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ETL201 Selected History Topics for Social Studies

Individual Assignment

Oral History

Name : Masri Kario ( Rico )

Matriculation No. : 020200D24

T. Group No. : 1

Tutor : Dr Ang Cheng Guan

Tutorial Day/Time : Monday, 12.30 - 1420 hrs

Date of Submission : Saturday, 18th October 2003

[pic] An Institute of Nanyang Technological University [pic]

Singapore was once been under the Japanese occupation that lasted for nearly three years. On February 15, 1942, Singapore surrender to the Japanese after realizing that the situation was very bad especially there was a shortage of food and ammunition at the frontline battlefield. Furthermore the Japanese had cut off the water supply from State of Johore.

After a meeting held at the Battle Box at Fort Canning, British commanders concluded that there was no other choice but to surrender. At 5 p.m. that day, led by Lieutenant-General Percival and other officials like Brigadier Newbigging, Brigadier Torrance, and Major Wild, made their way to the Ford Factory for the meeting. It was a first time ever meeting of top-ranking officers from both armies.
However both had their own agendas like one wanted for an unconditional surrender while the other one wanted to negotiate. It was considered as one of the darkest period in the lives of every Singaporean people then. It was the beginning day that the fate of Singapore took a turn for the very worse, with serious insinuation for the three and half years of the occupation. Singaporean not only had to adapt to a change in the Governor, from British ruler to a Japanese. But also had to suit themselves to a new name for Singapore, ‘Syonan-to’, meaning, the ‘Light of the South’. It generally draws attention to the hardships that the civilian population faced. The brutal ill-treatment and slaughtering of innocent lives committed by the “Kempeitei’ or Japanese Military. "Japanese occupation brought an untold terror and hardships for everyone. Bombs, sirens, massacres, epidemics, food shortages, concentration camps, and Prisoners of War (POW) centres were part of everyday life."(1) This essay attempts to see the Japanese Occupation through the eyes of a Javanese Singaporean woman, against the backdrop of the Japanese influence on the Javanese or Malay community that time and against the established historical records. The personality of this oral history interview is Madam Syemah Binte Kambari, a 70 years old woman who had went through the days of darkness. Born in 1932, the good and bad memory is still quite fresh on her mind.

During the occupation years from 1942-1945, she was a young growing kid who lives in a kampong at Jalan Kampong Chantek, near 7th miles off Bukit Timah Road. Living with her parent and 3 other younger siblings at a kampong where most of the residents are from the Javanese and Malay communities.

Madam Syemah or Wak Mah as what she preferred to be called, accounts of the occupation years is similar to some historical accounts on the same period that are presently available as published literature, However, there are some that reveals the other side of the story that are difference from the history contents where every personality who had gone through the hardships will have their own personal experience and views about the occupations. The account in this oral history shows the stubbornness, the fighting spirit and the compliance that Wak Mah possessed. Hence it also shows the slight variations in the account that show a slightly different perspective during the Japanese occupation.
The Living Conditions During Japanese Occupations in Singapore
Food Shortages

Food shortages causes food prices to soar, and locals had to resort to their own cultivation of food production. However, this caused much hardship to the people, who’s afford to grow their own food were only partially successful and the price of food are not getting cheaper. And those who could afford it will instead turn to black market to supplement their consumptions.
"Since many Malayans were under nourished as a result of food shortages, they were highly susceptible to illness." (2) The Japanese administrators then imposed a food rationing. "A rationing system was implemented and 2 to 3 flour line ups once a month for basic foodstuffs became a normal occurrence of a daily life.
However, Wak Mah was quite fortunate. Although she is from a poor family and during that time, food are scarce and limited, she and her family did not rely too much on others although they still do get their rations in a form of coupons. Wak Mah father had a ‘kebun’ a small garden for plantation behind their house where they grow some crops such as tapiocas etc. (3) But of course she doesn’t get any luxury food like meat as they are from a poor family.

The Imposition of Restrictive Regulations on the Civilians

During the occupation, certain social regulations were implemented. "Pupils had to learn to speak Japanese and to appreciate the culture of Japan. The singing of the Japanese national anthem was made compulsory."

