Niang John Kennedy Wilson @ Tuan Tuai begulai enggau Mr. Arthur Thwaites @ Tuan Manang enggau Mr. Thomas McBride @ Apai Tam enggau Dr. Ronald Lees @Tuan Ragum ngemansangka Iban di menua Ulu Budu, Krian, Saratok, Entabai enggau Entaih di Julau. Maya Tuan Manang agi idup suba iya selalu nemuai ka Nanga Drau. Taja pan udah lama ninggalka menua Sarawak, Tuan Manang tu agi landik bendar bejaku Iban.
Sida ka dalam cerita tu sampal agi idup sereta agi gerai. Bala anembiak Tuan Tuai, baka sida Dr Jawie Masing, Empeni Ikum, Pengajar Bilun Numoi, Luke Tungku, Niang Dr Rabing ak Tupai ari Nanga Maras enggau Liman Numpang kala mangku pengawa besai dalam opis perintah sebedau pincin. Ngagai bala anak uchu anembiak Tuan Tuai, anang enda betanya ngagai apai tauka aki kita pasal pengingat sida belajar enggau Tuan Tuai kelia, kala sida iya agi idup. Pia mega, nadai salah bekunsi pengingatnya enggau bala mayuh ditu.
LONGHOUSE IN SARAWAK BY MORA DICKSON
JOHN KFNNEDY WILSON arrived in Sarawak in April 1949. He was thirty-five years old. Nothing in his life had foreshadowed the extraordinary work that he was to undertake in the far interior of that country.
He was born in Glasgow on 4 April 1914, the fourth child among six brothers and sisters. It was a happy family. His father was a headmaster, and his mother, to whom John Wilson was very close, a warm, homely woman round whom the household revolved. He grew up a thin, red—haired boy full of energy and life, good with his hands and at all kinds of physical activities. He was curious, interested, making friends easily with his contemporaries.
In the nineteen—twenties the Wilson household became divided, geographically though not emotionally. Mrs Wilson and her eldest son suffred from bronchitis, and Glasgow, with its penetrating fogs and damp gloomy climate, was the worst possible place for them. One winter they went to stay in Dunoon, further down the river Clyde, to see whether they could get any relief for their complaint. The visit was a success, and it was decided to take a house there. This was a time of unemployment and fmancial stringency, and Mr Wilson had to stay in Glasgow to carry on his job, so it was arranged that half the family would live with him there, while the othcr half moved to Dunoon, where Mrs Wilson had decided to take in boarders to help the family fmances. At weekends and during the holidays the family was once more reunited.
John lived in Dunoon with his mother, and went to the academy there, where he was an average pupil who did well because he was very determined. He was a headstrong boy, who dd not fail to tell his teachers if he disagreed with them. He loved to debate, and was usually involved in any committee formed to organise out—of—school activities. With a group of friends, some
WHEN WILSON STEPPED 0ff the boat at Kuching in April 1949, he came as part of an education service, in the professional capacity of a teacher. His concept of this role was an all—embracing one, but he saw no conflict with authority here—good teachers ought to be concerned with the lives of their pupils, and whatever else he might be his every instinct was that of a good teacher. Here, in a country just recovering from occupation, faced with a change of status, backward, having to enter the twentieth century with virtually no advance preparation, he saw the challenges which his spirit sought.
Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, had achieved some romantic fame as a kingdom ruled over by a White Rajah, a state of affairs which had become increasingly anachronistic as it lingered on into the middle of the twentieth century. Then the Second World War came. Borneo was occupied by the Japanese, the remote head—hunting tribes found occasion to practise their ancient ritual again, and the days of the White Rajahs came quietly to an end. On I July 1946 Sarawak became a Crown Colony under the British Government though not without some opposition from the people themselves. The Rajahs had been just and revered rulers, and the local population had been accustomed to speaking freely and to having their opinions listened to seriously. When a Commission came from the British House of Commons to try to gauge public opinion on the matter of cession, some of the upriver Dayaks asked them, “Does the King intend to live in Kuching?”
They said, “No, we do not think he will live in Kuching.”
The Dayaks then asked, “Has the King any sons?”
The Commission replied, “No. The King has no sons.”
“Has the King a brother?”
“Yes, the King has a brother, but we do not think it is likely he will live in Kuching.”
The Dayaks then said that this was an important question to them because hitherto, in order to reach the Ruler, they could go by canoe and perhaps get a lift in a boat to Kuching, the cost being, say, six dollars. What would be the cost of going to London? The Commission told them that it would be rather more than six dollars, but that there would surely be a King’s representative in Kuching. What they did not tell them was that the King’s representative would become hydra—headed as departments of government grew, making it almost impossible for an individual Dayak th have access to the Ruler in the way that he had previously had, and felt to be important.
Sarawak was, and still is, a multi racial land, but not an equiracial one. There is a Chinese community, prosperous, self sufficient, industrious, responsible for much of the trade and business of the country; and there is a Malay community, who in the time of the Rajahs held the positions of governmental and political power: both these peoples had had their traditional roots outside Borneo and arrived there as a result of emigration. The local, indigenous peoples were the tribes who lived in the interior, the ulu, as it was called—the Ibans, Kayans, Kenyahs, Kelabits, Land Dayaks: of these the Ibans, or Iban, were far the most numerous, comprising approximately 31 per cent of the population of the whole territory.
The Iban lived in longhouses upriver. They depended on a rice culture, and in their steep, confused, hilly country with its poor soil they were forced to move continually, seeking fresh acres of virgin jungle to cultivate. A competitive, independent, egalitarian society, they had enjoyed both head-hunting and piracy, and it had taken the Rajahs some time and several battles to bring them to accept the authority of the Ruler. Having done so the Rajahs took the view that they should be allowed to continue developing in their own traditional way, protected from too great an influence by more advanced peoples. The Iban and the Rajah enjoyed a special relationship, and during the Japanese occupation many Iban showed their loyalty by protecting the Rajah’s British representatives at the risk of their owfl lives:
3 INTO THE ULU
AT DAWN ON the first ofJanuary 1953, as the tide turned and th New Year began to lighten the sky behind the palm trees, John Wilson boarded the launch that was to take him from Kuching to Saratok on the final stage of his journey to Budu. He had great deal of luggage three lorry loads, to be precise, much of bought with his own savings, though he confidently looked foi ward to some future moment when these expenses would b refunded by government. Not for the first time he was puttin into practice a maxim which infuriated civil servants with whor he had to deal—act first and ask permission later; or its twin rule spend your own money, then ask for a refund when you aproved to be right.
There were a dozen hens, three small pigs, boxes of seedling bags of cement, bales of wire netting, cases of books, enough foo to last for many weeks, tools, a small engine, simple househol goods, paper, notebooks, everything hc could think of whic might be necessary in the days ahead when there would be turning back if anything had been forgotten. Many of his studens had got up in the silent moment of darkness before the first stii rings of dawn to see him go, and they helped to load this strang assortment of goods. One of the’m, Empeni Ikum, a young Iban, was going with him into the Ulu Budu. Wilson had know Empeni Ikum for some time, and had been very good to him. The young man had originally turned up at Batu Lintang looking for job. He may have wanted to be a student, but his educational back ground precluded this, and he had been taken on as a gardener graduating to a position as office boy. Whatever his motives is returning with Wilson to the kind of background from which he had tried so hard to escape—and Wilson himself suspected that he had been given a push in this direction by some of the studens who were concerned for their principal’s welfare—he was to prove a faithful and valuable friend.
