October 18, 2011

Datuk Peter J. Mojuntin

I blog the following on North Borneo History Enthusiasts blog. Thought I share it here with you guys. 

Who was Datuk Peter J. Mojuntin? Why does this man has a statue of himself right in the middle of Donggongon Township, Penampang. If you guessed that he was a Sabahan politician, well, you're right but beyond that, what else? 

Source : Mr Frank Faurillo, NBHE member

Invariably, people have described him as caring, was fiercely loyal to his friends and comrades, was not afraid to fight for what he believed in and he loved his people, the Kadazans. It's a shame if our future generation of Sabahans and the rest of the Malaysians even, if his deeds and achievements disappear from the annals of Sabah's and to some degree Malaysia's, history. The following are compiled from written accounts of him and also from the recollection of people who had the pleasure of knowing him personally, one way or another.

While every endeavor has been made to be factual and neutral in our presentation, we must qualify that we are, in no way. attesting that what we present here is the absolute truth. In some instance, we relied on news clipping, information in public spaces and testimonies of people who had the pleasure to know him, cross path with him. directly or indirectly, even if it was just briefly, to come up with a "composite" of this man.   

Early Life

Born Joinob Mojuntin on 10 October 1939 in Kampung Hungab, Penampang, to a poor family. His father was Mojuntin Matanul, a farmer who tilt his own land and mother, Minjaim Lim, a Sino-Kadazan. Some would argue that our reference of his mother's race is incorrect because the term Kadazan, had not been widely used then yet. Granted, but this post is not about how the term Kadazan or Dusun came about, so to make it simple and not confusing, we will just refer to any subject's race in this post as what they are known now.

Joinob was the third child among the Mojuntin brood. By the age of 8, Joinob already understood the value of education. He was wise beyond his age and this characteristic would serve him well in the future. His father was not receptive of the idea of sending Joinob to school when he needed extra hands at the Padi field. Unperturbed, little Joinob seeked his mother's intervention. His mother relentlessly pursued the matter with his father until he finally gave in.

So little Joinob enrolled to the only school in that area then, Saint Michael, Penampang. The school was about 2 miles from his home. So Joinob would walk to school daily, barefoot because his parents couldn't afford to buy him a pair of slippers, let alone a pair of shoes. He was this shabbily dressed pupil, son of a poor farmer, among mostly better clothed and shoed pupils but if he was conscious of his condition or felt less confidence because of it, he did not show it obviously because he excelled in his studies.

The tenacity and bright mind of this grubby looking kid caught the attention of the school principal's attention, Father Preyde, who took him under his wing and personally mentored him. And no doubt through Father Preyde, little Joinob discovered Christianity. He embraced Catholicism when he was 15 and had been a devout Christian since then. He chose the name Peter, the first Pope of the Catholic church, as his Catholic name. Hence, he was known as Peter Joinob Mojuntin. Peter formed a lifelong friendship with his teacher/mentor Father Preyde. When Father Preyde heard of Peter's tragic death, it was said that Father Preyde wept openly.

When Peter finished schooling at St Michael, he decided to sit for the Overseas School Certificate Examination. The only school he could go and get this certificate was the Sacred Heart Secondary School at Tanjung Aru, which was about 16 miles away. For the next one year, he cycled to the school daily on a bicycle that his older brother George bought for him. Fortunately, on the second year, there was an opening in the school's hostel and he became a boarder from there on.

Peter sat and passed the exam in 1957 and became one of a handful of Kadazans in possession of the certificate in those days. With education, came enlightenment and Peter became acutely aware of the problems of his community, his people.

Upon leaving school, Peter worked briefly as a teacher at St Michael's primary school and then later with the Commonwealth Development Corporation(CDC). Peter remained active and vocal in his community and this young upstart would again caught the attention of someone who would become his mentor and close friend, Donald Stephen. Donald Stephen poached Peter from his then employer, CDC. Peter went and worked for him as his Personal Assistant at the Kinabalu Sabah Times. Donald Stephen needed an able lieutenant in his political career and he knew he found him in Peter J. Mojuntin.

North Borneo's Independence

The British was leaving and the Federation of Malaya which had gained independence on 31 August 1957, had courted North Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei to come together with them to form Malaysia with Singapore in 1961. The people of North Borneo were split about this. The natives in the interior, led by G.S. Sundang, were wary of the proposal as did Donald Stephen initially but the latter was subsequently convinced that it was a viable merger.

The natives were split on the matter. Hence, a few political parties emerged to represent the opposing camps. G.S Sundang formed his National Pasok Momogun Organisation (NPMO), Donald Stephens with his United National Kadazan Organisation (UNKO), Datu Mustapha with his United Sabah National Organisation (USNO) and others. A 22 year old Peter Mojuntin became UNKO's Secretary General.

Upon hearing of the setting up of the Cobbold Commission which was tasked to collect the views of the natives of North Borneo concerning the Malaysia idea, Peter was among the various leaders that traveled throughout North Borneo to consult and collect the views of the natives.