Since Wak Mah has never been sent to school, she can recalls that she ever learn the Japanese song by picking up from someone she overheard the melody and start rhyming it, especially her younger sister “Painah’ who caught the rhythm much faster then her (4) and managed to memorise the song well till now. Civilians also had to bow whenever they met a Japanese soldier passing or nearby them. There were repercussions if they did not do so. An example "In Havelock Road, when a couple was `rude' enough not to get down from their rickshaw and pay respects while passing by, the soldiers demanded that the husband run and pull the rickshaw...'' (5)

The Acts of Japanese ‘Kempeitai’
‘Kempeitai’ or Japanese Military Police was synonymous with fear and hatred.
The brutal treatment of both civilians and prisoners by the act of ‘Kempeitai’ has been extensively recorded in print articles on this particular period. "Much suffering, pain and suffering resulted from the behaviour of the Kempeitei ... Their methods of torment gained notoriety and the unambiguous hatred of both locals and foreigners. Persons caught listening to illegal radios had pencils put into their ears, which were then forced inwards. The `water treatment' had victims pumped full with water down their throat until belly bloated. Then the soldiers would jump repeatedly on his water-filled belly."(6)
In the interview, Wak Mah did not actually see any incidents of Japanese brutality and ill treatment. However, she experienced much fear and anxiety and did cry out loud when her father was being threatened by the Japanese soldiers if he did not corporate by giving them information of woman where about… (7) Because on their mind is woman they were looking for. Wak Mah also recalls seeing death body along the path covered by coconut leaves and beheaded heads hanging over the trees. (8) From this narrative account, it can safely be said and there are evidence that indeed some form of physical torture was carried out on these people. The woman been taken away and could possibly have been raped and beaten.
Japanese Took Away Grandpa’s Close Relatives

Wak Mah recalls that her grandpa, Joko told the family that one of their close relatives, Jaffar had been arrested and taken away by the Japanese one of the afternoon and were sent to Siam, Burma to do some work there. It was known that “In 1942-43, during World War 11, the imperial Japanese Army built a railway from Ban Pong, in Thailand, to Thanbyuzayat, in Burma. This railway, 415 kilometers long, and built through some of the most inhospitable disease ridden terrain in the world, it was to supply a large Japanese Army in Burma. It was the construction of “Death Railway”. The railway was constructed using an absolute minimum of mechanical equipment and a maximum of human effort.” “The project resulted in a huge loss of life of the Allied Prisoners of War (POWs) and Asian forced labourers that were used to construct it. An estimated 13,000 POWs and 80,000 Asian labourers died of disease, sickness, starvation and brutality at the hands of the Japanese Army.” (9) Wak Mah and her family recalls that they we relief to find out that Jaffar, their so-called close relatives was among a few who survived and returned back to Singapore. However recall Wak Mah that Jaffar came back with a very bad sickness where he had a kind of skin infectious diseases that cover most of his body. (10) But they were glad that he was still alive back then.
Discrepancies and a Different Perspective of Oral History

In any oral history account, there are bound to be a slight discrepancies in the account which do not consent with the historical records already been published. However, in this particular oral history transcript, the account given is quite the same as to historical records of that period. Our history records of Japanese occupation are usually occupied with the heroic stories of normal civilians personality like Lim Bo Seng. They are some who had place their lives at danger to fight the Japanese invaders and are remembered in our history as heroes and heroines.

Conclusion

The personal recounts of Madam Syemah or Wak Mah’s experiences during the Japanese occupation is an interesting one. It shows a feature of the Japanese occupation, which we already know from historical records. It shows the bravery, humor and inflexible spirit of a young growing kid living in difficult times through during the occupation. Although, she was no hero, she displayed positive qualities that helped her survive a time, escapes from any ill-treatment though she was still young when many others may not.

As for completing this oral history assignment, I am able to acquire new skills of conducting oral history and acquire new knowledge and information from directly interview in person - who have gone through hardships and suffering during the Japanese Occupations.

Endnotes

(1) Maj. Yap Siang Yong et al., Fortress Singapore: The Battlefield Guide (Singapore: Times Books International, 1995), p.6.