Eventually all the goods were packed on to the launch, and the launch slipped from its moorings. Kuching appeared fresh and neat and peaceful in the morning light, and in front the river curved away as it ran to meet the sea. For the next few hours there was nothing to do, no new situations to be dealt with. Wilson felt relaxed and calm. He had qualms, for he was by no means blindly self-confident, but he had no regrets about the course he had taken.
Curiously enough, one of those qualms concerned living alone. Although highly individual and always prepared to fight singlehanded if he deemed it necessary, he was in fact gregarious, enjoying the companionship of other men. This was the first time that he had actually made a break with established organisation in order to commit himself wholly to back his own judgement. As a student, a teacher, a pilot, he had endeavoured, often fiercely, to bend the organisation to his will; but the framework of the school, the Service, the college had always been there, and he accepted it. Even now the link with government still held, though tenuously. He was going to Budu as a teacher, on the salary paid by the local authority to its rural teachers, approximately 250 dollars, or £30 a month, but his long term plans were always for a commu.nity development scheme centred on, and growing out of, the school. The Community Development Committee, or one or two members of it, had been prepared to hedge their bets when he had discussed his plans with them, but there had been mention of the possibility of a grant, and John Wilson was by nature optimistic. He was a man whom many regarded as impossible to work with, an uneasy colleague who did not know how to compromise; others found in him a creative brilliance which they admired—but preferred to keep at a distance; some, notably the Governor, Sir Anthony Abell, felt that it was positively good for the administration to have a gadfly in their midst. There had been sufficient respect for his ability and ideas to send him off up the Krian river with government acquiescence, if not with their blessing.
The launch dropped anchor for the night at Kabong, the Malay fishing village at the mouth of the Krian. It was here that the open spaces of the China Sea with its dazzle of water and endless sky contracted to a wide brown ribbon edged with low, dark green, jungly banks. The spidery legs of the long gimcrack landing tages ran out into the tide from the ramshackle stiltcd houses and the launch with its assorted cargo swung quietly with the current. On board her Wilson slept soundly and without dreams.
The next morning, at dawn, they slipped away for the last stage to Saratok, the District Headquarters, where they were due at noon. Arrangements had been made for twelve men from Budu to meet the boat here, and two former students, Philip and Nicholas, were also to be there.
This was a moment of apprehension. It would be the first sign from the Iban Budu that the plans made at a distance meant something to them in reality when the time for action actually arrived. The peace of mind that he had felt so far gave way to nervousness as Wilson scanned the banks at Saratok . No one there appeared to have any particular interest in the arrival of the launch, or to expect it. There was, however, one figure which was familiar, the District Officer. John Wilson and the District Officer at Saratok had met before: their last encounter, a year ago, had resulted in a difference of opinion about the selection of students. Wilson had a capacity for profoundly irritating District Officers, who felt the indigenous peoples to be their especial charge, by giving the impression that he, and he alone, knew the Iban. So this particular District Officer must have been disconcerted, to say the least, to learn that Wilson was coming to live and perhaps to stir up trouble— in his district. Looking now at the motley collection of pigs, hens and boxes lying about on the deck of the launch, he made it plain that he was under no obligation to offer the facilities of the station: if Wilson chose to go off in this fashion, then he did so on his own.
“I am not aware,” Wilson said in his soft Scots voice, “that I have made any request for transport or for government storage” though he had no idea what he would do next if the Budu party failed to turn up. Fortunately at that moment he saw Philip and Nicholas, who had come up with the small crowd that had gathered to see two Europeans quarrelling. The Rumah Gelau people had arrived, and were at that very moment in the bazaar. When they had been assembled by Philip and Nicholas and greetings were over, the first task was to transfer the goods, livestock and all, to a smaller launch owned by a Chinese called Alun, who was to become a firm ally. The change was necessary because the river, as far as the end of the tidal reach two or three hours upstream, became faster and shallower and began to develop rapids. At Kaki Wong
By the time it was done Alun said it was too late to sail. They must wait for the tide to run next day. So the party adjourned to the bazaar and coffee, where Wilson was formally introduced to the Dayaks among whom he was coming to live. They had strange, harsh names, and they greeted him with friendliness: Janggat Lium, Dunggat, Emparak (mati setaun dua tu), Gambang, Kiroh. Sturdy, small in stature but robust and well built, with black straight hair and dark direct eyes, they looked at the thin, red haired Scotsman and he looked back at them. He, at least, felt a rush of confidence. These were men with whom he could work.
It was a happy evening. Several ex-students of Batu Lintang Teachers Training College, having heard that their former principal was in town, came to greet him and join the group. The momentary doubts, of the morning were expunged in an atmosphere of warmth and friendliness. Then came the moment when they must get some sleep, and it was immediately apparent that so far as the Dayaks were concerned he did not belong. They took it for granted that, whatever their superficial differences, he must have a bed in the house of the District Officer. This was normal and accepted practice for European visitors. Even without the morning’s incident, Wilson would have felt reluctant to cut himself offat this moment from the men among whom he was going to spend the next months. As things were he had no choice. So he simply said that where they, the men from Rumah Gelau, were going to sleep he would sleep too.
This announcement caused consternation among the Dayaks. But when they saw that Wilson was adamant, they accepted the situation and the Rumah Gelau men took him along with them. They had a room in a house in the bazaar, and now it was Wilson’s turn to be dismayed. By the light of a flickering lamp it was plain that the place was haunted by rats and deep in litter. Dirty paper, old clothes, cigarette ends, tins, and things less easily defined lay about everywhere. The Dayaks unrolled their mats and lay down: Wilson too unrolled his mat, but before he lay down he gave, consciously, his first lesson in hygiene. With great care he collected up every morsel of refuse and piled it neatly in a corner, then he lay down and slept soundly.
The next morning, as the tide began to flow up-river, twelve Iban, with Wilson, Empeni, Philip and Nicholas, piled into Alun’s small launch, already overburdened by all the baggage. The Dayaks had not expected quite so much luggage, and had begun to have doubts as to whether it could all be got up to Budu. Dunggat remarked that fifty canoes, rather than twenty,would be needed. In the event his calculation was not far out, for each of the twenty canoes eventually had to make two trips.
They reached Kaki Wong at three o’clock. This was the last trading post on the river, the farthest distance to which a launch could come. After this it was difficult broken water and wild, steeply hilly country, the ulu. Philip had made arrangements to store the goods in a hut, and by the time they were unloaded it was already dark. The small shop was kept by an elderly Dayak, Entamin, and he killed a hen and put it to cook over the wood fire alongside a pot of rice.
Now at last on the threshold of the Budu country, Wilson was aware, because of their absence, that he had had anxieties. Lacking in language, overburdened by baggage, repudiated by a fellow— countryman, he had not been certain what kind of a reception he would eventually receive. Now, after this evening at Kakiwong, he felt sure that this was his chosen life.