Some sources claimed that UNKO came out with the Twenty Points then and presented it to the Cobbold Commission which incorporated most of the recommendations into the Malaysian Federal Constitution.

On 16 September 1963, Malaysia was borned. UNKO and NPMO would later merged and became United Pasok-Momogun Kadazan Organisation (UPKO) for the sake of unity and Peter Mojuntin was again elected as Secretary General of the new political entity.

Kadazan Unity

The Kadazan or Dusun community in pre Malaysia days were scattered mainly in towns like Penampang, Ranau, Tambunan, Tuaran, Keningau, Kudat and Kuala Penyu. We know from old folks that these communities were not united then. They viewed each other with suspicion. For example, the Dusun of Tambunan and Kadazan of Penampang had a less than frinedly, if not an acrimonious relationship and the Rungus viewed the Kadazan as their enemy who would usurp their rights(Source : George Apwell interview). 

The Kadazan Youth in which Peter was the leader, was credited by some with the union of UNKO and NPMO. They helped in establishing dialogues between the leaders of these communities. With the union of these two political parties, the natives which for expediency we will collectively referred to as Kadazan, had been united.

It established the foundation towards a grouping of these various natives into one "Homogenous" KadazanDusunMurut bumiputra group in the years to come (visit KDCA Sabah for more information on the grouping).


Prior to Sabah's first election in 1967, the Member of Parliament(MP) in Sabah was by nomination and Peter was nominated as an MP to replace the late Mr Ngui Ah Kui, whom had passed away, making Peter the youngest MP in whole Malaysia at the age of 24 on  25 September 1963(Source).

In October 1963, Peter represented Malaysia in the United Nations General Assembly. His task was to counter the Indonesian government which was leveling accusations against the newly formed Malaysia.

In 1967, Sabah had its first State Legislative Assembly election in 1967 and Peter ran under the UPKO ticket at Moyog constituency. Peter could only campaign in Moyog for only a few days, most of the time he was out of the district, traveling into the deep interior like Kinabatangan to meet up with the native chiefs to tell them of what UPKO was championing for. Despite his short campaigning in Moyog, when the result came, Peter had the distinction of being the only candidate in that election to win a major landslide, his rival was an USNO candidate. He remained Moyog's Assemblyman until his death in 1976. A testament to the trust that the Moyog constituency placed upon him.

Unfortunately, UPKO failed to win enough seats to form the government. Trailing 2 seats behind that of USNO. Hence, Peter and his fellow UPKO Assemblymen found themselves in the Opposition.


Peter was very active in his community. He wanted to uplift the socio-economy of the Kadazan people and he knew that education was the key. Hence, when St Michael school, the very school that gave him his early education, offered him a teaching post, he accepted it enthusiastically. He became a teacher at the school in 1958, he was 19 years old. Naturally, Peter became the ground mover at the school. He and other like minded teachers, introduced additional extra-curriculum to enrich the minds of their charges. He was a charismatic leader, his energy and his drive naturally drove people to gravitate around him.

In 1959, he was selected to represent the Kadazan community, North Borneo, in the Scouts movement's World Jamboree at Manila. The community was proud and elated that such an honour was conferred to one of them. Peter proved to them that if they worked hard for it, it was possible to rise above one's station. By and large, the Kadazans of the old days were apathetic and did not believe in offering one's service for others. Basically they were a selfish lot and contented to be complacent and Peter was determined to change this mindset.

Even when Datuk Peter was active in politics, he set aside his time towards his pet cause; education. He was the Chairman of the Penampang-Teacher Association. Datuk Peter also donated his land for the building of a school building.

Double 6 Tragedy

On 6 June 1976, barely 53 days after Sabah ushered in a new era, after the fruition of Datuk Peter J. Mojuntin's and others' efforts in restoring democracy in Sabah, Datuk Peter J.Mojuntin perished in an aircrash dubbed the Double 6 tragedy near Kampung Sembulan Baru. He was 37. Whole of Malaysia and the world were shocked with this tragedy.   

Double 6 Monument. Source : www.sabahtourism.com

NBHE member's recollection of him: 
Admirable man of his time. Such character only comes once in a while in a century. Peter loved to be among his folks. His house too subjected to floods. He could have built his mansion up a high ground, but, he seemed not to prefer that. Bravo to him. Peace unto his brave soul..

I heard his voice in the debating chamber of the old colonial assembly house in the vicinity of the present museum ground. Quite forested during that time. Peter was in the opposition camp. He had the articulation of a statesman. His voice was rather thunderous but courteous. His English was superb. He interjected phrases in Malay too. I could see certain tremors instilled among the government bench. After all, Peter was the star. He spoke teacher-like. There should be an archived recordings of his speeches. Very pleasant and intelligent indeed.
T. Lammert - October 2011         
Of course, this short post couldn't possibly cover all that he had contributed and achieved but it serves to put a human face to that bronze statue of him in Penampang.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...