Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kanang: Cerita Seorang Pahlawan

source from NST

JOHAN JAAFFAR: For hero Kanang, the datukship can wait

I WOULDN'T be surprised if Kanang anak Langkau humbly declined the offer to make him a Datuk.

In a press statement, he said that he couldn't afford the title as he was "not rich enough to dress and act like one".

For many Malaysians, being a Datuk is more than a status symbol. It entails prestige and status. In today's Malaysia, everyone that matters carries the title.

I met Kanang back in 1987. I was heading a small publishing unit of the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP). One of my editors, Hamzah Isa, was doing the finishing touches on the book Kanang: Cerita Seorang Pahlawan written by Maznan Nordin, based on Kanang's life story. Maznan was himself a retired major in the armed forces.

He graduated from the Royal Military College and later went to the United States for training and was once attached to Sekolah Pertahanan Darat, Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia (ABRI).

But he writes creative works, too, including novels, short stories and poems. When he came to us with the book project involving Kanang, we were delighted. The army also lent its support to the project.

Kanang was no ordinary soldier. He is the only recipient of two of the country's highest awards -- the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SP) and Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) for bravery. The book tells the story of how he became a soldier, his life in the army, how he won the awards and his promotion to the rank of Warrant Officer I before he retired.

A day before the book was launched, I was introduced to Kanang. Major Abdul Razak Abdullah of the Commando Regiment based in Malacca was entrusted to help me with the preparation. His role was to re-enact the incident on Feb 19, 1980 when the platoon Kanang led was ambushed.

Kanang was an unassuming gentleman with quite a sense of humour. To us he was a national hero. But he reminded us that he would not have been a hero had it not been for his platoon members.

They were as dedicated as he was. They fought hard and comradeship won the day. He was severely wounded while defending his soldiers. They in return saved him from certain death. Kanang was awarded the SP for his courage.

A year earlier, he was involved in skirmishes with the communists. He was awarded the PGB for his part in the fighting.

Kanang grew up in Nanga Meluan, having been born in the longhouse of Karangan Manok in March, 1945. He first joined the Sarawak Rangers in April 1962. In 1963, President Sukarno of Indonesia launched his Ganyang Malaysia campaign heralding the two-year Confrontation between the two countries. Kanang was in the thick of things. He was tracking Indonesian soldiers who had parachuted into the jungles of Kota Tinggi. Kanang made his name as one of the most reliable Iban trackers at the time.

He was later attached to the 42nd Commando Division of the British army. In Lubuk Antu in Sarawak, he saved the life of one of the commanding officers, a feat that was left unrecognised.

After a short stint with the First Royal New Zealand Army, Kanang joined the First Rangers Regiment of Malaysia. He later joined the 8th Rangers in March 1973 . Life was uneventful for him. He would have quit the army had it had not been for his commanding officer at the time, Lieutenant-Colonel Sulaiman Kudus. Sulaiman motivated Kanang to excel.

In July 1978, he was made sergeant. The late 1970s and early 1980s were years of living dangerously for Malaysian soldiers.

The communist threat was real. Gerakan Setia was launched in the Korbu area of Perak to flush out the remaining communist guerillas. It was a bloody campaign that took many lives.

The book was launched by the then minister of defence, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The date was April 18, 1987, a few days before the Umno general assembly that saw the challenge by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and his B-Team against the A-Team led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Umno president.

It was one of the most suspenseful elections in Umno's history. The party was split into two. Abdullah was with the B-Team. Little wonder the historic occasion was not reported by the media which was under the control of the A-Team.

Abdullah made a heart-wrenching speech praising Kanang for his dedication and bravery, and the sacrifices made by armed forces personnel.

Kanang was visibly moved by the speech. He told me later his thoughts were with his friends who fought alongside him that day. He thanked Abdullah for highlighting the role of the Rangers, the unsung heroes of many battles. It was a joyous moment in his life.

He invited us to visit him. The town of Long Pasia was the gateway to the area. There is an airstrip for small Malaysia Airlines planes. "Jangan takut, ada kapal terbang, kau tak sesat, selagi pilot tak sesat." ("Don't worry, there is the airplane, you won't get lost unless the pilot gets lost"). That is Kanang, the greatest living military hero Malaysians have ever known.

I have not met him since. Abdullah, who launched the book on him, is now the prime minister. Kanang was a dashing figure at 42 when he came to the DBP in 1987. I knew even back then that he was extremely uncomfortable with publicity. When stories of his exploits were aired on local TV, he grew a beard and moustache to avoid being recognised.

"Buku ini buat aku susah nanti.", ("This book will make it difficult for me"), he joked. When Maznan and Tengku Razaleigh visited him before the book launch, he was apologetic about his condition.

"Kami orang miskin," ("We are poor"), he told them. Back then there was no electricity or running water in his village. He requested for basic amenities to be provided to his community.

Perhaps things have changed for the better now. But for him, there are many other forms of gratitude with which people can repay him. He is still speaking out on behalf of his people, sometimes to deaf ears. For now the datukship can wait.

No comments: