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CHAPTER 1 - DESTRUCTION
Sarahwah woke abruptly to screams and shouts piercing the early morning air. Clashes of steel were ringing through the fog and men with strange accents were shouting at each other across the village. She sat upright and looked quickly around her hut – so early in the morning and no one was here. Where was her family? Something is horribly wrong. She peeks through the reed walls of her hut and sees what is going on outside. Who are those strange men? Are they the pirates her father often talks of? Dressed shabbily and wielding swords, the infamous pirates that lurk on islands Murudu Bay and Banggi islands are widely known and feared. They often sail around Malaysia and Papa New Guinea in search of villages to raid and princes to swindle out their wealth.
Her father told her tales of pirating when they spend quiet evenings sitting around the fire. He has also heard word that it is also bad in other parts of the world, and particularly bad in the Caribbean. She has heard the village elders speak of the many villages across Malaysia and Singapore that have been, and are still being, raided by pirates and how the villagers live every day more carefully in the jungles of northern Borneo, to avoid the infamous pirates.
Sarahwah feels her cheeks wet with tears and she is shuddering with shock. But what can she do. Sarahwah, at 5 years old is watching her peaceful village being pillaged and burnt before her eyes. and her family is missing and she is alone. She wants her father. She wants her mother. Just then she can smell something strong and putrid drifting over to her. It comes with thick smoke and she coughs, and covers her nose and mouth with her hand. What is that smoke? Rubber. oh no, they're burning the rubber crop. Will these men stop at nothing? Collecting rubber from the trees is one of the main sources of trade and wealth for her village - it takes months to collect it bit by bit and her village values their rubber trees. She is so angry these pirates are burning their entire stocks so heartlessly. They don’t care about a thing. They are cold menacing men with the sole pursuit of material wealth and goods they can trade for more valuable items.
She backs away from the wall and looks around her families hut; their few modest possessions placed against the back wall; their reed bed matt’s on the floor, empty and cold. Her hut is still untouched as its near the back of the village and the pirates hadn’t gotten this far yet. But it would not be safe for long. She can see that the havoc is slowly coming closer. The chaos outside continues to play out – she watches again through the whole in the wall, too stricken to look away. Some huts at the far end of the village are already razed to the ground. A pirate is dragging some of the village woman by their hair and pushing them roughly into a pile under the village shade tree and tying their hands behind them with rope. The men of her village who are still free are trying to fight back and defend their families - they are brandishing their weapons bravely but unfortunately bamboo pistols and poison sticks are not effective against steel pirate swords. Many villagers fall this day as they have done and will continue to do as a result of pirating in these areas.
Everyone can tell who that is because he struts around his victims arrogantly touching his sword to their necks while spitting on them and cursing and ordering the others around. He is tall and brown with wiry muscles that come from living the life on the run as a pirate and carrying heavy jewels and manning his ship. She hears some of the pirates shout ‘Iranum’ at the captain and he responds - this is his name. He orders back to some of the men - ‘Obian - Suluk!’ and they both knock the people they are holding by the hair unconscious. There is one pirate, a young man with supple skin and newly formed muscles of a teen entering adult hood and a life of physical activity - he has long brown hair tied with leather and is the one running from hut to hut torching them under the watchful eye of Iranum. Sarahwah hear some woman’s screams pierce the air already full of shouts, steel clanging and crackling fire. Then a baby’s scream. Another pirate has the baby upside down by the legs and the mother, tied and being watched with the other captives by Iranum is wailing and crying and yelling for her baby. The pirate walks over and places the baby the right way up in the woman’s lap. Her hands are tied though like everyone else’s and cannot quieten her child, which is screaming in fear. The mother is trying to hush it with her sobbing tear streaked words. The other captives are pleading with Iranum and also crying for their families.
Sarahwah lets out a gasp as she notices one of the soldiers is dragging someone along the ground by the hair – she recognizes them. Oh no, her cousin Illanun! Illanun is the first son of her uncle who is the village medicine man - Illanun was a young man coming of age who was set to take over as ruling medicine man and chief of ceremony in the coming year as his father was getting too old now.
