Untold stories of Sarawak’s brave Bidayuh

Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the ‘hero’ within us is revealed.

—  Bob Riley, aboriginal activist

I’m surprised that Sarawak, with its rich culture, has not been able to honour the Bidayuh in our history books.

As early as 1837, Skrang Sea Dayak (Iban) aligned to warlord  Pengiran Mahkota invaded Bung Bratak to go “head hunting”.

According to their practice, human heads were necessary to appease the ‘Petara’ (deities) to ensure a good harvest.

After the devastating attack on Bung Bratak, more than 100 women and children (some say 1,000) were brought back to Batang Lupar as slaves.

However, with the arrival of legendary Jagoi warrior “Panglima” (a title) Kulow, most of the captives were released.

Today, ‘Tembawang Sauh’ on the Bau-Lundu road leading to the entrance to Bung Bratak, is the home of the last group of Kulow followers.

Few of us know that the Bidayuh of Gunung Serembu were the first Dayak to ‘invite’ James Brooke to become the first White Rajah.

But even as he was being sworn in on Sept 24, 1841 as the first ‘White Rajah’, Pengiran Mahkota planned for another massacre on the Bidayuh.

Apparently, Mahkota had used governor Raja Muda Hashim’s name to “invite” 2,500 Sea Dayak to wreak havoc in upper Sarawak. 

Brooke, in ‘History of Sarawak Under its Two white Rajahs’ wrote: “The very idea of letting 2,500 wild devils loose in the interior of the country is horrible.

“Muda Hashim would have 20 slaves (women and children) and these 20 being redeemed at the low rate of 20 reals, besides other plunder amounting to 100 reals more.”

As the story goes, Pemanca Dana, better known as ‘Bayang’ (Shadow) of Saribas, and a few warriors had turned up at Brooke’s ‘Astana’ to ask permission to go on a ‘Kayau Anak’ head-hunting expedition.

Dana had brought along a wicker basket, hoping for the best, but at worst obtaining the White Rajah’s head would have been a great success.

But it was not to be because Datuk Patinggi Ali’s bravest Malay ‘hulubalang’ (aristocratic warlords) was present to protect Brooke.

Brooke was credited for passing an edict banning head hunting and with that, the Bidayuh living in the hills of Mount Serembu began to migrate to the lowlands. 

A village was established at the foot of ‘Peninjau Lama’ (old Peninjau) before other groups spread out along the old Bau road and across the Sarawak river to as far as Kampung Bumbok near Lidah Tanah.

Elsewhere at Gunung Sentah in Siburan, the Bidayuh began to follow suit.

One group ventured as far as Kampung Kuap, about 10 miles from Kuching, to be near the Brooke administration. They were among the first Bidayuh Christians.

In the 1930s, two of Kuap’s chosen sons completed their basic education of Standard Seven at St Thomas’ and joined the Brooke government as native officers.

I recently discovered that Bigar Deboi and Helbourne Simigaat were British undercover agents with the Allied  Forces ‘Z’ special unit.

Both put their lives on the line and saved many lives.

Their story is briefly  mentioned in four books, which have hardly made it to the Sarawak annals.

Tom Harrison in ‘World Within’ is generous with his comments while Bob Long in ‘Z Special’s Secret Unit’s War’ also mentions  Bigar but not Simigaat.

Similarly, Charles Hudson Southwell’s hardly mentions Bigar in ‘Unchartered Waters’ while Sarawak civil servant Lim Beng Hai in ‘Sarawak Under the Throes of War’ as Simigaat’s full story.   

Briefly, the untold story is about two trained wireless operators with British connections who risked their lives for their fellow man.

Bigar is credited for saving the lives of nine Borneo Evangelical Mission pastors led by Charles Hudson Southwell — they had hidden in Ulu Trusan in Lawas for eight months, a crime punishable by death.

But Bigar spoke on their behalf and the Europeans were only interned at the civilian section of the Batu Lintang POW camp in Kuching.

  Simigaat was one of three locals who were assigned to manage Belaga District.

  Simigaat monitored the BBC radio station throughout the war when he administered the district — a crime also punishable by death.  

Simigaat who was one of the composers of the pre-war Sarawak anthem, played his violin every night while British and native operatives eliminated the Japanese garrisons in Belaga, Kapit and Sibu.

We must say thank you to the families of Bigar and Simigaat, wherever they are, for the duo’s selfless sacrifice!

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