Next day was 4 January, a clear, sunny morning. From this point everyone, except those needed to navigate the canoes, must take to their legs. Lium was detailed to be the guide. Wilson was asked to indicate which pieces of baggage were essential to his comfort on arrival, and this done the walkers left the river party to load, and set off.
Travel in the jungle is calculated by time, not distance. On foot, Rumah Gelau lay six or seven hours away; for the canoes, poled laboriously up rapids and shallows, perhaps two days. It was not easy walking. When there were paths they were narrow and twisting, slippery with rotting vegetation, bristling with roots and fallen branches. Once, when they came down again to meet the river, they saw the canoes, and John was appalled to observe that they appeared to be so heavily overloaded that they would clearly sink. The Dayaks smiled at him and told him not to worry.
He had expected to arrive at Rumah Gelau that night, but the journey was out of his hands now. It was to be a progress. Never before had someone of a diffrent race come to live among these people, at his own suggestion and their invitation. Whatever kind of man he was, he was going to affect many more people than just Rumah Gelau. So they wanted to see him, to assess for themselves, perhaps also to make certain that he understood their way of life. There were longhouses on the way, sometimes also struggling, hopeful, tiny schools with a teacher who had been under Wilson at Batu Lintang. At each one they stopped. They climbed the tree trunk ladder to the verandah, paid their respects to the family heads, and sat for an hour to tell the news.
That night they slept at a longhouse, Rumah Jacob, whose Tuai Rumah—the chief of the house—very unusually spoke English. It was a relief to Wilson to be able to talk directly to a Iban, and he and Jacob sat far into the night learning from each other. Wilson stored away much useful knowledge and made a firm ally and supporter.
The next day, by mid afternoon, they reached Rumah Gelau, lying across the river from the small school which had first given Wilson the idea that here was a people able to make use of help. There was nothing to distinguish this jungle clearing from thousands of others. A longhouse on stilts beside the river with untidy patches of felled, cleared land. Women and children bathing in the shallows, some scrawny pigs and hens scratching under the house, and miles and miles of hills and trees. But fifteen years later, because John Wilson chose the path he did, there was to emerge from this longhouse a fully-qualified doctor with a degree from Aberdeen University. Wilson’s strength, which was apparent from the very beginning of his work, was that he believed in people rather than paper, and envisaged community development in terms of what men and women could find themselves capable of. It was this quality that made the arrival at Rumah Gelau satisfying rather than disconcerting: materiallythere might be nothing at all, but the people had given him a welcome, and already he felt himself to be close to them.
When the news had first come that the red-haired European who had visited them had resigned his government job and was oficring to come and teach in their school, the community elders had differed in their attitudes. They knew very well that he would bring problems. Some strangers in their midst might be absorbed, but not this one. Apart from anything else, they feared the responsibility for his safety: death from disease, floods, snakebite or fatal accidents was commonplace. They debated for a long time, weighing carefully the advantages and disadvantages. In the end majority opinion agreed that his offer should be accepted, for a reason that showed a profound humanity—that a man who had sacrificed so much should not be rejected.
What were they like, these people with whom Wilson had decided to throw in his lot? The Ibans, or Ibans, had come originally from south of the watershed which divides Sarawak from Indonesia, moving frequently in search of virgin jungle. They were padi farmers, practising a form of shifting agriculture which demanded constant change, as the poor hill soil would not support crops more than two years running. So they cut and fired, planted and harvested, and when the land over a widcr and wider area became despoiled the longhouse itself was abandoned and the whole population moved on. The cycle of their padi farming was dependent on spiritual rituals, and much of their living was ruled by signs and omens from the spirits.
The rivers were their highways, and they had enjoyed piracy and head—hunting. Certain sections of the Ibans had been the last to accept the rule of the Rajah Brookes. A proud, aggressive, individualistic people, they loved argument and had a fine command of language. They also had a sense of fun.
The longhouse, which at first seemed to present an ideal form of communal living under a chief or Tuai Rumah, was in fact not communal but a competitive, egalitarian society with each family room independently owned and with no common property. All the men and women were equal. The Tuai Rumah was the custodian of the adat, or custom, which was the ritual fabric of daily living. Nevertheless, the sheer necessity of close contact in the ionghouse had made the Dayak tolerant and uninhibited. If a man wanted to play his gongs at midnight or get up at 3 a.m. it was his affair and nobody minded.
That evening Rumah Gelau gave Wilson a ceremonial gawai. They drank tuak, the local rice wine, and made speeches, which Nicholas or Philip had to translate; the gongs were beaten, the young men and girls danced in the lamp light. The Tuai Rumah took a white cock in his arms and waved it over Wilson’s head while he prayed for blessings on him. The boy, Jawie, who was to graduate fifteen years later because of this man, watched wide eyed while the new teacher sat on the mat opposite his grand-father. The old man spoke to Wilson in Malay, asking him if he was to have a companion to relieve his loneliness. The teacher replied begging him to speak in Dayak, so that he might the more quickly learn to make friends. At last, when they had all gone to their sleep, his grandfather told Jawie that the general view was that the new teacher had not come to displace things but to enrich the community.
The next morning Nicholas and Philip left to return to Saratok. Wilson watched them go with a sinking heart. It had been all very well the night before. Uplifted by the feeling of breaking new ground, of being the centre of interest, he had been carried along by events. This morning it was different. His ex-students were gone, the longhouse was preoccupied with its own affairs, the jungle unconcerned. Faced with the reality of isolation, the careful plans began to look unachievable. However, he was not the sort of man to hesitate for long. Accompanied by Empeni he waded across the river in front of the longhouse to the ground on the other side, where a small house had already been built for him beside the school. In the sunshine he sat down on the steps of his first home at Budu to consider where to start.
Empeni, who had begun to look round with a view to organising the ordinary affairs of daily living, quickly enlightened him. The school, it appeared, was full of pupils waiting, very rightly, for the teacher to start teaching them!
The sight of the children, ready and interested, smooth brown faces with huge eyes looking at him in anticipation, dispersed immediately any unaccustomed indecision. It could not have beena better or more significant beginning, for it was to human beings that wilson responded, and here were young human beings eager to meet him half-way.
At first, though, their paths did not quite converge. The teacher spoke no Dayak, the pupils no English: the children expected an immediate issue of notebooks and pencils—the apparatus of formal education—while John Wilson saw that there was much hard physical work to be done befoe the school would be fit for proper use. It had never been hi intention that any benefits which he could bring, of education or improved health, should be gifts from a benevolent European to the Dayak people. He intended that they should struggle and work for them, while he fought by their side. So now, with tasks graded to their size, the pupils began to cut wood, to collect stones, to dig earth to repair their building.
The children were undernourished, tired, plagued by ill health, clad in little more than rags, but alive and willing to work. John Wilson, toiling alongside them in the heat, watched them with an eagle eye. Because they had few clothes, he too wore only swimming pants—partly so that no one need feel a sense of shame, more profoundly because he wished from the very beginning to make it plain that intelligence and learning are not dependent on garments. He knew only too well how easy it is for an educational system to turn out young men who despise their family background, and feel themselves too good for the humbler daily jobs. The symbol of this attitude was for him the immaculate suit of clothes. Not that he despised clothes. When the time came for some of his boys to go overseas, he was meticulous in seeing that they should be dressed as well as possible: but by that time they all knew that fine feathers were an extra and not the whole man. He did, however, insist that whatever they wore should be clean. To appear in ragged shorts was of no importance: to come to school in dirty ragged shorts was intolerable.
