Looking for the missing and vanished!

It’s Good Friday and a time for reflection about how we live in a world where death is always at your doorstep.

In the case of Christians, Good Friday is the day when Jesus of Nazareth suffered a cruel death when in the prime of his 33 years on earth, he was crucified at Golgotha.

So why do we call this sad day when Jesus was mocked by his own people and practically tortured, Good Friday?

It was a black Friday for the friends and family of Jesus who was betrayed by one of his disciples for a small sum of money.

Being a Jew, Jesus was probably of average height and not as muscular as portrayed in Hollywood films. And most likely he was not a blonde with European features.

A crown of thorns mockingly placed on his head, and pressed into his scalp as he was flogged 39 times by a powerful Roman soldier.

Weakened by the beating, he was forced to carry his 300-pound (136kg) wooden cross 600 yards up to Golgotha or “Place of the skulls” where the worst of criminals were sent to suffer their fate.

The soldiers stripped him of his clothes, offered him sour wine or vinegar to mock him as he hung between two convicted robbers.

He died six hours later and was somehow accorded as respectful a burial as was possible under the circumstance.

When I look back on other Good Fridays, I am reminded of the famous Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser who went missing nearly 20 years ago in Sarawak.

Manser was an unknown cowherd from Basel in Switzerland until he joined a British cave expedition at the Mulu National Park in 1984.

That was where he befriended a group of nomadic Penans who told him about their struggle in their homeland which was being deforested.

A year later Manser was arrested by the police during Easter celebration in a Kelabit village at Long Napir for a minor offence of not renewing his permit to stay in Sarawak.

While he was being taken away by the police, he managed to make a dramatic escape. To dissuade him from escaping a police officer fired a shot in the air.

Lost in the jungle for several days and without food, Manser was finally reunited with his nomadic friends and since then vowed to lead the Penan’s anti-logging cause.

For the next 15 years he became an international “Robin Hood” for Sarawak until he decided to visit his Penan comrades one last time.

It was a big mistake because days after entering Sarawak illegally from Indonesia’s North Kalimantan border, he suddenly vanished without a trace.

Even though no one has found any trace of the 45-year-old, there was strong evidence that Manser died in the vicinity of Batu Lawi twin peaks in Upper Limbang sometime in the last week of May 2000.

There are many theories as to what happened to Manser. Some believe he fell to his death while scaling Batu Lawi and others allege that he could have been a victim of foul play.

The most popular theory is that he was abducted by assassins hired by timber barons who had lost hundreds of millions of ringgit because of him.

Manser’s case is just the tip of the iceberg because over the last four years four Malaysians in Malaya have gone missing and their cause has been taken up by human rights commission, Suhakam, a Kuala Lumpur-based non-governmental organisation (NGO).

One of them was a social activist, Amri Che Mat, while the others were Pastor Raymond Koh and two other pastors

Suhakam panel chairman Datuk Mah Weng Kwai said, “The panel is of the considered view that the enforced disappearance of Amri was carried out by agents of the state namely the Special Branch of Bukit Aman.

“The disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh was neither a case of voluntary or involuntary disappearance in breach of the ordinary criminal law.

“The directive and circumstantial evidence in Koh’s case also proves that he was abducted by the Special Branch,” he said after announcing the final findings of the Suhakam’s public inquiry on the disappearances of the Amri and Koh.

Amri, who was the founder of a Perlis NGO, reportedly went missing after he went out of his home in Kangar about 11.30pm on Nov 24, 2016.

Even though the Malaysian authorities, namely, the police, have not been able to make a breakthrough regarding the missing Malayans, it is strange that the Swiss police and Interpol (International Criminal Police Organisation) associates have not come to any conclusion as to what could have happened to Manser? So, after almost 20 years, it appears that the Manser family has not found closure!

Or could it mean that no word from the family means that they know what happened to him, but just a refusal to speak of it?

I believe he is dead. In one of my interviews with Manser in the 1990s he spoke of spending two weeks fasting and meditating in a cave at Batu Lawi where he encountered the Penan spirit Penako who taught him a song.

He said the song was so captivating that he longed to return to the cave one last time.

My theory is that during his final ascent of the steep face of the taller peak with a 30kg backpack, he was reunited with Penako. In that sense, he chose to stay in his beloved Sarawak for good!

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