Never take Sarawak Day for granted, Sarawakians reminded

Peter (centre) holds a banner together with the gathering’s organising chairman Bill Jugah (left) at Sarawak Museum in Kuching.

KUCHING: Sarawakians should not take the Sarawak Day celebration for granted as the fight for full recognition under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) is still in its beginning.

Sarawak for Sarawakians (S4S) spokesperson and activist Peter John Jaban said over the last three years, the state has seen enormous positive steps – from the establishment of a homegrown taskforce to address the issues involving stateless individuals, to the announcement of a team heading for London to examine the state’s legal position under MA63.

“We still face problems with finance from the federal government – from oil revenues, tourism tax to stamp duty; we still face attacks against our religious freedom; our cultural uniqueness is still being ignored, in view of a recent announcement stating that police personnel would be banned from having tattoos,” said Peter, who was one of the speakers at a peaceful gathering at Sarawak Museum ground here yesterday.

The rally, run by S4S together with Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia), gathered around 100 participants who were required to wear ‘red’ – both to signify solidarity and also the situation of which Sarawakians ‘are still seeing red over’.

“Sarawakians must stand together to show that we support the state government’s direction, that we still see the problems in our state and that we no longer accept the status quo,” Peter said.

According to him, Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg has taken on the mantle of ‘Tok Nan’ – the state’s fifth chief minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem, who passed away on Jan 11 this year.

He said both leaders had created an atmosphere in which Sarawakians could openly consider their position in Malaysia and demand for their fair share.

“The Sarawak pride soars high with the flying of our flag, the promotion of our own languages and even the wearing of traditional tattoos.

“We have been given an example of what is possible when the state is given charge of its own issues,” he pointed out.

Peter said among the issues being addressed was those involving stateless individuals – the taskforce upon which was spearheaded by Welfare, Community Well Being, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah.

This taskforce, added Peter, is actively seeking to redress the long-term stateless individuals in Sarawak, especially the children.

“We have also seen other representatives such as our Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Karim Hamzah, who stands up for our rights and bravely faces up to the abuse from a federal minister on our behalf. Indeed, we should give thanks for this.

“However, the progress so far is largely in ideals – the concrete gains are yet to come.”

Peter said just recently, an edict issued by the Inspector-General of Police stated that policemen would be banned from having tattoos, despite the practice being age-old tradition of many tribes in Sarawak.

Sarawak, he stressed, is one of the oldest tattooing cultures in the world –one that is revered as a mark of a great warrior, communicating status and conferring protection on the wearers.

“Now, thankfully, the cultural importance of tattoos is being rediscovered and they are becoming one of our most important tourism exports. Yet, the police force is creating a rule that will prevent a new generation of young Sarawak ‘warriors’ from entering the service.

“This is like asking a Sikh to remove his turban – a lack of cultural understanding at best and cultural discrimination at worst,” he added.