BRAVE MAN: Iban soldier kept his sense of humour even when he was badly injured in an ambush
BACK in August 2008, when I wrote about the late Datuk Temenggong Kanang Langkau in this column, Lt-Col (R) Rizal Abdullah responded in a letter to the editor. Rizal, who had first-hand experience working with Iban soldiers, had this to say about them: "Kanang, like most Iban soldiers whom I had known, was too straightforward, honest and humble."
Rizal narrated his encounters with two unassuming Iban soldiers, Corporal Likau and Corporal Kaya. Likau, whom he had met in the late 1960s, did not use a compass or a map. "Kalau saya guna peta dan kompas saya sesat, tuan!" (If I use a map and compass I will get lost, sir!) was his excuse.
Datuk Temenggong Kanang Anak Langkau, who died on Thursday, was too straightforward, honest and humble, says a former army officer.
In the mid-1980s, he met Kaya, of the 10th Sarawak Rangers. Despite his leadership quality and hard work, he declined promotion because he was illiterate.
Rizal wrote: "I was and still am spellbound by the pure honesty of these Iban soldiers ... They were synonymous with bravery, tracking skills and prowess on the battlefield."
Kanang came from the same tradition. He was the only living recipient of two of the nation's highest bravery awards, the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa and Panglima Gagah Berani.
Born in the longhouse of Karangan Manuk in March 1945, he joined the Sarawak Rangers in April 1962, a year before the formation of Malaysia. When former Indonesian president Sukarno launched his Ganyang Malaysia campaign, Kanang was in Kota Tinggi tracking Indonesian soldiers. It was in Gerakan Setia in Perak in the 1980s that Kanang made his name as one of the best known soldiers the country has ever known.
I was heading a publication unit at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka when Major (R) Maznan Nordin came out with an idea to write the Kanang story. I assigned a young editor, Hamzah Isa, to assist him. The book was Kanang: Cerita Seorang Pahlawan.
Such a book, fittingly, had to be launched by then defence minister Datuk (now Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
But we had a problem. Abdullah was in Team B, in one of the most bruising fights for the leadership of Umno. The president, Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was being challenged by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. The launch date was April 17, 1987, just a few days before the Umno general assembly.
No one in the country really cared about what happened at Balai Budaya, DBP, that day.
In fact, prior to that, there were questions asked about why Abdullah was invited to the launch. The former director-general Datuk Hassan Ahmad stood firm. "This is not politics. This is about launching a book about bravery."
That was his last official function at DBP.
He was made ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation not long after that.
Abdullah came without the press. He gave a great speech. We did our best to make the occasion memorable. Major Abdul Razak Abdullah of the Commando Regiment, based in Malacca, brought his soldiers to re-enact the incident on Feb 19, 1980, when the platoon led by Kanang was ambushed.
For the few days he was in Kuala Lumpur, I was there with Maznan and Hamzah to accompany him and his wife. He was humble but forthright. He had a notorious sense of humour. "Buku ini akan buat aku susah" (the book will make life difficult for me), he joked.
True enough, when the book came out and the press was giving a lot of attention to his exploits, he grew a beard and a moustache. "Aku macam bintang filem ni," (I'm like a film star now), he was joking when I asked him about the new image.
I met him again early this year at one of the Janji Ditepati programmes. He was not the dashing 42-year old soldier that I met in 1987. But his sense of humour was intact. "Aku fikir aku tua, rupanya kau juga sudah tua" (I thought I am getting old, so are you), he said as we hugged.
His laughter was always contagious, in good times and bad. It reminds me of a story by one the survivors of the 1980 ambush. Kanang was badly injured, but still he was barking orders, "Kau mati, aku hukum kau!" (You die, I'll charge you), to inspire his troops.
Twenty-five years had gone since the launch of the book. Dr Mahathir became the prime minister 16 more years after that. Abdullah, who took over the reign from him, had stepped down four years ago. The political dynamics had changed. So, too, the people involved in the launch.
Legendary national hero and former soldier, Datuk Temenggong Kanang Langkau.
Source: New Straits Times Top News National Hero Datuk Kanang anak Langkau Dies 03 January 2013
When he was offered the datukship in 2008. he respectfully declined. He wanted changes for the livelihood of his people. He finally accepted the Darjah Utama Yang Amat Mulia Bintang Kenyalang Sarawak (PGBK), which carries the title of Datuk, in 2011. It was long overdue for someone who had made so many sacrifices to the nation. Let's salute this soldier for his fighting spirit and for inspiring us. He lived up to the motto of his regiment, "Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban" (As long as we live, we fight) to the very last.
Good soldiers, they say, don't die, they just fade away.
Johan Jaaffar | Twitter: Johan_Jaaffar | firstname.lastname@example.org New Straits Times Columnist 05 January 2013