Memories of the Malayan Emergency

5 July 1998

The Che Ahmad Kaya Kampong Bandar family, although not of the higher caste aristocracy - for there were degrees of class even among the Malay bangsawan - lived as friends of Datuks, District Officers and Penggawas (chieftains) within the feudal, structure of Kelantan society in the twenties as had their ancestors before that following their emigration from Petani to Kelantan when Petani became part of Siam sometime in the 19th Century.

Sixty-one years ago yesterday, I was born into the Che Ahmad Kaya Kampong Bandar family who lived in the upstream riverine Kampong Bandar, some 20 miles south of Kota Baru and four miles west of Kok Lanas in a pastoral society without a school or even a madrasah (religious school) except for a Koran class.

My world then could not have offered a secular education. I was tutored early to read the Koran by an uncle, Che Hassan Awang, and to read and write (in both Jawi and romanised Malay) and add, subtract and multiply by my father who had attended a pondok (religious monastery) and taught himself romanised Malay.

Pondok education was an is essentially Isamic and the medium of instruction was and is part Malay and part Arabic. There are still pondok scattered all over Kelantan, Southern Thailand and even Muslim parts of Cambodia.

As there was no school in Kampong Bandar (the village school was established only in 1950), I was despatched to Kota Baru (Padang Garong school) in 1947 and the following year I was selected to go to the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK).

I consider myself lucky to have become the most recognizable figure from Kok Lanas.

My father was called Che Ahmad Kaya Kampong Bandar because he made money from his rubber small-holdings totalling some 30 acres which was then sizeable by rural standards. He also owned sawah (rice fields) and dusun (orchards).

He ran a smoke house and had a licence to buy and sell rubber.

Che Ahmad's good fortune and "education" impressed his fellow citizens and they made him their leader besides the imam and the penghulu. His house (part brick and part timber) became a station where visiting dignitaries would stop over during their visits to the kampung. One effect of this: I was "discovered" and off I went to Kota Baru for formal schooling.

Summer in New York this year is warm, the heat is still pleasant and bearable. My mood always changes in summer. I tend to become especially idle spending much time day dreaming, resurrecting memories, eating, drinking, reading (rarely) and visiting places and friends and, resting and sleeping.

As I idly read through a long letter from a friend about current issues at home and his postmortem of the 52nd Umno general assembly, I was taken back by his remark that anti-Mahathir forces within the party were waging a guerrilla warfare against him. They used, he claimed, a combination of communist-Islamic tactics of lies, innuendoes, character assassinations, fitnah (slander,) poison letters, half- truths and even inventing, chronicling and peddling fiction. He said he would not be, surprised if they would attempt to (politically) ambush Mahathir next year.

I had not heard nor used the word ambush for a long time. As I tried to conjure up what a political ambush might be and, cracking my brain, my memory raced back to June 16, 50 years ago when ambush was a common word, when the declaration of the Malayan Emergency by the British colonial government in Kuala Lumpur was made.

Wide powers were given that day to the colonial police and to other authorities by Emergency regulations covering four of the mostlawless areas in Malaya following the killing that day of three European rubber planters in Perak. The Emergency powers provided for the death penalty for the unauthorised possession of firearms, ammunition or explosives.