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“Merahmu bara semangat waja,
Putihmu bersih budi pekerti,
Kuning berdaulat, payung negara,
Biru perpaduan kami semua…”

Can you imagine singing the Jalur Gemilang song any other way?

Hard to do, but us Malaysians could’ve totally been singing a different version if our nation had chosen another flag after independence!

In case you didn’t know, as the nation approached independence, a national competition was launched by the Federation Legislation Council in 1949 to choose a flag for the newly formed Federation of Malaya.

The rules were:

  1. Keep the design simple.
  2. Stick to the colours yellow, red, white and blue.
  3. It should represent the unity of the 9 States and 2 Settlements.
  4. Kris, cross krises, a tiger or a crescent can be included.

Altogether, a grand total of 373 flag designs were received!

A flag sketch drawn by an unknown sender dated 19 April 1946.
(Credit: Arkib Negara Malaysia via Malaysia Design Archive)

From there, 3 finalists were chosen.

Flag Option 1

This design features a double crossed kris charge in the centre, surrounded by 11 five-pointed stars which represent the 11 states/settlements of Malaya.

The colours red, white and blue were found on the state/settlement flags besides being the colours of the Union Jack. The kris was chosen as a representation of the Malayan identity.

Flag Option 2

It looks like the Federation Legislation Council must’ve really liked the first design because the second design is remarkably similar.

The only difference here is that the 11 stars are arranged in two concentric circles surrounding the double crossed kris.

This arrangement was to distinguish the Unfederated Malay States, Federated States and two Settlements.

Flag Option 3

Hmmmm… this design may look a little more familiar with the stripes together with the yellow star and crescent.

The 11 blue and white stripes represented each state/settlement while the yellow star and crescent represented the sultanate as well as Islam. Red symbolised British protection.

How was the winning design selected?

Well, the public had a say on the matter!

The Malay Mail newspaper organised a public opinion poll with the three final designs, welcoming everyone to vote for their favourite.

3 selected out of of 373 designs submitted by post, 15 November 1949, The Malay Mail.
(Credit: Arkib Negara Malaysia via Malaysia Design Archive)

Can you guess which design won?

Yep, the it’s the third design!

The handiwork of a 29-year old architect from Johor Bahru, Mohamed Hamzah, was declared the winning design on 28th November 1949.

Mohamed Bin Hamzah
(Credit: Arkib Negara Malaysia via Malaysia Design Archive)

(He also submitted another green flag with blue kerisand 15 white stars, but that design waved the white flag instead.)

However, a few key changes were made to Mohamed Hamzah’s design…

  1. The stripes were changed to red and white.
  2. The 5-point star was switched to an 11-point star.

After the adjustments were made, the final chosen flag design was announced in 1950 following approval from the Royal Council.

The Straits Times, 6 March 1950.
(Credit: National Library Board, Singapore)

“That in the opinion of this Council, the Flag of the Federation of Malaya should be as follows:


Eleven horizontal stripes alternately red and white in colour, the uppermost stripe being red, having a blue quarter with a crescent and eleven-pointed star in yellow superimposed, the standard size of the flag to be six feet by three feet.”

Royal Council, 19th April 1950 via Malaysia Design Archive.
Credit: Arkib Negara Malaysia via Malaysia Design Archive

The design was then approved by King George VI in May 1950 and raised for the first time at the Sultan of Selangor’s palace on 26thMay 1950.

The Federation of Malaya flag was raised by Sir Henry Gurney, British High Commissioner in Malaya at 9:38am.

Credit: Arkib Negara Malaysia via Malaysia Design Archive

Of course, when Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaya to form Malaysia, the flag was further amended to include 14 stripes and 14-points on the star.

Where did the Jalur Gemilang name come from?

The Malaysian flag was actually nameless for 40 years.

Dato’ Hashim bin Mat Deris proposed that our flag should also bear an official, cool name like US’s Star Spangled Banner or UK’s Union Jack.

Then-Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad agreed and a competition held in 1995, but limited to selected participants.

Finally, the name Jalur Gemilang (Stripes of Glory) was bestowed upon Malaysia’s flag!

The official naming ceremony took place on 31stAugust 1997 at Merdeka Square, KL.

Credit: Arkib Negara Malaysia via Malaysia Design Archive

The history of Malaysia’s flag is pretty cool ah!

Now when you wave the flag proudly during national day celebrations, you’ll know how much work and love went behind it!

If you wanna learn more about our nation, check out our article on the 5 factsabout Merdeka you probably didn’t know here!

(The History and Design Chronology of JALUR GEMILANG)

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