Kanang anak Langkau was born in 2 March 1945 in Julau, Sarawak. He entered military service with the British Army, as an Iban Tracker, attending Jungle Warfare School in Ulu Tiram in early 1962. Kanang was attached to the 42 Commando serving during the Brunei Revolt and during the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation. He later served with the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment. He was absorbed into the Sarawak Rangers which eventually became part of the Malaysian Rangers when Malaysia was proclaimed on 16 September 1963.
Kanang joined the Sarawak Rangers as an Iban tracker on 21 April 1962. (He was among those recruited by the late Bennett Jarrow). Sarawak Rangers was then part of the British Army and later absorbed into the Malaysian Army’s Royal Ranger Regiment upon the formation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963 between the then Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah (then North Borneo) and Sarawak with Singapore ceded later and Brunei opted not to join.
In an operation in the Korbu Forest Reserve at Fort Legap on 1 June 1979 whilst on a mission tracking the enemy, Sergeant Kanang's group came across a temporary enemy resting camp. Sergeant Kanang ak Langkau from the 8th Battalion Royal Rangers immediately launched an attack on that enemy camp, an enemy that far outnumbered the Kanang's group. In this fierce contact with the enemy, two of the Rangers went down, mortally wounded. Five of the enemy were killed, enemy equipment too were captured. He was conferred the highest gallantry award, the "Pingat Gagah Berani" by his Majesty the King.
In an incident in Tanah Hitam, Perak on 8 February 1980 a soldier was killed. Kanang leading a platoon was sent to track the enemy down and destroy them. For eleven days they tracked the enemy until they stumbled upon a much larger enemy force at Ladang Kinding, Sungei Siput, Perak.
The tracking skills of Kanang and his courage led him successfully to follow up on the enemy. The enemy was cunning and skillful in the use of the ground to their advantage. The lay of the land at that time was an obstacle as they were in very difficult terrain. The enemy was very adept at concealment, with the years piled on fighting the British and the Malayans before that. The tactics used by the enemy to throw off Kanang and his group off their trail was never ending. Due to the courage of Kanang and his tracking skills, the Rangers managed to keep up with the enemy. Even as some of his men were disheartened, he kept their morale up by encouraging them.
Since the death of the soldier 11 days he managed to doggedly track and identify the enemy's exact route of escape. On the evening of 19 February 1980 at around 1500, after conducting a reconnaissance with great caution and care, his platoon managed to estimate the location of the enemy, which was located not very far from their location.
Actually they were inside the location of the enemy, as they were at the foot of the hill. They only realized that they were inside the enemy's location when they found a communication cord from the enemy sentry's location. This cord was running from the sentry's location to the enemy's main force. This cord is normally attached to a small bush or empty cans which make noise when pulled. This way the main force can be alerted by the sentry when an enemy approaches.
At that moment, Sergeant Kanang was approximately 8 meters from the enemy sentry's location. Realizing that, he launched the assault towards the right by firing towards the right of the enemy along with his platoon. After launching the attack to the right, it suddenly struck everyone that the enemy's main force was on the left, below the slope of the hill. Without losing his senses, he switched the direction of fire to the left, at the same time changing the direction of the assault to the left.
They ploughed into the enemy but a large force of the enemy managed to escape. The platoon and Kanang managed to bag five Communist Terrorists on that day. Even with that success, they were saddened by the loss of one of their group who was killed and one more seriously wounded. Whilst trying to rescue his wounded friends, Sergeant Kanang himself was repeatedly shot, he took three rounds from the enemy into his body. The will to live and fight another day was strong, he was in comma for two months in hospital but recuperated and was back on active duty. His fellow Ibans say Kanang died but came alive again!
Kanang’s battle cry ‘Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban’ (Still Alive, Still Fighting) inspired his men and other soldiers to fight to death in the defence of the nation. It is believed among the Ibans that this battle cry originated from the famous Iban warrior by the name of Libau "Rentap" who fought the Rajah of Sarawak, James Brooke at Skrang and Sadok Hill.
