Merdeka Throwback – Malaysia in the 1950s-70s

It’s Merdeka month, and the nation takes it VERY seriously. From discounts on food and the country being decorated with our Jalur Gemilang, we take pride of what we’ve become as a big mess combo of brown, yellow and spectrum brown peoples. With the Petronas Twin Towers, UNESCO heritage sites, Mount Kinabalu and also AMAZING food that is legit ours and not our neighbour’s. Singapore, you came from our country (Remember your roots, pls.)

Both my parents are from Kuala Lumpur, and they were alive before 1957, which means they saw the full development of KL and Malaya, and knew Singapore while it was still part of Malaysia.

Dad was raised in Brickfields, while mom was from Kajang. Every time my parents and I talked, or when we came back to KL during my schooling years, they’d tell me about how life was in the 1950s-1970s plus. What structure was first built, and how KL was before the accelerated urbanization.

So of course I called my dad.

Post 1957 

Schools started teaching basic Bahasa Melayu, changing the national language of Malaya to malay. Dad laughingly told me over the phone that the teachers would say “ Cintailah bahasa kita, bahasa kebangsaan” love our language, the national language, a lot. Everywhere around KL, the Jalur Gemilang would be flying high.

The Royal Selangor Club, which was a British only club, was finally opened for the actual citizens of the country, and until today, Malaysians continue to use that prestigious rustic venue for important occasions.


Now the sixties were a trying time for Malaya/Malaysia. With Singapore leaving the country in 1965 and Sino-Malay Sectarian Violence/May 13 that happened in KL in 1969. This one, I got the stories from both mom and dad.

Mom was 15 at that time, and she and the rest of the family were waiting for my Grandpa to come home after work. My granddad was the chief inspector of Kajang back in the day. Hours passed and grandpa did not come back, but around midnight, a police constable came home and passed the family the message that he was alright, and to lock all the doors and windows, and dim all the lights. Mom’s brother was out in kajang town at that time, and everyone started to shut their shops and stuff, because “ di Kuala Lumpur ada gaduh teruk, cepat balik rumah” (there’s bad fights in kl, faster go home). This led the government to declare emergency, and the resignation of our first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Kajang wasn’t affected much, but in the heart of kl where dad was, it was chaotic. Dad was minding his business after work near one of the affected areas, ( if I am not mistaken was Campbell road), when he saw hoards of malays coming up the road in a hostile manner and that people were starting to back away. Dad too quickly got himself out of the situation. But he told me later on, that May 13 was foreseeable. That it was brimming underneath so called calm waters. News reports stated of how the Indian and Chinese shopkeepers formed an improvised defence force to stop the riots happening in the streets.

 Both my parents agreed that it was one of the darkest times of early Malaysia, and they were thankful for the progress that has happened in the days passed. Mom even said, “ Jemma, after one week, everything was forgotten and life was back to normal”


The 70s were more chill, with the country’s population putting their differences aside and doing life together as one. Back then, private sectors were not so in trend, and everyone who was everyone, worked for the government. The Indians mostly worked in the water plants and transportation, chinese in the business sector, and malays in administration. Dad worked in the National Electricity Board, now known as Tenaga Nasional Berhad as a technician. He used to say, that everyone would come together and spend time at the Kilat Club, laughing and catching up with each other. Race was not seen as a problem. One of his fondest memories was working in Terengganu, having the bomb kampong malay food and working with the team there. Leisure wasn’t cinemas or shopping malls, but actually going out at the same time after work, and talking over a teh tarik.

“Ma, we cannot leave the country, because this is our home.” – Raj Parents.

Its 2017, 60 years of independence Malaysia.

Thank you for being the OG to Singaporean food.

Thank you for having strawberries in the highlands and coconuts by the beach.

Thank you for durians and mangosteen.

Thank you for Myburgerlab for taking back our pride and joy, Nasi Lemak, back from the neighbours.

Thank you that today, majority of our people speak 3-4 diverse languages.

Thank you for your history that today we are not just three races, but a mix of everything.

Thank you that though times were rough, every citizen is proud to call themselves, Malaysian.


Article by Jemima Darma Raj

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