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The 'Kendang Kerbau' graduates
Published on: Sunday, January 10, 2010

Just a few years before the formation of the Malaysian Federation in September 1963, the Colonial administration set up a "Native tutorial centre" (Centre) in Kota Kinabalu (then Jesselton).

It was set up in 1958, to be exact. And the man behind the move was the Chief Secretary to the Government, Datuk Seri R.N Turner.

Turner was the Number Two man during the colonial administration; the Governor above him then was Sir William Goode. The latter Governor was the last man to serve as representative of Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom. Sir William headed the North Borneo Government's representatives at the Inter Government Committee meeting (IGC) with R.N Turner as his Number Two man. The local political leaders at the IGC meeting were Tun Stephens, the main spokesman, Tun Mustapha, Datuk Seri Sundang, and Datuk Seri Khoo Siak Chew to mention a few.

Turner then was the last to run the colonial administration before Sabah gained its own independence in 1963 through the formation of Malaysia.

His position was taken over by Datuk Seri Stephen Holley, who became the first to serve Sabah as the State Secretary prior to his own retirement.

R.N Turner, however was the man who was instrumental in the formation of the "Native tutorial Centre".

The aim was to train "native administrators" to become senior civil servants in the colonial administration and serve as administrative officers/ district officers and magistrates. In an interview with him in his home in England long after he retired, he told me that the Centre was also aimed at looking at "native leadership qualities for the future".

The location of the Centre was at the old hospital building near present day SEB building along Tuaran Road. (The exact location is now the RTM building) Officers in the "secretariat" as it was then called, referred to the Centre as "kendang kerbau", invoking anger amongst the 15 native officers selected to undergo the training. Apparently the Chief Clerk (CC) at the secretariat used to inform his assistants to pass letters addressed to the first selected native officers, to the "kendang kerbau". Datuk Seri Harris and I went to telephone the "CC" and told him to refrain from calling us "kendang kerbau" as we find this term derogatory. I had just taken over as "leader" of the group from Harris. Leadership changed once every six months or so at the Centre.

The first amongst equals chosen to undergo the training were Harris bin Salleh (later Datuk Seri Panglima and who rose to become Chief Minister of Sabah from 1976 to 1985), Thomas Koroh (Tun Ahmad Koroh who was appointed Head of State), Suffian Koroh (Tan Sri Suffian Koroh, who rose to become Deputy Chief Minister during the Berjaya Government under Harris), Dzulkifli Abdul Hamid (Datuk, who became Minister of Finance in the Usno government under Tun Mustapha), Martin Benggon, Suarah Jabar, Thani, Peter Majanggil (Datuk, who became Resident of Tawau) Pengiran Tajuddin, Thomas Victor E. Majanil (Datuk), Maturin Daim, William Abby (Datuk, became Resident of Keningau), Benjamin Mohamad, (Senior civil servant) Boniface Matingal (Datuk, became a senior civil servant) and myself, Herman Luping (Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima, who rose to become Deputy Chief Minister in the Usno-Alliance government and State Attorney General under the PBS government of Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan).

I hope I have got all the names of the first batch of "natives" who were chosen under the colonial administration. The first three persons had served the colonial administration for some time and Harris was already a senior civil servant, serving as Assistant District Officer, Sipitang.

In effect he was the most senior amongst us.

I joined the Centre some six months after its inception. I did not join the civil service upon leaving school but went to teach. I was originally sent to the Kent College, Teachers' Training College, Tuaran.

I was in this college learning to teach English for only three months when I left and joined the civil service. This latter is a long story - but later I was appointed to join in the first batch of natives to undergo training at the Centre - or to some, Kendang Kerbau! The last person to join was Boniface Matingal, I think.

The teacher was Machin, a no-nonsense Australian gentleman.

He was the retired principal of All Saints Secondary school, in Likas.

