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A Potted Guide to Malaysia's Independence Day

Learn the basics of Malaysia's 'Hari Merdeka' to celebrate it with your Malaysian friends this August.

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A Potted Guide to Malaysia's Independence Day
Photo: iStock

Commonly known as ‘Hari Merdeka’, Malaysia’s Independence Day falls on 31 August and commemorates Malaysia’s independence from Great Britain. This historic day is celebrated with extravagant parades and fireworks amidst a sea of Jalur Gemilang (Stripes of Glory), which is the official name of the Malaysian flag.

The History of Independence

The handover of power from Great Britain to the Federation of Malaya took place on 31 August 1957. Tunku Abdul Rahman, the prime minister-elect, led the negotiations with the British rulers to gain Malaya’s independence and is hailed as the ‘Father of Independence’. On 30 August 1957, thousands gathered with the coalition party members (Alliance Party) at Merdeka Square to witness the birth of a nation.

Two minutes before midnight, all the lights were turned off; at the stroke of midnight, the Union Jack was lowered and the new flag of the Federation of Malaya (not yet Malaysia then) was raised. The crowd chanted “Merdeka!” (freedom) seven times followed by a rousing rendition of ‘Negaraku’, the national anthem.

Come the morning of 31 August 1957, the official declaration was read at the newly completed Stadium Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur with more than 20,000 people joining in the festivities to hail the sovereignty of Malaya. The momentous moment was attended by all the rulers of the Malay states (Perlis, Kedah, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Johor), foreign dignitaries including the King and Queen of Thailand, members of the federal cabinet and Queen Elizabeth II’s representative, the Duke of Gloucester.

Photo: iStock

Celebrating Hari Merdeka in Malaysia

Hari Merdeka is a national holiday, with each state arranging its own local celebrations at designated areas. The biggest celebration usually takes place in Kuala Lumpur at Merdeka Square, although it has also been held at Putrajaya and elsewhere. Every year a theme, logo and slogan is created to promote national harmony and unity.

The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong (King), the Prime Minister, various ministers and government officials, as well as other VIPs are in attendance along with thousands of people who gather to celebrate and watch the military parade and cultural performances.

Photo: Merdeka Square

Malaysia Day

While Hari Merdeka celebrates Malaya’s independence from British rule, Malaysia Day recognises the day that the Malaysian Federation was formed with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore – 16 September 1963. Singapore left the federation on 9 August 1965. Today, Malaysia comprises 13 states and three federal territories. Before 2010, Malaysia Day was only celebrated as a public holiday in Sabah and Sarawak; since then it has been declared a national holiday.

Jalur Gemilang

The 14 stripes represent equality among the 13 member states and the federal government, while the 14 points of the star represent unity among the same. The crescent denotes Islam as the country’s official religion. Blue stands for harmony, white for purity, red for bravery and yellow for the royal colour of the Rulers of Malaysia. Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, the country’s fourth Prime Minister, named the flag in 1997 to represent a continuous drive towards success.


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