As he worked beside them, in a way that must at the very beginning have upset any preconceived ideas of how the teacherto help with translation, but most of thc time Wilson struggled grimly on. In the evenings, now with Empeni’s help, he learned relearned the phrases that he had gleaned during the day.
His own house was primitive. He slept on the floor and ate at a table made with strands of bamboo. He was determined that no outward show on his part should create a barrier between him and the people. But the house was spotlessly clean and tidy, and there were books and music. He looked for a subtle balance, an example for the community high enough to draw them on but not so high that it would seem unattainable; and as their standards rose to meet his, so his would rise too.
Empeni considered this was nonsense. With no fine theories as to how a community development worker should live, he set out to provide himself with as many amenities as possible. He made a rattan basket chair, and when he saw that Wilson was not averse to sitting in it he gave it to him and made himself another!
By the time the school was repaired and ready to open the baggage had arrived, and Wilson had enough Dayak words to be able to say “Stand up”, “sit down”, “come here”, “go there”. For these Dayak children the school had become a magnet. They were obedient and mannerly, and it was punishment enough for the new teacher just to raise his voice. He was beginning ço distinguish one from another, too. There was Jawie, humorous and intelligent, whose grandfather had played a leading part in the welcoming ceremonies; Luke, thin and undernourished, but with deepset trusting eyes and a natural physical grace; Bilun of the chubby cheeks and dazzling smile; and Chundie with the eyes of a hunted deer.
Wilson, with his fierce determination, must have astonished them often, for from the beginning he worked them very hard on all kinds of things which could at that stage have had little meaning for them. If they worked he was satisfied; if, however, they gazed out of a window at a bird or forgot for a moment the serious purpose that had now entered their lives, then he was fierce. He tore their books from them and flung them out of the windows, and sent them after to look for grasshoppers which could certainly write better than they. He could storm and shout. Because he loved them and was involved with them, they couldinfuriate as well as charm him. And from the beginning it was made plain that they were there to learn and he was there to help them learn, but the responsibility was theirs. Acutely aware of being on his own, though not lonely and not alone, he prepared planned study sheets so that his pupils could learn individually if any crisis prevented him from being there. In all this thinking, which was geared to the necessities of a practical situation, he anticipated in 1963 curriculum reforms which were to come to the forefront in British education in the 1960s, programmed learning, inter—disciplinary inquiry, a curriculum geared to the social needs of the community.
While this was going on in the school, there was naturally curiosity in the longhouse, as the Iban watched the furious activity on the other side of the river. The physical appearance of the landscape had begun to change as the school was repaired, ground cleared and seedlings planted, the pigs penned in proper sties, the hens given a run. Parents started to cross the river to look at what was going on, to touch and peer, till there came a moment when Wilson told them they must stay away during school hours because they were a distraction for the children and for him.
The school was his first priority—indeed, at this point he had time for nothing else. To teach all day, learn Dayak half the night, prepare lessons, develop the compound, accustom himself to a totally strange life, all this provided a full schedule. He had little contact with the longhousc people, and for the moment he was not absolutely certain how deep he wanted his involvement to become. The school was manageable, and in a year, if he wished to leave, it would not be impossible to hand it over to a reasonable teacher, but if he expanded further then he would find himself with commitments that he could not so easily dispose of. So he told the people to stay away.
For the most part they did. Dayaks are themselves outspoken individualists, and maybe they recognised another such. What they could see was that their children were thriving and blossoming under this new regime; and that the man who was responsible was living as simply as they were, and working as they had rarely seen anyone work. So, for the time being, they were content to accept him and to wait and see. By the middle of February the school was under control and the pupils were making good progress. In the evenings Empeni had begun to teach a few adults, and Wilson, using every opportunity to exercise his Dayak, helped him. Empeni was at this time the only person to whom he could talk freely, and long into the night they would discuss what the next step should be or whether there should even be a next step at all. So far Wilson had not divulged to anyone that he had brought with him medical supplies and the necessary skill to use them. He saw that it would be wrong to start anything which could not go on, but it also seemed improper to withhold the help he could give on a wider scale. Medical assistance would provide him with invaluable contacts with the people. But the need that he now saw around him was so enormous that, once he stepped outside his present prescribed area of the school, he might well be overwhelmed.
The thinking that he now devoted to solving the problems of possible expansion was to set the pattern for the whole future development of the Budu Scheme. The school must be the centre and have priority, because it was through the school that the education and training of the young generation would come. Any area of expansion, therefore, must interlock with the school in a way that made it possible to operate both; and immediately, without further ado, the senior pupils must be involved in that expansion as trainees and helpers. Even now, though perhaps dimly as yet, he looked to a future in which the authority would lie with the people.
He started cautiously, allowing it to be known that he had medicines—but for children in school only. Skin diseases, conjunctivitis, festering wounds, worm infestation, there was no lack of patients. But it very soon became apparent that he could not keep this aspect of his work inside the school, and that if the children were to get any real benefit it must be extended to their homes.
So one Saturday he called a meeting of the people from Rumah Gelau.
By now his Dayak was surprisingly fluent, and one or two of his pupils already knew some English. He told the people that he would like to help the sick, but that he would do so only at theweekend, unless there was an emergency with severe wounds or broken bones. He felt very strongly that this help should not be free (at no time was anyone in the Scheme to get something for nothing), so those wanting treatment must bring a cup of rice or some vegetables. The Dayak economy having always been based on rice, this was an understood and acceptable method of payment.
So at the weekends the small house beside the school became a dispensary from early on Saturday morning to late on Sunday evening. Numbers increased alarmingly, and people began to come from several hours’ walk away. There was scarcely time for Wilson to take any food, and often the rice which had been cooked for him by Emnpeni went to feed patients from a distance.
The collecting of payment proved an arduous task and brought its own complications. Iban, like other people, want to know that they are getting value. So there were those patients who would not bring their rice until the cure had worked: when this happened, and an ex-patient walked for two hours to hand over his cup of rice, Wilson’s confidence in his own medical ability and his faith in Dayaks had a boost: when a debtor never returned he cursed them for their avariciousness while secretly wondering if he had done them irreparable harm.
The stocks of medicine with which he had come up the river began to diminish, but the Director of Medical Services, who had shown himself to be a man of understanding and vision where Wilson was concerned, solved this problem by agreeing to replenish his supplies at intervals.
