By: Reshmashree Vengidasalam
Why 11? Let us be honest here. How many of us, living in any one of the 11 states in Peninsular Malaysia, actually acknowledge that Sabah and Sarawak are a part of Malaysia? That is what the Geography books tell us but in all frankness, do we even care to know anything about those states? We exploit their resources, we are proud to say that Mount Kinabalu is protected as Kinabalu Park, a World Heritage Site, we are arrogant in claiming that Rafflesia is the largest flower in the world and we take pride that Sungai Rajang is the longest river in Malaysia and yet, why do we not treat our friends from the east as equals. Sabah and Sarawak are rich in culture and endowed with natural beauty but many deem them to be undeveloped terrains. All that we see and learn are through media and bad publicity.
Guilty as charged, I was in the same mindset before setting off to Sarawak, to complete my degree. A few days before I left, all I heard was “Will you have a proper house to live in?”, “Do they have Wi-Fi there?”, “What are you going to do about food?” and the questions were relentless. Many made me feel apprehensive and quite a few were not aware that we needed to have an International passport or Dokumen Perjalanan Terhad (DPT) to go to Borneo. Yes, that is how ignorant we actually are. Now, let me get this straight. To begin with they do not live on trees, they have Wi-Fi, they eat proper food just like us in Peninsular and above all – they are Malaysians. Period.
Over the years, the rift between the people in Peninsular and the east is widening and it is painfully alarming to see one blaming the other. We should stop stereotyping them based on their geographic location. If they had complained as much as we have been doing in Peninsular Malaysia, they would have had better development, modern facilities and improved lifestyles. We are taking so much from them and giving them so little in return and yet have the audacity to mock, belittle and ostracise them. Who gave us these rights? Aren’t they Malaysians as well? They are entitled to enjoy the luxuries that we in the Peninsular sometimes take for granted. We preach about human rights if anything happens to citizens in our neighbouring countries but we are doing the same thing in a subtle and thoughtless way. Everything is triple the price once it reaches the east; from a loaf of bread to air tickets. It is so difficult to get essential cooking items and spices there. You rant and rave that a banana leaf meal is priced at RM 10 here? It costs at least RM 15 there. Why these double standards? Why are they paying so much more when resources are readily available? They have what we have and more.
We only know Borneo as being the third largest island in the world and the largest in Asia. It is home to one of the oldest rainforests and although many parts are yet to be developed, some things about Borneo are so heart-warming, that once you experience them, you will always want for more. There are amazing beaches, mesmerising islands, breath-taking, bio-diverse rainforests and the extent of inner peace you will find being that close to nature, is beyond description. Even though, they are a part of Malaysia, they are so rich in cultural diversity, that you will feel you are in a foreign land. The people there are the friendliest you will ever meet and are always proud of their state – if it is love towards land that you seek, then take a leaf from their book and learn from them.
Sabah and Sarawak are bestowed with the richest gifts of nature. As brethren divided only by the South China Sea, we should appreciate each other and embrace our flaws. Together we should stand as a nation and should not be pointing fingers and belittling each other. Instead let us look out for each other like we look out for anyone facing any form of injustice. Go to Borneo and experience the ambience yourself before stereotyping their culture and underrating their values. Do bear in mind that every time you judge them derogatorily, you are forgetting that the citizens of the world know and see us all as Malaysians.