Saturday, 13 June 2009

Dayak Tracker Maja anak Barek - an Unsung Hero

An Unsung Hero Dayak Tracker Maja anak Barek On August 8, 1948, six weeks after the Emergency was declared, the colonial government of Sarawak decided to respond to the request from the Malayan government to send Dayak Trackers to help quell the communist insurgency in Malaya. A group of some 49 Dayak Trackers were sent. A young, enthusiastic and confident Dayak by the name of Maja anak Barek was one of them. With his ancestors’ talismans tied around his waist and neck, he set forth to go to war and to show the world the courage and determination that was brimming and boiling within him. To him and his friends, as were they to his ancestors, the fearless courage of their warrior forefathers must live on in them. To the Dayak warriors, courage was a virtue and a trademark of a true warrior. Maja ak Barek was born on December 8, 1931 in Kapit. He answered the call when the Malayan government requested for help from the Sarawak government to quell the communist insurgency in 1948. Maja was then a young, dashing and eager 17 year old Dayak youth who, like all other Dayaks, considered fighting in a war as a supreme virtue that a man must possess. On arrival in Port Dickson, he and the others were sent to undergo two weeks of rigorous training under Company Quality British Regiment commanded by Major Brush Mary. On completion of the training, he was assigned to a unit, which was operating in Keroh, Perak. In the middle of 1948, he was transferred to A Company of Kenya Regiment in Bukit Dinding, Pahang where he remained for the next 7 months. Battles with the communist insurgents were frequent. In 1950, he was again transferred to C Company of the Queen of London Regiment in Segamat, Johore. When B Company of the Manchester Regiment took over the Area of Responsibility from the Company, Maja was transferred to the incoming unit and continued to disburse his dedicated service until 1953. In late 1952, the 380 Dayak Trackers that were attached to the various units in Malaya were conferred military status by the Sarawak Government. They were grouped into two experimental platoons commanded by British Officers. The Dayaks held the non-commission officers appointments. Thus started the reformed Sarawak Rangers, a unit that was started by Rajah Charles Brooke in 1862 but was disbanded in 1930 due to the world economic recession. The Sarawak Rangers Ordinance no. 22 of 1953 was not passed until 16 September 1953. However, Sarawak Rangers was officially reformed with effect January 1, 1953 - Sarawak Rangers (Malayan Unit) was formed. Sarawak Rangers (Malayan Unit) remained until it was disbanded on 31 March 1960 to give way to the new Sarawak Rangers (Far East Land Forces) which made it a part of the British Army. This new Unit didn’t last very long. On 15 September 1963 it was disbanded again to make way for the modern 1st Battalion, The Malaysian Rangers, which was formed on 16 September 1963 – the day Malaysia was borned. When the Manchester Regiment was redesignated as the Green Jacket, Maja was assigned as a Senior Dayak Tracker in one of the two experimental platoons. In the same year, Maja was shot and wounded in the stomach. He went in and out of the hospitals and was assigned light works. Finally in 1957, after 9 years of dedicated service that included numerous battles with the communist terrorists, he called it a day and resigned. Bearing in mind that the Dayak Trackers were employed on a three-months contract basis, Maja’s willingness to renew his services again and again was astounding! Maja’s warrior spirit could not be surpressed. In 1960, after his return to Sarawak, he joined the Police Field Force in Kuching as a Police Constable. A year later he was transferred to Lanang Camp in Sibu and was promoted to a Lance Corporal. At the outbreak of the Brunei Rebellion in 1962, he was transferred to the Field Force camp in Miri. He was involved in operations against the Brunei rebels. In 1964, he was transferred again to Lanang Camp in Sibu which was later renamed F Company and later as 15th Battalion Police Field Force. He was promoted to a Corporal. He remained in the unit until 1975 when he decided for an early retirement, which was partly due to his injuries he sustained in a battle with the communist terrorists in Julau, Kanowit in 1972. Two years before his retirement, he was promoted to an acting Sergeant which he held until he retired in 1975 with a meager pension of RM300 a month. For Maja anak Bareh, it had been a long 27 years of actions against the communist terrorists, first in Malaya, the Brunei Rebellion and then the Sarawak communist insurgency. Although married with 6 children to care for, it had been his dedicated duty to Country first. His life had been on the tip of a bull’s horn whenever he went on jungle operations and we could only imagine what an ordeal his family had gone through all these 27 years. Thank you Sergeant Maja anak Barek for giving your best to this country of ours and by making it as it is today. Without the unsung heroes like you, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the peace we are having today.
Tracker Maja ak. Barek in full battle order.
Maja and family Maja and his wife


  1. i would like to suggest for you to write a book about Iban Warriors-their bravery,loyalty and asventure.also lack of appreciation by the nation.if not of this blog,i wouldnt know the history of the Iban warrior eventho i`m military buff and love history.pls consider for the sake of future generation.tq

  2. Hi Ahmad,

    Thank you for your comments.

    Yes, I'm planning to write a book on the Iban Trackers 1948 - 1960, as well as the Sarawak Rangers 1862 - 1963, Insyallah.

    I'll be making my first research trip to Kuching towards the end of this month.


  3. Interesting to see the M1 Garand used by Maja. Didn't know the Rangers used Garands (or was Maja modelling the uniforms and equipment of Indonesian raiders?). Keep up the good work sir.

    Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban

  4. Thank you Anonymous. That picture was taken in 1948. So it couldn't be the Indonesian Raiders uniform as it was well before the Confrontation.

  5. Thanks for the clarification. In your upcoming book on the Rangers I hope you mention the roles played by the Rangers in Indochina.

