Wise Women Warrior Dance of Mothers

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Revealing Women Warriors our history has forgotten

THEME Women Warriors

AS NEWSLETTER #48 Summer 008

The forgotten women warriors of the Malayan Communist Party

Mention communists, guerillas, freedom fighters, militants and ideologues and the images that leap to mind are invariably male. In Asia, it is no different, except there is an added bias of patriarchy and of a history that has, until recently, been constructed and then recounted by former colonial powers and their historians. After independence, new ‘autonomous’ national histories had to be created and national curricula constructed, with those not fitting into these narratives either omitted or marginalised. Adrianna Tan examines the case of the women warriors of the Malayan Communist Party.By Adrianna Tan

Not surprisingly, a history official, academic and popular of the Malayan communists, with the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) at the core of the movement, is lacking. There is a penchant for dichotomous terms of good and evil, black and white. The conventional narrative is usually that of the ruthless Malayan Communists - typically Chinese and always male - versus the valiant and ultimately successful attempts of the colonial power and incoming national governments that saved the region from the global communist conspiracy.

If there is anything certain at all about this particular part of history, it is that the version of those defeated has been as good as airbrushed out of history, or at least heavily tweaked. In fact, the communist movement in present day Singapore and Malaysia, not to forget its hinterlands in Thailand’s Muslim south, spanned the better part of the 20th century, first overlapping with the independence movements of these countries, then fighting against the post-independence governments, before petering out two decades ago when the guerillas finally laid down their arms in 1989. Now in retirement and in their seventies or even eighties, several key figures of the MCP have narrated their version of events.

Daughters, mothers, wives, lovers

If it is true that the human side of the Malayan communist history is missing, this is even more so the case for the female angle. In fact, a surprising number of the MCP was female. While the exact number is not known, some put the figure as high as 30 per cent. What is known, however, is that their role was certainly significant. The women of the MCP were Chinese, Malay and Thai born in China, Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand. They were commanders, leaders of civilian movements, members of the Politburo, rank and file soldiers; they were doctors, surgeons and nurses and they were in combat on the same terms as male soldiers. More importantly, they continued to be daughters, mothers, wives and lovers.

They endured extreme hunger and physical and mental duress, then hunted elephants and wild boar alongside the men. They suffered terrible injuries in battle, ran, walked and carried the same heavy load as the men; and sometimes persevered when male comrades had given up. Some arrested male communists and defectors were eager to point out to their interrogators how they preferred the treatment they received in captivity to that of their occasionally “terrifying… demanding” female commanders in the MCP. The women of MCP were known to be far tougher, physically and mentally, than their male counterparts, taking far more easily to the physical and mental demands of a life on the run. When captured, they rarely cracked under pressure or torture. It could be said they lived for the ideology they believed in, and took it to the grave. Yet little is known about these women and the lives they led, except for one book of interviews and overlapping material from independent research about the MCP.

Agnes Khoo’s groundbreaking “Life As the River Flows” (2004) is a collection of oral history interviews, giving a voice to the women of the MCP. But it is only a preliminary attempt at piecing together a coherent story about the women of the Malayan Communist Party. To my knowledge, no

other narratives exist in either academic or popular history. Research and original material has been scarce and mostly in Chinese: the leading MCP researcher CC Chin and his counterparts have carried out meticulous research for decades, but seldom focused solely on the women.3 Khoo’s 16 interview partners freely discussed their lives, regrets, struggles, beliefs and hopes with the Singapore-born researcher. This preliminary narrative can hopefully open the door to a new interest in this important but often forgotten part of the contemporary history of the ‘Malay’ peninsula. It is a story about women who were invisible when they were daughters and wives in the traditional Southeast Asia of the 1930s through to the 1960s and 1970s: Invisible when they left home to live out a life in the dense forests of Malaysia and Thailand and invisible again now as they find themselves on the wrong side of history forgotten, banished, silenced by the state and by shame. In learning about their contribution to history, historians gain an understanding of some significant themes underlying this transnational struggle; while the rest of us may find some lessons from the story of female lives led bravely, harshly and sometimes brutally. A young Li Qiu: an integral female member of the party, Li Qiu represented the MCP in China. She now lives in Beijing.