There were other problems. As the news spread patients arrived from longhouses three, four or even five hours away from Budu. They brought no food with them except the cup of rice for payment, and sometimes they sat all day waiting their turn in the throng—and then walked five hours back again to their homes. They made no complaints, but Wilson was uneasy about their plight and would have liked to give them some priority. He could not, however, get the other patients to agree. No Iban saw why he should give up his place in the queue for any other man, and a people accustomed to long hours of travel on foot found no reason to accept this as a cause for discrimination. It took a long time and many hours of discussion before it became the acceptedpattern to give long-distance patients the right to early attention. Already some of the older pupils, were working with him, being slowly trained to give out medicines and explain to the patient what he had to do with them. Others helped with cooking and feeding. As their knowledge and confidence grew so the work eased and the weekend dispensary, instead of being a nightmare, became a manageable operation that fmished by midday on Sunday. Then they relaxed, teacher and taught alike. They swam and fished together. The Iban boys took him scrambling up waterfalls and exploring rock pools, delighting in showing their agility and skill, and not above making jokes at thcir teacher’s expense when he proved himself lacking in acuteness of eye or ear or clumsy in his attempts to follow them. So a relationship began to grow up between them which was, in the best sense, that of a father with his sons. They were ready to accept his authority when there was work to be done, but they did not fear him when it was finished. For his part he found boys with few inhibitions, accustomed to being treated with affction by their own people and expecting nothing less from him; aware of the possibilities that his presence among them could hold out, and prepared to take on the responsibilities that he might demand of them.
By April the plants and seeds that he had brought from Kuching were beginning to sprout. The transplanted coffee bushes had taken, and there was green on the pineapple shoots. On the nearest siopes behind the school the wild growth of secondary jungle had been cleared, and neat terraces had begun to follow the contours of the hills. In the evenings he sat at the door of his small house, drinking a bottle of beer and smoking a cigarette while he pondered over the next steps forward.
He needed this hour at the end of the day, to be alone, listening to music on his gramophone, to have time to think, to gather the sense of his own identity around him. For he had not “gone native”—though there were rumours of this in Kuching. He had ajob to do for which he saw the need to live simply, and close to the people with whom he was working. He was growing to love these people, but not to sink his personality in theirs. He remained a tough, emotional Scotsman with strong and continuing linkswith his own people. At an early stage he made it plain that this was to be a working partnership on a basis of respect and equality. On both sides there was to be no attempt to change “custom”— unless the necessities of the common good demanded it. Te Dayaks, accustomed to a life where physical privacy was almost totally absent, could not understand his need for this one regular hour of solitude, but they came, at his insistence, to recognise that this was his “custom”, and as such to be respected in the same way that he observed theirs when he visited their houses.
It was about this time that the first real test of his intention and abilities had to be met.
In 1949 the Department of Agriculture had started on a rehabilitation of the pepper industry, which was to become an important feature of the Sarawak economy. Pepper bushes are very hard on the land, drawing a great deal out of it, and the Department did not want new pepper groves springing up on fresh land outside their control. They had no great opinion of the Dayaks as farmers, and it is true that the shifting padi cultivation which the Dayak families practised took no account of the preservation or impoverishment of the land they worked. So the Dayaks were forbidden to plant pepper vines.
This was a simple direction to give in an office in the capital, but a great deal less easy to enforce. Most Dayaks were illiterate, and many lived far beyond the range of the government’s active jurisdiction. In any case, the ulu Iban found it incomprehensible that anyone could forbid them to plant as they wished. The moment came when the Agricultural Department grew tired of having its authority flouted, and the Agricultural Assistant at Saratok was instructed to summons several Iban for disobeying the law. One of those who received a summons to appear in court was Janggat Lium. He had a good, well-tended pepper-garden ready to yield its first crop, and it had never occurred to anyone that he could be punished for this.
There was anger among the Budu community, and a meeting was held to consider what action they should take. Wilson was asked to attend. The meeting was a passionate one, for Ibans are naturally fighters, and their inclination was to make a physical protest, to refuse to go and to repulse, violently if necessary, anyone who came to get them. No doubt Wilson’s sympathies were with them, for he too was a fighter with little time for blanket regulations and restrictions. But he saw that what was required from him was not partisanship but statesmanship. On his handling of this crisis might depend the whole future of his work in this place. Suddenly he was more than the teacher with strange ideas: he was a Community Development Officer being consulted by his people.
He explained over and over again that the law could not be fought physically and that to attempt to do so could only result in disaster; but it was difficult to think of an alternative course of action which would satisfy their strong sense of injury at what had happened. Then suddenly the dilemma was solved for him in a way that had not entered his calculations. Janggat Lium asked Wilson if he would come down to Saratok and defend him in court.
He had a short space of time in which to make a very critical decision. On the one hand this was the first time that any of the Budu people had asked him for help on a major matter: on the other hand he could vividly imagine the possible reaction of the government in Kuching, and the District Officer in Saratok, if he supported a Dayak law-breaker against them. He stood to lose either way, for without Dayak confidence none of his dreams was realisable; while without government acquiescence, and ultimately aid, his very right to remain in the country might be threatened, and the help he could bring would certainly be greatly impoverished. But it would have been totally out of character for him to have refused to accept the challenge of helping an individual to confront bureaucracy—not in defence of his rights, for in this case Janggat was clearly contravening the regulations, but in his stand against the all-embracing impersonality of those regulations, to prove that the law itself was unjust. It was agreed that he would defend Janggat in a test case, and at that tempers cooled and the meeting dispersed.
Wilson was well aware that he had taken a momentous step. In the week before the trial he lay awake at night and argued the case over and over again in his mind, imagining sometimes triumph, but vividly aware also how near he might be to disaster. The news travelled fast, in the mysterious way that news does in very remote places, that a European was to defend a Dayak in the magistrates’ court in Saratok—the first time such a thing had ever happened. When Janggat and Wilson arrived the court was crowded. Now that the moment had come he forgot his qualms: in circumstances like this he was at his best, for, whatever doubts he might have had about his own personal position, he had none at all about the equity of his cause. He knew that justice ought to be on his side, and it was his ability to persuade others, against their own judgement, to feel this too that couldmake him enemies. The Agricultural Assistant putting forward the case for the Department may have had the law with him, but from the moment Wilson began to speak he must have known that nobody in the court believed that the law was just.
The magistrate delivered judgement. Janggat had acted illegally and he had no option but to fine him, but the fine was a nominal one. Wilson asked for a stay of execution of the verdict and appealed to the Divisional Court on the grounds that there was no evidence thatjanggat had known of any written instructions that Dayaks were not to plant pepper. There was no appeal, but a telegram arrived for the District Officer from the Chief Secretary to say that, subject to certain conditions, the Dayaks could now plant pepper.
It was a victory. The return to Budu, the night—long celebrations in the longhouse, were a personal triumph. Not only had the attitude towards Wilson undergone a subtle change, but something of more consequence seemed to have taken place. For the first time in the endless discussion of what had happened, there was a positive note of acceptance that progress might be possible.
Wilson was too much of a natural teacher to let the moment pass without drawing lessons from it, and he never forgot the wider issues of the job he was engaged in. Some government officials might have been astounded to hear his interpretation of the day’s proceedings, and it is true that he was inclined to think of The Government as a body that should be aware of what he was doing and ready to help him in the way that at that moment seemed best to him. So the government, had they been present, would have found themselves being toasted as having gained astriking moral victory. They could not have known about this law, Wilson explained. It must have been something that the Director of Agriculture wanted and had not told the government about. When they knew, they repealed it. So, not by fighting and quarrelling but by taking a firm, determined stand on their rights government could be convinced and progress go forward.
