Ibans during the Second World War years.

The Second World War years.

When war was declared by Japan against the Allied Powers at the end of 1941, it surprised many in Sarawak, including those who lived far in the interior. At the beginning of the war not many people actually believed that British power in the Far East could be so easily and quickly defeated by an enemy in such a short fight. Because of this, very few people in Sarawak had laid in a sufficient stock of clothes for the three and a half years of enemy occupation.

Before the landing of Japanese troops, the Sarawak Government ordered that the oil installations at Miri and Lutong in the Fourth Division were to be completely destroyed by fire. This was promptly done by members of the Sarawak Constabulary under Police Inspector Mr. Juing Insol and others. About a week later the Japanese forces landed at Miri. Before the Japanese battalions landed in Kuching several bombs were dropped at various targets in the town, such as Fort Margherita and the benzine store near the Borneo Company. But these last bombs fell on the Borneo Company building itself. The others destroyed one of the Customs godowns in front of the Main Bazaar. Before the bombing of Pearl Harbour, one Japanese vessel had already arrived and was anchored below Kampung Penglima Seman near the present Tanah Puteh Wharf. Its cargo was coal, but hidden beneath the coal were soldiers who were waiting for the order to land. From the day of her arrival this vessel whistled day and night, which caused people to think it had struck the rocks.

When they landed in the First Division, the Japanese came in along the Santubong delta and the Luba Kilong near Pulau Kra to land at Semariang. From this place the troops marched towards Bukit Siol and then down the Astana Road to attack Kuching. When they reached the town proper they met no resistance at all. So the Military Police (Kempetai) went straight to Fort Margherita, the Central Police Station and the various Government Offices. In the Secretariat and other Offices they arrested the European civil servants including the Officer administering the Government, Mr. C.C. Le Gros Clarke; the Chief Secretary, Mr. J.B. Archer and Mr. Selous, the Secretary for Chinese Affairs. After these officers had been detained, the European doctors in the General Hospital and the priests of the Anglican and Roman Catholic Missions, including Rt. Rev. F.S. Hollis, the Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak were also arrested and detained with their colleagues in the Government Rest House on Rock Road (now Tun Abang Haji Openg Road).

The Japanese troops who came by ship from the Santubong delta to Kuching were attacked by the Punjabi regiment at Bintawa Lama. Due to the strength of the Japanese forces, the Punjabi retreated but reformed to attack the enemy again at the 7th Mile, Batu Kawa, Batu Kitang and at the Satok suspension bridge with members of the Sarawak Field Force and Coast Guard.

After Sarawak had officially surrendered to the enemy, the Military Police sent the local high-ranking Police Officers to capture the other European Officers in the Outstations. As a result, Mr. J.C.H. Barcroft was captured at Ban, Mr, A.R. Snelus at Simanggang and Mr. AJ.N. Richards at Belong. Many others were also captured but their names and the places of their arrest are not remembered. On their arrival in Kuching, these officers and the others who had been arrested earlier were transferred to the detention camp at Batu Lintang. Today this camp has been renovated and incorporated with the modem buildings of the Brooke College.

From the beginning of the occupation, the Japanese Military Government re¬quested that all the Asian Government servants remain at their jobs. In spite of this request, all the Rajah’s most loyal servants resigned; but those who strongly supported the new Government were promoted to top posts, made Residents, District Officers and heads of various departments. Among the European civil servants, only the Acting Resident of the Second Division, Mr. G.R.H. Arundell, managed to escape Japanese arrest. Instead of surrendering himself to the Military Government he fled to the Ulu Ai where he lived under the care of his Iban friends, Penghulu Ramba and his brothers in the upper Mujan. But the man who really looked after him and his family was an ex-rebel named Mikai, one of Asun’s followers. In 1942, the shocking news was received that Arundell, Sendie anak Bungka, his wife and their young daughter were murdered by the famous convicts Pong, Ijau and Unying. It was said that when the murder took place, Mikai was absent from the house.

When Penghulu Ramba and his brothers Rantai and Ngindang reported the matter to the Government after the war, an investigation was made. During this investigation, Unying, Pong and Ijau accused Mikai of having murdered the Arundell family. Mikai denied this and said that the murder was actually committed by the three convicts who had hated Mr. Arundell. He further alleged that since these convicts had been released by the Japanese from prison, they had become restless, trying to find ways to revenge themselves against Mr. Arundell who had sentenced them to prison due to their involvement in the Asun affair. The arguments continued, until Mikai invited the three to test the facts by a customary selam ai, or diving contest. This challenge was accepted by Pong and his friends. But when the contest was held the three suspects lost it, and therefore they were surrendered to the Government for detention. This case was later settled by the Allied Military Government in 1948 and the murderers were executed according to the Sarawak code of law. The skulls of the Arundelis were reburied at Pudu Cemetery near Betong in the Saribas District in 1943.