The son-in-law Of Libau "Rentap" named Layang was known to be the first Iban to kill (bedengah in Iban) a British officer in Sarawak by the name of Alan Lee at the battle of Lintang Batang at the newly built Skrang fort. It was this incident that caused the Brooke to refuse pardon or accept Rentap's surrender like the other Iban chiefs during that time, notably the sons of Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana "Bayang" by the name of Nanang and his second brother Luyoh who turned rebels against the Brooke government for killing their third brother Ajie at the battle of Sungai Langit in Padeh. Nanang was later appointed Orang Kaya Pemancha to replace his father, for his surrender and his assistance to defeat his fellow Iban chief Libau "Rentap" at Sadok Hill who he followed just before that surrender. The cannon named "Bujang Timpang Berang" (One Shoulder Guy) marked with the year 1515 was actually obtained by Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana "Bayang" in a ngayau expedition to Sambas, Kalimantan and inherited by his sons.
Libau "Rentap" was only defeated after three repeated punitive expeditions by the Brooke force at Sadok Hill but he never surrendered to the White Man like his fellow countrymen did at that material time. He died as a hero and was accorded a warrior or chieftain cremation on a platform above the ground (called "dilumbong" in Iban) at the Sibau Hill in Pakan Sarawak and his bones were installed inside a jar in a traditional Iban ceremony called "ngerapoh" for safe keeping by his family vis-a-vis a normal burial under the ground for ordinary persons. In recent time, his bones were put inside a proper coffin and a sungkup hut built at the same Sibau Hill which can be visited by tourists.
Indeed, the ngayau or headhunting spirit of the Ibans for which they were legendary before the practice ceased, is still very much in the blood and body of Kanang and other heroes from Sarawak.
For his bravery, Kanang was awarded the nation’s two highest awards Sri Pahlawan Perkasa (SP) and the Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) by His Majesty the King Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Ahmad Shah in June 1981.
He retired as Warrant Officer One (WOI) after serving the army for more than 21 years.
A book entitled Kanang, The Story of a Hero was written about his military service and used as a literature text book in the Malaysian national secondary school.
Prior to Kanang, Awang anak Raweng who was an Iban Scout from Sarawak in Borneo, won the George Cross for gallantry as recorded in the London Gazette on 20 November 1951. The only Sarawakian who was bestowed with the highest British gallantry award. King George bestowed the 83-year-old veteran from Nanga Skrang, Sri Aman with the George Cross on 20 November 1951 in recognition of his bravery in fighting the communists all by himself after he and four other British army personnel were ambushed in Kluang, Johor on 27 May 1951. Please note Nanga Skrang is the original place of the famous Iban warrior Libau "Rentap" during the James Brooke era.
Kanang retired after 21 years of service as a First Warrant Officer. He was the Temenggong (paramount chief) of the Iban in Sri Aman, his place of residence. He was awarded the Officer of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of Sarawak (PBS) (Malay: Pegawai Bintang Sarawak) in 1987.
Malaysia’s most decorated war hero Kanang Anak Langkau could have died as a pauper as his military services – helping to liberate Malaya (and later Malaysia) from the communists were not respected as a hero should be until he and few other war heroes made noise complaining that they had been treated shabbily both by the Federal Government and Sarawak State Government.
Their contributions were not financially recognized – not even a sen and their welfare were not taken care of, as compared to financial rewards and other perks given to communist terrorists who surrendered.
There were six holders of Sri Pahlawan (SP) Gagah Perkasa (the Gallantry Award) from Sarawak, and with the death of Kanang Anak Langkau, there is one SP holder in the person of Sgt. Ngalinuh (an Orang Ulu).
The heroes were 21 holders of Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) with 16 survivors. Of the total, there are fourteen (14) Ibans, one Bidayuh, one Kayan, one Malay and two Chinese army officers. But the majorities in the Armed Forces are Malays, according to a book – Crimson Tide over Borneo. The youngest of the PGB holder is ASP Wilfred Gomez of the Police Force.
Kanang Anak Langkau was the holder of both the SP and PGB. Their contributions were initially not rewarded, not even a sen except they received pensions like other retired civil servants.
The heroes were not even invited to attend national day celebrations.
Angered by the ill-treatment, Kanang even refused ‘Datukship’ offered to him saying he was a poor man and could not afford to receive the title of ‘Datukship’.
Their woes got the attention of the Member of Parliament (MP) for Lubok Antu in Sarawak Mr. Jawah Gerang who raised the issue in Parliament some time in the 1980s. Approved by the government, a PGB holder was given a monthly allowance of RM300 and a SP holder RM400.
