Early in life, Crockett never saw his father as a misfit. Inevitably, he would be labeled one too. Adam was dismissed by other Caucasians, erased from the rolls of the living before he died. Considered odd school, he was passed over when it came time for promotions.
Adam preferred orangs to humans, and when comparing the ape to people, he said, “Before shooting an animal such as an ape, at least appreciate it.” He may have been against killing, but he still carried a rifle, which he never used except for practice. He really had nothing to fuss about.
For years the British government tried to abolish headhunting. However, even as late as 1951, the ritual survived in scattered pockets of Borneo; but as far as Adam knew, the killing had stopped in his area. While human sacrifices were outlawed, the ceremonial part with the dancing and the drinking lived on. But had any British official suspected that the participants still coated their spear tips with poison, there would’ve been a major confrontation. But far worse for Adam, and more threatening than ever, was what happened with his son.
On occasion, Crockett participated in these martial rites. He’d dress in a loin strap, a war-coat, and a helmet. Then with a small war party, he’d leave the village and spend the night beside the river, in preparation for what normally would’ve been a mock battle. Except for one reckless moment, it wouldn’t have amounted to much.
The evidence seemed concrete. Fresh blood couldn’t be ignored. A head was added to a grim collection. And this after one of the braves plunged a knife into the victim’s chest.
But it didn’t seem as if the war party regretted the act. Accompanied with shouting and stomping, they jumped an unarmed neighbor from a village with which they were feuding. Not wanting to appear cowardly, they all participated.
Crockett knew how appalled his father would be. What unfolded in a matter of minutes hurt the young boy forever. At the onset, horrified, Crockett just stood there. The whole party saw his face. Then he panicked. It went without saying that he would, didn’t it?
But engrossed in the business at hand, the ceremony and the merrymaking, the war party paid little attention to Crockett. By making an offering to the Brahming kite and Spider Hunter, they turned away from him. From gratification of personal desires, they looked for religious meaning in what they had done.
Being there made Crocket an accomplice, but the sick feeling in his stomach illustrated his weakness. The head as a trophy held no significance for him. In general, he felt defeated while his friends felt the reverse. As Crockett later recalled, “they sprung into the air with shouts of cheers and laughter.”
In times past the whole tribe would’ve celebrated the arrival of omen birds. Attended then, a bastard form sufficed: an offering to the kites of chicken flesh, or goat meat was still a serious matter. Even small children participated. They were sprinkled with blood to increase their strength as fighters. Now instead of blood of an enemy, blood from a goat was used; and the martial rites and the offerings continued to the rhythm of gongs.
The circling birds attracted Adam and the rest of the village. When Adam arrived on the scene, he saw his only son’s face still splattered with human blood. He couldn’t escape the horror and the shame of that. From this moment on, the civil servant only thought of saving his son. So he covered up the crime. And it wouldn’t have worked elsewhere. Had they lived near a major town, the crime would’ve required a more thorough investigation. The results were unfortunate for all concerned.
As a direct result of the incident, a cat fight between two villages intensified. Because of honor and retaliation, more blood flowed. Once the killing began, it was hard to stop. It spoke well of the British that they were able to stop the violence before it spread to other villages. The Chartered Company regained control by executing the leaders of the feud in Jesselton. With regard to head hunting, a connection between it and the feuding villages was never officially made. Then after a hearing, Adam gratefully accepted reassignment. Such gifts bunglers received when they were members of the same club. Though in this case, the motives of Adam’s superiors were unknown.
Thus ended Crockett’s life among primitive people, which began at birth and continued up until his first taste of violence. He wouldn’t forget it. Down to the smallest detail, frame by frame, he’d remember it. The horror of the victim gripped him, and he would never forget how quickly the death of a human being lost its significance.
Meanwhile, while his father returned to the heart of Borneo to serve his race, Crockett attended a Roman Catholic mission school, as the only European student. His dad arranged for him to live with a prosperous Chinese family. There the redheaded boy learned what it meant to be a foreigner. No longer a rajah, he paid a price for his freckles. Other boys bullied him or had nothing to do with him. Not only did his peers pick on him but also his teachers drew a color line.
Here in Sandakan, Crockett discovered that the color line also meant that boys from the tribes couldn’t attend his school. True natives didn’t live in the coastal towns, and a Catholic education got handed to Chinese, Filipinos, Malays, Indians, and Eurasians. Because of this, the one British boy didn’t win many battles.
Crockett discovered that if he forgot his English and substituted pidgin English, Malay, or Chinese he could blend in better. However, the other students, of course, came to that school to gain the advantage of Royal English. They wanted to speak English, the English Crockett spoke; and before long, he learned to use his native tongue as a commodity.
“By the end of the war,” said Sim Ah Lah, trader, “with every commodity lacking and in short supply, North Borneo was utterly devastated. In town after town, village after village, starvation and a subsistence economy were the norm. For nearly four years, with no export market, I couldn’t make a living. All of our ports had been destroyed. The west-coast railway (particularly the Beaufort-Jesselton section) with bombed out bridges had to be repaired, or we never would’ve recovered.”
After the war, having to totally rebuild a mutilated land, the people’s attitude of indifference changed. There was a widespread distaste for traditional, old fashion Asian ideas, while the Colonial Administration didn’t radically alter the Chartered Company’s legacy.
Sim Ah Lah came from Foochow, but none of the official lists of settlers from China contained his name. His conversion to Catholicism hardly mattered. He was and had always been elusive, elusive and slippery but very successful because he enjoyed a monopoly on trade between North Borneo and the Sulus.
In 1947, as compensation, Sim Ah Lah made a verbal arrangement with the then new Republic of the Philippines. He had always supplied the Sulus with cheep rice and tobacco products, and as the rebuilding continued into the 1950’s, he moved into exporting (now illegally) everything from breakfast grains to trucks…shoes, refrigerators, furniture, tractors, cars, bicycles, etc. As far as he was concerned, he owned the territory and it came with the arrangements he made. In fact, he was a gentleman among smugglers and a lifeline to the whole archipelago, with some of his goods attracting customers in Manila.