PETALING JAYA: “The people have pledged to strive for the aspirations of one people, one language, successful Malaysia. From Perlis to Sabah, we are now free. A prosperous nation, with affluent people, we have succeeded.”
That is a portion of the song “Malaysia Berjaya” which was played during celebrations when the formation of Malaysia was declared at Padang Bandaran, Jesselton – now known as Padang Merdeka, Kota Kinabalu – on Sept 16, 1963.
Three siblings – George Laim Jusit, Jane Jusit and Juliana Jusit – were among the thousands witnessing the historical event.
The pride of the Jusit family, who were aged between eight and 11 then, swelled huge at the occasion for a good reason – the one tasked to raise the Jalur Gemilang was their father, Sergeant Jusit Rantai.
George, Jane and Juliana also had their own roles to play on the day. They represented their respective schools in lining up for the parade at Padang Merdeka.
“Although we were all excited because our father was the chosen ‘hero’ to raise the Malaysian flag, we were nevertheless on the alert,” Juliana, now 65, told FMT.
“Our father had told us to take care of ourselves and be careful at the time, following rumours that there might be unrest.”
The historic occasion in Kota Kinabalu was held in the face of Confrontation (1963-1966), Indonesia’s aggressive opposition to the formation of Malaysia when Britain removed its military presence from the region and ceded its administrative hold over Sarawak, Singapore and North Borneo (which became Sabah under Malaysia).
Jakarta’s acts included armed intrusions, bomb attacks and other subversive actions intended to destabilise the union these three states forged with already independent Malaya.
“At the time, there were rumours that anyone who raised the flag was in danger of being attacked,” said Juliana.
“When I watched my father raise it, my heart raced, with pride but also with fear, out of anxiety that my dad could be attacked.”
Although the ceremony ran the course without any disturbances, one could only imagine how the three siblings felt as their father raised the flag.
“After the event was over, he came to us and we all hugged each other tightly because we were all safe,” she said.
Jusit Rantai, a police officer from the Murut community, was the first individual in Sabah to raise the Jalur Gemilang.
In the run-up to Sept 16, several in his community held negative views on the formation of the new federation, and Jusit was among the intermediaries who helped make them come around to accepting the new nation.
Behind his tenacity and strength was his backbone, Norah Siambing, a former midwife at Hospital Keningau and guardian of the family’s finances. Together, they were gifted 17 children, including George, Jane and Juliana.
Juliana said her father was very committed to the trust of raising the Jalur Gemilang in his area. According to the retired teacher, there was a certain art to raising the flag although it looks easy.
“Dad trained for nearly a month because to him, the task was the weightiest of all in his career as a policeman.”
Norah passed away on Feb 21, 2006 while Jusit followed on Jan 11, 2010.
Jane, 67, said the pride she felt on that day has never faded, adding that it had in fact been remembered every year as the flag was raised in Kampung Susulat, a practice since 1978, after Jusit retired in 1976.
“The events on Sept 16 hold a huge significance for us all,” she told FMT.
“Every year on Malaysia Day, our large family, comprising four generations of 17 siblings, 59 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren, will play sports, feast and clean our parents’ graves.”
The Jusit family hopes to enshrine their father’s life story in a book, to tell the story of a historical Murut figure.
FMT was informed that Jusit was Agnes Newton Keith’s adopted son. Agnes, author from the US, is known for the autobiography of her life in Sabah before, during and after the Second World War.
Agnes and her husband, Harry, had been in Sandakan when Japanese forces landed on Sabah’s shores on Jan 19, 1942. They were held prisoners by the Japanese army until they were liberated by Australian solders on Sept 11, 1945.
The title of Agnes’ first book, “Land Below the Wind”, has become the informal catchprase for Sabah.
“Dad was given to the Keith family when he was eight or nine years old at an event celebrating the coronation of King George (VI) at the Keith residence in Sandakan,” said Jane.
“In fact, Agnes also included a sketch of Jusit as a boy in her book.”