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The end of Lai Tek

The Secretary General of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) Lai Tek had smoothed Chin Peng’s ascent to power in the Party. Now his downfall allowed Chin Peng to seize complete control of the MCP. The Central Committee was purged and Chin Peng elected as Secretary General. He was just twenty three. But the Lai Tek crisis was not over. For one thing, Chin Peng realised that Lai Tek must have been planning to pass on information about the location of secret weapons caches to the British. He had cunningly streamlined the Party organisation to create autonomous Organisational Bureau that functioned independently of the Central Committee. Lai Tek had sent a stream of messages to the Bureau, which were never seen by Central Committee members, demanding information about the arms caches and who controlled them. None, however complied. It was simply inconceivable for the old MPAJA fighters to consider putting such high value information in writing.  On this at least, Lai Tek had been foiled – but the MCP wanted and needed their money back – and no doubt hungered to enact revenge. At a meeting on 6 March, the Politburo agreed that their newly elected Party leader Chin Peng should […]
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Sybil – a few notes

Individual responses to any occupation by a foreign power are never simple or clear cut. They reflect contingency as much as individual moral decisions. Resistance and collaboration are crude classifications of a range of reactions, actions, decisions and choices. In the Japanese sphere of conquest in Southeast Asia, interactions with the occupying power were multifaceted and highly volatile. These colonial societies were communally divided and indeed divisive. Each community reacted differently, and were treated differently. For some, the Japanese offered liberation. Others simply perceived them as merely the latest foreign occupier little different from the British, French or Dutch colonial powers. A substantial minority, but a minority nonetheless, chose to actively resist the Japanese occupier by force of arms. The bulk of these resistors were communists. A significant majority, however, concluded that little or nothing would be gained by non cooperation. But merely ‘getting by’ could in war time Malaya easily shade into active collaboration. This irreducible complexity is evoked by Sybil Kathigasu’s very powerful account of her war time experience and torture by the Japanese: ‘No Dram of Mercy’. It is significant that Kathigasu was Eurasian. She was born Sybil Daly in Medan in Sumatra. Her parents were also […]
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The Anthropologist who Disappeared 2

In July, 1931 Noone set up camp in the deep jungle at the confluence of the Telom and Cherkok Rivers. On the other bank was a Semiah village, but when he attempted to cross over, the women and children all vanished into the forest. He was met by a sullen group of men who made it all too clear that they did not want him to stay. It looked very much as if Noone’s second expedition would suffer the same fate as his first. The Semiah simply did not want to be discovered. As Noone moped about in his little camp, his Malay cook Puteh bin Awang, who Noone said had ‘all the instincts of a gentleman and an amazing delicacy of manner’, told him he had discovered a young Semiah girl who seemed to be dying in a small hut just half a mile away. She was covered in wart like sores, Puteh told Noone and desperately thirsty. It turned out that she had been abandoned by her people: no one could go near her until she had died. Noone, who had only the most basic knowledge of tropical diseases, examined the stricken girl and sent a runner with […]
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The Anthropologist who disappeared… 1

Months after the Japanese invasion, an unusual encounter took place in the Malayan jungle. It was a meeting of very different minds and cultures that would have unexpected consequences  not only in Malaya during the Emergency war but later in Vietnam. Herbert Deane Noone, always called Pat, was a British anthropologist who had taken a First in Archaeology and Anthropology at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.[1] Pat’s father was the splendidly named Herbert Vander Vord Noone who made enough money in India to retire at forty-four and return to England where he lived a somewhat peripatetic life with his family. ‘HV’ was inordinately ambitious for his children. Pat and his bother Richard, who was ten years younger, grew up in Dymchurch on the Kent coast and across the channel in Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Basque country of south-west France.  Pat, his brother recalled, was ‘blessed’. He had inherited his mother’s blue eyes and fair colouring; he excelled at sports; he passed any exam effortlessly; he was supremely confident and assured. After coming down from Cambridge in 1930, he was offered a job by the Perak State Museum in Taiping as a field ethnographer and readily accepted. At the time, Taiping was a […]
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