They believed him, for they had seen it happen with their own eyes, and their reactions were immediate and positive. In his work in the dispensary Wilson had for some time been urging preventive measures as part of the medical treatment— personal hygiene, cleanliness in the home, the provision of pit latrines. There had been no response. The patients saw no con— nection between their ailments, caused by a spirit resident in the body, and the external factors of their daily life. They still saw no connection, but out of gratitude, in recognitiOn of the fact that he had been accepted by them, the Dayaks now helped to construct two pit latrines.
Striking while the iron was hot, Wilson encouraged them to start on a third one, extremely large—ten foot by six. They had reached a depth of about nine feet when, one night, heavy rain fell steadily and unexpectedly for twelve hours. At dawn the pit was a shambles. The sodden, clayey soil had collapsed and fallen in, and the hours of digging were completely nullified. The peopie gathered round and gazed at the ruins of their work. Then the Tuai Rumah said, “Our gods did not like this hole. They have filled it in for us,” and the people turned away to go back to their own pursuits.
Desperately aware that if he lost now it would be a serious setback, Wilson shouted, “Wait!” while he thought wildly of ways in which to deal with such a powerful omen. Instinct told him that it must be by counter-conviction rather than any form of compulsion. “Wait,” he said, then turning to Tuai Rumah Gelau, “How many people live in this house?”
“One to two hundred when we are all with our families.”
“Then it is clear why your gods did not like this hole,” said John. “Your gods did not think it big enough,” and seizing a changkol and a basket he leapt on to the sodden mud in the centre of the hole and began to dig, crying as he did so, “We will make it twelve feet, not ten, so that everyone in the house can use it !“ There was a moment of hesitation. Did they believe that he had authority to speak for their gods? Were they willing to accept an explanation that gave them freedom of action? Did John Wilson’s intensity of purpose carry them with him in spite of themselves? Whatever it was, several young men jumped in beside him and the latrine, larger and stronger, was finished, and survived for many years.
It was not Wilson’s first encounter with the spirits who control every aspect of Dayak life. When he began to treat the sick he very soon came face to face with the Manang, the intermediary with the spirit world.
The Manang lives like any other Dayak, farming to support his family, but he can be called on at any time, day or night, to go to the aid of a sick man. He may go into a trance, so as to pass over to the spirit world where the soul of the sick man is wandering about and bring it back: he may believe himself to be given the remedy for the sickness by the spirits, and anoint the part with various ointments and charms: he may sacrifice a pig to consult the liver.
John Wilson had been asked to attend agawai darah, a ceremony of exorcism. He had seen the patient made comfortable, surrounded by relatives ready to help force the spirit out, by incantation, stroking, even, if need be, by beating.
The Manang cleared the immediate environment of any spirits who might be lurking about and be detrimental to the cure, and the ceremony started. It could be quite a simple one or, as it was in this case, night—long and complicated. At dawn a pig was slaughtered and the liver examined. The “heart”, in fact the liver, was carefully laid out on a plate and handed round the wise men of the house. Wilson too was handed the plate. All eyes were on him as he gazed in silence. He looked for a long time. Then the “heart” moved on. Nothing was said, there was no discussion. When all the wise men had examined the “heart” there seemed to be no single decision, but everyone knew if it was good or bad. If it was good the patient lived, if bad he died.
Though he could sec nothing in the “heart”, Wilson found the ceremony moving, and felt in spiritual agreement with the finaldecision. He might deplore the stifling atmosphere in which the patient was kept, the clamour of the gongs beating constantly to warn the spirits off, the lack of air, but he felt that he had no right to attempt to alter these customs, and he had a respect for the Manang. His Highland ancestry had given him a belief in the powers of faith, and he could accept the Manang’s miraculous cures. Above all he was a man tolerant of other people’s ways of life. It was this quality that made him different from many other men who had gone into jungles to try to change what they found there. He felt passionately that the Dayaks must change themselves. He would provide some of the means, but what they made of them was their own affair, and he respected them sufficiently as men like himself to be able to accept their decisions. What he wanted above all was to teach people so that they could make these decisions out of knowledge rather than ignorance. It was this rare ability genuinely to. recognise men of another race as equals that was to give him a unique place in the community.
So now he found nothing incongruous in entering into a kind of partnership with the Manangs to treat the sick. The Manangs, who had considerable influence in the longhouses and could be useful allies, were willing also to accept him. The longhouses on the Krian and Budu rivers were more stable than those of Ibans in other valleys. For some years they had planted rubber, which gave them the beginnings of a money economy; they no longer moved their houses intermittently to follow the padi cultivation; they had contacts with Saratok, and the occasional Chinese bazaar boat penetrated up the river beyond Kakiwong. They were already, even if tenuously, in touch with new ideas. It was their good fortune that the first real impact of those ideas came in the shape of John Wilson.
As though to indicate that luck was now running in his favour three of the white pigs, brought with such effort from Kuching, farrowed—and suddenly there were nineteen. The effect was electric. One of the first jobs in the weeks after arrival had been to make sties for the pigs, wired off and with a cement floor. None of the Dayaks, whose own pigs roamed freely underneath the longhouse and rooted in the surrounding undergrowth, had believed that pigs kept in captivity like this would ever breed. Now, satisfyingly and dcmonstrably, they were proved wrong.
The pigs were another visual aid to add to the many that were gradually signs that new methods did not necessrily bring disaster. The demonstrators were the schoolboys, and when, night and morning, they washed the pigs under a small alcon pump and took it in turn to look after the engine, they drew an intcrested audience. The fact that it was their own boys who were doing these things, and not just a stranger whom they could credit with outlandish skills, must have given the lessons a particular significance for the parents. And the sons were beginning to feel themselves deeply involved in the changes that were becoming more and more apparent in their environment. It was they who terraced the slopes and tended the bushes planted there, kept the school spotlessly clean, cooked the food, cut the grass, helped to treat the sick, looked after the livestock, planned and renovated the buildings, as well as putting in hours of study. It was they who helped to teach Wilson Dayak, in which he was now reasonably fluent, and who in turn had learned from him sufficient English to carry on a halting conversation. And it was through them that Wilson was beginning to bring a form of psychological pressure on the parents to force them to take the first steps on the real road to progress.
In the conversations that increasingly took place after his evening hour of meditation, in visits to the longhouses, while holding dispensaries or being watched at work with a changkol, he would say casually that it was really very little use teaching the children if it made them despise their parents. Why should he try to show them a better way of life just so that they could leave to work somewhere else? What was the use of their learning hygiene in school if it alienated them from their homes? It had never been his intention to divide families, to give the young men ambitions which would make them go away, never to return. Now he saw that this might happen, that educated children would not want to stay in a place which never changed and gave them no opportunities to use their education. So it might be better if, at the end of his year, he returned to Kuching and the children went back to work with their parents as they had always done.
April gave way to May. Somewhere among all his multifariousactivities Wilson had found tune to wire the school and his own house for electric light. Although, in fact, he preferred not to use it when he was readmg alone, for its radiance had a powerful attractive effect on insects, when visitors arrived it was ceremonially turned on. The ease with which this happened, and the brilliance of the result, caused astonishment. Wilson, who turned every action of his daily life into a lesson, told them exactly how it worked. So, too, when he turned on the radio and listened to music or the news, hc did not keep these marvels to himself, but explained and translated, so that gradually, almost unconsciously, the wider world began to penetrate the fabric of his audience’s daily lives.