The Malayan Communist Party was formed in 1930. It gained influence and numbers in the anti-Japanese movement from 1939 to 1945, peaked as an anti-colonial independence movement from 1948 to 1959 in the Malayan Emergency, was banished to the jungles after independence from 1959, surged during the communist wave in Indochina in the 1970s, and finally laid down their arms following the 1989 Peace Accords. Throughout these six decades, women from diverse social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds joined the struggle. They had different motivations. Some joined to escape poverty or oppressive and sometimes violent family structures, or simply the dead-end boredom of village life. Some were highly educated intellectuals, others were illiterate. While Mandarin was the lingua franca of the MCP, the Guangxi dialect was also widely spoken, and the Malay and Southern Thai recruits spoke Malay and Thai. Some women left home in the face of family opposition, never to see family members again; others joined with their entire families. The party lived up to the Communist archetype of being highly structured, disciplined, and organised. From the early years as a bona fide political party, to its years on the run as a capable guerilla force, the MCP’s charismatic leaders and their Chinese emphasis on exemplary behaviour won over many civilian hearts and influenced many young minds.

Three women of the Party

We begin by comparing three women from similar backgrounds, born in different ‘countries’. Lin Guan Ying was a senior Party member born in China in 1923, in Hui Zhou, Guangdong. She grew up in Negeri Sembilan in Malaya. Like many other overseas Chinese, Guan Ying and her family were fervently patriotic. Even before the Japanese overran Southeast Asia in 1942, many immigrant Chinese were already active in anti-Japanese resistance, either by donating money or joining resistance movements. Guan Ying’s village, the village of Yi Lang Lang, was no different “nearly everyone… joined the resistance”; the ‘red village’ even grew food to feed the anti-Japanese movement. This same patriotism involved Guan Ying’s family in the resistance efforts; their home at Yi Lang Lang was a safe house for guerillas providing shelter and communications. By the time she was 18, her activism had already made Guan Ying an informal member of the party; joining officially was a natural step for her and many of her contemporaries. She eventually went on to do high-level Party work in China for several decades, and also married a high-ranking Politburo member. The activism and social awareness in the Chinese schools of the day provided fertile breeding ground for future members of the party. Many, including the longtime leader of the party, Chin Peng (b. 1924), and his schoolmate Eng Ming Ching (b. 1924) - the hardy female member of the Politburo and leader of the 10th Battalion - began revolutionary activities as a direct result of the anti-Japanese resistance popular in Chinese schools in the early 1940s. A decade after the Japanese resistance, in early 1950s Singapore, Guo Ren Luan and her peers were involved in a similarly dis- ciplined activism, founding associations to help poor students afford school fees and buy books, forming anti-pornography movements (sic), participating in student rallies, and forming the Federation of Chinese High School Unions, among others. In May 1954, hundreds of Chinese middle school students clashed with the colonial police regarding the unpopular introduction of compulsory conscription, resulting in 26 injured and 45 students arrested. Consequently, students like Guo Ren Luan found themselves with renewed anti-colonial sentiments and politically radicalised. She soon left home to avoid arrest and continued being active in the Malayan underground when the Federation of Chinese High School Unions was outlawed by the colonial government.Guo Ren Luan’s work as an underground activist was to instill revolutionary ideas in the village, which often included teaching literacy to women and tuition classes to children. This was followed by 13 years of self-imposed exile in Indonesia. Not all MCP members were Malaya- or China-born. Zhu Ning was born in Thailand in 1931 into a strictly conservative Chinese family that arranged the marriage of their 15-year old daughter. Under the mental duress of a severe mother-in-law and an absent husband, Zhu Ning was miserable, trapped in the traditional Confucian family structure. After helping the guerillas for many years, she joined them in 1967 with her four children in tow. For Zhu Ning and her family the guerilla army was a route out of poverty and ‘feudalism’. Her story is echoed by many other women who joined as a means of escaping families who refused them education, wanted them married, were often steeped in abject poverty, and sometimes abused them. The women’s work in the armed wing of the MCP had two broad aspects. Many, including rank and file female soldiers, were involved directly in combat. These women laid landmines and participated in military exercises and conflict. Others were involved in what the party called min yun huo dong (civilian mobilisation). This included anything from recruitment drives, instilling ‘progressive ideas’ in civilians, to getting civilians to provide food for the guerillas. Those women who performed min yun activities split their time between their base in the jungle with the rest of the army, and moving openly among civilians in villages, towns and cities, which was just as dangerous.

