In 1953 General Gerald Templer, the new High Commissioner and Director of Operations appointed Richard Noone as ‘Protector of Aborigines’. His job had little to do with ‘protection’. His task was to break the bond between the MNLA communist guerrillas and the Orang Asli, the aboriginal tribes who supported many guerrilla platoons in the deep jungle. Richard’s brother the anthropologist Pat Noone had studied the Temiah (Senoi) tribe in northern Perak and married a Temiah woman called Anjang. Pat had disappeared a year after the Japanese invasion of Malaya.
One evening in December, 1953, Noone was working late, puzzling over his missing brother Pat’s old research papers about the Temiah, the ‘Dream People’, to try and ferret out some psychological advantage that might help win over the Senoi tribes to the government side. It was more than a decade since Pat had vanished, but Richard was obsessed with solving the tormenting puzzle of his disappearance. The telephone shattered his concentration. It was the duty office at the 22 SAS headquarters.
‘We’ve just had an urgent signal. I can’t discuss it over the phone, but the colonel would like to see you straightaway.’
When Noone walked into the SAS ops room, he was greeted by Colonel Oliver Brooke who handed him a signal. A ‘hostile group of fifty four aboriginals’ had arrived at Fort Telanok in the Cameron Highland seeking protection. The SAS had only just completed the fort and
‘The squadron commander’s problem is feeding them,’ Colonel Brooke revealed ‘They have abandoned their lading and they haven’t a sausage.’
‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of that,’ Noone declared. He rang his quartermaster officer and ordered him to arrange an emergency airdrop of rations, tobacco and welfare good. Take off would be at first light. The next morning, Pamela Goldsbury who was first to reach Fort Telanok sent a signal with more details of the Orang Asli party. Noone was stunned by the news: the ‘hostile group’ was led by headman Angah from the upper Rening valley whom Pat had lived with in 1942. The next message was electrifying: ‘Angah…has vital information concerning your brother but will not discloser to anybody except yourself stop…’ Goldsbury was on her way back to Kuala Lumpur accompanied by Angah.
Angah was a Semai who had married into the Temiah and then succeeded his father in law as headman. He was a solemn and dignified person who spoke slowly and ponderously. As soon as Angah arrived at Noone’s home in Kuala Lumpur he fell asleep curled on a rug under the ceiling fan. He did not wake up for three days. Noone was in agonies. When Angah awoke at last, the two men spoke in generalities: Noone knew that he could not hurry the solemn old man. There was an unnerving moment when two other aborigines called by – and the blood drained from Angah’s face. When they were alone again, Noone offered Angah a cigarette. He decided to take a risk:
‘My brother used to say you were his good friend.’
Angah sucked on the cigarette but said nothing.
‘My brother loved your people. ‘Tuan Tata’ made your saka the first Senoi reserve. No man can take that land away from you…You know that don’t you?’
Angah merely nodded.
‘Then why don’t you speak Headman Angah? You have nothing to be afraid of… I give you my word.’
Slowly Noone coaxed out the story of what had happened. Pat Noone had not been killed by the Japanese; nor had he been murdered by the communists. The story Angah told was simultaneously tragic and banal. Uda, the handsome young Temiah, whose presence had troubled Richard when he had met Pat for the last time in 1942, had begun sleeping with Anjang, Angah revealed.
‘But your custom allows a younger brother to do this, Uda was like a brother to Tuan Tata.’
‘Yet,’ replied Angah, ‘when Tuan Tata leared this he was very angry. He sent Uda away fro some time and he was in disgrace. Later Tata forgave him… but Uda had no woman to sleep with and he was full of virility. He loved Anjang, and having already tasted her he dreamed of her…’
‘How do you these things?’
‘Tuan, the whole of Telom Valley knows of Uda’s dreams. He dreamed that Tata would take Anjang away from her people. He dreamed that Tata would make the Senoi fight the Japs…’
‘Don’t be afraid to tell me anything.’
‘Tuan, it is the terrible secret of the Telom Valley. Your brother was murdered by Uda and [his cousin] Busu.’