He and his family had returned to Australia but was recalled to look after us. He was a gentleman through and through, a man who belonged to the "old order" - a conservative, who placed the word "honour" as the most important to any man. I found that he was that man, a man of honour.

Subjects taught at the Centre were English, Geography, History and International Affairs.

Those of us who already sat for the School Certificates and were awarded the General Certificate of Education (GCE) studied the same subjects for the A levels and those who have not sat for the School Certificates did the same for the O levels.

All of us were sent abroad to undergo studies at the universities in New Zealand or Australia at the completion of the course at the Centre.

If I remember correctly five of us were selected to take up university degrees and the rest were sent to take up a short and intensive studies on Public Administration in Australia. Datuk Dzulkifli and I went to study at the University of Victoria, Wellington, in New Zealand. Those who went to undertake university studies returned to Sabah just before or after the formation of Malaysia, depending on the type of degree we took.

In the case of those who took up intensive study of Public Administration in Sabah they returned well before the formation of Malaysia. Indeed, in the case of Harris he served as the Deputy Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, a very senior post in the Administration and took part in the first election in Sabah, the Local government election. He stood in the Tanjung Aru Ward and won and from this position was amongst the "slate of elected leaders" chosen or appointed to become members of the first Sabah Cabinet under Tun Stephens as the Chief Minister. That first local government election was held in 1962.

The others went on to become administrative officers and or district officers. When I returned with a Master of Arts (MA) degree, I was sent to Tawau district first to serve as AO to the Ressident, Tawau, an Englishman named Datuk Howel George. Later I was transferred to Tenom as District Officer.

Dzulkifli, who spent some years with me in Wellington, was chosen to take the post as DO Tuaran.

Dzul and I were very close friends for we stayed together for some time in Wellington. We called each other "uncle".

Suffian Koroh and his brother Thomas also served as district officers upon their return to Sabah.

It was Thomas, I think, who took over from me as DO Tenom after I resigned and joined Tun Stephens's newspaper "The North Borneo News and Sabah Times". Thomas was later appointed the Head of State and became Tun Ahmad Koroh.

Suffian Koroh also resigned from his post and joined me in the United Pasok Momogun Kadazan Organisation (Upko). Like me, Tun Stephens had called us to resign and joined him and "be counted", he urged me.

I think the first Kadazan modern day Huguan Siou must have also said the same to Suffian.

Dzul, meanwhile, became one of the most "powerful" civil servants in the Tun Mustapha administration.

And when he joined politics he became the Assistant Minister to the Chief Minister, who was Mustapha.

He was appointed Minister of Finance the same year when I was also promoted to take up the post of Minister of Industrial Development and Deputy Chief Minister.

Harris meanwhile occupied various portfolios under the Usno-Alliance government. He was the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Industrial Development and also Deputy Chief Minister.

The three "blue eyed boys" of Mustapha from the Usno party were Harris, Dzulkifli and Salleh Sulong.

Datuk Salleh was also a graduate of Victoria University, Wellington and returned to Sabah about the same time as us.

On the other side of the bumiputra "political divide", Upko, Stephens' "blue eyed boys" were Datuk Peter Mojuntin, Suffian Koroh and Herman Luping" amongst the many who were members of the "inner circle" of Upko.

However, Harris also was close to Stephens even though he was not a member of Stephens' party.

Harris was a leader amongst leaders and his views on politics in those days were heard and accepted.

For example, during the discussion on the question of allocation of seats amongst the three component parties of the Sabah Alliance in 1967, after a long and protracted discussion ending in a deadlock, it was Harris who suggested that there should be a "friendly contest"and "lets practice democracy". Everybody agreed.

And when Stephens stepped down as the President of Upko in 1966 as demanded by the two component parties of the Alliance-Usno and SCA for calling a review of the Twenty Points safeguards after Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965, Stephens was careful not to offend the other leaders. There was also a moratorium on political war of words in the newspapers. When Stephens sent to me his own press statement, he would also send a small note telling me to show the "press statement to Harris first".

