Peace and har­mony: Pass on the bless­ings

Hav­ing lived through the night­mar­ish Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion of Sabah dur­ing World War Two, Bung­ing Pang­gang and his wife On­gang fully un­der­stand the mean­ing of in­de­pen­dence and free­dom, and how im­por­tant it is to main­tain peace and har­mony.

The Borneo Post (Sabah) - - HOME - By Mariah Dok­sil

BUNDING Pang­gang was col­lect­ing wood in the jungle when his friend told him that the Ja­panese army had ar­rived in Kuala Penyu.

He was not sur­prised that the Ja­panese had ar­rived, as the peo­ple were talk­ing about them on the streets for the past months.

How­ever, all that talk did not pre­pare him for the night­mare, says the 92-year-old Bunding, who spoke to The Bor­neo Post to­gether with his wife On­gang Simbu, 84, at their home in Kam­pung Gilin­gan, a vil­lage of mostly Dusun Tatana peo­ple in Kuala Penyu.

When Ja­pan in­vaded North Bor­neo (now Sabah) in the early 1940s, Bunding said many lo­cal men be­came their ‘kuli’ (labour­ers), in­clud­ing him­self.

“I was in my 20’s when the Ja­panese army ar­rived here. They never asked, but forced you to work.

“When I was cho­sen to work as a kuli in Api-Api, death was the first thing that came into my mind,” he said.

Api-Api was the old name of Kota Kin­a­balu, which was also called Jes­sel­ton a few years af­ter.

Bunding re­mem­bers that there were ru­mours the Ja­panese were com­ing to Kuala Penyu but many vil­lagers of Kam­pung Batu 4 de­cided to stay.

“Some peo­ple in my vil­lage moved to the jungle be­cause they said Ja­panese would be com­ing to kill us, but many of us did not be­lieve them. We con­tin­ued our daily rou­tine as usual.

“Not long af­ter that, the Ja­panese army came to our vil­lage and started look­ing for kuli. They chose around 20 young men to work for them in Api-Api. Each group would work for two weeks,” said Bunding, who speaks flu­ent Malay.

“I was so scared be­cause I had no idea what was go­ing to hap­pen. When they asked us to go to Api-Api, we trav­elled for about two days by speed­boat. They did not pro­vide food so we brought our own rice and dried fish.

“Our group was as­signed to clear a land, which I be­lieved would be their base. We worked round the clock, with­out com­plain­ing.

“None of us re­fused to work as they threat­ened to kill us. It was some­thing that I don’t want to hap­pen again to my grand­chil­dren,” he said.

When he re­turned to Kuala Penyu, the third of his eight sib­lings said the Ja­panese army were still in the area, go­ing into the vil­lages al­most ev­ery day seiz­ing their rice, buf­fa­los and cows.

Some of the vil­lagers hid their crops and an­i­mals in the jungle, oth­er­wise they wouldn’t have enough food for them­selves.

“The younger gen­er­a­tion needs to know these sto­ries, be­cause these things might hap­pen again.

“They should do what­ever they can to avoid war, be­cause to live in peace is a bless­ing,” he added.

Bunding’s wife, On­gang, who was in her teens dur­ing the war, said it was im­pos­si­ble to think of the con­stant fear dur­ing those dark years of the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion.

She was lucky be­cause her par­ents had a large num­ber of cows be­fore the war, so they man­aged to sell some to buy clothes.

Hav­ing two pairs of cot­ton ke­baya and sarong was a lux­ury back then, be­cause most of the women were wear­ing skirt made of tree bark.

“Ru­mours were rife bout the Ja­panese army rap­ing lo­cal girls, so it was so scary walk­ing around wear­ing clothes made of tree bark.

“Many women de­cided to stay at home, while some par­ents with young girls dug un­der­ground tun­nels to hide their daugh­ters when the Ja­panese were around.

“I was scared, be­cause they kept com­ing for our cows. My fa­ther gave some to them, but kept the rest of the an­i­mals in the jungle,” she said, adding that food short­ages were a con­stant prob­lem for the fam­ily.

Al­though they had in­ven­to­ries of food af­ter sell­ing their cows, they soon ran out of food as the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion dragged on for months and years.

There was never enough food and her mother would al­ways go hun­gry to give her more. Their diet con­sisted mostly of tapi­oca. Dur­ing the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion, tapi­oca was the peo­ple’s main diet.

It has been more than seven decades since the end of the war.

Even though the cou­ple’s mem­o­ries of war may not be as vivid, they both stressed that those days were their night­mare, and it would be a re­minder to their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren that there is noth­ing good about war.

Bunding and On­gang who got mar­ried af­ter the war, have six chil­dren to­gether. Both of them have two chil­dren from their pre­vi­ous mar­riage.

To them, the atroc­i­ties of Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion will be the dark­est mem­ory in their lives.

“The mo­ment the Bri­tish took over, we started to live in a bet­ter con­di­tion.

“Af­ter Malaysia was formed, we had our iden­tity cards done, our chil­dren were given the op­por­tu­nity to go to school and now most of them are work­ing or do­ing busi­ness. Ev­ery­thing was amaz­ing un­til to­day.

“We are lucky to live in this coun­try, en­joy­ing great peace and har­mony. Let our grand­chil­dren con­tinue this and pass it to the next gen­er­a­tion.

“Do not be the kuli in our own land again,” Bunding con­cluded.

Bunding and On­gang’s fam­ily por­trait.

Bunding and On­gang.

Bunding in 1953

Bunding in 1956.

On­gang’s iden­tity card photo.

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