Azmin, don’t demean Sarawak’s ‘Iban warriors’

Should we accord the term “warrior” to politicians? – Masan photography photo

By Francis Paul Siah

DON’T expect me to be polite with some of my fellow Sarawakians, especially the disgraced political turncoats who are now “officially” classified as “incorrigible parasites” in my book.

Neither will I mince my words with International Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali, the overly-ambitious politician who desperately wants to be prime minister, over what I would describe as his lack of understanding of the Iban community of Sarawak and the warriors they revere among them. Azmin seriously lacks tact on this issue.

On the afternoon of June 5, I posted this message in my NGO group chat: “For any meaningful political change, we have to set a high standard for political leaders.

“I view things from a different angle after a long association with many of them, from both sides, and at an intimate level.

“Even before the state polls, dirty, sleazy deals and horse-trading are being made. After Parliament sat on May 18, some Sarawakian politicians were involved in such deals behind closed doors in Kuala Lumpur.

“These are the same people saying that they are fighting for Sarawak, asking us to vote for them.

“For an NGO like ours to play any meaningful role for change, we have to be more politically conscious and mature in our political views and stand. Do a thorough study into the internal dynamics of politics and the personality of the players,” I pleaded.

A few hours later, my concerns over horse-trading were proven to be founded.

At about 7pm, we heard the announcement by Lubok Antu member of parliament Jugah Murang that he has resigned as PKR vice-president to be an independent supporting Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Here we go again. Another political frog from Sarawak. Shame, shame!

The next day, a triumphant Azmin Ali accompanied Jugah to see the prime minister after his bloc had struck another blow on Pakatan Harapan and its allies by successfully engineering another defection from PKR.

Azmin later posted pictures of the meeting on Twitter and congratulated Jugah, calling him an “Iban Warrior”.


This is where I have an issue with Azmin.

By calling Jugah an Iban warrior, Azmin has cheapened the sacred title of Sarawak’s Ibans which they would only accord to a revered few.

What have the Lubok Antu MP actually achieved for the Iban community in his short 24 months as a legislator? I cannot think of anything significant.

To be fair to Jugah, he has been in the job for only two short years and is probably still groping in the dark about what to do.

Over the past few decades, I have yet to hear of any Iban leader being accorded the “Iban warrior” honour by their own community.

And here, we have Azmin doing so with an MP, barely two years in his first term as a lawmaker.

To Azmin, I guess any person able to help put his ambition to be prime minister on track is a “warrior” – he isn’t bothered about the sensitivities of the Iban community and how he demeans their true warriors by his callous words.

You know what, Azmin? If Jugah Murang can be an Iban warrior, then I can be known as the legendary Chinese “monkey king” (Sun Wukong). You can even call yourself “Hang Tuah”. How cheap can we get?

This is to show how low Azmin can stoop just to get what he wants. And what he desires most is to clinch the coveted prize – the premiership one day.

Because of his many acts of desperation, including betrayals and treachery, is it any wonder that Azmin is now the most vilified politician.

Even some of his fellow politicians have already sized up Azmin, putting him as the most untrustworthy and dishonourable politician in the country today.

I would suggest to Azmin to take a serious history lesson of the Iban community of Sarawak and the Iban warriors.

Mention an Iban warrior and the first name that comes to mind is the legendary Rentap who led a rebellion against James Brooke. Because the White Rajah considered the Skrang Ibans as pirates and wanted to eliminate them, Rentap fought back with his followers armed only with spears and blowpipes against the Rajah’s cannons.

After many years of gallant battles, Rentap was defeated in 1861. History has recorded that he never surrendered but retreated to his fort in Sungai Entabai where he died two years later.

Today, Rentap (in Iban, it means “one who shakes the world”) is regarded as a national hero and freedom fighter. He is the first Iban warrior ever recorded in the history of Borneo.

Temenggong Koh anak Jubang, the first paramount chief of the Dayaks, Temenggong Jugah anak Barieng, Sarawak’s first chief minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan, and Tra Zehnder, first woman Council Negri member in Sarawak, were revered as great Iban community leaders. I don’t think they were ever known as Iban warriors.

Another name I can recall as an Iban warrior is more recent times is Kanang anak Langkau. His life has even been made into a movie.

“Kanang anak Langkau: The Iban Warrior” is an action movie inspired by the bravery of the decorated Iban tracker and soldier when he served with the Malaysian Armed Forces during the communist insurgency. The movie was shot in 2015-2016.

As far as I can remember, Rentap and Kanang who lived a century apart, are the two most well-known Iban warriors recorded in history.

I stand corrected here. There could be more. There are also many more prominent Iban community leaders worthy of mention, but I do not wish to include politicians in the revered “warrior” category.

I would not call politicians of any race “warriors” because most do not deserve such a sacred honour.

And certainly not Azmin Ali, in case he thinks he is a Malay warrior.

This piece first appeared in Malaysiakini. The views here do not necessarily represent those of this portal. 

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