Merdeka is a word in the Indonesian and Malay language meaning Independence or freedom. It is derived from the Sanskrit Maharddhika meaning "rich, prosperous and powerful". In the Malay archipelago, this term had acquired the meaning of a freed slave. The term Mardijker is a Dutch corruption of the Portuguese version of the original Sanskrit words and was used to designate former Portuguese and Dutch slaves from India in the East Indies, known as Mardijkers, whence the Malay meaning of "free(dom)" is derived. Mardijker are the former catholic slaves bought from India and the East Indies that were liberated by the Dutch if they abandoned Catholicism and embraced the reformed Dutch church. The term was significant during the anticolonialist and pro-independence movements of the colonies of Indonesia, Malaya, and Singapore, in the history of Indonesia, history of Malaysia, and in the history of Singapore. It became a battle-cry for those demanding independence from the colonial administrations of the Netherlands and United Kingdom. The Philippine term maharlika, referring to the Tagalog warrior class, has the same Sanskrit origins as the Malay Merdeka. In the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, the Moro people belonging to major ethno-linguistic groups of Meranaw, Maguindanaw and Iranun, use maradeka in the same meaning as freedom or liberation and freedom group there is called Maradeka.
Today in Malaysia, in which Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore merged in 1963, the term still remains pertinent in the present. It can be seen in the Malaysian national holiday of Hari Merdeka, commemorating Malaya's independence on 31 August 1957, and Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) where the first ceremony raising the flag of Malaya was held following independence. Sabah and Sarawak in North Borneo were to officially join Malaysia on 31 August 1963 but due to opposition from Indonesia and the Philippines and to allow the United Nations team time to conduct referendums in Sabah and Sarawak regarding their participation in a new federation, the date was postponed to 16 September, now celebrated as Malaysia Day.
Tunku Abdul Rahman, the inaugural Malaysian Prime Minister, declared Malayan independence with seven shouts of "Merdeka"; the cry continues to be featured prominently in Malaysian Hari Merdeka celebrations.