade of UMNO youths and Kaum Ibu, and a Boria performance. Kulim Merdeka Souvenir Magazine, 31st August 1957. Kulim: Chan Khuan Ooh, 1957. British Library, X.700/13428
The Merdeka arch in Baling, a small town in Kedah near the border with Thailand best known as the site of abortive negotiations in 1955 between Tunku Abdul Rahman and the Communist leader Chin Peng to end the Malayan Emergency. Kulim Merdeka Souvenir Magazine, 31st August 1957. Kulim: Chan Khuan Ooh, 1957. British Library, X.700/13428
The album of images from British Library publications presented by the British High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, 2007.
Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia
The National Day in Malaysia is celebrated every year on the 31st of August in honor of the birthday of the nation. On 31st August, 1957, Malaysia gained its independence from British colonial rule and became an independent country.
The National Day in Malaysia is celebrated in a grand style at Kuala Lumpur. This national festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm in all over the country. The Jalur Germilang (The Malaysian Flag) is hoisted throughout the country. On this day many political leaders appear at the public events and talk about the nation's heritage, laws, history, people, about recent events and future projects.
The National Day is considered as a Public Day with outings, picnics and lots of outdoor events like parades, air shows, fireworks and musical concerts. Parades generally occur in the morning and the fireworks occur in the evening.
The people of Malaysia proudly fly their Flag, sing songs and enjoy the day with their friends and families.