Malaysiakini News

Suriani, the resistance heroine

James Wong Wing On  |  Published:  |  Modified:

"Progress in human affairs, whether in science or in history or in society, has come mainly through the bold readiness of human beings not to confine themselves to seeking piecemeal improvements in the way things are done, but to present fundamental challenges in the name of reason to the current way of doing things and to the avowed or hidden assumptions on which it rests." (British historian E H Carr on ' What is History? ')

Suriani Abdullah is one of many less well-known leaders of the Communist Party of Malaya. However, once upon a time, her beauty, charm, oratory skills and sprit of dedication to her cause attracted even her ideological and political opponents.

According to Victor Purcell, the Chinese affairs adviser in the British Military Administration (BMA) which ruled Peninsular Malaya and Singapore immediately after the end of the Pacific War, Suriani had "sex appeal" and "a streak of humour and phases of near charm".

In his 1945 confidential reports, Purcell goes on with his observations of Suriani.

"She has a quite good figure beneath her dowdy blue cotton dress, but the fountain pen stuck in her bosom is a sharp reminder that she puts business before allurement. Her most remarkable features are her eyes. At one moment they are flat, brown and dull, at the next revealing in baleful flashes the smouldering fires of fanaticism...

"I had heard much of her oratory and of her decidedly unfair behaviour at the meeting in October 1945 during the rice troubles when she had stood at a platform on the Padang and had worked up the crowd of 3,000 with inflammatory speeches and by beating time for revolutionary songs by her trained choir for an hour or more before Brigadier Willan's arrival, so that when she came the crowd was in no mood to listen to reason.

"There she sat in front me, and whilst I detected in the occasional flashes of her eyes the eternal Tricoteuse and firebrand of the Revolution, she was surprisingly subdued during the interview." (quoted in Cheah Boon Kheng's The Masked Comrades - A Study of the Communist United Front in Malaya , 1945-1948, Singapore, Times Book, 1979, pp 49-50)

Suriani was then only 21 years old. She had also just been released from the torture chamber of the Japanese secret military police in Ipoh where she was detained and brutalised for some six months since Jan 28, 1945 when she was betrayed and captured as an underground partisan affiliated to the Kinta Valley-based 5th Independent Regiment of the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA).

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