At the outset of World War II, Sabah or North Borneo as it was known then, was truly on its own. While Sarawak which had oil fields then, had a battalion of Indian Army, a heavy gun battery from Hong Kong, some Royal Engineers and 1,500 strong Sarawak Rangers consisted of Iban and Dayak tribesmen; Sabah, in contrast, was deemed a non priority outpost. Hence, no reinforcement was despatched.
Sabah only had the 650 strong North Borneo Armed Constabulary, which hardly could offer any resistance albeit being paramilitary. The Constabulary was backed or perhaps complemented by the North Borneo Volunteer Defence Force (NBVDF) which was essentially a part-time outfit, insufficently trained for combat and made up of men with day jobs. The only real fighting men were the Policemen in the Constabulary. One of the more famous and outrageously brave policeman was Lance Corporal Korom Bin Andaur (Policeman 142), a Murut whom I had blogged about. His exploits during the war were detailed by author Lynette Ramsay Silver in her book Blood Brothers : Sabah And Australia 1942 – 1945. Her choice of a title for her book is apt because by the time I came to the last page, I could see how the natives, the Chinese, the Indians/Sikhs, the Filipino expatriates, the Australian POWs, our colonial masters and even some Americans stood together. They looked out for each other and risked all by doing so. An eternal bond was forged among these people by the spilling of their blood and sacrifices made for the preservation of others, most of the time for people of not their own kind but in those days of trial, there was not any kind, no race, only brethren fighting oppression and evil!
You could see that the Westerners in North Borneo then, did not view the natives as unworthy savages whose lifes and wellbeing were secondary to theirs. In my humble opinion, 2 very good examples from the book where the Westerners endured and sacrificed themselves to preserve the natives or locals are the following :
The 6 unknown POWs
6 POWs escaped and were hiding in the jungles somewhere in Paginatan. 12 year old Domina Akui were instructed by her father, OKK Akui whom was the village Headman, to feed the emaciated POWs despite knowing the risk of death should they be discovered aiding the POWs and that they had little food for themselves. Her father even offered their home as refuge for the 6 POWs but they declined, fearing that if they were discovered in the village Headman's home, he and his whole family, even the whole village would be killed.
One day, Domina went to their hiding place as usual to feed the POWs but all she found was a tobacco tin. Inside the tin was six gold wedding rings that the POWs left to repay their kindness. They were presumed dead as days later, gunshots were heard in the distance.
The 5 who refused to escape
Consul General for China - Henry Cho (Cho Huan Lai)
Member of Underground Movement in Sandakan - Dr Val Stookes
Sarawak's Chief Secretary – Cyril Le Gross Clark
American Engineer – Harry Webber
Planter from Kuching – Roger MacDonald
These 5 were all imprisoned in Keningau. During one of many bombardments of the town by Allied forces, their Japanese captor released them from their cells to hide in the jungles. While waiting for the all clear for them to come back, they made contact with the locals. The locals urged them to escape, one even went as far as to build a shelter in an inaccessible part of the jungle stocked with food supplies that would last a month.
Despite the very good chance that they would be able to avoid recapture by the Japanese because the place was very remote, the 5 refused to flee. Their reason was, their escape would put anyone who would shelter them in danger! The five would pay for their selflessness with their lives.
Double Tenth Rebellion
Mrs Silver also mentioned Albert Kwok Fen Nam, the leader of the Kinabalu Guerilla, who was not only the chief of North Borneo guerillas but was made a Lieutenant in the United States Forces in the Philippines (USFIP).
|Lynette Ramsay Silver|
Among the locals who fought together with Albert Kwok were Jules Pavitt Stephen (a Eurasian, the father of Donald Stephen) and Imam Murajukim, a Muslim cleric. Not much is said about the Kinabalu Guerilla in our history book which to my opinion, downplaying the significance of the Kinabalu Guerilla's cause. Could it be because most of the participants in the Kinabalu Guerilla were Chinese? All that is mentioned from whatever sources I could get my hand on is that Albert Kwok led the revolt, it failed and he died.
