Kelabits salute, honour living SP hero

Ngalinuh (centre) in a tete-a-tete with former IGP Tan Sri Haniff Omar (left) in an undated file photo.

MIRI: He was awarded the highest gallantry honour in the country. And he is one of the two surviving war heroes in Sarawak.

Coming from the humble Pa Lungan longhouse in Bario, 77-year-old Ngalinuh Bala @ Kilah Ratu is now wheelchair-bound and riding into the quiet sunset years of his life, a sharp contrast to the life-defining moment when he stared down gun barrels and grenades in his younger days.

Ngalinuh during his young days.


However, this quiet retirement life would be put on hold as his fellow Kelabit countrymen come together to honour him at a hotel in Miri on Sept 29, in a grand ceremony steeped in tradition organised by Rurum Kelabit Sarawak (RKS) to salute and honour this national hero.

Married to Sabit Iwat @ Sinah Ngalinuh Bala, Ngalinuh and his wife have five children – Ledea, Dalima, Elvis, Nasution and Kontessa – the first three were born before he was engaged in a communist insurgent attack, which he survived.

About 250 Kelabits who were or are still serving the country as soldiers and policemen or their next-of-kin, decked with their respective medals of decoration, are expected to join the crowd of 600 in the celebration to salute and honour the hero who they are proud to call one of their own.

The top brass from the military will also be attending the ceremony to show their respect to this soft-spoken decorated hero in his sunset years, said organising chairman and RKS president Dr Philip Raja.

Invited to the occasion are Eastern Field Command commander Lt General Datuk Stephen Mundaw, First Infantry Division commander Major General Datuk Toh Choon Siang and Sarawak Commissioner of Police Datuk Azman Yusof, State Legislative Assembly deputy speaker Datuk Gerawat Gala and other dignitaries.

Dr Raja (seated second left), Ngalinuh (seated third right) and Penghulu Freddie Apun (seated left) with Ngalinuh’s family.

Ngalinuh Bala and Etin Bijam are the last two surviving recipients of the Darjah Kebesaran Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa – SP (Grand Knight of Valour), the highest federal award which can be presented in the country, in Sarawak.

The SP Award was created on July 29, 1960 and was gazetted on Aug 11, 1960. It is ranked higher than the Order of the Royal Family of Malaysia (DKM) awarded to Malaysian royalty. As the highest federal award, it outranks awards which carry the title of Datuk, Tan Sri or Tun.

Upon their passing, a state funeral would be held in their honour with no less than officer of the rank of an Assistant Superintendent of Police carrying the casket in line with the highest hero send-off.

There were only 30 recipients of SP in the past 55 years. Special constable Veloo s/o Rajavelu of Royal Malaysia Police became the first recipient in 1963, who was honoured for bravery and community service, laying down his life in combating piracy in Klang in 1962-1963.

Ngalinuh served from 1961 to 1995 in the 8th Battalion Royal Malaysian Rangers, at a time when the nation’s and Sarawak’s most famous war hero Datuk Kanang Langkau became the only recipient of both Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa in 1981 and Pingat Gagah Berani (PGB).

Tun Mohd Salleh Ismail, who was the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) at that time, in his letter of commendation to Sub-Inspector (SI) Ngalinuh Bala in 1972, among others, noted Ngalinuh’s bravery in not only helping to save the lives of Public Works Department (PWD) workers and his colleagues but also in killing and injuring the enemies during an encounter with the Communist insurgents, resulting in them fleeing the battleground leaving behind weapons and documents.

He said Ngalinuh’s gallantry would be etched in the annals of the police force.

Ngalinuh was a sergeant and platoon leader with the 15h Battalion of the Police Field Force (PFF) when he and his team were attacked by a big group of communist terrorists in Sibu on April 29, 1972.

The terrorists who were at a vantage point pinned down the convoy and overwhelmingly outnumbered the small group of armed escorts guarding the shipment of explosives to a PWD quarry.

Ngalinuh and his men were attacked at will along Jalan Ulu Oya by Mubalbya, a big group from the Clandestine Communist Organisation (CCO), with the ultimate aim of grabbing hold of the explosives to boost their arsenal and wreak havoc in the guerrilla warfare in Sarawak.

After the initial attack, all the men scrambled out of the lorry and ran for cover to a nearby bulldozer which had been left there by PWD personnel carrying out road works.

Cornered behind the vehicle and at the mercy of the enemy who rained bullets and threw grenades at them, Ngalinuh and Corporal Etin Bijam decided to counter-attack with a co-ordinated split charge at one of the enemy’s hideouts, covered by their comrades. In the fire fight, Ngalinuh was shot in the right thigh while an enemy was killed.

The heroic duo and their comrades held their ground to prevent the explosives from falling to the enemy, fighting off the furious onslaught by the determined attackers who only retreated after reinforcement from a patrolling PFF platoon arrived to help. The shootout possibly had injured an unknown number of enemy combatants as there were blood stains at the scene from the fleeing group.

Both Ngalinuh and Etin received the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SP) medals from the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong on July 6, 1972. Ngalinuh was promoted to Sgt Major and later Sub-Inspector, a rank he held at the 18th Battalion of the PFF until his retirement in 1995.

Dr Raja said Kelabit folklores are full of stories of bravery and powerful men such as Agan Tadun, Tuked Rini and Balang Lipang, who are men with supernatural strength and powers.

“It is this background of heroic inspiration that motivates Kelabits to this day,” he said.

Kelabit men and women were outstanding in fighting the Japanese alongside the Allied Z Forces that parachuted into Bario during the Second World War, in the Border Scouts regiment defending Sarawak’s borders during the Confrontation with Indonesia and the communist insurgency which Ngalinuh and others were actively involved in.

Pa Lungan is in the Kelabit highlands where Batu Ritong is found. Legend has it that the megalith was placed to commemorate a great Kelabit warrior and aristocrat by the name of Ritung.

This is also the place where Sarawak legendary former Olympian and policeman, the late Kuda @ Bala Ditta, hailed from.

Dr Raja said it is only right that the Kelabit community give Ngalinuh, the legend in their midst, a befitting gesture of honour and appreciation while he is still alive.

Semi-paralysed after suffering a stroke in 2001, the SP recipient can only walk gingerly with a walking stick, living a quiet life in Kampung Lusut.

Former deputy state secretary Datu Ose Murang said Ngalinuh is a living legend but was generally unknown.

“We do not wait until his death to celebrate his contribution to the sovereignty of our nation Malaysia,” he said.

“You (The Borneo Post) are well placed to tell his near-death story; so we can better appreciate how precious it is to live in a peaceful, united country despite all the differences,” he added.

The ceremony will also celebrate the contributions and sacrifices of the 250 Kelabits who had served in the police or army since the colonial government to the Confrontation with Indonesia, World War II and the communist insurgency.

RKS found that many had retired and some had passed away as it uncovered many other real life stories of the bravery of Kelabits such as Sgt Esau Padan, Sgt Lun Arun, Cpl Taman Raman and Pasa Aran while there are many others who made the community proud.

“We are calling on those awarded with medals to wear them to the ceremony as I know there are some with the Order of the British Empire (OBE) or British Empire Medal (BEM) in the community,” Dr Raja said.

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