Sunday, 28 March 2010

Dead Iban Warriors to go home

Below is a nice write up by BERNAMA on the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers - a follow up on my interview with them in KL on 24 March 2010. Dead Iban Warriors to go home

KUALA LUMPUR: When the remains of 21 Iban warriors make their final journey home to Sarawak sometime this year, one of the country's most highly decorated soldiers is likely to weep with relief.

For the past 20 months, retired Lt Kol Robert Rizal Abdullah has been on an emotional mission - ever since he read the plea of a Sarawakian woman who saw a blog about the grave of an Iban tracker being at a roadside in Alor Setar.

"My heart bled when I saw the picture. I vowed to take the matter up to the highest authority. It became my mission," Robert Rizal wrote in his own blog (http://pgbwarrior/

The task was code-named Ops Ngerapuh - an Iban word which means ‘moving the remains of the dead’.

In an interview with Bernama, Robert Rizal, 61, said that, for a while, Ops Ngerapuh appeared to have stalled.

"But it is moving now. I am confident that this will be done by this year, we are trying by September, but it will be this year," said the retired soldier who is working with the defence ministry and the Sarawak Government on this. "A site has been identified in Kuching but I also heard that there are some bidders for the land because it is in a prime area," he said.

The 15.4 acre (6.2 hectare) plot of government land is located in Kota Sentosa, amid several army camps at the 7th mile of the Kuching-Serian road.

Robert Rizal was formerly Robert Madang Langi, an Iban warrior himself who received the Panglima Gagah Berani medal, the nation's second highest military gallantry award, after a courageous attack on communist terrorists in 1973 in Sarawak during his 25 years in uniform.

Ops Ngerapuh went firmly on track after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak pledged last month to send home the remains of the warriors, who were trackers and rangers recruited by the British colonial forces.

Robert Rizal said the prime minister was informed of it by Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu during his visit to Kuching.

"Once the land is confirmed by the state government, a memorial will be built and, after that, the exhumations can be done easily," he said.

Robert Rizal said that, of the 21 who were all killed in action between 1951 and 1963, when the country first declared emergency to fight communist guerillas, only the remains of 12 were known. The whereabouts of the rest are unknown.

Four are buried at the Batu Gajah Christian cemetery, two in the Kamunting Road Christian cemetery in Taiping, another four at the Cheras Christian cemetery in Kuala Lumpur while two are interred at the Kranji Military Cemetery in Singapore.

"The names of eight are etched at the Terendak Military Camp in Malacca.

“It is the gravestone of Ungkok anak Jugam that is by the roadside in Alor Star and triggered this," said Robert Rizal.

Ungkok's gravestone was moved to the side of the road at KM4, Jalan Langgar, Alor Setar, when a dual highway was built more than a decade ago.

Robert Rizal said the gravestone was moved to the St Michael's Catholic Church cemetery, also in Alor Setar last April, and despite scanning a 100m radius, there were no bones detected in the vicinity of the original site.

He said that, so far, contact had been made with the next-of-kin of 18 of the deceased except for three - Private Empati anak Dugu, Private Letan anak Kusing and Border Scout Utot anak Tangang.

Discussions would be held with the families on how their warrior heroes would be re-buried.

"Some of the families have converted to Islam, there are some who are Christians and some still pagans. We will follow their wishes," said Robert Rizal.

Traditional Ibans use the 'miring' ceremony to ward off bad spirits and bad luck and such a ceremony was performed when Ungkok's gravestone was shifted.

"I am doing this for the future generations of Ibans so that the sacrifices of their forefathers and what they had done is remembered and is handed down as a legacy for young Ibans," said Robert Rizal, who has four grandchildren.

He resides in Taiping with his wife, Raja Noriah Raja Shahrome, a great grand-daughter of Sultan Abdullah who once ruled Perak. - Bernama


  1. Agi idup, agi ngelaban. Aku meri tabik basa ngagai nuan Tuan Robert laban ngatur pemulai pungkak berani kitai iban ti lesi bebadi di menua orang. Ngambi ka nembiak rebak baru ulih ngingat lalu betaladan ka pemerani orag ka dulu menyak.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Terima kasih. It is an obligation for my country and race. Though a nobody, I am in a position and circumstances that enable me to push for it.