However, thanks to Mrs Silver's research, I know more now about the offensive. Apparently, the revolt was not as impotent as what official history inferred it to be. Albert Kwok and his men along with their Sulu supporters, actually drove the Japanese out of Jesselton. And that wily Policeman 142, LC Korom and his policemen were in the thick of the action also.
|Source : The book Blood Brothers|
For at least 4 days, the flags of North Borneo Chartered Company, Great Britain, the United States and China fluttered on prominent buildings in Jesselton, replacing Japanese flags. They killed or beheaded every Japanese they caught. They purged the Japanese as far away as Kota Belud. Executing all the Japanese policemen.
|The flag North Borneo Charted Company|
Unfortunately, Albert and his men ended the campaign by surrendering themselves. Not because they couldn't fight or were impotent but because they understood that had they continued holding their position, it would cause more civilian casualties in Penampang and perhaps Albert Kwok had given up that reinforcement would come. Had he only waited 10 more days, had he only steeled himself and accept more collateral damage, they would had been joined by fresh fighting men, supplied with more American weapons and funds to continue the cause, sent by the USFIP.
Albert Kwok, Charles Peter, Chan Chau Kong, Kong Tze Phui, Lee Tek Phui along with more unnamed Sulus deemed to be the ringleaders, were all beheaded at Petagas.
The rest of the captured rebels including Jules Stephen, were executed with machine guns. The Japanese also took reprisals on the islanders that participated in the revolt. Whole villages, like Pulau Gaya, were decimated.
And what happend to Policeman 142, Korom? It would seem he had evaded capture again or escaped just like what happened when he was imprisoned in Sandakan. He simply climbed the wall and escape via the roof opening. Instead of running far far away, he stayed back. He was very near, in fact, he stole some food from the Kempetei's pantry. Then he sabotaged the Japanese by blowing up some supplies. Only then he left Sandakan only to join Albert Kwok's group. He was simply executing his superior's order, stay back at enemy's line.
What had he been up to since the Double Tenth rebellion? Well, you would have to read Mrs Silver's book to find out more. It would be a disservice to her if I reproduce all her work here. She did a lot of travelling, interviewing and sifting through loads of documents to produce that 396 pages of a wealth of a local history. Go and buy it or go to your nearest library, I promise you, there are loads of stuff you probably haven't even heard yet. If you think the Dusuns were docile farmers, you would be surprise how fierce they were. My eyes and hands were glued to the book for a whole day. I did nothing but read, read and read.
Was Colonization good or bad?
In my opinion, it was the best thing that could have happened to us. It is no surprise that some natives or locals refused independance from the British and opted to stay under British colonization. I can understand why now. Before the British came, the natives of Sabah were constantly being attacked by Sulu pirates who came to loot and capture the inhabitants (mostly on the coastal areas) to be sold as slaves. Slavery was a lucrative business.
As for the Brunei Sultanate, at best, they only have nominal control over North Borneo and their interest over North Borneo were to collect taxes. Not all of the native tribes recognized their authority. I've read somewhere of a Dusun Lotud oral tradition about how they killed a party sent by a Pengiran to exert their control over their land. They killed all the men and castrated them.
Headhunting was a nuisance. I think the most troublesome tribe that practiced headhunting was the fierce Muruts. Where the other tribes only take heads during war, the Muruts require their men to take heads as a rite of passage.
When the North Borneo Chartered Company (NBCC) got their royal charter, one of the conditions set was NBCC must not interfere with local customs including spreading of Christianity was a big “No No” to the Muslim community. However, NBCC would not accept slave traders and headhunters amongst the population. The first Resident of Elopura or Sandakan, William Pryer, was most efficient in tackling piracy, slave hunters and head hunters. Rather surprising for a former book keeper. Under his leadership, Sandakan grew and grew as people started moving in because of the security Pryer was able to provide. As a result of NBCC's activities and successes, education and medicine followed suit.