For PGB holders like Sgt Dajai Angie, their allowances were backdated to 1973. (Dajai was given the bravery medal in 1971).
In 2006, a delegation of the heroes from Sarawak met with the Defence Minister Najib Tun Razak and appealed to increase their monthly allowances by RM700.
Instead of accepting their recommendation, Najib who was also the Deputy Prime Minister decided to more than double the increase of the allowance by RM1,600. The issue was brought to Parliament and approved. Thus, a SP holder receives RM2,000 a month, while a PGB holder receives RM1,900 a month.
Promotionwise, only on 1 November 2010, an Iban Officer by the name of Stephen Mundaw was promoted to a Brigadier-General. He was the first Iban to become a General in the Malaysian Army since Sarawak became independent on 22 July 1963 from the British and forming The Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963 along with North Borneo (Sabah now) and Singapore which was ceded later. If you want to look further; he was the first Iban General in the long history of the Malaysian Rangers when its predecessor the Sarawak Rangers was formed by Rajah Charles Brooke in 1862. With this promotion, inadvertently, "an Iban allocation" might have been created in the Malaysian Army.
For his knowledge in Iban traditions and customs, Kanang was later made a Temenggong for the Iban community of Sri Aman division and last year he was conferred a Datukship by the state government.
On 15 April 2009, he made headlines after rescuing a baby orangutan from captivity with his friend, Tay Choon Yong. The baby orangutan was being handed to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre.
On 24 September 2011, he was conferred the Commander of the Order of the Star of Hornbill Sarawak (PGBK) (Panglima Gemilang Bintang Kenyalang), with the title of Datuk by the Abang Muhammad Salahuddin, the Head of State's 90th Birthday.
In 2011, Kanang supervised Operation Mai Pulai. This operation involved the locating and exhumation of the remains of 21 Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers who were killed during the Second Malayan Emergency. Their remains were exhumed from multiple location on the Malay Peninsula and returned to Sarawak where they were ceremonially reburied in July 2011.
On 3 January 2013, he collapsed while watching television at home in Sungai Apong, Sri Aman after complaining of chest pains. Immediately rushed to the Sarawak General Hospital, he was pronounced dead at the age of 67.
He was buried on 6 January with full military honours at the Heroes’ Grave at Jalan Budaya, Kuching.
Meanwhile, messages of condolences and sympathy have been received by the family of the late Kanang from government leaders including from the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.
According to the Minister of Defence, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, he will be given a national burial. His coffin, draped in the Jalur Gemilang and the colours of the Malaysian Armed Forces, was first brought to the 1st Infantry Division base located at Bukavu Camp in Penrissen for the family members and friends to perform prayers and miring ceremony (offering ceremony), before being brought to Kuching Civic Centre for the public to pay their last respects. He was buried at the Heroes' Grave in Jalan Taman Budaya, after the funeral prayers at St.Thomas Cathedral in Kuching.
Among Ibans, Kanang/s acts in the military service is regarded as "raja berani tau serang" which is commensurate with the highest widower fee for Great War Leader. Otherwise, his temenggong chieftain title entitled him for the fifth widower fee.Military honours and awards
Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SP) (Supreme Gallantry Award)
Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) (Star of the Commander of Valour)
Pingat Perkhidmatan Am (PPA) (Federation General Service Medal)
Pingat Perkhidmatan Setia (Federation Loyal Service Medal)
Pingat Jasa Malaysia (Malaysia Service Medal)
General Service Medal (1918) (United Kingdom) with "Brunei" clasp (for the participation in Brunei Revolt)
General Service Medal (1962) (United Kingdom) with "Borneo" clasp (for the participation in Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation)
State honours and awards
Panglima Gemilang Bintang Kenyalang (PGBK) (Commander of the Star of the Hornbill of Sarawak) (2011)
Pegawai Bintang Sarawak (PBS) (Most Exalted Order of the Star of Sarawak-Officer) (1987)
A Malay language novel used in secondary schools in Malaysia called Kanang, Cerita Seorang Pahlawan ("Kanang, The Heroes Story"), written by Mazlan Nordin, is a story about Kanang anak Langkau.
Kanang Anak Langkau: The Iban Warrior- 2017 Malaysian movie directed by Bade Haji Azmi.