Basar Paru, 95, was only a teenager when his village in the central highlands of Borneo was invaded by the Japanese Imperial army. 

“The Japanese told us not to help the British. They said Asians should help each other because we have the same skin, same hair,” Basar recalled.

“But we, the Lun Bawang people, didn’t agree with the Japanese rule, because they would threaten us with their samurai swords at the slightest things that offended them.”

When Allied forces began their campaign to liberate Borneo, Basar and 200 other Lun Bawang tribesmen heeded the Allies’ calls to take up arms against the Japanese.

Led by two Allied commanders, Basar and his tribe launched a surprise attack on an unsuspecting Japanese camp in Pensiangan, Sabah.

“We were engaged in gunfight for almost two hours. The Japanese were hiding in the trenches but the Lun Bawang men had nowhere to hide. There were only bushes around us,” said Basar.

Midway through the gunfight, Basar saw a plane flying overhead.

“We didn’t know whose plane it was – ‘orang putih’ or Japanese. So we all ran away because we were afraid they would bomb us. We didn’t even look back.

“None of our men were shot but some of the Japanese soldiers were killed,” he said.

That was the first and last time Basar fought the Japanese. Today, he is the sole living survivor from that expedition.

“The Japanese knew how to navigate the jungles but the ‘orang putih’ didn’t – they are only good at shooting. If the Lun Bawang did not join them, they surely would have lost.”

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