Let’s Talk About Separation: 9th August 1965 by Jedidiah Maigue

In history, separation has, more often than not, been depicted as a moment worthy of rejoicing. It’s the age old story of the colony finally breaking away from the metropole, the natives getting their sovereignty, or the slaves being freed from their masters. This view is even more common in the Philippines since the nation was born under and even because of foreign rule. There is joy because there is a separation of two things that were either distinctly different from one another or one curtailing the freedoms of another. However, what if a separation happens between two parties that were supposed to be together; to people who have been the family of one another. Such is what happened to Singapore when the were expelled from Malaysia. This separation came about because of the many tensions between Singapore and Malaysia. Such tensions were racial, political, religious, and economic tensions. They were voted out by the Parliament of Malaysia on 9th August, 1965 and became the independent Republic of Singapore. This decision was made without the presence of the representatives of Singapore in the Parliament whom were at that time were fighting to maintain their place in Malaysia. The pain of separation is what Robert Yeo, exemplifies in his poem titled 9th August 1965.

The poem reads:
Our careful scanning

Of the cloudy sky

Presaged, at worst, some rain.
So when it burst

We three were soaked —

Out of doors



For this hasty hurricane.
The soil on which I started

My just getting-to-know-you soil

Pudu Road, Kuala Lumpur,

Became suddenly my neighbor‘s.
Who moved the fence

Decreed the new boundary

Complete with barbed wire?

I have two aunts down here

Uncles and cousins in Johore
How can I now drive up the East Coast?

I’ve never been soaked like this.

The chill implodes

There’s a clutching next to my heart.

My nose is dry as my throat.
Suddenly we solemnize

Separate official shores.

But to the sea

Mangrove or coconut

Changi or Mersing

Is not Land land?
We are not politicians

Deciding. We are the

Public accepting:

The proclamation

Of a subverted syllogism

That will gnaw in private.
The poem opens up with the sight of sky that is cloudy with a chance of rain — a rain they took lightly and carelessly that when it burst , they were caught unaware. The small squall that was at the back of their heads turned into a forceful hurricane. This echoes the feelings of the author and perhaps even the majority of the people in Singapore as although they knew that something was going to happen because of the tensions, they did not expect it to be this — a separation. This jolts them out of their playful states and plunges them into the cold outdoors.

The next image given to us which was in the third and fourth stanzas were that of the resetting of boundaries which results in a feeling of displacement. His just getting-to-know-you soil with suddenness became his neighbors. What was once something that the people had became another’s and it is not a resentment of giving to the neighbor but rather being barred from those neighbors. They were only not just neighbors but also family members. People who were part of the same family were separated from one another.

After this we get a description of what the author, which can be taken as the people of Singapore is feeling. These were in the lines The chill implodes/ there is a clutching next to my heart. The cold seeping into man makes a statement that the separation will not only affect the outer everyday life of the people but also hurt them in their inner lives. This loss is not only economic or political but is a loss for the family and the people of the nation.

Yeo then goes on to talk about the process of the separation and quite frankly, he finds it irrational. He asks Is not land land? Allow me to digress, here he not only raises a question that would apply to the separation of Malaysia and Singapore but one that can transcend the two countries. Would it be too far fetched to think of peoples undivided by the political boundaries?

We return to the last stanza which ends with a haunting image and it the image of the public gnawing in private. It shows the image of a people defeated by the political structures that rule over them. An image of the individual who is suffering in isolation because that is the only thing to be done — to accept even if it hurts a lot.

This is an independence day that is not celebratory but is dejected; a combination that is rarely seen. Instead of having streamers and confetti falling into the streets we are given images of strong rains and cold hearts. It’s a separation which is greatly unwanted by Singapore.

These divisions are common to Asia even though for most parts of Asia, the people are connected through land. This is because of the great diversity in Asia politically, culturally, and racially having each group distinct from their neighbors. However, like Singapore, I believe that there is a yearning for unity within every Asian’s heart.
Works cited

Thumboo, Edwin. & Words: Poems Singapore and Beyond. Singapore: Ethos Books, 2010. Print.


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