The pirates often kidnap young men and woman to be of service to the pirates, the young men trained and forced into being pirates who then have to follow captains orders to torch others villages just as there’s were. The young woman, well pirates are not always sailing and pillaging villages and need some female company. Older men in the villages are killed as they defend their families and some women are raped and stabbed on the spot while others lucky enough to be pregnant or protecting offspring are lucky enough to survive to watch their village being burned to the ground and their men being killed and their children taken. One of the saddest and unavoidable parts of pirating is that in all the chaos families get separated and the amount of orphaned children is great. Families often believe one another to be dead until reunited by news spread at a Tamu, the weekly market where goods and gossip are traded. Some are not so lucky - the children just left by the pirates to fend for themselves, the parents taken never to be seen again.
Sarahwah is trying to spot anyone else she knows through the smoke of the fires and the early morning fog. She cannot see any of them now- the fires are too great. Her only thought now is she must escape. It is pure instinct. It is not easy for a 5year old to pluck up the courage to leave her home and possessions and run away from her village and her family who are currently being pillaged raped and stabbed by these horrid men - but to survive is her primal thought. She starts looking furtively around to assess a way out. She is small and flexible and can make the most of having a stealthy escape. Most people of Borneo and Asia are small, fit people. She can sneak quietly out the door of her hut without being seen, but then to get across the rice paddy flats to the jungle trees 100metres away; she will have to be careful. Their vision will be hampered by the fire and smoke so she must stay low and run fast and quiet. Tears are still streaming down her face and the terror is rippling through her small body no like no feeling she has ever felt before. Flashes of her family fly through her mind. Where are they? Where are they! How could they leave without me? Why did the pirates take them and not me? Why did they save me? Was it because I was sleeping in the back of the hut they could not see me? Still they have searched everyone else’s hut and pulled out everyone alive… why me? I will pray to Buddha when I reach the jungle and thank him for sparing me and ask him to save my family. They could already be dead or tied up, being spat on by a pirate.
Sarahwah has been hunting with her father and she knows how to pick the right moment to move - when the pirate’s backs are turned, and engaged with threatening their prisoners. She must escape now or suffer the same fate. All right - a short dash through the reed grass toward the thick jungle. Can she take anything with her? She grabs a knife favored by her father off the table and tucks it in her leather waist wrap. She is already dressed in their villages typical dress - cotton under wrap with frayed, dirty work skirt over the top and a long sleeved work shirt and leather moon bear vest with fur, over which she ties her leather waist wrap that carries her usual work tools she uses to harvest rubber and bananas and cut reed with her mother. The knife now joins her tools and she crouches ready to run. Out the door she bends silently like a cat and then she runs for her life, in the quick light way only a child can. A furtive glance back shows that the pirates are more interested in claiming some more of the village women and she reaches the safety of the dark muggy jungle without being seen. She runs a bit further in the jungle to be sure she is far away as possible. She runs till she can run no further. With chest heaving and cheeks salty with dried tears she slows to the quick light walk favored by tribes people all over the land that ensures they cover a lot of ground in one day. She is fairly fit – all of her people are, as they work outdoors every day they are naturally wiry and tough people. But the fear and shock is causing her to breathe heavily in and out of her searing lungs… she did not entirely escape the smoke that was now sending a huge signal up into the sky.
Her first thought now was water. She follows a worn hunting path used by the hunters of her village – one she knows well for some miles. This is the track her and her father have trodden many times with the hunters and she knows where the creeks are and the berry bushes. She walks to the villages favored waterfall, which has a constant supply of clear spring water trickling down over a rock face. She cups her hands against the rock and forms a pool of water to drink. The thought hits her - she should have brought a gourd! Now how will she store water for later? How will she eat, with only a 4inch knife to hand? Having drunk as much as she can, Sarahwah slumps down on the path by the waterfall with a belly full of water and cries… for the mysterious loss of her family, the cry of a homeless, orphaned, scared, soon to be lost 5year old. So many unanswered questions and such a feeling of despair that washes over her like waves and grips her belly like cramps at the realization that her family might actually be gone forever.
