Bravery among the Iban tribal group and other Dayak tribes of old is well-known.
Some fought for the Brookes, some were against their rule. For example, Orang Kaya Pemancha (OKP) Dana nicknamed ‘Bayang’ and his children Nanang and Aji were among the warriors who sided with the Brookes while others like Libau nicknamed Rentap; Linggir ‘Mali Lebu’, Asun ‘Bah Tunggal’ and Bantin were among those who were against the White Rajahs.
In later days, especially after the birth of the Malaysian Federation where Sarawak had an imminent hand in its formation, there was a new batch of Iban and other Dayak groups known for their heroism in fighting the country’s enemies during the Confrontation and the fight against communist terrorists, the latter being done since 1948 during the Emergency in British Malaya.
These two episodes saw the emergence of chivalrous warriors such Datuk Awang Raweng (PSBS, GC); Datuk Temenggong Kanang Langkau (PGBK, SP, PGB); Lenggu China (SP), Reggie Deli (SP), Ngalinuh Bala (SP) and many more who received the second highest gallantry award, Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB).
Awang was the sole Malaysian to receive the George Cross award from the British government while Kanang was the sole Malaysian to receive the two highest federal gallantry awards.
He was the only soldier who received the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SP) alive as the other soldier Lenggu died while fighting and his lifeless body was found lying next to two of his slain communist terrorists.
Just for the record, SP is graded higher than Tun and the royal DK awards. Reggie and Ngalinuh were in the police force.
There were a number of unsung heroes, many of whom deserved more than medals awarded — some were not even recognised for their gallant deeds. When serving in Kanowit and later Julau, I came across a number of elders who were serving as Border Scouts.
Among these, it was Sergeant (Rtd) Moahari who came to see me because his son was expelled from the boarding house due to several serious offences. In fact, I was ready for some confrontational exchanges with him after being briefed on his background by one of my clerks who was familiar with the locals in Julau.
When he came to my office, he surprisingly saluted me (perhaps my DC scout uniform hanging on my wall had contributed to this honour). After we shook hands, he told me: “No wonder you act with no fear or favour.” (I took this as a compliment. What he actually meant was that he felt something burning in his right hand when shaking mine — upon my massaging mine, done to retaliate any dubious intention, namely to inject harm.)
To use a present tense, this pertains to the Iban belief that, in the case when someone intends to harm you with his special power, the intended victim needs to rub or massage the contact point to neutralise the harm — and the culprit will feel something coming into him (as Moahari did circa 1989).
“We must become brothers,” the unsung hero suggested to me. He even promised to share one bravery talisman with me. But due to constraints, I never visited him at his upriver longhouse.
Moahari was just one of the truly brave warriors who did not receive due recognition.
I was lucky to have known the late Kanang, having visited him once in 1984 at his quarters in Oya Camp, Sibu. Actually, I was accompanying my father-in-law who knew Kanang.
Our intention was to secure some cheap whiskey from him and some other army men there. Then Kanang, in a white singlet and white shorts, was seated between us on a sofa.
“I was dead for some seconds, but then regained my breath after being shot,” he told us and at the same time showed us the scars on his tummy, the everlasting reminder of his bravery and near death.
We met again twice after that, namely in 2007 and a year later — both during my performances for functions in Kuching.
In 1975 during my stint with Rascom, I met and befriended the youngest PGB recipient ASP Wilfred Gomez Malong who then headed the Border Scouts at Salim Camp. We remained friends until his demise on Feb 2, 2013.
Another PGB recipient Bajau Ladi is related to me by marriage. I came across and took photo of him and a few others, Kanang included, during a function graced by Tan Sri William Mawan at the Civic Centre, Kuching in 2007, where I performed with Iban singing beauty Jennifer Jack.
These warriors’ heroism should become a shining example to be emulated by our soldiers and men in blue. I consider myself privileged to have met and befriended some of them.