IT’S been five-and-half decades since we started celebrating Hari Merdeka, and much has changed since.
These days, we tweet about Merdeka, we blog about it, we change our avatars to celebrate it. We party, enjoy the public holiday and take part in the usual flag-waving gestures – but does Merdeka still mean anything to us?
Well we all know what “merdeka” means, but what does it really mean? What does it represent to the Malaysian youth of today? Does it hold the same meaning to us as it does to our parents, or our grandparents?
We decided to try and find out by asking a few young Malaysian personalities – and we hope we’ll all ask ourselves the same question today – what does Merdeka really mean to me?
Sharyn Lisa Shufiyan, 27, conservationist and Tunku Abdul Rahman’s great-granddaughter.
We have been independent from colonial rule for 55 years and I’m grateful to our ancestors who had worked towards independence. For the younger generation, the image of Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaiming Merdeka is an iconic image, but it’s just that, an icon. We don’t know much about that era, we don’t know much about the person, the Bapa Kemerdekaan and other Malayan heroes.
Today, we may be free from external powers but we are not free in terms of personal liberty, economic inequality and racism. Because to me Merdeka means freedom and being a free person means our rights are protected; rights to personal liberty, rights to vote, rights to economic opportunities, rights to express opinions and rights to life.
Shufiyan Shukur, 57, Sharyn’s father
I have no particular sense of pride over Merdeka even though I’m a pre-Merdeka baby. It’s another day with another celebration and as I get older I’ve become cynical over what it means to people.
Shukur Ali, 85, Sharyn’s grandfather
My grandfather said it was a big achievement and he felt an immense sense of pride when he witnessed the Tunku declare Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! He is happy with the way the country has developed since then.
Gary Steven Robbart, 20, national footballer
When I was younger, Merdeka was just like any other public holiday. But now that I’m older, I’m starting to understand its true meaning.
I think Merdeka symbolises happiness, for the people of Malaysia. It’s when everyone comes united to celebrate the independence of the nation.
Robert Robbart, 45, Gary’s father
I feel contented, because our country has achieved its independence. I used to wave our national flag while riding the bicycle around our neighbourhood. Nowadays, I get into the Merdeka spirit simply by decorating my house with the Jalur Gemilang. I want to look toward a better Malaysia in the near future, and of course I hope that the country will remain peaceful as always, too.
Mary Anthony, 65, Gary’s maternal grandmother
For me, Merdeka is something special to look forward to because friends would come and gather in my house. They are of different races so it warms my heart to see that we can all communicate with one another, regardless of our different cultures.
Although celebrations in the past were not as grand compared to now, I feel people were much more united decades ago. We used to stay in the estate, where the young and old will play telematches during Merdeka. Now, we live in the town side where some of our neighbours don’t even acknowledge one another.
Noh Salleh, 27, vocalist for indie band Hujan
Merdeka to me means the freedom to soar. For musicians like myself, if it wasn’t for Merdeka, I don’t think we’ll have the freedom to create art in any way.
As someone born in the 80s, I think there are many important values that we missed out because we have been too comfortable with the achievements of the early generations like our grandparents’, who worked themselves half-dead so we can have the life we have today. That’s one of the things many do not appreciate about Merdeka every August 31.
Dayang Soraya, 58, Noh’s mother
Merdeka means many forms of freedom to me. Through Merdeka we have freedom of worship, freedom of education and freedom of gathering – to form organisations or bodies to help the community. We as Malaysians can freely choose our religions and choose the schools we want to. Back when I was studying, I attended a mission school (Methodist school) even though I am a Muslim.
I always look forward to the festive seasons as it brings everyone together, people from all races and backgrounds. We don’t only come together but we celebrate each other’s festive seasons together. For the younger generation, it’s a time for them to enjoy the celebration and feasts, but it should also be a time when they look back and appreciate what their past generations have done.
Jeremy Teo, 28, Red FM deejay
Being able to choose – that is the most important thing about Merdeka. It’s our nation’s independence! It is kind of like that kid that decides to move out to live on his own. He gets to decide how he wants to live his life, and he cannot blame anybody else for the choices he has made.
Maybe for those who experienced the journey to independence (or grew up around the time), it is a reminder of the hard work and effort of those who helped put us on the map.
But I find that for me and my peers, Merdeka is a time when we question where we are headed in the future. Are we going where we should be going? Is the country becoming something that would make our founding fathers proud?
Jeff Teo, 56, Jeremy’s father
Merdeka has meant different things at different phases of my life. The actual event had no impression on me as I was only one year old then. When I was a child in school, Merdeka was a day I would look forward to. We were in the school percussion band and our teacher would make us practice relentlessly so that we would be able to perform in front of the pupils from all schools in the district.
We loved the songs that were associated with Merdeka. These songs made us believe and feel we were one.
Merdeka is really about making and sharing a destiny, together, for better or for worse. This is what it should be, I think – a focal point for the gratitude we feel in our hearts for the opportunity to determine our own destiny, and the comfort of knowing that we have each other to help us along.
It should have the same meaning for all generations to come. I am sure it was what the founding fathers would wish for Merdeka to mean to us all.
Jin Hackman, 25, rapper
I think Merdeka serves as a constant reminder of the cost and importance of freedom. Sometimes we just gotta go back to where it all started in order to appreciate what we have now. I think the concept of Merdeka has always been more relevant to the older folks than it is to the younger generations. The former would have a stronger attachment to it as they’ve probably experienced first-hand the struggle for independence. On the contrary, the latter (not saying everyone, but probably a huge number) would just see Merdeka as a public holiday or an excuse to hang out and party till late.
Watching the fireworks go off from the balcony of my internship office was one of the most memorable Merdeka. This was in 2008 if my memory serves me right. Spent the whole night with my colleagues and bosses completing a big project due the next day. Sounds sad, but I learned a thing or two about teamwork that night.
Shirley PC Quek, 56, Jin’s mother
My wedding day fell on the same day as Merdeka – August 31, 1981, so we get to celebrate our anniversary during National Day! Double celebration! I’m also attending my nephew’s wedding this Merdeka! Another double celebration!
Merdeka reminds me of our beloved country achieving its independence and it means freedom towards a better future for everyone. The great generation in the past and “Babyboomers” will take Merdeka more seriously as they have witnessed Merdeka. While the Gen Y and Z weren’t born yet when Malaysia got their independence, they may tend to take it for granted. But it’s all good as long as they are happy and live a quality lifestyle.
Azizulhasni Awang, 24, national track cyclist
Merdeka literally means freedom from colonisation. But in the millennium era, in the current context of our country, Merdeka reflects our country’s solidarity in the advancement towards being a developed nation.
Kimberley Leggett, 19, Miss Universe Malaysia 2012
Merdeka, for me, is a reminder to be thankful for what we have today. In our modern society, there are times when we get so engrossed in our daily routine that we take for granted the amount of freedom which we enjoy. My mother was only five at the time of Merdeka and she recalls how it meant that Malaysians not only gained choices but also a sense of identity.
Although it is now 55 years that our country has grown into its own, Merdeka has meant that we have our own voice, our own culture, and a sense of peace, harmony and unity which we do not only celebrate on August 31, but every day. Young Malaysians may not be able to relate to with what it was like to experience and appreciate such liberty as the generations before us, but every time we sit and enjoy our favourite teh tarik, milo ais or even indulge in assam laksa or a bowl of chendol, we are living the Malaysian dream – a life filled with freedom and opportunities in our own melting pot of cultures. I am a proud Malaysian and I am thankful.