January 14, 2014

Bukit Lan : 72 days 24 hours curfew (1971)

Remembering the last days of the Methodist Foreign Missionaries in Bukit Lan.

The Wiants lived in Bukit Lan Methodist Mission Agricultural Station from 1968 to1971,during one of the worst political periods in the history of Sarawak.

Daniel Wiant was only 8 when he lived in Bukit Lan
Bukit Lan is one of the properties bought and managed by Rev James Hoover  for the Methodist Church of Sarawak from 1903 onwards. There is a church , a school , plus an agricultural station in this huge Church property, bought by the far sighted Hoover.This piece of land is more than 300 acres and today it is still home to a large farm leased to a private company, a church, a retreat centre and a small fruit farm for the pastorage.

The jetty of Bukit Lan of 1972 and the promontory here has been eroded  by river currents and floods.


Daniel looking at the jack fruit tree planted by his father.
Mr. Leighton Wiant, himself  son of Amercian Missionaries to China brought his family to Sibu. He spoke good Mandarin . His children attended the local school and enjoyed living in the rural area amongst Foochows and Ibans. They must have had a hard time living under on and off curfew conditions for almost a year.

Their Bukit Lan home today - just ceiling, roof and no walls, a few beams are left.
When the curfew was imposed, almost every one was taken by surprise. Life could be said to be chaotic and uncertain. The Foochows in the village tried their best to keep calm and followed the government instructions of the day.

During the curfew period, gun fire was heard in the "jungles" around the Bukit Lan village. While the villagers continued with their daily chores, the soldiers made the Bukit Lan school and church their headquarters.
Leighton Wiant meeting old friends
How do you do? The motor bike is still a favoured mode of transport in Bukit Lan
A village came to say good bye to Mr.Wiant. He is still remembered fondly by the villagers.

A school mate remembered how the soldiers would play cards during the day time under the tents they put up when they formed road barricades. As he lived near by, the soldiers became friendly with him and often talked to him. He sometimes would cycle by the church and asked for permission from the soldiers to go further down the road to collect some chicken feed from the little shop. His mother was too frightened to go herself. His sisters were all sent to Sibu to stay with a relative . Most of his friends and older boys and girls had to transfer to town schools or stop schooling. Expenses were big and many of the families just could not afford the expenditure in town. A few of the older girls had to learn sewing or work in some of the shops.

Miss Mona Pengelly, a nursing sister who looked after the Bukit Lan Mobile Clinic had a story to tell about the curfew. Some high ranking officers came to visit the "camp" and in the evening, the pastor and she were invited to have dinner with the officer and a few other soldiers who had been camping near the clinic. It was quite nice and she was surpirsed by the courtesy shown by the officer. They talked about ordinary things and the two were put at ease. The next day the officer left. Nothing much actually happened and she did not see any dead bodies or treat any bad wounds. The soldiers never came to harass her and her staff or the family of the pastor who lived next door. And she never did see any communist.

According to the Sparttanburg Herald, "90 communists were 'eliminated' from the jungles from January to July in 1971"

Security forces also lost a few men during the exchange of gun fires with the communists. It was reported that the communists had good machine guns and other weapons.

The Wiants left Bukit Lan not long after the curfew period because it was thought that their safety was threatened. And in fact many missionaries and Roman Catholic European priests and nuns were advised to leave Sarawak in 1972.

An elderly Iban man recently shared his memories about curfew time in Sibu and about the Chinese and Iban Communists of those days. He himself worked for a while as a school cleaner in Kanowit. According to him it was difficult to really tell who the communists were because they did not wear any uniform. But his family and the longhouse community did experience the help given by one group of these guerrillas during the harvesting time. In order to get some rice from the Ibans, these guerrillas actually helped the longhouse farmers harvest rice for several days and they were very friendly. But when they received news of some on coming danger, they politely obtained some rice and disappeared at night. "They were really polite and gentle," He later heard that several groups of communists were killed in Kanowit and he felt a little sorry that the state of Sarawak should be in this kind of situation.
(All photos courtesy of Wong Meng Lei)

1 comment:

Ethel/Ethel Mae said...

Thank you for posting this blog about Leighton Wiant. It is the first I have heard of Sarawak since he and Dorothy left there, and I have lost track of them now for many, many years.
Leighton and Dorothy Wiant were great friends of my husband and I when we were in college. They sang at our wedding. Somewhere I have a few pictures that the Wiants sent to us when they were in Sarawak.
Maybe some day I can make contact with them again. I would like that.
Ethel Mae Ingalls
aka Cory