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The biggest Death March surprises
Published on: Sunday, January 01, 2017

DISCOVERING by accident a living original 1945 Death March track cutter, Tuaty Akau, 102, was "the biggest happening in 2016", opines veteran adventure trekker Tham Yau Kong.By itself, the big surprise is already extremely interesting, not to mention that no one had ever expected that a track hacker and insider of the infamous passage of death, is still alive, 71 years later!

But most timely of all about Tuaty's unexpected discovery was it came precisely at the height of a raging public feud between two Aussie war historians, Dr Kevin Smith and Lynette Silver, on where the mid Death March track went.

Smith insisted it went to Liwagu Valley, Lynette insisted on Taviu Valley.

Asked to judge between the two, Tuaty repeatedly declared Dr Kevin Smith's alternate route to Kg Miruru via the Liwagu Valley "false" (palsu) and "Tondu" (woman in Dusun, meaning Lynette Silver) is correct.

Assigned under his father-in-law to hack the jungle from Bauto onwards, Tuaty said he never cut the mid track into Melapi, Mankadait and Miru Kampong the way Smith had plotted it, based on Japanese Death Certificates on the prisoners of war.

Discovery of this living track cutter and his testimony made it to the front-page lead in the Daily Express.

However, officials in the Culture, Tourism and Environment Ministry and Sabah Museum didn't seem convinced, arguing that the testimony of only "one" eyewitness would not be taken as "conclusive evidence" to warrant removal of Smith's alternate route from the Australian Defence Ministry exhibit map displayed at the Ranau Mini War Museum.

In the meantime, the Daily Express was dragged into a heated public dispute between Lynette and Smith fought in Sunday articles published in the paper.

At that point, Daily Express decided the dispute warranted an investigation to decide once and for all who is right.

So, September 4, we headed for Kg Bius and Beluran District Hospital well beyond Telupid, leaving Kota Kinabalu at 4.30am, thanks to Tham Yau Kong's use of his tour bus and driver Jeffrey.

Though sick, Tuaty Akau was sharp in mind and memory.

Did he cut the track to Kg Miruru?

Tidak ada (No), he said repeatedly, to the point that he got irritated after we asked him many times.

So Tuaty confirmed his testimony reported on the Daily Express front page – he never cut the track to Kg Miruru.

But is there a second living witness to corroborate Tuaty's testimony to make the verdict conclusive?

The answer is an amazing yes – in the person of Zudin, 85, an ammunition porter for the Japanese in the Death March days.

Zudin is less of a surprise because Tham said he had known him since 2007.

However, interest to ask Zudin where the Death March track went during all those 9 years was minimal, before the public dispute between Lynette and Smith flared up early this year, Tham said.

"We were more interested in Zudin as a traditional blowpipe wizard instead because our Aussie and British guest Death March trekkers found this ancient hunting weapon fascinating," Tham explained.

But from a snippet out of this blowpipe saga, Daily Express found out the guy was once a member of a deadly blowpipe squad that cut down some 200 Japanese soldiers along the Death March track.

Okay, where did this clandestine killing spree happen?

He said it all started in Nagas Tarangag camp by the bank of Taviu River, Taviu Valley, when he and friends felt red hot mad towards the Japanese guards who tied his father-in-law up accusing him of stealing tapioca from the camp store.

As our probe went deeper, a healthier Zudin proved to be an even more solid insider witness on two counts: First, as porter who carried bullets on a daily basis, he was a prolific user of the track. So he remembers all the landmarks and events along the track much better.

So we posed this decisive question: Did he ever carry bullets to Kg Miruru?

The answer was no.

Secondly, when the Australian Body Recovery Unit returned to North Borneo in 1947 to retrieve bones of the prisoners of war who died along the track, Zudin was among 100 porters drafted to retrace the track between Ranau and Sandakan, to carry the bones.

Again this question: Did you go to Kg Miruru to carry bones?

The answer was "never".

So where the mid Death Track went was conclusive.

Everything happened in the Taviu Valley.

From Bauto onwards, it went sequentially to Nagas Tarangag along the banks of the Taviu River, crossed it at a bottleneck upstream to the big Jap Camp and Munition dump in Lolosing (which is actually the 17-atap "Lodging House Miru" cited in the Japanese Death Certs), through the gorge and up the infamous Big Climb in exact accordance to what's plotted on the Aussie War Graves Mud Map.

Events wise, Zudin remembers his exploits as a member of the blowpipe killer squad all happened in the Taviu Valley jungle between the Japanese Nagas Karangag Camp and Lolosing Camp.

To the crunch question: Who is right, between Kevin Smith and Lynette, Zudin said: Perumpuan itu yang betul (The woman is right, meaning Lynette).

The exhaustive investigation involved five long field trips spanned over two months, as follows:

- Sept 4-5, interviewed Tuaty Akau at the Beluran District Hospital where he was warded and later Zudin in Kg Koporon, Taviu Valley on Sept 5.

- Sept 14, visited Kg Miruru Lama and interviewed former Village Chief, Kulong Lautin, who said Kg Miruru Lama was never called Miru as labelled by Smith in his map of his book. That afternoon, we visited Naga Tarangag, guided by Zudin's son-in-law, Simon who sowed us the ruins.

- Sept 21, interviewed Tuaty in Kg Tonintin and Zudin in Kg Koporon, this time, video-taping them.

- Oct 3 – Zudin guided us to a vantage point overlooking the Lolosing/Taguk in the mist shrouded Taviu Forest Reserve and proclaimed: "Ini lah Jipun Pangin Kawasan Miruru". (This is the area lah the Japanese called Miruru ).

Asked from whom he heard it called Lolosing/Taguk area Miruru, Zudin said the "kempeitai" – the Japanese Military Secret Police and also his mandol or supervisor-in-chief of the local porters.

This secretive Japanese place name Miru Smith was apparently unaware of, proved decisive.

Not knowing that the location of death cited as Miru in the Japanese Death Certs actually referred to the Lolosing area where the big Jap Camp and Munition Dump was sited, Smith made a navigational blunder by plotting a Miru Kampong-bound alternate track because of a wrong starting premise.

But the credit for discovering centenarian Tuaty Akau, 102, and Zudin, 85, goes to Tham Yau Kong of TYK Adventure Tours.

In the case of Tuaty, it was purely by accident that Tham stumbled upon this golden patriarch living witness.

While guiding a 14-strong Royal Engineers group on a 276km trek, they reached Kg Buis on July 8, 2016, where they planned to stay overnight.

On asking the Security and Development Committee Chairman, Midol Tuaty, for the key to the community hall, Midol dropped the bombshell that his father Tuaty Akau was a Death March track cutter!

Shocked, Tham gasped: "I want to see him, I must see Tuaty."

Over the handphone, a meeting was set up.

On August 14, 2016, Tham visited Tuaty Akau in his house in Kg Tonintin.

That's how this star witness and authoritative judge on where the mid Death March track went, came into the picture – purely accidental.

Furthermore, Zudin had offered to tell the story to whoever wants to see his – be they Dr Kevin Smith, Lynette Silver, the Minister, Sabah Museum or Sabah Society.



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