Wilson was happy. He had no regrets, and no wish to return to the easy existence of thc capital. He was living a hard life with few comforts. His food was rice and salt fish, with occasionally a stringy hen. He slept on the floor and relaxed in Empeni’s rattan basket chair. He worked incessantly, both mentally and physically, from dawn till dusk; and after his hour of quiet in the evening he was now frequently the centre of an inquiring group of adults.
That was one side; on the other, he was himself learning. There were long walks with the boys, invitations to join in rituals and ceremonies in the longhouses. He learnt much about the stars, how to tell time by the size and shape of the moon and to guide the rice-growing cycle by the skies. He found that in jungle travel he was a child compared to his pupils, and when he tried to be helpful at the crossing of a river or the climbing of a hill, and fell in or disrupted the party by slithering down on top of them, they roared with laughtcr. He discovered that Dayak politeness, which insisted that he should go first on a jungle trail, also prevented them from telling him when he went wrong, and so many journeys were unnecessarily prolonged. They loved to play practical jokes on him, and one morning arranged a huge, newly killed python in the path where he would come on it unexpectedly. On that occasion he did not enjoy their uninhibited delight!
Snakes, centipedes, leeches and mosquitoes abounded. To be lost in the jungle at night could be a terrifying experience. There were violent storms with thunder, lightning and relentless rain, and in their aftermath flash floods which could cause havoc and usually seemed to come in the dark. Then the call would go out from the 1onghose for a search for a child or an elder who had been taking an evening bath and been swept away. Almost always the victim was drowned, and sometimes there were lives lost among the rescuers. Wilson knew now what it was to live always very close to disaster, and as he came to admire the fortitude, chccrfulness and resourcefulness of the Ibans, so on journeys his own brand of blithe stoicism, contained in a maxim of his grandmother’s “What’s for ye will no gae past ye”, took over.
In the evenings he would ponder over decisions and discuss them at length with Empeni, with the boys whom he was coming to know—Jawie Masing, Luke, Liman, Bilun, Rabing, Chundie—and with Tuai Rumah Gelau and the other men who were beginning to take his ideas seriously. In these months, when he felt himself to be setting a pattern for the future and could not afford to make major mistakes, he came to understand the value of being slow at making up his mind. He was helped, too, by the dependence of the Dayaks on omens and signs from the spirit world, and their superstitions and folklore. Some of the old men began to have dreams about him and to interpret the signs that they saw in nature as being related to what was happening in their midst. Wilson did not attempt to agree or disagree when they told him of the latest portent; he simply nodded wisely and hoped that his aims would be helped by this identification. Once, when an elder recounted a dream about a small stone rolling down a hill and becoming bigger and bigger as it went, he offered an interpretation—the small stone was the beginning of the way to progress, and the dream a sign that it would gather momentum and end with something large. But when they began to equate him with the hero of one of their own folk—tales, a stranger who would one day come to help them, he denied it, saying that he was a man who enjoyed working, but was not one of their gods. At this they were confirmed in their suspicions that he was in fact the stranger whom they were looking for, because Dayak social etiquette makes negatives into positives. A Iban, out of politeness to his host, will deny that he is hungry even if he has not eaten for many hours—but he will not expect his denial to be takenseriously, and will wait to be pressed to accept the food he has refused.
So the days drew on till June, the month when the harvest was safely in and the people had some time of relaxation before the cycle began again. This was the moment, too, when Wilson hoped that there might be some results from his weeks of persistent psychological pressure. He was not mistaken, though until the very last moment he was by no means sure that there would be any genuine approach from the people. One evening the first official delegation arrived to ask him what he intended to do for them.
If they had expected to be welcomed and treated to a lecture on the future with their own part it in carefully mapped out, they must have been surprised when Wilson made it plain that this was not at all the idea. He had shown them many possibilities, they had discussed at length in the evenings different aspects of the future; now, if they were to talk seriously with him, it must not be about his plans to help them, but about their plans to help themselves.
It was a brief meeting, and after they had gone he wondered whether he had taken too great a chance. Would they come a second time? Had they understood in a creative way his refusal to help them, so that it would be possible for them to come back, or would they accept it as the end? Had he overestimated their desire for improvement or their intelligence in being able to plan for it? He lay awake wondering, but he did not worry, for, being certain in his own mind that this was the right way to proceed, he was not prepared to compromise, whatever the risks.
A week later they did return; and this time they did not ask him what he wanted to do, but told him that they had been thinking about this and that and would like to start to improve their longhouscs. The plans were vague, the understanding rudimentary, but the change in emphasis was vital. It was they themselves who had taken the decision to make changes. Now he could go ahead and help them.
For many years it was to be held against him by departments of government in Kuching who found themselves at variance with his policies that, for all the façade of democratic progress, he wasfact a dictator, ruling the Iban Budu subtly but surely with an iron hand. Of course in the early stages his was the mind that led the discussions and fed in the ideas, but this was natural and right and indeed could not have been otherwise. He was there to bring development and inspire progress, and the Dayaks had no yardstick against which to measure what he told them except their own wisdom and common sense. Nevertheless, the responsibility was genuinely with the people, and they knew this. He might lead the discussion, but they argued and talked and assessed his suggestions in the light of their knowledge of their own people, and the decision, when it was made, was theirs.
At the end of June a general meeting of the community elders was called in Budu. Representatives of 300 families met at the school to hear Wilson put forward his ideas. “He challenged the people,” Jawie wrote later. Wilson would have put it rather differently. He had come to recognise that the guarding of the Dayaks’ pride was of paramount importance. There is no word in the Dayak vocabulary for “thank you”—not out of ingratitude, but because of pride. He felt sure that the way to get a response was to demand from them almost more than they could reason-, ably be expected to provide, to set them difficult goals and take it for granted that they could reach them.
So the pattern for development that was discussed was a formidable one. A Progress Society was to be established. It would be legally constituted, with revenue, office and status, and properly registered in Kuching, and its authority would be accepted by all its members. A working Committee of Progress, Komiti Pemansang, of two members from each longhouse in the Society, would be elected at a general meeting of the Society. This Committee would be the management body for every aspect of future development, and would make final decisions on matters of policy and finance, but all its decisions must be confirmed at the general meeting. All land under the Scheme would be titled in the name f the Progress Society and could not be alienated or sold, though it could be excised for the local authority to build schools and staff quarters.
Any revenues from produce on land belonging to the Society (rubber, coffee, pepper, etc.) would be spent at the discretion of the Committcc of Progrcss, but only for education, medicine, advanced training and other community benefits. They could never be used for personal profit or be divided up. Assistance with rubber planting, pig breeding, etc., in the shape of advice or plants or stock, would be available to members to help raise the long— house standard of living.
There was to be agreement about the payment of an annual rate to provide comnnity funds. This was eventually to be assessed at ten dollars per year for each family in the Progress Society.