(2) Nigel Kelly, History of Malaya and South East Asia (Singapore: Heinemann Asia 1993

(3) “Since we have no food and didn’t get to eat rice for few days because we have no rice to cook. We have to eat tapioca, the skin of the tapioca and grass that we took from or near the ‘longkang’ (a small drainage) and for tapioca we have tree and we just dig it from the ground. That’s all we eat for everyday. We are lucky to have our own garden where ‘Mak’ father to have that time. He grows tapioca and some other crops behind the house.” (Transcripts Q20)

(4) “About that… erm… I do hear the Japanese song before somewhere. I forget the tuned though. I hear from someone then I try to imitate the sound and the melody. Your aunty ‘Bibik Painah’ knows how to sing that song (Referring to my mum’s younger sister) we didn’t go or manage to learn the Japanese language or know that they are teaching it during the time of the occupation. ‘Mak’ from a poor family, where got money to go to school. (Transcripts Q12)

(5) Maj. Yap Siang Yong et al., Fortress Singapore: The Battlefield Guide (Singapore: Times Books International, 1995), p.24

(6) National Heritage Board, The Japanese Occupation, 1942-1945, Time Editions

(7) “But then later the Japanese soldiers came back and these times my father was being offered a handful of Japanese coins to give information to them on where they can find women. They would say in their sign and body language to my father on where they can find women in the house.” (Transcripts Q9)

(8) “I am not sure about that cause my village where I stay was sort of, Javanese,

Boyanese and the Malay community. I don’t see any Indians or Chinese in

the area I stay in. But I do saw corpses of death bodies lying along or near

the paths.” (Transcripts Q15)

“I saw this ‘Pakcik Haji’ (referring to a male person who have performed the hajj) body covered with coconut leaves. My father against me from watching it from nears the body, as most of the corpses are rotten and decomposed. They are mostly men and no children but ‘Mak’ also saw beheaded heads hanging across a tree and the body was nowhere to be found. (Transcripts Q16)

(9) Nigel Kelly, History of Malaya and South East Asia (Singapore: Heinemann Asia 1993

(10) One word, which can describe it, is …suffering. I think everyone suffer during the occupations. I pity your grandpa’s close relatives , Jaffar, who was being taken away and sent to the Burma to do some labour work and when he safely returned back to Singapore, he suffered a skin infections where all his body rashes and blisters. They also being ill treated and not enough nutrition’s given to them that they loose weight and came back with only a skinny bone. But lucky he is back alive and safely returned to Singapore. And luckily that time ‘Mak’ father was not been taken too… or else we are not as we are todaylah. (Transcripts Q28)

Bibliography

National Heritage Board, The Japanese Occupation, 1942-1945, Time
Editions

Maj. Yap Siang Yong et al., Fortress Singapore: The Battlefield Guide
(Singapore: Times Books International, 1995)

Nigel Kelly, History of Malaya and South East Asia (Singapore: Heinemann
Asia 1993

Bryan C. Cooper, 1998, Decade of Change, Malayan & The Straits Settlements, Graham Brash (Pte) Ltd. Singapore

Edited By Paul H. Kratoska, 1995, Malaya And Singapore During The Japanese Occupation, The National University of Singapore

Edited By Foong Choon Hoon, 1995, Price of Peace, Asiapac Books Pte Ltd

Appendix: Oral History Transcripts

Q1) How old were you during the Japanese occupation?

Answer: I was 10 years old then.

Q2) How many people were there in your family?

Answer: “Nyai”(Grandma), Senah (my mum), Bari (my dad), Painah (my younger sister) age at 8 years old and Pardi (my younger brother) age about 6 years old.
Total five people altogether.

… Continue Q2 Including yourself?

Answer: With me will be 6 people in the family.

Q3) What was your education level at that time?

Answer: Ermm… ‘Mak’, mother in Malay was not schooling. I was at at home all the while. I am not being sent to school before or during that time. My father didn’t have money to sent me to school. We are poor and have no money to sent us to school. The only time I remember was that I have been sent to a religious school with my other siblings but that was after the Japanese occupation.

Q4) Who in your family was working and what were they working as just

before the outbreak of war?

Answer: What I can remember was that my father work as rubber tax collector at a rubber plantation near our house. And my mother work as a maid.

…Continue Q4 You mean there are rubber plantations in Singapore?

Yes! There are but not that biglah. It’s near the 7th miles at Bukit Timah also. It belong to “Orang Putih’, white man in malay. ‘Bapak’, father in malay work there. Both ‘Bapak and ‘Ibu’ work. My mother also makes ‘kuih’ untuk dijual (for sell – in malay). She also had to take care of the housekeeping and takes care of our daily necessities.

Q5) Before the actual outbreak of war in Singapore, were or your family members aware that a war was coming?

Answer: Have… have someone don’t know who go and told us and everybody at the vicinity that the ‘Jepun’, (Japan in malay) is coming… (Nak dating!)

Q6) Could you recall, what happened during the Japanese air raids?