The respect between the two was a two-way traffic. For when Harris was asked to form the Berjaya Party in 1975, he called for the inclusion of Stephens to lead the party.

But back to Kendang Kerbau. There were originally 15 selected to undergo the course, but I think two or three pulled out and did not complete it.

As the "leader" of the pack then, my job was to answer the phone.

The phone was placed in a separate building some 30 yards from our class room. I had to run like mad to get to the phone when ever it rang!

I was also asked to arrange for the visit of the Director of Education - Mr Muir - who came to give us a talk and the boss himself, R.N Turner who came to visit us. It was, I thought a thankless task, especially answering the phone calls. No wonder Harris "left".

There were many highlights for us in the Centre. One interesting one was for all of us, including Mr Machin, making a hike from Petagas to the middle of the padi fields in Kodundungan. We walked along the river bank from Petagas (Putatan river) and went upstream until we reached the padi fields.

Kodundungan to me was a familiar area as I used to go there as a small boy to accompany my father to plough our plot of padi field.

We walked the whole day,making our own map of the river (Putatan river in this part; but Moyog as it is actually called in the map) which meanders down towards the Petagas estuary. I feel that this must be the same area where the visiting governor Clifford went through more than a hundred years ago.

He described what he saw in his report to the Directors of the North Borneo Company in London " an area of lush green grass not unlike what we see in England" - - with the green padi planted "as far as the eyes could see", he described.

For us it was an exercise to see our own country at close quarters, but with a peasant background it was nothing new to me.

The other highlight that was very educational to us, and to me especially, was the trip from Jesselton (KK) by train as far as Tenom; and then by a land cruiser ( (Toyata, short base) from Tenom to Keningau. Part of the way to Keningau was done on foot as the track to Keningau ended about half way only.

On reaching Keningau we were welcomed by the parents of Ahamd (Thomas) and Suffian (Stephen) Koroh. We were in fact belitted in his house. In the evening there was a great feast in honour of Mr Machin and we joined in the "makan-makan". I was not a drinker yet in those days so I did not partake in the drinking season - Keningau style, sucking through a straw made of a small bamboo tube.

This method of drinking tapai is typical method in the Interior districts of Keningau,Tambunan and Ranau.

Penampang use the tumbler or bamboo cups. It was inevitable that some of the "boys" suffered from a hangover the following day. One in particular had to lie down on his back on the floor of the toyata land cruiser that took us to Tambunan. It was a rainy season in the Interior so the road was muddy and difficult even for a short base four wheel drive land cruisher.

Where the road was steep, the driver of the landcruisher had to use a chain around the tyres of the vehicle to help the vehicle to get a firm grip and traction. The road from Keningau to Tambunan via Apin Apin was still only earth road, built by the Japanese during their Occupation of Sabah.

The Japanese made Keningau their headquarters and capital instead of Sandakan or Jesselton.

The earth road did not go as far as Tambunan, however. We had to walk a good many miles more to reach Tambunan. It was rough going with the elephant grass growing taller even that Mr Machin who was a six-footer.

We divided into two groups. Harris led the first group of people who could keep up with him for speed.

He walked very fast. Mr Machin and I with some others took the rear. We had "rented" two ponies to carry our "barang", for we found the going very tiring. Our knapsacks were just too heavy for some of us. I saw one of the boys using a porter and as there were many streams to cross, he did not want to take off his shoes so he asked the porter to carry him on his back. I wished I had taken a photograph of him "riding" on the back of another man - and the man was much shorter than him!

As the "leader" my other job was to interpret for Mr Machin when he talked to the locals. They all spoke in Kadazandusun of course; in Keningau, Kuijau and in Tambunan and Ranau in the Liwan dialect.

In the evening when we stopped for the night we stayed in the native chief or orang tua's house.

Mr Machin liked to talk to the chief or orang tua and he also liked to tell them about advancement in technologies, especially in road making in his country. He told them in time North Borneo too would develop its infrastructures.