  6. Rangers in Indo China? Are you referring to the US Rangers which was involved in the Vietnam War?
    As far as I know Sarawak Rangers were never deployed outside of Malaya, except in Brunei in 1962/63 to help quell the Brunei rebellion.

    When Sarawak Rangers (Far East Land Forces) became a part of the British Army on 1 April 1960, it was poised for the world theater - just like the Gurkhas. But alas! it was not to be. In 1963 Sarawak became a part of Malaysia and Sarawak Rangers was disbanded on 15 September 1963 to make way for the new unit called The Malaysian Rangers.

  7. No, Sarawak Rangers (a selected few). They were in Indochina,and some of them are still alive today. MI6 personnel acted as their officers. They weren't there for long because the South Vietnamese government became suspicious of the Rangers (similarities in culture and language amongst the Sarawakians and the hill tribes, probably they were afraid that the Sarawakians and the Brits have their own agendas). The Sarawak Rangers came home just in time to join the Confrontation. Google Richard Noone who's closely linked to the Senoi Praaq detachment that was also in South Vietnam at that time, you might come across reference to the Rangers as well.

  8. Oh and since you're planning to include the Iban trackers in the planned book, please do mention the roles played by Iban trackers in the days before Malaya was invaded by the Japanese. Not many know that Iban trackers were used to scout possible attack routes for Operation MATADOR in 1941.

  9. Dear Anonymous,

    Those are great informations you have. Do you mind share your sources on them? These informations will open a new chapter on the deployment of the Sarawak Rangers.

    It must had been when it was a part of the British Army (Sarawak Rangers (Far East Land Forces)) which was disbanded on September 15, 1963, a day before Malaysia was borned.

  10. Try and get a copy of Barry Petersen's "Tiger Men". He talked a bit about the Rangers and the Senoi Praaq in IndoChina when he was there serving alongside them. As for Op.MATADOR for the life of me I can't remember the title of the book, it has almost been a decade since I did my studies in counterinsurgency so my memory is a bit hazy on some details. Am sure with your connections you can get more information than myself. Good luck on your quest, will be looking forward to your book.

  11. Dear Anonymous,

    Thanks. It would very interesting to find out about their involvement outside of Malaysia.

  12. Sir,

    Please update me/us once the books are ready for the distribution.

    I'm sad that the Sarawak Rangers' role were not mentioned even 1 bit during the Documentary aired by Astro recently.

    The person m

    God bless.


  13. Dear Stephen,

    I didn't get to see that program aired on Astro. I am perplexed too why the role of the Iban Trackers and later Sarawak Rangers were omitted. Lack of research? Maybe. Purposely downplaying the roles of the world's best jungle trackers? Could be.

    Whatever it was, the Iban Trackers / Sarawak Rangers had been indispensable to the Commonwealth Forces. Troops going into the jungle MUST have a team of Trackers.

    They were not only good in tracking down the CTs but helped to boost the morale of the many young British soldiers who were for the first time sent into the wild, thick, mosquito-ridden and unfriendly jungles of Malaya. The Ibans, on the contrary, were at home and jovial.

  14. My father, Maja anak Bareh, has passed away at 4:06 am on 14 August 2012 due to breathing problem. He starts to have breathing problem at 11:50 am on 13 August 2012. My brother Ameros anak Maja call by hand phone to Selangau Clinic for help to send an ambulance to assist since they have the emergency equipment to help him. They refuse to come. They insist that my father be sent to Selangau Clinic on his own transport. My brother Ameros at that time do not have any transportation. I was in Sebauh, Bintulu 210 km away. My brother then calls my niece Edelaine anak Edward to go to Selangau Clinic to get the officer on duty to send an ambulance to fetch my father. She reaches there at 1:00 am 14 August 2012. Still the officer on duty that morning refuses and insists that he is sent to the clinic on our own transport.
    I went there at 1:15 am from Sebauh and reach Sepiring (my father house) at 3:30 am. He was already struggling with breathing problem. He could not sit down. He was struggling from left and right vomiting mucus from his lung and crying in pain. We call for the ambulance again and they still refuse to come. So we call the Police at Selangau Police Station to assist. The police did assist. I must thank them. They call the Selangau Clinic to send an ambulance to my father’s house. Only then they send an ambulance. The ambulance arrives at 4:30 am too late. My father Maja anak Bareh, the unsung hero already pass away at 4:06 am. If they had come earlier, I am sure my father still lives today.
    The new generation has forgotten the pain stacking effort of the Dayak Tracker in the past to help Malaysia to get rid of insurgencies and pave the way for an independence country. What they enjoy now is the fruit of sacrifice produced by the unsung heroes like my father. He was shot twice and critically wounded in the stomach and on the face and hand during his tour of duty and he survives. He died in a sad way.
    He was buried with a military honour by the 3rd Royal Ranger Regiment from Sibu camp at Bintulu Anglican Cemetery at 10:00 am on 16 August 2012. I would like to give my whole heart thank to the army officers and staff from 3rd Royal Ranger Regiment at Mile 13 Oya Camp, Sibu for sending two transports with officers and army personnel. One group help to erect and dismantle 3 sun tents. The other group help to send my late father with military honour from Sepiring to Bintulu where he was laid to rest. I would like to thank also the ex-police member association and others for their unforgettable assistant. On behalf of my brothers & family, we humbly appreciate for your generosity and kind thought especially at this mourning period. We were speechless to receive your sincere financial contribution.

    I am his second son Senelus Maja.

  15. Dear Senelus,

    I'm saddened by his demise and the way the hospital reacted to the emergency call. You have very right to pursue the matter with them. It was totally uncalled for.

    My heartfelt condolence to you and your family. May his soul rest in peace.