Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bersanding, Hatta and Bukit Tinggi

Mak may have looked like her in her 20-30s
Eighteen was a ripe old age for young ladies to be married off to men of their family’s choice then.  Marriage was also a way of protecting young women from being raped by Japanese soldiers who, at the slightest provocation, would raid people’s homes for food supplies and sexual release.  Thus Mak was dressed in a floral kebaya moden with the sweetheart neckline to sit on the velvet-cushioned chairs placed on a satin dais next to Bapak in a beige suit and a black songkok.
            Eighteen months after the wedding, Mak gave birth to their first born son, who was named after Mohammad Hatta, a prominent leader in Perhimpunan Indonesia (PI)*, who made clear the meaning of ‘nationalism’ for the Indonesians.  He was later expelled from PI and accused of masterminding the ‘radical’ shift in the struggle for Independence, alongside the charismatic Sukarno.  By the time Abang Hatta was born, there was a serious food crisis – the currency had devalued, food prices had sky rocketed and food supply was scarce.  People had started to grow tapioca and other tuber roots in their front and backyards as the main source of their daily diet.       
Since Bapak had picked up a working knowledge of Japanese, he was hired as a wireless (radio) technician in Bukit Tinggi, the headquarters for the Japanese 25th Army, the force which occupied Sumatra.  The headquarters was moved from Singapore to Bukit Tinggi in April 1943 and remained there until the Japanese surrender in August 1945.  Bapak seized the offer and relocated the young family to the town on the Minangkabau Highlands, about 90 kilometres from Padang, the capital city of Western Sumatera.  The threesome bade farewell to the state of famine and torture that prevailed in Singapore and absconded to the cool tranquillity of the hill station.  Nestled near the twin volcanoes of the inactive Mount Singgalang and the active Mount Marapi, Bukit Tinggi peered over the breathtaking Tasik Maninjau and Lembah Harau.  So, it was here at this Dutch outpost known as Fort de Kock that Kak Aidah was born in mid 1945.  About four months later, the Japanese military might was brought to its knees by the American atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 
Although the Japanese capitulated to the Allies, the Occupation had added another layer of nationalist consciousness among the people of the Dutch, British and American colonies in the Nusantara.  The slogan “Asia for Asians”, a rallying cry for the liberation of Asian countries from Western rule, reverberated from the northern tip of Sumatera to the highest peak in the island of Luzon.  Much as the Southeast Asians were grateful to have escaped the expansionist tentacles of Japan, they baulked at the return of the Western colonial powers.  The Japanese had enlightened them to the notion of Mahamalaya (Greater Malaya), a unification of the Malay Peninsular and Sumatera, which had taken root among the freedom fighters and their ardent followers.  In the late 1920s, the idea of Melayu Raya was already embraced by the lecturers and students of MPSI (Maktab Perguruan Sultan Idris or Sultan Idris Training College in Tanjong Malim).  By 1930s and 1940s, Ibrahim Hj Yaacob (IBHY), the founder of Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM or Young Malays Association), and its renowned leaders – Mustapha Husin, Ishak Haji Muhammad (Pak Sako), Ahmad Boestamam and Dr Burhanudin al Helmi - had advocated the concept as part of its goals.  The view that the Malays should merge and coalesce compelled them to work with the Japanese against the British and the Dutch.  The collaboration was based on the understanding that Japan would grant independence to the unified Dutch East Indies (Indonesian Archipelago), Malaya and Borneo.  Indonesian leaders - Muh, Yamin and Sukarno - adopted the concept which they called Indonesia Raya (Greater Indonesia) - in the 1950s.  It was this Southeast Asian version of Pan Arabism, which was later expanded to include the Philippines and known as ‘Maphilindo’, that had Bapak spellbound until the mid 1960s, when he conceded to the formation of ASEAN (Southeast Asian Nations, formed in 1967, comprised of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and the Philippines).   

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