A Journey Before Merdeka

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Born into a mix family, her father Harry Cyril Ryves was a British planter. He married her mother a mix of Chinese and Javanese parentage, her life was slightly different from others. During the Japanese occupation of Malaya Noami was still a girl living with her parents and sister in Rasah, Seremban. She couldn’t hide her British looks she inherited from her father, and this would change her fate.


“When the Japanese troops invaded Malaya during the Second World War in 1941 it was a very difficult time for our family, explains Noami. My father was sent to Bukit Timah camp in Singapore with all the other British individuals living in Malaya at that time. He was taken first, she explains. And I was to be taken to Bukit Timah with my sister at a later date.” Malaya’s two other major ethnic groups, the Indians and Malays, generally escaped the worst of this treatment. The Chinese were tortured and killed by the Japanese troops as they were seen as a threat, supporting China’s communist regiment.


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“My mother tirelessly tried to protect us, she sent my sister and I to an Islamic Malay school in hopes that the Japanese troops wouldn’t find us there. She rubbed our hair with coconut oil, everyday and made us dry the oil in the sun so that our brown hair would turn a rich black colour. We had to look as Malay as possible to escape being sent to the Bukit Timah camp along with my father where the British was imprisoned.”


A big hole was dug in our garden, and our prized possessions hidden beneath ground. Among the sewing machine, jewellery, and food my mother would scream, “Quickly girls hide, rushing in fear my sister and I would hide quietly underground. I could hear the Japanese troops interrogating my mother. Bagero! (stupid) they would scream for marrying a British man! This followed with a slap on the face. I can hear my mother begging please don’t take my girls away, take whatever you want from my house. Each time an officer visited, my mother would give a piece of jewellery for them to leave us alone. This went on for a few months, until she couldn’t protect us anymore,” explains Noami.


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“One day, while I was walking out of my school gate to head home, suddenly a hand grabbed firmly on my arm I looked up at him and started crying. A moment later my sister was beside me with another Japanese soldier holding tightly to our arms. He followed us home and spoke to my mother. He said; Get your white children ready, the lorry will pick them up at 3pm to transport them to Bukit Timah. My mother went hysterical, along with my nanny, cook and care taker, begging the Japanese troops not to take us away.


I remember they started to pack our bags, putting in clothing, shoes, food and other necessary items. My mother insisted that we pray, we all gathered together and prayed for our safety. Ready with my bags packed my mother said her last words as we waited at the front door for the army lorry to fetch us. Our house was the last house on the street, there was another British family who had 3 children to be taken to Bukit Timah on the same day, they lived five houses away from us.”


“We immediately got word that the other children had been picked up from the nearby house. We waited, and waited, then all of a sudden the lorry didn’t stop at our house to pick up my sister and I. Right after picking up the children five houses away, the lorry made a turn and headed straight to Bukit Timah without us. The Japanese troops missed our house. We were safe, blessed and spend weeks worried that they would find out we were still in the house.”


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“Food was scarce; there was no rice to eat. We relied on vegetables, and sweet potatoes for food. But we made do with all we had. My mother’s possessions were gone, all her jewellery taken in exchange for our freedom and safety,” recalls Naomi.


On 12 September 1945, the British Military Administration (BMA) was installed in Kuala Lumpur. This was followed by the signing of the Malaya surrender document at Kuala Lumpur by Lieutenant-General Teizo Ishiguro, commander of the29th Army; with Major-General Naoichi Kawahara, Chief of Staff; and Colonel Oguri as witnesses. Later that year, the Malayan’s People Anti-Japanese Party reluctantly agreed to disband. Weapons were handed in at ceremonies where the wartime role of the army was praised.


“I still remember the day the British troops came to town, the Japanese troops had been cleared out of Malaya having been here from 1941-1945 and we would be protected under British rule once again. As a girl I stood by the road side as the British Army marched their way through our streets, they gave out sweets and biscuits to children. The biscuits and sweets were the best things I’ve tasted in a while. Having a British father I felt somewhat patriotic, like my British family had come to Malaya to save us” explains Noami.


“I gave birth to my third daughter Sakinah on the 5th August 1957. On the day Merdeka was to be established my husband Sulaiman made sure that we drove down to Kuala Lumpur to witness the ceremony. I brought Sakinah with me because she was breastfeeding and I had to bring her along.


At 26 days old I held her close to my chest as Tunku Abdul Rahman the father of Merdeka (and first Prime Minister of Malaysia) at 11:58pm black out the lights at Merdeka Square as they change the old flag to the new Malaysian flag. At the stroke of midnight, shouting Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka…..! 7 times, Malaysia was declared an independent country.”


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On the night of August 30, 1957, crowds gathered at the Royal Selangor Club Padang in Kuala Lumpur to witness the handover of power from the British. Prime Minister-designate Tunku Abdul Rahman arrived at 11:58 p.m. and joined members of the Alliance Party’s youth divisions in observing two minutes of darkness. On the stroke of midnight, the lights were switched back on, and the Union Flag in the square was lowered. The new Flag of Malaya was raised as the national anthem Negaraku was played. This was followed by seven chants of “Merdeka” by the crowd. Tunku Abdul Rahman later gave a speech hailing the ceremony as “greatest moment in the life of the Malayan people”. Before giving the address to the crowd, he was given a necklace by representatives of the Alliance Party youth in honor of this great occasion in history, with a map of Malaya inscribed on it. The event ended at one in the morning the next day.


On the morning of August 31, 1957, the festivities moved to the newly completed Merdeka Stadium. More than 20,000 people witnessed the ceremony, which began at 9:30 a.m. Those in attendance included rulers of the Malay states, foreign dignitaries, members of the federal cabinet, and citizens. The Queen’s representative, the Duke of Gloucester presented Tunku Abdul Rahman with the instrument of independence.Tunku then proceeded to read the Proclamation of Independence, which culminated in the chanting of “Merdeka!” seven times with the crowd joining in. The ceremony continued with the raising of the National Flag of Malaya accompanied by the national anthem being played by a military band and a 21-gun salute, followed by an azan call and a thanksgiving prayer in honor of this great occasion.


The day followed with the solemn installation of the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Abdul Rahman of Negeri Sembilan, at Jalan Ampang, and the first installation banquet in his honor in the evening followed by a beating retreat performance and a fireworks display. (www.tourism.gov.my)

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