Seeds of Kon­frontasi

Here’s a book that should have been on our school shelves, shed­ding light on a lit­tle-known part of our his­tory.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Lim­bang Re­bel­lion: 7 Days In De­cem­ber 1962 Eileen Chanin NUS Press, 248 pages, non-fic­tion Re­view by SANTHA OORJITHAM star2@thes­tar.com.my

THE Lim­bang Re­bel­lion in Bor­neo was the pre­lude to Malaysia’s con­fronta­tion – or Kon­frontasi, as it’s more pop­u­larly known – with In­done­sia and helped to con­vince Sarawakians of the wis­dom of join­ing in the for­ma­tion of Malaysia. Yet it is not men­tioned in our school his­tory text­books and un­less our fam­i­lies or our friends were di­rectly af­fected, many of us know lit­tle about the week­long up­ris­ing in De­cem­ber 1962. That’s why Lim­bang Re­bel­lion should be on your year-end list of books to read.

Syd­ney-based his­to­rian Eileen Chanin brings a very per­sonal an­gle and touch to her tale.

Aus­tralian-born Richard “Dick” Morris was Bri­tish Res­i­dent of Sarawak’s Fifth Di­vi­sion when he and his wife Dorothy were taken hostage.

Chanin, who later be­came their daugh­terin-law, had ac­cess to the cou­ple’s un­pub­lished manuscripts and letters.

She in­ter­viewed many of the play­ers – in­clud­ing the Royal Marines who came to the res­cue – and delved into archives in Aus­tralia, Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore and Bri­tain.

In an ex­ten­sive bi­b­li­og­ra­phy, she has metic­u­lously listed all her ref­er­ence ma­te­rial – right down to the date on which she ac­cessed var­i­ous web­sites.

But don’t let the pages of maps, glos­sary, foot­notes, bi­b­li­og­ra­phy and in­dex over­whelm you.

Lim­bang Re­bel­lion reads more like a thriller, draw­ing you into the lives of the peo­ple caught in the con­flict.

Chanin sets the stage, point­ing out that re­bel­lion has had a long his­tory in the re­gion of Bor­neo, start­ing with the 1841 re­bel­lion which Bri­tish ad­ven­turer Sir James Brooke helped the Sul­tan of Brunei to sup­press.

By 1962, Sarawak had passed through World War II and the Ja­panese Oc­cu­pa­tion. “Bri­tain wanted out – but most Sarawakians wanted the sta­tus quo pre­served,” writes Chanin.

She traces the re­sponses to the plan for the Bri­tish ter­ri­to­ries of Bor­neo to form a new Fed­er­a­tion of Malaysia, not­ing that “many in Sarawak were wary”.

And she notes that Bri­tain’s Colo­nial Of­fice was “ap­pre­hen­sive about In­done­sian moves in the Bor­neo re­gion. It was ex­pect­ing that the In­done­sian Govern­ment would dis­tract at­ten­tion from se­ri­ous do­mes­tic prob­lems by launch­ing ‘claim’ to neigh­bour­ing ter­ri­tory.”

By Dec 6, al­though Dick had re­ceived re­ports about a pos­si­ble up­ris­ing from Lim­bang and from Miri, he ac­cepted the of­fi­cial opin­ion that there was no cer­tainty of trou­ble.

“We agreed that the Po­lice should be placed in a state of alert but that no fur­ther ac­tion should be taken.”

But at 2am on Dec 8, the armed wing of the Brunei Peo­ple’s Party (which op­posed the for­ma­tion of Malaysia) launched co­or­di­nated at­tacks across Brunei, in Sarawak’s Fifth Di­vi­sion and the western edge of North Bor­neo (now Sabah).

Chanin then picks up the pace with a blow-by-blow ac­count of the rebel ac­tion, the ex­pe­ri­ences of the hostages and the res­cue mis­sion that suc­ceeded even though the Royal Marines were vastly out­num­bered.

She also re­counts the brav­ery of many of the lo­cals.

For ex­am­ple, Dorothy had ear­lier be­gun to re­vive the Lim­bang Group of the Red Cross, which had lapsed due to lack of sup­port and funds.

She had held a first meet­ing, at which the busi­ness com­mu­nity promised build­ing ma­te­rial and labour for a Red Cross head­quar­ters.

A lo­cal head­man and Lim­bang’s post­man, Abang Omar Abang Sa­maudin, of­fered to help and his daugh­ter was ap­pointed cadet of­fi­cer.

When the re­bel­lion broke out, Abang Omar and his daugh­ter treated the wounds of both the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and the po­lice, and he told the rebels to send the bod­ies of the po­lice­men who had been killed to the mosque for burial. That night, his fam­ily sewed Red Cross “uni­forms” and the fol­low­ing day, he in­sisted that all civil­ian pa­tients be re­leased.

Then he met rebel leader Salleh Sam­bas and de­manded per­mis­sion to visit the pris­on­ers un­der the rules of the World Red Cross con­ven­tions on the treat­ment of pris­on­ers of war. The fol­low­ing year, Abang Omar was awarded the Queen’s Com­men­da­tion for Brave Con­duct. His story is just one of many wo­ven through the ac­count, mak­ing what hap­pened 51 years ago come to life.

Lim­bang Re­bel­lion: 7 Days In De­cem­ber 1962 is avail­able at Ki­noku­niya Book­stores at Suria KLCC and other lead­ing book­stores.

Rebel leader: For­mer po­lice con­sta­ble Salleh Sam­bas led the rebels in Lim­bang. — Im­ages from Lim­ban­gre­bel­lion:7daysIn de­cem­ber1962

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