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.
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.