Did you know the origins of our national anthem ‘Negaraku’?

“Negaraku. Tanah tumpahnya darahku …” , we sang in a monotonous tone standing in rows under the hot sun during school assembly, “Rakyat hidup. Bersatu dan maju…”, I squint at the national flag being raised slowly with a background of blinding sunlight, “Rahmat bahagia. Tuhan kurniakan …” , most of the senior students stood there nonchalantly waiting for the song to end, “Raja kita. Selamat bertakhtaaaaaa …”

And I stood there wondering: Where did this anthem come from? When was it composed?

In 1956, not too long before the momentous day, an international competition was held to choose a national anthem, and a committee chaired by Tunku Abdul Rahman was formed, they received more than 500 entries for the competition, including from English composers such as William Walton and Benjamin Britten, yet all entries were rejected. In the end, the Perak state anthem, “Allah Lanjutkan Usia Sultan” was chosen — some say because it was the oldest state anthem, or perhaps it was because of the “traditional flavour” of its melody.

Is the melody Indonesian or French?

If you have heard the Indonesian song ‘Terang Bulan’, you would have immediately recognised its tune, this melody has been popularised around the Nusantara region from the 1920s and 1930s, long before ‘Negaraku’ was written, thus many Indonesians attempt to claim cultural heritage over this tune, saying that Malaysia ‘stole’ their song.

However, historians such as Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim argues that the song ‘Terang Bulan’ was in fact adapted from La Rosalie, composed by Frenchman Pierre Jean de Beranger who lived in Seychelles (French colony in East Africa) in the 19th Century. Thus dispelling the notion that our national anthem had an Indonesian connection, but in fact, having French origins. Furthermore, the tune of La Rosalie has been adopted and sung in various languages in many countries, among them Terang Bulan, the Indonesian version, and ‘Mamula Moon’, the Hawaiian version.

Some rumours claimed that the Perak anthem “Allah Lanjutkan Usia Sultan” adopted by the former Perak sultan, Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah II, came from the period when he was sent into exile to Seychelles by the British in 1877 following the assassination of the first British Resident in Perak, JWW Birch. The popular French melody had been played at a public concert on the island.

Who wrote the lyrics?

The lyricist for ‘Negaraku’ is Saiful Bahri Elyas, a prominent Malaysian – Indonesian composer and musician extraordinaire that had also composed the Selangor and Melaka State Anthems. Up till 2018, his heirs are still attempting to claim royalty over these anthems.

On a separate note, ‘Negaraku’ was revamped in 1992 (without changing the lyrics) by RTM with a faster march tempo, and fine-tuned in 2003 by Datuk Wah Idris giving it a “power-packed ending”, which is the version we commonly hear today.

Would you be penalised if you did not stand while the National Anthem is playing?

Yes, you can be penalised. Section 8 of the National Anthem Act 1968 (Revised 1989) states that:

8. (1) Whenever the National Anthem is played or sung or whenever the abridged or short version is played all persons present shall stand to attention as a mark of respect except where the National Anthem is played or sung in the course of a broadcast or news- reels as part of such broadcast or news-reels.

(2) Any person who knowingly shows disrespect towards the National Anthem in any public place shall be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month.

(3) For the purpose of this section failure to comply with subsection (1) without good and sufficient cause and any act or omission which would tend to lower the prestige of the National Anthem in the eyes of the public shall constitute a show of disrespect. Arrest without warrant

This is no laughing matter, just last year 7 Sarawakian activists were charged for not standing up when the National Anthem was played. Subsequently, many cast doubts on the imposition of ‘forced patriotism’, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Why do we need National Songs and Symbols?

National symbolisms are the most direct way to invoke patriotism among citizens, creating a shared identity, and is an important ingredient to nation-building. It also encourages societal cohesiveness, and provides functional stability in any community.

In my personal experience, hearing the “Negaraku’ played at sporting events, such as the SEA Games or Paralympics never fails to conjure an overwhelming sense of pride and joy for our country — Only GOLD medalists would have the honour of their national anthem being broadcasted when standing on the podium. It was only yesterday that ‘Negaraku’ was played at the Tokyo Paralympics thanks to our national powerlifting champion Bonnie Bunyau Gustin.

Furthermore, many patriotic songs have been composed over the years since Independence, and we have some songs this year too! Including Malaysia Di Hatiku by Kmy Kmo, Luca Sickta, Yonnyboii and Tabby of Dolla fame, produced by Universal Music Malaysia. And what better way to show your patriotism by supporting local! #sapotlokal

Last but not least, I want to conclude with this: Dimana bumi dipijak, disitu langit dijunjung … Malaysia, tanah tumpah darahku


[1] https://www.thesundaily.my/archive/1828413-GSARCH372379

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34417765

[3] https://www.nst.com.my/education/2019/01/455783/anthem-negaraku-national-symbol-and-icon

[4] https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2005/10/09/man-behind-the-upbeat-national-anthem/

[5] https://www.astroawani.com/berita-malaysia/waris-tuntut-royalti-lagu-negaraku-185787

[6] https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2005/10/09/man-behind-the-upbeat-national-anthem/

[7] https://www.nst.com.my/news/2015/09/negaraku-origin-our-national-anthem

[8] https://asklegal.my/p/there-are-actual-laws-telling-us-how-to-respect-the-jalur-gemilang-and-negaraku

[9] http://www.commonlii.org/my/legis/consol_act/naa19681989229/

[10] https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/12/02/7-who-did-not-stand-for-the-national-anthem-freed/

[11] https://www.astroawani.com/berita-sukan/negaraku-finally-heard-tokyo-thanks-bonnies-gold-316595

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negaraku

Joyce Tan is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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Joyce Tan
Author: Joyce Tan

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