Kinta Valley, Perak State, Malaysia
Kathigasu's Clinic: 74 Main Road, Old Papan
the history of the Japanese Occupation of Southeast Asia, Sybil
Kathigasu stands out as a heroine of the Malayan resistance.
Daly, an Eurasian, was born in Medan. A devout Catholic and a
vegetarian, she spoke fluent Cantonese. As a non-Chinese midwife,
she had some freedom of movement to visit her patients living
in the outlying areas. A group of mainly English speakers, both
in Papan and further afield, gravitated towards Sybil for she
had access to overseas news via a hidden short-wave radio, codenamed
was Thean Fook who approached Sybil and asked her to provide treatment
and medical supplies to the MPAJA (Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese
Army) guerrillas. Sybil, who had long anticipated a role in the
resistance, realised that 'the time has come.' She nicknamed her
new assistant 'Moru' due to his fondness for Indian sour milk.
- Kinta Valley, Pioneering Malaysia's Modern Development
Japanese Occupation of Malaya lasted from December 1941 to August
1945. Sybil helped hundreds of people before she was arrested,
detained and interrogated by the Japanese secret police for two
years. In order to extract information, they tortured Sybil and
dangled her daughter from a tree over a fire. With her iron will
Sybil defied her tormentors.
weeks after the Japanese surrender, Sybil was released. For her
courage and loyalty, she was summoned to Buckingham Palace to
receive the George Medal. Though treated for her injuries in a
London hospital, she succumbed on 12 June 1948
posthumously in 1954, Sybil's book No Dram of Mercy is one of
the great books of the Malayan war years. Fifty years later, her
protégé Ho Thean Fook, alias Moru, wrote two books
on Papan -- Tainted Glory and God of the Earth -- before passing
away in August 2004.
approach to Papan is strangely scenic -- giant rain trees growing
along a winding stream, limpid mining ponds, a hill slope dotted
with Chinese graves, a Kuan Yin Temple, then suddenly in the middle
of nowhere, a brick and mortar streetscape.
nineteenth century mining town petrified in time. Two seemingly
desolate rows of shophouses, some barely standing, along a street
simply called 'Main Road'. The remains of a boomtown that once
stood in the midst of tin-fields as far as the eye could see.
Papan begins to show signs of life towards sunset, when children
come out to play and residents get home from work. Old friends
hang out and chatter in the town's only two coffee-shops.
off the Main Road is the house of Raja Bilah (died 1911), the
headman of Papan. The Sumatran nobleman's remarkable career as
miner-trader-adventurer and leader of his people has inspired
a book Raja Bilah and the Mandailings of Perak: 1875-1911 described
by an American historian as 'the most exciting book on Malaysian
history' she has ever read. The great house was restored by the
National Museum several years ago.
town and Raja Bilah's house have been used as film set, most notably
by Oscar-winning production designer Luciana Arrighi for the movie
Anna and the King (1999). Luciana was fascinated with Papan --
a near ghost town on the edge of large mining lakes, set in a
mysterious cul-de-sac, shrouded and surrounded by dark, forested
hills around Papan belong to the Hijau range. Once they were not
so peaceful, but reverberated with the sound of gunfire. Sinuous
jungle trails, now popular with nature-lovers, used to lead to
guerrilla hide-outs. They were first used by hill rat miners,
then by the Papan armed resistance and finally by Communist insurgents
during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960).
a century after her death, Sybil's clinic at 74 Main Road was
turned into a gallery interpreting the story of Papan town. This
was done through the private effort of Law Siak Hong, currently
President of the Perak Heritage Society. At the back of the house,
one finds, unexpectedly, a bright and beckoning stone-and-bamboo
last wish was to have her clinic in Papan serve the poor even
after her death, but state medical services have filled the need.
Instead, Hong's history gallery, obviously put up with much thought,
performs other important functions.
pays tribute to human integrity and courage in the face of adversity.
It strengthens Papan's appeal as a place of history and memory.
For visitors, 74 Main Road offers a quiet space to be touched
by small town of old Malaya and, hopefully, to rethink its future.
visit Sybil Kathigasu's clinic,
or for tours of Papan and Ipoh, contact:
hp (+6) 017- 5061875
© Khoo Salma Nasution
Kathigasu, No Dram of Mercy with an introdcution by Sir Richard
Winstedt, London: Neville Spearman. 1954.
Kathigasu, No Dram of Mercy, preface by Cheah Boon Kheng, Singapore:
Oxford University Press, 1983.
Kathigasu, No Dram of Merch, The Story of a Woman's Courage during
the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur: Promentheus Enterprise,
of courage: incorporating No Dram of Mercy, The Papan Guerillas
and Mrs K by Chin Peng and Exploring the Legend by Norma Miraflor
& Ian Ward: a revealing historical appreciation of colonial
Malaya's legendary Kathigasu family, Singapore: Media Masters,
Thean Fook, God of the Earth, Ipoh: Perak Academy. December, 2000.
Thean Fook, Tainted Glory, Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya
Salma Nasution & Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, Kinta Valley: Pioneering
Malaysia's Modern Development, Perak Academy, 2005.
Lubis & Khoo Salma Nasution, Raja Bilah and the Mandailings
of Perak (1875-1911), Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
Mandailing website www.mandailing.org
* * *
of the Perak Heritage Society
edited and produced by
Law Siak Hong
Volume 5, Issue 6
5, Issue 4 & 5
5, Issue 3
5, Issue 1 & 2
4, Issue 6
4, Issue 5
4, Issue 4
Valley: Pioneering Malaysia’s Modern Development
Khoo Salma Nasution
& Abdur-Razzaq Lubis
Bilah and the Mandailings in Perak: 1875-1911
& Khoo Salma Nasution
120 Armenian Street
10200 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 4 2620123
Fax: +60 4 2633970