Life, love, parenthood and the present.

Men and women were strictly separated in their sleeping quarters, and relationships without the permission of commanders were forbidden. Nevertheless, many fell in love and married, with the party’s official sanction, while continuing to live in the jungle. One high profile marriage included that of Eng Ming Ching (now known as Suriani Abdullah) to the Chairman of the MCP, the Malay comrade Abdullah CD (b. 1923). The ups and downs of jungle marriages, and the party’s involvement in them, are well documented in the case of Huang Xue Ying (b. 1934) and her husband Ah Yum, a high-ranking party official. When her husband had an affair with another married comrade, party leaders immediately intervened and punished them. Whether in courtship, marriage, divorce and childbirth , the party always played a central role. Thus when Huang Xue Ying gave birth, her baby daughter was sent out of the jungle immediately to be adopted by a Thai family; the young couple was never to see their child again, a fate shared with many other guerilla parents. Others were more fortunate and could at least send their offspring to family members, though often remaining strangers to their children even after having given up armed struggle. The Hat Yai Peace Agreement of 1989 saw the Thai and Malaysian governments successfully negotiate a peace treaty with MCP leaders. The MCP guerillas laid down their arms and were resettled in four ‘Peace Villages’ in southern Thailand, with Sukirin housing Malay party members and the rest (Betong, Banlang, Yaha) being predominantly Chinese. A fifth village exists to house a faction that split in 1968 to form the Communist Party of Malaysia (not Malaya) and which surrendered earlier, in 1987. Most of the former guerillas are now farmers and rubber tappers, many enjoying the routines of family and parenthood for the first time in their lives.My hope is that this brief glimpse into the life and work of the women of the MCP provides enough fodder to ignite a new interest, not only in one of Asia’s forgotten wars but also in female agency in armed anti-colonial and communist struggle. It is regrettable that due to a lack of resources and perhaps also a reluctance to re-visit the ghosts of the past, the stories of prominent female personalities like Wu Rui Ai are not explored in a satisfactory manner. Eng Ming Ching a.k.a. Suriani Abdullah, tells her side of history in her memoirs, published in 2007, but until an English translation is made, only readers of Chinese and Malay can enjoy the flamboyant story of one of the party’s key female personalities. Perhaps in the near future as more work and research is carried out to explore this exciting topic of our recent history, a clearer picture can emerge from the current haziness.

Adrianna Tan . Freelance writer and photographer

Monday, February 9, 2009

To love and be loved in return

We can learn that the essence of love is not to use the other to make us happy but to serve and affirm the ones we love. And we can discover, to our surprise, that what we have needed more than anything was not so much to be loved, but to love,.... and be loved in return.

Interdependence is the circle of life. In giving you shall receive. Those who discover the quality of interdependence in their lives are those whose work becomes nurturant of community and earth, and who devote themselves to this work - which is often their children - with the fervor of a soul that feels so connected to the universe that every act of creation - in art or life work, and sacrifice and nurturance vibrates throughout every tender line of children life's vast web.

Women Warrior, dances interdependently with their partners, without fear of losing their self to the other or fear of the other. Without love, trust or respect for the other, there will not be a whole creation. To share a divine creation, there is no superiority or inferiority, no imbalance, in the couple's sacred duties as soul mates - the two giver of life,... like water nor land are capable of bearing fruit without the other. Loving your spouse, as they are, with each one in their journey caring for creation, in his way, the other in hers, but believing without fear, suspicions and distrust towards each others role, to fulfill the tasks as interdependent camaraderie, as well as a loyal partner serving the other unconditionally. If you have established the interdependence dance of faith and trust in your life companion, as I have with my life partner, Mohd Radzi Ramus Kaltoft, then in the blinking of an eye, the whole creation - our children will be formed through our love.

And so again, in giving you shall receive. I stand firmly, a warrior to protect, defend and support with loyalty to my husband's endeavors as he would for me. This is the most crucial principle of building a happy family. A happy family creates happy and secure little people in the world. So no matter how busy and challenging life may be with each of you in your individual work for creation,... family, the world and God. As long as you are loving your partner (or the colleague, team, friend, family member...) , and is loved in return, interdependently and unconditionally, in whatever life calling situation, or through ups and down, and changes of season, ... your children, your heaven is secure as they feel safe and balance holistically in the Garden of Eden you have provided with love for them.

