Sulug Island
The Sulug Island off Kota Kinabalu during the time of the Japanese Occupation.

excerpts from Maxwell Hall’s book ‘Kinabalu Guerrillas – An Account of the Double Tenth’, 1948
by Herman (2007)

Kota Kinabalu, then Jesselton, was taken by the Japanese on January 9, 1942. It was renamed Api-Api. On September 28, 1945, the Allies liberated the town from its usurpers, whose regime was often, as the following account shows, accompanied by cold-blooded cruelty.

In 1943, Mr Albert Kwok, a Chinese merchant from North Borneo, managed to organise what became known the ‘Kinabalu Guerrillas’. His enterprise, however, was not a successful one, and after his one major strike on the 10th of October 1943 – the double tenth – things went very bad. The Japanese were not only better organised and equipped than the Guerrillas, but they had also a large net of spies amongst the people. Soon most of the fighters were rounded up. They suffered the most atrocious tortures in prison at Batu Tiga, and those who survived the ordeal, Mr Albert Kwok amongst them, were mass-executed near the Petagas railway bridge. A war memorial marks the infamous site.

The Japanese supposed that the inhabitants of the different islands off the west coast of then North Borneo were in contact with the Kinabalu Guerrillas. Their presumptions were right. The Guerrillas kept contact with the Philippines, from where they were promised help, through the mostly seafaring island tribes. Help came unfortunately too late, and under the subsequently tightened regime of the Japanese the defenceless islanders suffered the most atrocious ‘punishments’ by the Japanese.

The following extracts only concern the Sulug (Suluk) Island off Jesselton, which was the seat of Panglima Ali, a figure of some importance in connection with the double tenth. His island was probably the worst affected. However, the inhabitants of the other islands met with similar fates. The excerpts are taken sic from Maxwell Hall’s book ‘Kinabalu Guerrillas – An Account of the Double Tenth’, 1948, pp 145 to 150. Dates added to the original appear in rectangular brackets:


“The islands along the north west coast are inhabited by mixed settlements of Sulus, Binadans, Bajaus and others. There is the Mantanani group of islands in the north and opposite Jesselton there are Gaya, Udar, Sepangar, Sinjatan, Manukan, Mamutik and Suluk islands inhabited by fisherfolks according to season. Further south there are Danawan and the Tiga islands.

“The Japanese knew that the Binadans and others were implicated in the revolt of October [10.10.1943]. The islanders had landed on Beach Road and at the wharf, and had attacked the military station and had set fire to the Customs sheds.

Their headman Orang Tua Panglima Ali, of Suluk Island, was arrested about middle of October, a week after the event. He was confined to prison at Batu Tiga.

Two weeks later Suluk Island was visited by about twenty Japanese soldiers and native policemen. They went ashore. The Japanese machine-gunned the inhabitants, setting fire to all the houses on the island. Some of the men were shot as they came running out of their houses. Others on the island put up a show of fight against the Japanese and wounded a few of them. The Japanese soon overcame this resistance and killed or captured all the men whom they could find.

According to the version given later by one of the widows, who was present at the time, about thirty Japanese went ashore, accompanied by about twenty native police. Her number may be on the high side. Of the one hundred and fourteen people living on the island fifty four were killed and sixty survived. Thirty women and children were removed to Bangawan and there twenty five died from malnutrition and ill treatment.

The Japanese officers responsible for this massacre were put on trial in Singapore in July 1946. The lieutenant in charge and the sergeant were both sentenced to death and were executed by hanging. Others implicated received long sentences of imprisonment.

Suluk Island, whose fate has already been described, is conveniently close to Jesselton and is an example of a community where no adult males live. Only women and children where living on the island when the British landed there in 1945. All the adult males had been killed. The boys were spared and the eldest, an eleven-year-old boy became headman. Now [1948] sixteen years of age he is still headman. The island has received some celebrity in the world press as being a place where there are no men – a place of women’s dreams. It is a kind of Eve’s Garden of Eden without an Adam. It is also free of any serpents.”


photos to be added soon

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