During the enemy occupation, civil communication between administrative Divisions in the country was completely non-existent. Due to this, the people were kept in the dark about the others’ affairs. The few people who owned radios were strictly ordered by the Military to surrender them to the occupation Government. Those who owned outboard engines were also ordered to surrender them to the Government. Due to their ignorance about affairs outside their own district, the Iban and other people of all races did nothing other than plant padi. Those who farmed close to the Divisional and District headquarters suffered most, as they were forced by the Japanese to sell their padi to the Government, but as the Japanese officers were afraid to approach the natives in their longhouses, this demand was not so successful. But all those who could sell more than five piculs of padi to the Government were given medals of various grades and flags. Other trade carried out by the people was strictly controlled by the Government.

As the war years went on, the majority of the people, especially those who lived downriver, suffered from the terrible shortage of clothes, while the upriver people suffered from a shortage of salt. It was because of these problems, that the Iban of the upriver started to argue and refused to pay the various annual taxes, or to have anything to do with the Japanese Government. Because of this attitude the Japanese demanded that all shotguns be surrendered to the police stations.

But all these needs resulted in a number of new inventions by the Iban. Dunging anak Gunggu of Nanga Ulai, Rimbas, started to produce shoes, shorts, raincoats and paraffin oil from dry sheets of rubber. Besides this many Iban also revived their ancient art of making fire with a grindstone (batu titik) and tinder (lulut), or by striking a lead piston (guchoh) with a quick punch to produce fire. In general the Iban were not badly short of food during the occupation years. Those who could not get sufficient rice were given a loan by their neighbours or freely supplied by relatives. Things to go with rice, such as fish, meat and vegetables were plentiful. During the war years most Iban farmers planted rubber trees on their farmland. In addition to this they also planted local tobacco for their own consumption and for sale. From illegal trading in rice and tobacco, the Iban earned a lot of Japanese money during the war, which afterwards became valueless.

By 1944, the situation was becoming worse. Rumors were spreading that the Japanese army everywhere was facing defeat due to shortages of food. Due to these stories the upriver Iban started to incite rebellion, becoming more and more hostile to Government servants. It was at this time that late Penghulu Ambun of Balingian was tortured to death by the Kempetai (military police). In 1945 more rumors were spreading secretly in the upper rivers. It was said that British and Australian parachutists had landed in Central Borneo and were forming a native force of Ibans, Kayans, Kelabits, Kenyahs and Muruts to fight the Japanese garrisons. The rumors were true, for Major Tom Harrisson, Major G.C. Carter, Colonel David Leach and Major W.L.P. Sochon had already landed on the Kelabit plateau in the Fourth Division. The landings of these military officers pleased the long-suffering and warlike people, who helped to spread the secret news from one river to another from the Fourth to the Fifth and from the Third to the Second Divisions of Sarawak.

Finally when the time had come for them to attack the Japanese under the super¬vision of these white men, fighting flared up at Pasir Nai, Kapit, Song and Kanowit in the Third Division. In the Second Division raids on the Japanese were undertaken without European leadership. The Iban under Pengarah Jimbun and Penghulu Ngali invaded the Japanese garrisons at Engkilili and Lubok Antu, where the old fort was razed by fire. It was later replaced in 1947 by the Colonial Government with a new modern building called Fort Arundell. When the Iban attacked the Japanese at Kapit, Penghulu Nyanggau anak Penghulu Atan, who was the brother of the Honorable Penghulu Jinggut M.P., bravely followed the Japanese into a hole where they were hiding, and was killed.

In the Fourth Division battles were fought in many centres which dispersed the Japanese soldiers and civilian officers. It was at this time that many starving Japanese stragglers were killed by the natives. In the Saribas a troop under Penghulu Ulin anak Penghulu Unji of Spak failed in an attack on Fort Lili where the Japanese repulsed the Iban invaders with several dozen machine guns and rifles. After this failure, many of Ulin’s warriors joined their Skrang comrades-in-arms to reinforce the Iban troops who invaded Engkilili and Lubok Antu towns. These troops were made up of Iban of Ulu Layar, Ulu Spak, Skrang, Lemanak, Engkari, the Batang Ai, Delok, Mepi and Lubang Baya. During the raids a number of Chinese were slaughtered in and outside towns of the Second and Third Divisions. It was for this reason that the Chinese started riots in many towns in Sarawak including Kuching the capital, after the Japanese had officially surrendered to the Allied Forces. The heads taken during conflicts in the rural areas are still kept in some longhouses in memory of the Second World War.

Additional Notes:

*Randi’s praise name was “Lidi begendang sara letan, angkat karat tekan lebungan” which he obtained on return from the Rajah punitive expedition to Batang Ai. He was the brother of Enteri. They joined Nakhoda Tinggi’s forces during the Mat Salleh’s rebellion in Sabah. He was later converted to islam and settled at Sandakan till his death. His descendent still kept his nyabur sword he used to beheaded Mat Salleh’s daughter -the very long hair of Mat Salleh’s daughter is used to decorate his nyabur.

*Enteri’s praise name was “Bujang berani meling nengeri pulau London, rumput siut tengah laman.” This praise name was obtained as he was the only Iban representative from BNBCC who dare to take a ride on a helicopter encircling the London City. His descendant is still living in Lubok Longhouse in Sarawak. He also went back to Sabah and remarried there where his descendant can still be found. (Enteri x Linah (f) = Leman x Churai (f) = Garit x Jara (f) = Lambong x Talit = Ramuyan x Emellya = Aaron Juan, Jesse Rayes)



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