Answer: I cannot remember that part but I remember that I did hear the sound of airplanes passing through the sky. Either then that I was all along in the ‘barrack’.

Q7) Were there any measures undertaken by your family to protect yourselves?

Answer: My father informed and chased out my mother and grandma to leave together with some other friends from the house and to follow them to a ‘barrack’ or assemble hall at Jalan Kampong Chantek at or near Bukit Timah area. Then we all go to the ‘barrack’ and everyone from the village come and assemble and gathered at the ‘barrack’.

… Continue Q7. Then did you bring all you belongings together with you?

No! All our belongings were all left behinds in the house except that we brought along our clothing… that’s all nothing else. Not even the important documents such, as birth certificates and I don’t know where are they. I just follow my mother and helped her to carry the stuff together with my other siblings. We didn’t bring along our pillow too…

And after we gathered and stayed there for the time being, till whenever we hear a siren, we then went into a ‘tanah’ (manhole in malay – sort like a underground bomb shelter) with a smile when my mother recall this events.

Q8) Did you see what was happening in the streets?

Answer: We hear the sound of tanks coming and saw ‘kereta tank’ (Japanese tanks in malay) camouflage with leaves and we could not even see the Japanese soldiers. The might be inside the tanks passing through the road near the ‘barrack’ where we gathered at. I never see the ‘Orang Putih’, the white man around at the vicinity. I don’t know where they are.

Q9) What was the reaction of the Japanese soldiers during the

occupations?

Answer: During their occupation, they come to every household and ransacked at their property. I still remember when we went back to our house, we saw that our cupboard where my mother used to place the groceries product such as sugar, milk powder etc were all topple off from the shelves and our rice went missing. The ‘Koran’ (the Quran book) have been torn apart by the Japanese and the place was really in the mess. Must be the work of the Japanese soldiers who come and ransacked the place. The soldiers were no more there…

But then later the Japanese soldiers came back and these times my father was being offered a handful of Japanese coins to give information to them on where they can find women. They would say in their sign and body language to my father on where they can find women in the house. But somehow later came their so-called ‘chief’ Japanese soldiers and asked them what were they doing here. He ordered my father to return the coins back to the soldiers and then asked my father whether there are any women in the house. Right there I cry very loudly as they will chop off my father head with the sword if there are no women to give them. He then chased off the soldiers from the

Q10) How was the situation immediately after the war?

Answer: It’s quite a sign of relief though, my family and all the people went back to their home. But it was a total mess as the Japanese have destroyed most of the things in the house. The Japanese destroyed all my father crops, our own homegrown plantation and some others. We were really short of food then.

Q11) Did the Japanese come to your house?

Answer: Just now I tell you already that they did come over the house but they only look for women at every house. That is why my father told the women especially my mother and some other neighbours to go to the man-made tunnel sort of hide out whenever the Japanese come and look for women. He will not let us out till the Japanese had left the area.

Q12) Did you have to learn the Japanese language or song during the

occupation?

Answer: About that… erm… I do hear the Japanese song before somewhere. I forget the tuned though. I hear from someone then I try to imitate the sound and the melody. Your aunty ‘Bibik Painah’ knows well on how to sing that song (Referring to my mum’s younger sister) ‘Mak’ didn’t manage to go to learn the Japanese language or know that they are teaching it during the time of the occupation. ‘Mak’ from a poor family, where got money to go to school.

Q13) So how did you understand their policies, rules and messages?

Answer: I know that my father told me before that whenever we came across the Japanese soldiers we have to ‘bow’ to them sort of greetings. And ‘Mak’ still remember that the villages were sometimes been called up and force to witness any prosecution events like people ‘kena panchung’ (people being beheaded) for mistakes they had done or law not being abide with. If they refused to watch and see, we will be the one who will be panchung! But ‘Mak’ never gets a chance to see that as father always kept us indoors.

Q14) What was the treatment of the Japanese of the people?

Answer: Some of them are very kind and ‘baik-baik’ (good in malay) but others they aren’t. I still remember that during the occupation, together with my younger sister and me went out to sell my mother ‘kuih’ when some Japanese soldiers came by and asked for our ‘kuih’ and they took some of our ‘kuih’ without paying us.

… Continue Q14. They didn’t take you or ill-treated you because you are a girl?

No… lah. They just don’t pay the ‘kuih’. Moreover we are kid and still young. And mum not that prettylah that time…hahaha…. laugh my mum jokingly. If I have been taken away with your aunt that time, I think you are not been born and not here interviewing me here!

