It is not who you attend school with but who controls the school you attend.

– NICK GIOVANNI, HEAD OF THE GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY, MEDIA AND TELECOM GROUP TMT

Few images from my first schooling year kept on flashing either as day dreams or just imaginations over the last few days. As if they were to remind me that Nanga Assam Primary School in Melupa, Saratok should mark its 58th anniversary this year.

Or, is this the result of my meeting with my cousin ‘Mamat’ — I still call him using his childhood name and while in school I was never aware that his birth certificate said or says otherwise — quite recently while having a leisurely walk in Saratok town’s busy waterfront recently. 

I committed to memory some events of 1962; it was my first year in school aged eight. ‘Mamat’ only entered Primary One a few years later, that’s why now he, going by his real name Prof. Dr. Spencer Empading Sanggin, an Unimas don, is still active as the president of SMK Alumni. 

Our first day at school was historic as we were the pioneers of Nanga Assam Primary School, Melupa, in Saratok — my registration number was seven. More historic was the misdemeanour of some two scores of boys, young men and girls, many of whom were past puberty, who bathed together at a river stretch next to the school — in their birth suits.

As a timid eight-year-old, I was only a spectator and the sights of both male and female genitals, not to mention the mammary endowments of innocent girls/maidens were taken for granted. After all, those were the days when topless maidens and their mothers were a commonly accepted peculiarity.

(Come to think of it, the many postcards of then Iban women in topless poses, showing breasts of various sizes and shapes, are testaments of this phenomenon.) Such sights went well with the remote mentality and culture traits at that time. Such images were ones that kept on flashing in my mind over the last few days.

However, this did not go well with our headmaster and sole teacher, my late uncle Michael Abunawas, a famed disciplinarian, schooled in the new order of the Anglican Church.

On the second day Uncle Abun called an assembly and disallowed boys and girls to bath together. His wife, Auntie Durie, then a mother of eight, came to her hubby’s rescue by giving the girls counselling in protecting their modesty.

She scored 10/10 as the first day was the older boys’ only lucky moment where they had a field day stealing glances at their female counterparts’ supposedly hidden treasures that left nothing to imagination.

Parents were called and meetings were held to iron out some of the teething problems including preparing two separate bathing places along the stretches of the river for males and females. Later the girls had their bathing place prepared at the upper part of the river.

“Topless bathing in public for girls is prohibited from now onwards. Boys are not allowed to bathe without their shorts,” Uncle Abun announced with a grave look after meeting the parents on the second day of school.

Such arrangement has remained until today as far as bathing in the river is concerned, though it is purely academic as the school now enjoys piped water supply, thanks to the “gravity feed” as well as the water supply from the nearby Kaki Wong treatment plant.

About three years ago a few adventurous young girls who tried to swim in anticipation of a high tide at this very stretch, which is the farthest tidal point, made a miraculous escape from a six-foot crocodile that shockingly appeared just about three metres or so from the bathing party. (This was the first of such incidence/appearance after more than five decades).

Past forward to six months later in 1962, the school held its first Sports Day.  One of those flashing images was that of my cousin-in-law Brayun Encharang (now deceased) who threw the “javelin” — improvised out of special wood — which landed far beyond the edge of the sports field, among the rubber trees.

The image of my eldest brother Edward Jelani hurling the shot put added another hilarity to Nanga Assam inaugural sports day, a year preceding the birth of a nation called Malaysia.

Educated in Seria, Brunei, Edward, then 20, was trying to show the others the “Olympic” way of throwing the shot put, only that it landed inside an empty classroom after hitting the beam of a classroom window. The throw was disqualified but not without causing few good laughs.

In the evening, the school held its first concert where I debuted on stage with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars”. About 20 students led by my second brother Jon @ Chandi, then 14, put up a play/sketch titled ‘Pemancha Dana Bayang’ an Iban legendary hero of the same name.

Attired in any shirt or shorts and some without footwear, the hairy legs of many of my Primary One classmates were also images that flashed in my daydreams lately.

By now, the school has produced no less than 300 graduates in various disciplines. I hold the honour to be its first ever graduate. That could be why the images kept on coming back to remind me lately.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.