America has the Homeland, Germans the Fatherland, Russia the Motherland. Only the Malays have a Waterland.  

The Sarawak state anthem goes like this:

Sarawak, my waterland
My state, my waterland of Sarawak
You are my ancestral land
The land of my spilled blood
My motherland

Sarawak Tanah Airku,
Negeriku Tanah Airku Sarawak
Engkaulah tanah pusakaku
Tanah tumpah darahku
Ibu pertiwiku[1]


Where live the People dear and happy
In perpetual peace and harmony
United, striving, in service
to my beloved Sarawak

Rakyat hidup mesra dan bahagia
Damai muhibah sentiasa
Bersatu, Berusaha, Berbakti
Untuk Sarawak kucintai



Sarawak within Malaysia
In peace and prosperity by the Mercy of the One Almighty God
Sarawak shall remain forever fortunate
Based upon the struggle of the People
Victorious and sovereign

Sarawak dalam Malaysia
Aman makmur Rahmat Tuhan Maha Esa
Kekallah Sarawak bertuah
Teras perjuangan rakyat
Berjaya berdaulat



Tanahair is a word evoking patriotic feeling, from tanah, land or soil, and air, water. It all makes sense when you stare at a map of this wondrous archipelago.  There must be as much coastline here as on the entire Asian landmass. Here in Borneo where there is an extensive interior, the Malays were associated with the littoral zone by other ethnic groups – one word for the Malay people in the Iban language is Orang Laut, sea people.  The sultanates of the past were mostly centered around river mouths or junctions of navigable rivers, the upper reaches of the interior were only under their nominal authority, and most trade between river kingdoms was conducted by sea.  Kingdoms often had closer contact with lands across the sea than those they shared islands with.  And then there’s the weather!  As I type this, monsoon rains are pouring down, water rolls off lawns and fields in great sheets, the drains, canals and rivers swell, and Kuching seems like a waterland indeed.



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1. The first few times I heard the song, I thought this lyric was “Sarawak Ibu Tiriku”, Sarawak My Step-mother. But then, for me, maybe she is.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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