Q15) Was there any difference in the treatment of the races by the Japanese?

Answer: I am not sure about that cause my village where I stay was sort of Malay, Javanese, Boyanese and Indonesian community. I don’t see any Indians or Chinese in the area I stay in. But I do saw corpses of death bodies lying along or near the paths, waiting to be carried away by a truck (by the undertaker)

Q16) What are their races among the death? Are there any children? Men or

women?

Answer: I saw this ‘Pakcik Haji’ (referring to a male person who have performed the hajj) body covered with coconut leaves. My father against me from watching it from nears the body, as most of the corpses are rotten and decomposed. They are mostly men and no children but ‘Mak’ also saw beheaded heads hanging across a tree and the body was nowhere to be found.

Q17) During the occupation, was there any opportunity for other language/culture to develop?

Answer: I am not sure cause most of the time I am not given a chance to play outside besides helping to sell the ‘kuih’. Mak don’t know whether there are such activities. But I do remember we do get to celebrate Hari Raya during the occupation although not that grand.

Q18) How were the medical facilities during the Japanese occupation?

Answer: Don’t know cause all a while my family didn’t fall sick during the occupation and further more there are a traditional medicine man in the village which was one of mum’s dad friends. (Sort of relatives to my mum family) I don’t know whether there are hospitals or clinic provided during the time.

Q19) Did you get enough food to eat during the Japanese occupation?

Answer: After the Japanese had ransacked all the places and took away our rice, we had quite difficulty on having food.

Q20) What kind of food did you eat then?

Answer: Since we have no food and didn’t get to eat rice for few days because we have no rice to cook. We have to eat tapioca, the skin of the tapioca and grass that we took from or near the ‘longkang’ (a small drainage) and for tapioca we have tree and we just dig it from the ground. That’s all we eat for everyday. We are lucky to have our own garden where ‘Mak’ father to have that time. He grows tapioca and some other crops behind the house.

Q21) You gave your food away or do you share your food among your family?

Answer: Yeah! Of course we share what we have and what we grow at the garden and will be share among ourselves. But I remember that there were a van that will come by at our village and gives us food such as biscuits and milk powder. Someone gave it... I am not sure who is the person who provides a sort of Good Samaritans

Q22) Could you tell me more about the ration system?

Answer: Oh yah… we have coupons to collect some food from ‘Balai’ (a collections center in malay) Each family wee given a ration coupons to collect dairy items like milk power, sugar and rice. I usually follow my ‘Nyai’ or grandma to the collection center to collect the ration. ‘Mak’ remember that ‘Mak’ help ‘Nyai’ to carry the items back home.

Q23) Were there different races living in the kampong?

Answer: I don’t know. I only saw my own community in the vicinity. As I said I never saw any white-man, Chinese and Indians community in my kampong (village in malay). I guess the place where ‘Mak’ and family stay are all belongs from a Muslims community. That is why very rare to see one from other races.

Q24) Were there any celebrations you remember?

Answer: The one I said earlier…. that I remember celebrating Hari Raya with my immediate family and relatives. Although not very grand but I am quite happy cause I received ‘duit’, (money in malay). In my entire life, ‘Mak’ never had a chance to hold own pocket money. Although not that much but means a lot to
‘Mak’ to get some money from your ‘Grandpa’…

Q25) Were there any radios and television?

Answer: No. ‘Mak’ family is from a poor background and we can’t to have one then. Furthermore during the occupations, we are not aloud to have a radio transistor at home.

Q26) Were there any incidents that you can still remember today that

makes you laugh?

Answer: Oh the incidents that I saw that after the war is over, I saw this Japanese soldiers bathing naked in a quarry.

Q27) What is your reaction of the Japanese occupation?

Answer: I don’t feel much though I was still a kid. Perhaps if your grandpa still alive you can interview him instead of me cause he has the most memorable as he also work for the British before the occupation

Q28) How would you describe the period of Japanese occupation?

Answer: One word, which can describe it, is …suffering. I think everyone suffer during the occupations. I pity your grandpa’s friend who was being taken away and sent to the Burma to do some labour work and when he safely returned back to Singapore, he suffered a skin infections where all his body rashes and blisters. They also being ill treated and not enough nutrition’s given to them that they loose weight and came back with only a skinny bone. But lucky he is back alive and safely returned to Singapore. And luckily that time ‘Mak’ father was not been taken too… or else we are not as we are todaylah.

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