So Pat had been killed by one of the Dream People – his ‘blood brother’ and rival in love. In the course of the next few months, Richard Noone questioned many other Senoi people about the amorous entanglement that had led to his brother’s death. He discovered that his brother had been blowpiped – a shocking revelation that, Noone recalled, left him ‘unable to move’. Angah had known this all along. He told Noone: ‘I arrived to find Anjang weeping. Uda and Busu were there, looking very frightened. They had set out with your brother the day before, but now they were back – with his revolver. It lay at the centre of the longhouse floor…’ Other interviews began to fill in the details. Uda had blowpiped Pat with a number of darts. The poison had not been potent enough to kill him immediately and he had run some distance before collapsing. Uda finished him off with his parang. Pat’s corpse had been trussed up, then buried in the jungle with the connivance of a local headman, Ngah.
Then, years after that first interview with headman Angah, Noone set off on the trail of some MNLA guerrillas along the Jemheng River. Along the way he met a young man called Toris whom Noone had supplied with false teeth on a previous occasion. The grateful Toris had also known Tuan Tata – and told Noone that there was a Temiah man who had something important to tell him. His name was Akob and he lived in a jungle clearing with ‘four young maidens’. Akob told Noone a long and elaborate story about his long ago search for a length of rare ‘buloh seworr’ bamboo to make ‘the most wonderful blowpipe of all the Temiah.’ He wanted it to be at least four times the length of his right arm – about eight feet. Akob travelled all over the high mountains of the Ulu Perak ‘towards the setting sun’, but failed to find any bamboo of the length he needed for the feat he wanted to accomplish. Even on the mighty peak of Gunong Swettenham the ‘buloh seworr’ bamboo he found was not long enough.
Akob descended finally into the Telom Valley and reached the ladang of headman Ngah. Here he courted and married a young woman called Amoi. He had thoughtfully collected numerous pieces of the rare bamboo which he sold to pay her dowry.
Shortly after his marriage, Akob met Pat who was living in a small hut not far from the ladang. He had no luggage, just a revolver and liked to smoke the locally grown tobacco in a pipe. Akob was struck by how well the man the Temiah called Tuan Tata spoke their language. Pat explained that he had ‘become a Temiah and lived like a Temiah’. Akob helped Pat repair the leaking roof of his atap hut. He told Akob, who still longed to find the right piece of bamboo, about another young man he knew who had discovered a wonderful length of hard bamboo on Gunong Swettenham. ‘But I have already looked there, Tuan!’ Akob protested. ‘Try again,’ advised Pat.
A few days later, headman Ngah asked Akob to collect maize seed from Kuala Ta-nai. He was away for several days. When he returned he discovered Uda and Anjang at the hut near the Ladang. Pat was nowhere to be seen. No one would tell Akob where he had gone. Days passed and Tuan Tata did not reappear. Then Akob stumbled on Uda’s cousin Busu who hiding in a little hut in the jungle; he was terrified. Busu confessed that Tuan Tata was dead. Headman Ngah told Akob what had happened. The murder was, it seems, premeditated. Uda had dreamt that Pat would force the Temiah to fight the Japanese; they would all die. So one day, Pat, Uda and Busu had set off into the jungle leaving Anjang behind. Did she know about Uda’s dream and what he now intended to do? No one was saying. At midday, the little party stopped on the banks of the Wi River to rest. Pat settled himself down by the little stream. Uda and Busu began sharpening long staves of hard, thorny ‘rakap’ wood. Uda then approached Pat ‘with a strange look on his face’. Alarmed, Pat drew his revolver – but Busu knocked it out of his hand with one of the ‘rakap’ staves. Pat fled back along the path. Uda swiftly ‘loaded’ his blowpipe and ran after him. Busu heard a loud cry. He ran after Uda and found Pat writing on the ground and vomiting. He had a dart protruding from his left eye. Uda raised his parang… Uda and Busu dragged Pat’s body away from the path and dug a shallow grave.
Headman Ngah warned Akob never to speak of what he had heard. Some weeks later, rumours spread that Tuan Tata had walked from his grave and was lurking somewhere in the upper Telom Valley. Uda was terrified and rushed to find out if Pat’s corpse was still lying in that mean jungle grave. It was. But Uda remained terrified that he was haunted by Tuan Tata’s vengeful spirit, and fled from Ngah’s ladang taking Anjang with him.
Akob followed Tuan Tata’s advice and returned to to the steep slopes of Gunong Swettenham. This time he found the length of ‘buloh seworr’ bamboo he craved to make the ‘longest blowpipe’.
This is a draft based on Richard Noone’s ‘Rape of the Dream People’ (1972)