Monday, February 2, 2009

First we must be a happy woman, only than can we be a happy mother for our children.

"To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order, To put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right." Confucius ( taken from Raising Happy Kids, by Rozieta Shaari)

This site is intended to honour and celebrate the spark of passion and vision that lies within the heart of every woman. Women are not newcomers to the warrior dance of mothers tradition; it is our heritage. Ancient myth and legend gives to us the stories of cultures created and guided by wise and courageous women. An integral part of every woman's journey to freedom is learning to reclaim the warrior within herself. Women who speak with truthfulness and honour with remarkable courage, women who teach their children dignity and integrity in the midst of superficiality and dishonesty bequeath a heritage of freedom. Women who treasure compassion, freedom and liberation more than safety, approval and affirmation embody the warrior spirit. These women are not strangers; they are part of our own stories, our teachers, our allies, our mothers - they are ourselves

It is not always an easy task for women to reclaim and honour the warrior within. The dominating, destructive, overpowering warrior we are used and familiar with has wounded and scarred our planet, our communities and our lives with its obsession with winning. We know the pain and grief of being disempowered, silenced and devalued. We are not that. Today, the warrior is a woman of poise and finely balanced. She knows how to be responsive and clearly focussed. Patience and determination merge happily within her. Strength and gentleness, receptivity and creativity, are not polarised but integrated. She is a woman of passion and creativity, power and healing. This is born of her vision, trust and commitment to freedom, oneness and the end of dualisms, that she further passes on to her children. The warrior woman is a woman with a spiritual calling. To a spiritual warrior, everything is a challange. The journey of the spiritual warrior is a journey that involves no enemies, it is a journey of wisdom and transformation. And Wisdom and Transformation is a result of discovering and fulfilling our lifelong quest for joyful love of living, breathing, working, praying and expressing through dance and art. Love for God, love ourselves, love others, love children, the community and love the earth .... is the happiness we must embrace. And when we are one with the warrior joy of love, can we then be happy warrior mothers to our children.

Love is the most powerful energy that will help each child grow strongly and confidently. It helps a person to overcome all challenges in life. The most wonderful gift that each parent could give to his/her child is unconditional love. This will give each child the ability to weather any challenges that comes his/her way. (Dato'Seri Dr. Abdul Shukor Bin Abdullah. Education Advisor for Yayasan Al-Bukhari. Former Director - General of Education, Malaysia)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dancing and sharing experiences with warrior mothers about faith, child raising and parenting.


Assalamualaikum. Thank you for visiting this blog. As opposed to my Aida Redza - A Shakti Dances Alone, which is very much about my past, present and future working and living status as a Malaysian performance artist and choreographer. This blog is mainly about sharing my experiences, my thoughts, inspirations as a mother and my quest for the warrior woman spirit that exists within the heritage of our women existence. It is also about looking into the struggles of Malaysian mothers (juggling and balancing their responsibilities between being a wife, mother and a career woman), whom yet in their own homes or working environment are often devalued, silenced and disempowered or exploited.
And even though we each have our own purpose or mission in life to be fulfilled, as woman and mother. I believe that no matter what our purpose is, we are all heading towards one destination, that is to build and serve, a mosque or cathedral, a home for our family, children, others and our Creator. And my purpose here through this blog is to share a little of my experience, approach and principle, troubles and struggles in serving and raising my family and children, amidst my day to day activities and responsibilities, like many other women and mothers like me, who are working towards achieving our ambitions and mission. And how I can offer advices and support on our journey to embrace the women warrior dancing and play of mother's with their children as means, not only to relax and encourage creative expression. But to build a holistic foundation in the physical, mental emotional and spiritual development of our children's personality. And how it also brings joy while strengthening the relationship and bonding between mothers, fathers and children. The blog is also a way for me to offer support and comfort to women - mothers in difficult situations and personal struggles dealing with family conflicts or daily and working stresses. I hope that this blog can help enlighten, strengthen and bring us together in creating a happy generation of young people and fulfill our maternal warrior mission towards raising them into special and great beings. Welcome!