Wednesday, February 19

Marriages made by imperial decree?


TO this day I have not been able to get a satisfactory answer to the reason why the Japanese Occupation troops forced young men and women in my village to get married within two days of the issue of an Imperial Order.

This happened towards the end of the Japanese Rule in Sarawak in August 1945, I think. I was about eight or nine years old.

Can anyone familiar with Japanese war policy elsewhere help me with some other theories different from the one that a writer on Japanese Occupation thought it was?

He told me that the Japanese authorities in Sarawak wanted to take away the ladies as comfort women and recruit young men into the Japanese Army.

If this was the case, then why was this policy confined to one village and not on a district-wide basis? No unmarried people in any other village were forced to get married. For that matter, if they wanted to recruit sex slaves, why take official measures to make the women ‘ineligible’?

As it transpired, none of the young women from my village were taken away as comfort women because they got married fast – some against their will, others saw the Imperial Order as God-given. For one of my male cousins, it was a perfect example of the Malay saying that goes like this, ‘Pucuk di cita ulam pun datang’ – a dream come true.

He had been for some time wooing a young lady of the village, but had had some rude rebuffs. He had taken lessons in self-defence (kuntau) and learnt about charms from his cousin Onga in Sambas. With this acquisition of new skills, he hoped to impress the lady. None of it worked – until the Imperial Order gave the coy maiden no choice. The marriage produced a pretty daughter, herself now happily married with children and grandchildren of her own. Thanks to the match-making efforts of His Imperial Majesty!

Jika tidak kerana Jika

There is another good thing that the Japanese had done or rather not done. The late Andrew Jika Landau was a local boy who later became a chief inspector in the Sarawak Constabulary after the war. In the early years of Malaysia, he was appointed a member of the Malaysian Senate. He was an influential leader in Party Negara, whose leader was the Datu Bandar Haji Mustapha.

During the Occupation, Jika had befriended one of the Japanese officers because both spoke English.

One day, he was told that all books and documents at the Christ Church in Stunggang would be burnt. He was detailed by the Japanese authorities to carry out that burning. He had no choice but to comply with the order if he wished to avoid being slapped by the Kempetai on the face – or worse.

Obligingly, Jika made a bonfire of ‘documents’ (dry wood and old newspapers and grass); then he dutifully reported this to the Japanese commander at Lundu town. Both went out to inspect. From the boat, the Japanese officer could see the smoke billowing up from the church compound. He was obviously pleased and satisfied with a job well done, patting Jika on the back and saying “Joto neh”.

Abang Haji Adenan 

After the war, Lundu had a district officer named Abang Haji Adenan. Abang Haji Adenan was very fond of organising concerts (stage shows) for the pupils at Bumiputera School. To digress a bit, I think this was the first school in Sarawak ever named Bumiputera school. This was where the medium of instruction was the Romanised Malay (Zaaba spelling system) and Jawi was taught. This was my third school.

One of the popular pantuns (quatrain) in the district was

“Jika tidak kerana bulan, 

Dimana bintang terbit pagi; 

Jika tidak kerana tuan,

Dimanalah saya datang ka sini.” 

(Meaning: without the moon, there will be no stars in the morning. If not for you, I won’t have come here. Something like that).

Government officers and the constables maintained a close rapport; government officers had friendly relations with the locals. Whenever they met even during office hours or in town they teased each other by saying “Jika tidak kerana Jika”.

For the church people, it was “kalau tidak kerana Jika” (If not for Jika), they would have lost valuable church documents, historical important records of the coming of Christianity to our village. By 1945, the Anglican Mission there was about 100 years old.

The half-naked men  

In the village we were totally cut off from the rest of the world.

One day, my father and I went to town; I wanted to buy a bugle and a hat. The red hat and a tin bugle made me so happy.

Dad was a generous man.

Suddenly there was a commotion, people rushing to the wharf and pointing to a ship coming up the river.

The ship turned out to be a minesweeper. I forgot what its name was. On the deck were men in shorts, chests full of hair.

After the boat had berthed the other men in uniform were throwing sweets and biscuits into the crowd.

I was in that crowd and it was my lucky day indeed. I had a good share of the sweets because I used my hat to full advantage.

I never took note of the name of the ship.

Years later, I was told that one of the half-naked men lying on the deck was one Tuan Eelam. Later he joined the colonial civil service and was posted to Bau as the District Officer. Please confirm, if any one remembers this man.

I have memories now fading fast of the period in the history of the town. I must record the above stories on paper and share them with my readers. My hope is that they may be able to fill in the gaps in the stories.

Have a nice weekend.

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