ON Sept 12, 1962, the North Borneo Legislative Council finally agreed to accede to the Malaysia Agreement after presenting a 20-point agreement drawn up by political leaders under Donald Stephens (later Tun Muhammad Fuad Stephens), the first chief minister of Sabah.
However, considerable apprehension and reservations remained among the native chiefs. They decided that some of the guarantees given by the Malayan government should be carved in stone while pledging their loyalty to the new nation.
With the formation of Malaysia, North Borneo was renamed Sabah in 1963. Later in 1967, Jesselton was renamed Kota Kinabalu.
It was usual for disputes in the interior among the native population to be settled by construction of oath stones. It was their adat (local custom or tradition).
The district officer in Keningau was charged to oversee the erection of the oath stone. A huge river stone, weighing more than two tonnes, was found near a small village in Keningau.
A Singapore shipyard company was commissioned to make a metal plaque to be affixed to the stone. The inscribed words were in the old Malay spelling. Translated, it reads:
“Oath Stone Memorial according to the Constitution
Government of Malaysia guarantees
1. Freedom of Religion in Sabah
2. The Government of Sabah Holds Authority over Land in Sabah
3. Native Customs and Traditions Will Be Respected and Upheld by the Government
In Return, the People of Sabah’s Interior Pledge Loyalty to the Government of Malaysia.”
The three main points in the 20-point agreement attached to the 1963 Malaysia Agreement were engraved on the plaque, including the words “The Government of Malaysia Guarantees” above the three points.
The Keningau Oath Stone was unveiled by Stephens on Aug 31, 1964 in the compound of the old Keningau district office but it was later relocated to its present site.
For 46 years, it stood forlornly until the official national level celebration to commemorate Malaysia Day was held in Sabah in 2010. The historical stone finally received its due recognition.
That year, Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Tan Sri Joseph Kurup suggested that the oath stone be relocated to a more suitable place in view of its historical value.
From 2012 onwards, the Keningau Oath Stone became politicised. In September 2014, the police prevented several hundred people from approaching the Oath Stone to carry out ceremonies or conduct prayers.
Surprisingly, the original 20kg plaque on the stone was replaced in 1978 by another metal plaque but in the new one the words “Government of Malaysia Guarantees” were missing. The original plaque resurfaced in 2015. It was recovered by a villager in Kampong Apin Apin and surrendered to police and investigating officers from the Special Branch by Bingkor assemblyman Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.
In February last year, Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said the stone would be gazetted as a heritage object under Section 49 of the National Heritage Act 2005, after being briefed about its significance at the Keningau district office.
The minister is making a return visit to Keningau and he is expected to make an important announcement today. It remains to be seen whether the Keningau Oath Stone will be accorded the honour it deserves.