A while later she gets up with steely determination and child like faith. She realises that she has not gone far and if anyone was to come this way they would catch her in a short time. Better keep moving. Keep moving. Where to go, where am I to go? She knows the path runs out eventually - when she has accompanied her father hunting she remembers the track runs out soon and they relied on the village hunters navigate them through the jungle. Being a child of a village means you get to play and stay close to home guarding the stores and cutting reed grass so Sarahwah has no idea where she is going, nor where to go. It is still only the middle of the day now, but come nightfall the jungle will be a cold and dangerous place and she knows she will have to find shelter, but no idea how or where. She has never stayed out over night in the jungle before and is starting to feel quite apprehensive. Sarahwah keeps walking in the direction she knows is taking her away from her village - getting as much space as she can between her and those horrible people. She cant bare to think of her fellow villages left behind it is too awful for her. It is like a terribly awful nightmare in which you woke up to find everyone dead and you hope to wake up soon - but you are already awake.
She knew to stay on the ridge tops when walking through the jungle, because its clearer to walk, you often get a view through the trees to get your bearings and the animals liked to stay in the thick undergrowth or up in the trees. You also can’t get swept down a river. After what feels like hours of walking, Sarahwah is so tired and is moving fairly slowly. She’d found a stick for support to lean on and help her get up the steeper hills. The ground was slippery and wet in places, and sometimes areas of long thick vines grew everywhere like a huge web and it was tricky to clamber through, under and over them. Her energy was getting sapped more every mile. As she was coming up the next rise, a huge rock overhang came into view. With what looked like a cave entrance. It seemed quiet and uninhabited but you can never be sure. Didn’t her father tell her a story about being wary of caves? One night a storm came over and the hunters had luckily stumbled upon a cave that had old bones in it but was dry and quiet and they took shelter but unfortunatly for them it was still inhabited by ferocious animals and their bones soon joined the existing pile of bones and they never returned from that hunting trip. Shuddering at the thought, she approached the cave very cautiously, She beat on the rock face at the entrance with her stick. No noises or snuffles emerged so after a pause she ventured inside. It was rather large, with a high ceiling. There were a few red and orange chalk paintings on the walls, which she could just see in the dim light. I wonder who has sheltered here before me? It certainly was abandoned but had signs of previous use. There were charred rocks from a fire and small bones, probably remnants of a hunting parties dinner as they waited out the night to return home the next day. Going deeper into the cave it got a bit smaller and appeared to be dry. There was nothing comfortable about it - crudely shaped rock formed walls and a ceiling. It was a dry flat clay floor with dust and sticks and rocks that had blown in over the years. She had no idea how to hunt or make a fire to cook food. At her age, children only assist in cooking like preparing the food, they are not allowed to make or tend the fires - she could only hope to find a berry bush or edible herbs or wild potatoes for sustenance.
She ventured outside checking the coast was clear and started to comb the area for anything edible. She passed a bamboo thicket - there are lots of things she could do with bamboo given better tools and some daylight. Realising she was never going to be able to cut any bamboo herself she tried to pull off some of the small offshoots with leaves. Then she started looking around to find other things she could use as a bed - there is that plant with big leaves the monkeys shelter under in monsoon season, oh what is it called she cant think, her thoughts are scattered and she’s too scared being alone and lost in the jungle. She comes across a berry bush and plucks as many as she can off the plant. With nothing to carry them in she holds up the bottom of her skirt and scoops them all in, then walks as quickly as she can back to the cave. The light is starting to fade. Its getting late in the day and it gets dark in the depths of the jungle earlier than it does in the open. Back in the cave, it is cold and she huddles in a ball against the back wall nibbling on her berries. She eats them all- she’s hungrier than she realises. After being rudely awoken at dawn this morning and being on the run all day, she has had no food and is ravenously hungry, overwhelmingly tired and shaken after the adrenaline and terror of the day. Pictures of her fellow villagers screaming and their huts being burnt to the ground flash through her mind before she sinks into the fetal position, shivering, scared and lonely and into a slumber no 5year old should have to endure. One where your family is gone, your village is gone, your alone, hungry scared and cold and unable to fend for yourself.