Looking back at 5 old amok cases in Sarawak

Sir Frank Swettenham (1850-1946), who was responsible for bringing Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang together under the Federated Malay states, once called Malaya the ‘land of pirates and the amok’.

This is because the amok syndrome is believed to have derived from Malaya, eventually leading to the English phrase of ‘running amok’.

Even the word ‘amok’ came from the Malay word ‘mengamuk’, meaning ‘to make a furious charge’.

It is basically an aggressive dissociative behavioral pattern which was once considered as a culture-bound syndrome.

Here at KajoMag, we take a look on some of the amok cases that happened in the olden days of Sarawak:

1.When a policeman went amok in Sibu

Here is an undated case recorded by John Beville Archer in his memoir Glimpses of Sarawak between 1912 and 1946:

“The amok was unpleasant. A policeman suddenly went wild in Sibu bazaar and before we could stop him he killed five persons and wounded twenty-five. As it all took place in semi-darkness there was a certain amount of panic among the inhabitants of the packed bazaar. All I know is that I tumbled over a corpse in the dark and found myself entangled up in yards of intestines. There is a bit of humour in everything; hearing someone running towards me through the darkness I had to think quickly. I did so and brought crashing down one of my own policemen. However, we got our man at last and spent all night helping the doctor to patch up the wounded. It was here I saw a miracle – or thought I did – a severed ear just clapped on again and it stuck.”

2.Kuching Police in 1889: No ammunition to stop an amok? It is okay, use some spears instead.

On Aug 30, 1889, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser reported a terrible amok that took place in Sarawak.

What intrigued us is how the police handled it.

“The S.S Normanby arrived from Sarawak yesterday and we have been enabled to obtain particulars of a very tragic occurrence which took place there on Sunday last 25th, at about half-past six. When the Normanby left here about a week ago for Sarawak she took over four Dyaks who were returning to their country. One of these men on Sunday morning ran amok and dashed along the whole length of the bazaar cutting and slashing at each person he met with a huge parang.

“The amok went into several shops and cut at the occupiers. The Chinamen seemed perfectly paralyzed and did not try to arrest the murderer. At the corner of Rock Road the Dyak met an old Chinaman; he made a cut at him and inflicted a terrible wound, drawing his knife across the man’s stomach disemboweling and killing him instantly. He went along in his mad career and passed the Police Station where although the constables had rifles they had no ammunition.

“They however took up spears and after a hot chase of about one mile captured the amok who was nearly exhausted and had been wounded by a brick flung at him by some one trying to arrest him. When quiet was restored and the Dyak was safely lodged in jail enquiry was made and it was found that fifteen men had been wounded, four of them so dangerously that their life is despaired of and that one man had been killed outright. Through the courtesy of Mr Daubeny, Inspector of Prisons, our informant was enabled, with several other gentlemen, to see the amok in jail. He seemed quite sensible and only complained of pain from a cut over his eye caused by the brick thrown at him.”

3.When a policeman went amok in Kuching bazaar in 1925

According to this news report by The Singapore Free Press on Oct 14, 1925, an amok was a rare case and even considered ‘almost unprecedented’ if it was committed by a Dayak back then.

“An unusually tragic and disturbing incident occurred in Kuching on Sept 17, about 1.45pm, when Panggi, a Dyak policeman, who had been queer in his behaviour for some days, suddenly seized his parang, in the bachelors’ barracks, slashed at two fellow constables and then ran amok into the most densely crowded thoroughfare of the bazaar, Carpenter street. An immediate pandemonium ensued while Panggi rushed hither and thither, in and out of shops, hacking at anyone within reach, killing outright one man and two children, and seriously wounding twenty-eight others including three women, mostly Chinese. Another victim succumbed in hospital.

“An amok is not common even amongst Malays in Sarawak, and almost unprecedented for a Dyak, and we tender our deep sympathy to the relatives of the unfortunate victims, and to those now in hospital.”

4.A cured leper went amok in Simanggang in 1935.

On Oct 1, 1935, the Sarawak Gazette reported an amok case which took place in Simanggang bazaar.

A man confronted the perpetrator in order to stop him attacking more people. The courageous man was later deservedly rewarded by the government with a medal and a monetary reward for his bravery.

Here is how the report goes,

“On August 20th an amok occurred in Simangang Bazaar. The man responsible was a Dayak named Tingkay, a discharged leper who had apparently been brooding over the fact that his relatives refused to consider him cured of his disease in spite of ample proof too the contrary. He attacked and severely wounded a Dayak and a Chinese, and then chased a Malay woman, who took refuge in a shop. The owner of the shop, a Chinese Named Ong Kee Poh, was having his midday meal with his family when he heard someone shouting – ‘Dayak bunoh China!’ He immediately sent his family into the back premises and arming himself with a carrying pole, waited behind the door. The Malay woman rushed in screaming, closely followed by a Tingkau, who had parang in his head. The woman fell down, and Ong Kee Poh hit the Dayak on the head with the pole. The Dayak then turned on him but Ong Kee Poh hit him on the hand and disarmed him, after which he struck the man until he collapsed. He then called the police, who took him into custody.”

5.A prisoner went amok in a gaol and attacked fellow inmates in Saratok.

The then Acting District Officer of Kalaka, H. E. Cutfield reported on the Sarawak Gazette about an amok that happened on May 3, 1927.

The man responsible for the case was an Iban named Ubam who was sentenced to a term of three years in prison for stealing $553.

On his first night in the prison, Ubam went amok.

“The gaol was only inhabited by two female prisoners and one other man who was lame. Ubam had evidently thought out his actions and after braking his way on his own cell, bolted the main doors from the inside, to prevent interruption, and first wounded the other male prisoner very seriously with a 6-inch wound in the stomach and then broke into the female cell and attacked the women. One was seriously wounded with eight stabs with a knife and the other woman I regret to say died soon after my arrival.”

Patricia Hului

Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight.

She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science.

She is currently obsessed with silent vlogs during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to her obsession, she started her Youtube channel of slient vlogs.

Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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