“Who do you think you are, asking for independence?” — Hisham Said
The story of Malaya’s independence from British rule is often credited to efforts by its first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman.
But here’s the story that hasn’t been told: the people’s movement that happened ten years before “Merdeka” — Malay for independence.
This has never appeared in history books — a public workers strike across Malaya and Singapore on 20th October, 1947, which cost the British 4 million pounds.
Markets closed. Port workers didn’t show up for work. There was no activity on roads. The cinemas were empty. Miners, estate workers, fishermen, they all took a day off.
It was epic.
Watch this snippet from ’10 Tahun Sebelum Merdeka’ by Fahmi Reza:
This was organised by a multiracial coalition consisting of trade unions, women’s groups, and youth organisations. This “hartal” (non-violent protest) was organised to show dissatisfaction when the British refused to acknowledge an alternative constitution.
It was called the “People’s Constitution,” which proposed equal citizenship rights, a nationality called “Melayu,” political and voting rights, among others.
In his debut filmmaking effort, Fahmi recorded the accounts from five members from left-wing groups (their profiles here), pieced together archival photos, footage, literature, 1970s British punk music and revolutionary Filipino music.
It was an exciting time to be in, where people’s power reigned. Not for long though, as after the success of the worker’s massive strike, an emergency declaration, and the arrest of the movement’s members.
But their story is now told and deserves to be remembered, understood, and shared.
Watch the full-length 35-min documentary:
Backgrounder: The Federation of Malaya was granted independence by the British on 31 August 1957, comprising states in today’s Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. Singapore became independent in 1965. Malaysia as we know it today was formed on 16 September 1963, and includes states in the Federation of Malaya and two states in Borneo, Sabah and Sarawak.