To err is human; to forgive, divine

To err is human, but to persevere in error is only the act of a fool.

—  Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman

Once upon a time, I had a small animal farm not far from Kuching, which was my pride and joy.

It started as a hideout for security forces veterans where we could do barbecues, have some drinks and share old stories.

In 1997, Penang-based advisor of the Veterans Association of Malaysia, Harold Speldewinde, initiated a Sarawak branch and asked if I could recruit some members.  

Harold was a veteran himself, having fled into the jungles of Pahang to live with and seek protection from the Orang Asli community during the Japanese Occupation.

He had joined the Penang Eurasian Volunteer E Company under Lt A Wilwebber, was “bodyguard” to the freedom fighter, M Saravanamuttu.

Together with Saravanamuttu, better known as Uncle Sara, and another Eurasian, Oswald Foley, they helped evacuate several British officers who were fleeing to Singapore.

After Uncle Sara was arrested by the Japanese, Harold was next on the list.

Taking to the jungles, he spent the war on the run while living with the Orang Asli Semai tribe with his young wife Molly Macintyre and first-born son.

After the war, Harold went on to become a planter and upon retiring, went on to form the Penang Veterans Association.

Based on my father Datuk Seri John George Ritchie’s concern, especially regarding the forgotten Border Scouts, he appointed my father as “advisor” to the Sarawak Veterans Branch and picked me as honorary secretary.

Harold said there was a clause in the association’s regulations that enabled any family member of the police or armed forces to become a committee member.

Since my father was the first local commissioner of police, I was eligible.

Harold and his veterans team visited several longhouses in Ulu Julau and Lubok to catch up with the Iban trekkers, retired Sarawak Rangers, war veterans and Border Scouts, enquiring about their welfare.

During one of the visits, Harold was conferred the honorary title Tuai Rumah, a position which he accepted with pride.

At that time, ASP Wilfred Gomez Malong and Harold concurred that the government should set up a special Sarawak Veterans Association to look into the welfare of these old timers.

There was also an exchange programme where Sarawak veterans such as sape player Uchau Bilung and others took part in cultural performances.

Some of the veterans even visited the famous Orang Asli Senoi Praaq trekker unit.

Since Wilfred, one of my classmates at St Thomas school, Kuching, was one of 19 Sarawak recipients of the Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) gallantry award, I suggested that he be appointed chairman of the Sarawak veterans.

Within five years, we recruited more than 200 mainly native Sarawak veterans from the Border Scouts and Army, including Wilfred’s PGB compatriot and right-hand man, Sgt Dajai Angie.

To cut a long story short, Wilfred and his team helped build my animal farm.

By the time the jungle farm was fully developed in the mid-2000s, it had 50 egg-laying manok kampung (free range chicken), several manok sabong (fighting cocks), 50 ducks, 20 pigs, two “watch dogs” and several abandoned cats.

As we were in the midst of a jungle, the ducks began to disappear, and a python I had noticed lurking near the duck pen became the suspect.

Very soon, I learnt a biawak (monitor lizard) had been feeding on the fish.

Of course, my heart broke when my favourite pet pig named “Blackie” disappeared together with the chicken eggs.

Initially, we were determined to catch the python and monitor lizard but wondered how the snake could have swallowed a 40kg sow.

When I found out that Blackie had ended up in a cooking pot of a friend, I decided this was the final straw.

It was the end of my Garden of Eden dream. My generosity had been taken as a sign of weakness and from that day on, I never saw him again.

Even though I did not accuse him of eating the forbidden fruit, it was guilt that caused him to disappear.

Heart-broken that I had not only lost Blackie and some piglets, but also a dear friend, I closed shop.

The upshot of the story is that the truth always hurts.

I have forgotten the incident more so because my friend is a god-fearing church-goer.

As they say, to err is human; to forgive, divine!

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