The day will come when men will recognise woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.
– Susan B Anthony, American social reformer
There is a popular English saying that goes ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’.
In a different context, my story is not about a woman spurned by a lover but an Iban housewife who challenged two dozen armed terrorists who shot and killed her husband 57 years ago.
On June 27, 1965, an elite guerrilla unit called Resimen Para Komando Angkatan Darat (RPKAD), launched a killing spree along the Kuching-Serian Road.
Infiltrating Sarawak through a jalan tikus jungle track, 30 Indonesian commandos were on a mission to assassinate the chief minister of Sarawak, Stephen Kalong Ningkan.
But the plan to “kidnap or kill” the chief Minister failed following a premonition and the visit of a black King Cobra.
According to the chief minister’s daughter Diana, the visit was called off as her grandfather Sgt Ningkan Igam had a jai mimpi (bad dream).
Days earlier, Sgt Ningkan killed a cobra that entered his quarters, an act the Iban considered ‘mali’ or taboo, as the snake is depicted as ‘Keling’ — the mythology god of war.
Kathrine’s son Louis who was six years old at that time, said that three days before the attack, a large cobra slithered into their quarters, and he reported it to his father.
“My father found it coiled up behind a door and killed the cobra … it was a bad omen for him and the police station,” he said.
At 9.30am on the day of the planned assassination, unaware of the aborted visit, the commandos set up the explosives at the 24th mile bridge as a diversion.
But a premature detonation killed two men, throwing their plan into disarray, and leading to a spate of killing of innocent civilians.
First, the terrorists killed a young shopkeeper and two others at the 24th mile bazaar who saw some of commandoes while setting up the explosives.
After the incident, the terrorists brazenly buried their comrades “under the noses” of the police in the jungle just opposite the 18th mile station.
Even though the chief minster’s trip was cancelled, the commandoes caught the police by surprise by cutting through the security wire fencing and crawling unnoticed into the nine-man police station that night at 10.
First to be captured were five policemen — PC Sulaiman and PC Maul. Sgt Ningkan was also detained.
Three other policemen who were at the barracks hid at the married quarters.
Louis recalled he was awake when two uniformed men in jungle green detained his father at their quarters that night.
“My mother wanted to accompany her husband to the police station 100 metres away but was refused.
Ten minutes later gunshots rang out from the police station; the terrorists had lined up Sgt Ningkan and five others and opened fire.
Sgt Ningkang was mortally injured, PC Samsudin and PC Maul were slightly injured, and three other policemen were unhurt.
Apparently, the cops were interrogated before they were shot “execution” style.
Louis said the terrorists prevented anyone from leaving the barracks as they mounted a machine gun 50 metres from the barracks where 10 families were staying.
“Then they started firing and all hell broke loose. I was at the back of the room when the bullets started flying, shattering the planks and everything around us.
“I think they were trying to finish off the family but none of us were hurt.”
Kathrine had initially insisted on accompanying her husband to the police station but could not because a terrorist threatened to shoot her if she followed them.
She then gathered her husband’s taring babi charm (a wild boar tusk wrapped in yellow cloth) and wrapped it around her waist.
According to Timah Deris, the wife of PC Samsudin, Kathrine appeared to be in a trance when she stood at the doorway after the attack on the families at the barracks.
Said Timah: “Standing at the doorway of her quarters, Kathrine addressed the terrorists loudly in Malay: “If you are so brave, kill me and my family but leave my husband alone.”
Grabbing Louis’ arm and a parang, she walked to the police station where 15 terrorists were gathered.
Said Louis: “I heard my father calling out my name, but the terrorists were in the police station.
“Mother then went to the hand-driven siren to alert the neighbourhood because it was almost 11pm and the police had arrived (the nearest police station was at the 10th mile).
“Surprisingly, the invaders did not notice my mother and I as she continued winding the alarm.”
As they fled, Kathrine went into the office and saw my father was barely alive.
Lying beside him was PC Naing who was shot point blank in the forehead.
On June 28, Sgt Ningkan was given a state funeral in Kuching as thousands gathered at the St Thomas Anglican church.
In July, the Sarawak government launched ‘Operation Hammer’ where the three Chinese villages at Siburan, Beratok and Tapah was fenced up to prevent access and influence by the communists on the communities.
On October 21, 1973, Chief Minister Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub and NKCOP secretary general Bong Kee Chok signed the Sri Aman Peace Accord.
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.