    God has been great. With His help, you can see the results now.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Dear Robert,
    I came by your blog through Malaysiakini which ran the story on the Iban warrior.
    I must say I am shocked and sadden why it has taken such a long time to bring all of them home. This is no way to treat the warriors who have given the ultimate sacrifice to their country. this would never have happened Down Under, where I am studying now.
    Here we get to read how the veteran affairs department goes to great length to locate and return their fallen warriors who went to sent to fight overseas, be it the battle fields of Europe, the jungles of Vietnam ... any where for the matter. There are annual veteran parades, commemorations of the wars, etc...
    Don't Malaysians honour their warriors?
    The Asian way is not to make a fuss about it, but me and my friends think that it's the not the right thing to do. Speak up, let the people know about it, least the sacrifices will be forgotten.
    Thank you for serving your country. Least we forget.

  4. Dear Don,

    Thanks for pointing out the way Australians treat their fallen heroes (anywhere in the world).

    That should be the way Malaysians should treat their fallen heroes too. This is an eye opener. Will keep this in mind.

  5. dear Colonel, all the best!

  6. Squad,

    Well done.

  7. Squad,

    Thank you and thanks for visiting.

  8. It sounds to me that Sarawak does not have a place for its military dead. If it did, then where to bury those who have given their lives in defense of their country would not be an issue.

    It is time to have a military cemetery in Sarawak and a monument honoring the Sarawak Rangers. The Sarawak Rangers had the distinction of being the first organized military force created during the reign of James Brooke to defend Sarawak. My GG grandfather, William Henry Rodway, had the honor of being the first commandant of the Sarawak Rangers in 1862.

    It was an honor that he cherished and a responsibility that he relished. Of all the responsibilities he held in Sarawak under James and then Charles Brooke, being commandant of the Sarawak Rangers was one that was dear to his heart. His gravestone proudly attests to that fact and reads; "Major, Sarawak Rangers".

    I cannot even imagine how distressed he would have been to know how his Rangers were being treated in death. He was a deeply religious man and would have been appalled.

    Thank you for carrying the "flag" so to speak for these slain warriors. In American we honor our military dead and strive never to leave a slain comrade behind. Soldiers risk their lives to retrieve a fellow soldier's body.

    Perhaps someday it will be so in Sarawak.

  9. Dear Evelyn,

    Wow! You are the great great grand daughter of the first Commandant of the Sarawak Rangers, Major William Henry Rodway? It is an honour to meet you madam.

    Yes W H Rodway was the Commandant from 1862 - 1863 and then again from 1877 - 1883.

    Very unfortunately, Sarawak do not have a military burial ground. I am currently helping the government of Sarawak to build one in Kuching.

    As you may have been aware, Sarawak Rangers was disbanded on 29 February 1932 and reformed just before the Japanese invaded Sarawak in 1941. However, soon after the fall of Sarawak, they dispersed but joined Major Tom Harrison to fight the Japanese behind the line.

    They were reformed again on 1 January 1953, at the height of the 1st Malayan Emergency. In 1960, it became a part of the British Army until it was disbanded on 15 September 1963 to become the 1st Bn, The Malaysian Rangers on 16 September 1963, the day Malaysia was formed. As Malaysian Rangers, the unit is no more an all-Iban outfit - it became mixed races.

    I would be glad to have your contact number and address as I am thinking it would be an honour to have the presence of the GG Grand Daughter of the 1st Commandant of the Sarawak Rangers when we declare the war memorial officially open - hopefully by the end of the year.

    I'm real glad that you drop by.

  10. You have done a great job for a great cause. Keep up the good work. God bless the mighty ones who gave up their lights to light the lamps of others'.

  11. Dear Cyclopseven,

    Thank you. And thanks for visiting.

  12. Hi Robert,
    I started a blog to write about many topics after researching each of them. Some are serious, some fun, some historical...I hope all interesting. However surfing the blog I found only babies, dogs, cats, goldfish, girlfriends, god, houses and trips to the ocean. I was starting to think this was the worng place to be writing!!! However I have now found your blog and found it the sort of thing I would like to read. Thank you.

  13. Hi Robert,

    Thank you for the kind words. It is the catalyst that keeps us going. I would like to read what you write too.

  14. robert,
    send me your mailing address so i can share your most..couldn't spell it out.few leftover soldier of fortune or unsung heroes..
    davies kedit
    my personal

  15. Dear Davies,

    My email address is:

    Thanks for visiting.

  16. hi, you have nice blog.. u can view also mine..

  17. Thanks Joven for dropping by. Yes, I will definitely drop by your blog too.