I think it was in Rondogung where we stopped for the night in native chief's Sepikit house. It was the last stop before we reached Ranau.

In fact there are many government huts built in strategic locations along the route. These government huts or rest houses were built by the colonial administration for the benefits of the district officers when they visited their outposts in the their respective district. In those days the officers used ponies to transport them.

On arrival in Ranau we stayed in the government rest house. Ranau and even Tambunan and Keningau were still quite cold for us from the West coast. Ranau, because of its proximity to Mount Kinabalu was particularly cold to us. Besides, there were still many tall trees in Ranau and I believe the trees helped to make Ranau township, green, cool and beautiful then.

Its no longer today.

My friend Ganie Gilong (Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Ghani Gilong) was in Ranau. He was my school mate at the Sacred Heart Secondary school in KK then. He left school earlier as he was a bit older than me.

He got married and opened a sundry shop in Ranau. He entertained us to a dinner.

The DO then was Datuk John Dusing who later became the first local officer to hold the post of State Secretary under Tun Stephens as the Chief Minister. His appointment was resisted by some who thought they were more senior than Dusing in the civil service. And Tun Mustapha the Head of State refused to sign the appointment letter. A constitutional crises ensued and for the second time, a Sabah Alliance crises took place, with all the leaders trooping to Kuala Lumpur to see Bapa Malaysia, the Tunku to ask him to referee the in-fighting. Tun Stephens stepped down as Chief Minister and was appointed as Federal Minister for Sabah Affairs and Tan Sri Peter Lo took over as Chief Minister.

This, of course, is now part of Sabah's history.

We spent two nights in Ranau. It was still raining hard, especially in the afternoons. The earth road from Ranau to Tamparuli, through Kiulu was muddy. We left early in the morning. We went by the ever ready short base four wheel drive toyata. The chain was there too to be used when the wheels of the Toyota got stuck in the mud. And it happened so many times.

In fact much of the time was spent on digging the Toyota out of the mud.

Some of us preferred to go by ponies. These were the more intrepid and adventurous ones.

It took nearly half the day to reach Kota Kinabalu.

Perhaps the most memorable highlight at the Centre to me was the debate on Colonialism/Imperialism.

The teacher took the positive side - the advantages of Colonialism to the peoples governed by White rule and we took the negative side. Our argument was that Colonialism was a system of subjugating the peoples under the yoke of Imperilism and that the countries under Colonial rule were stripped of their wealth for the benefits of the White rulers. Mr Machin presented the advantages and one of these was education and the improvement of the standard of living of the people.

Our main speaker at this debate was Harris. He painted the many "sins" committed by White rule in the region and that is why India, led by Mmahatma Ghandi agitated for self rule, independence from the Briitish.

They obtained independence shortly after the Second World War, in 1947.

Malaya too obtained its independence in 1957. I think Harris with Thani were getting the better of Mr Machin in the exchange of words.

Mr Machin then commented " If not for colonialism you would still be in your loin cloth and worse naked".

Harris retorted: " we might prefer to go naked or in our loin cloth and free than as subjugated people", or something like that. That was the end of the debate.

The Centre was only for the native officers in the colonial administration.

It was, I think, a move to increase the bumiputra numbers as senior officers to balance the apparent higher number of senior officers amongst the non-bumiputra. By the late 1950s, the senior officers amongst the bumiputra were Tan Sri Richard Lind, Tan Sri Ben Stephens, Datuk Yassin Haji Hashim, his brother Datuk Kassim, Pengeran Tun Raffae and Datuk Dusing. There were others serving as assistant district officers, like Datuk Harris and also Peter Ligadu.

I do not think there was a division of opinion amongst the local civil servants. We accepted whoever was our senior, irrespective of racial origin. We considered ourselves as belonging to the country - and the name "Sabah" was becoming popular to replace the name North Borneo.

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