A high priority was to be given to a programme of adult education. Experience in his dispensary had convinced Wilson of the importance of giving the adults basic knowledge in the prevention of disease, clean living, sanitation, better cooking, vegetable growing, fruit tree planting, simple science, geography, how to feed young babies, pre— and ante—natal care, animal husbandry, hens to produce eggs and protein, first aid, home treatments—especially enlightened and temperate drinking habits!
Any scheme of development must have a sound economic foundation, so the members of the Society must be ready to produce more and to reassess their traditional ways of doing things. The results of their work should be kept within the community, to make community wealth as distinct from private wealth, and this meant that co—operative trading must play an important part in the new economy.
For his part, Wilson promised to raise the standard of living and improve the general health of the people, and also—and this was probably the single most important reason for his gaining the co—operation of the community—to train their young men to take over from any expatriate staff himself included, any scheme which might be produced by the hard work and efforts of the Iban people.
The training of the young men for genuine leadership was undoubtedly responsible for the surge of creative energy that was to transform the Budu Ibans in the next few years. Also extremely significant was his decision to orientate the education towards the homes of the pupils, so that those who failed academically the majority could be easily reabsorbed by the community. For this reason learning by young and old must gohand in hand: the schooling would have as high an academic standard as it was possible to attain, but the school itself should remain physically simple and unsophisticated, and the whole educational programme would be geared to the life and needs of the community. The brilliant and the dull would work together outside the school and alongside their parents on the hard manual tasks and the new methods that would gradually change the face of the locality, and when the clever went away for further training they would return, not as foreigners, but to a home which they had themselves helped to transform; while those with no ability to absorb Western book-learning would know that this was only one part of a whole new way of life in which their contribution of farming or building or marketing was of equal importance.
All this adult education, co-operatives, a health programme, schooling could not operate from one small school, already bursting at the seams, and Wilson s own house. Tiere would need to be buildings, and these would have to be provided by the people. Wilson told them the essential minimum: a dispensary, a school for adults with sleeping accommodation, a shop, administrative offices. After some discussion it was agreed that every adult would give a minimum of four days’ work a year to the Scheme. In the event this was almost always exceeded, and some men gave as much as fourteen days.
Wilson then said that he would go to Kuching and see what help he could get from the government. He would take one of the Budu men with him as a representative of the newly formed Progress Society, and it was decided that Dunggat should be the one to go.
“It had taken me, therefore,” he wrote later, “almost six months to ensure that a desire for progress had come from them and not been imposed.”
During these six months, while Wilson was starting the work that was to put Budu on the map, the Community Development Committee in Kuching, which had retained a tenuous responsibility for him, had undergone a reorganisation. It had been made more significant by powers to co-opt heads of departments to serve on it. At this time Budu was the only active community development scheme, and it must have been apparent to the members of the Conimittec that what six months earlier had been only one man with idcas was now a potentially interesting project. They were all men whose expertise lay in one field—that of their particular department. For each one of them community development was a new, and perhaps suspect, phenomenon being “pushed” by the Colonial Office, a hybrid of which they could not wholly approve. Wilson had gone to Budu as a teacher; he now emerged as something much more dangerous, a community developer appropriating to himself the right to have theories about medical treatment, agriculture and co—operatives as well as education. Moreover, he saw these aspects of living as parts of a unified whole. It was a situation which could hardly fail to produce frictions.
Wilson was not, however, without allies. The Director of Medical Services had been generous to him with help before he went up the river, and had consistently replenished his supplies of medicine; the Director of Education, though he had not liked losing a valuable member of staff, knew and appreciated Wilson’s qualities. And there was one more powerful still—thc Governor. Sir Anthony Abell was intrigued by Wilson. He admired him, and, because he was himself unpretentious, was prepared to show his interest openly.
When Wilson, with Dunggat in tow, stepped off the launch at Kuching wharf there was an invitation waiting for him to stay at the Astana, the Governor’s residence on the opposite bank of the river. Wilson refused, giving as his excuse that he had no suitable clothes. He must have been well aware how valuable the Governor’s influence could be, but he had Dunggat with him, and the loyalties to Budu burned fiercely.
But the boat caine back, with a note saying that clothes did not matter. Wilson refused a second time. He was sorry, but he had with him a Iban, the representative of the newly-formed Budu Progress Society, and he would prefer to stay where this man stayed in Kuching.
When this message reached the Governor he was convinced that Wilson did not want to come, and the more determined that he should. The boat returned a third time. This time the message more or less commanded Wilson to come, and bring the Iban too.
Even Wilson could not refuse after this. He and Dunggat, with their meagre baggage, got into the boat and were swiftly ferried across. They landed at the Watergate with its steep pitched roof, and walked up the slope with its flowering shrubs and well kept grass to the thatched Astana. They must have looked a curiously ill assorted pair, but this Governor did not stand on ceremony. Some months before Sarawak had had a visit from the Duchess of Kent, and the suite of rooms to which they were shown had been specially done up for her. Now Wilson watched entranced while Dunggat, who had never been further than Saratok, walked round in a daze touching the beautiful fittings, sat in the lovely chairs and gazed in fascination at the bathroom with its shower and luxurious sunken bath.
The visit was a success, and it consolidated a relationship between Wilson and the Governor which was to survive all vicissitudes and to be valuable to Wilson and to Budu.
Next day Wilson crossed the river to meet the Community Development Committee. Contrary to all expectations he had a way with committees, and he had taken trouble to perfect a technique. He was a supreme lobbyist. So, in turn, each member of the Committee found himself subjected to half an hour, an hour if necessary, of soft, convinced, intelligent argument backed up by Wilson’s hypnotic personality, with every proposition tailored to suit the recipient’s moods and interests. The Chairman had already received an advance report, and he too got a visit. By the time the Committee met they were already half-way to approving the Budu Development Scheme. They discussed in full session the principles involved in the setting up of a three-year project, and it was difficult to fault the plan, especially as none of them had been to Budu.
The project was decided on. It was to consist of opening a school for adults as well as children; setting up a clinic; starting a co-operative shop; and supplying certain agricultural extension and administrative services. Government, through the Community Development Committee, would provide funds to recruit local staff if such could be found to help, and a certain amount of money was to be put in the financial estimates to be used forbuilding subsidies, principally to cover the costs of cement and some roofing materials which could not be obtained upriver.
It was a beginning. Certainly Wilson would have liked more, but he was realistic, and already thinking in terms of the next step. At least he had got recognition. Government was committed now to some financial aid, and this meant that Budu was firmly on the government map.
Busy as he had been in those first months, he had also been working out, sometimes subconsciously, the pattern of future development. If the right kind of professional help could be found to cope with the various facets of the work medical, agricultural, co-operative trading, teaching—the aim would be three streams of learning: the very young, to feed the schools; the advanced pupils, who would work part time in the shop, dispensary, plantations, etc.; and the adults, who would be the spearhead of development at longhouse level. Thus widespread and parallel progress would be assured. If the twenty-five to thirty-five agegroup could be influenced, this would ensure that the boys who emerged from the school would find improved living standards, while within the schools they would gain the right attitude to work and a good grounding in all the essential sciences that went with raising daily living standards.
Coming soon: PROGRESS AND THE PROGRESS SOCIETY