Image: President Lyndon B Johnson during
his visit to Felda Labu Jaya on Oct 30, 1966
Felda LBJ was previously known as Felda Labu Jaya. It was renamed Felda LBJ following a visit by the then US Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) to the scheme. ( I also understand there is a history to Felda New Zealand in Pahang being named so)
The postings rekindled some great memories of Felda LBJ to me. It was sometime back in 1967 when Syed Alwi the then Social Secretary of the Students Union Universiti Malaya organized a visit to Felda LBJ.
It was a community service by the students. It comprised a bus-load of students in the rickety Student Union bus winding its way south from Pantai Valley, K.L. to Felda LBJ.
This happened a long time ago. I can only recollect from memory not numbers or names (except for a handful) but of some activities of the few days we were there.
We joined the settlers in trimming some young rubber trees, the first morning. This, I remembered clearly. It was mainly because of a pretty lass astride the branches next to where I was perched. She was Ms Kee Phaik Cheen who later made good as a Wanita MCA leader in Penang.
We had to climb and had to settle on the branches and with a parang we had to hack off some small branches here and there. Ms Kee swung the parang so gingerly and in such a feminine way that there were only nicks in the wood. I don’t remember now just how many branches she managed to cut on her own. But there were a number of settlers assigned to help us, though. They were only too happy to help her.
We had to hack off the branch and then we had to saw off the jagged stump. We were told not to saw without cutting first as otherwise, the branch would split because of the weight. A split branch would be harmful to the tree. After cutting we could not leave the jagged stumps without sawing them off either as otherwise the stump would get rotten. A sawn stump could easily be painted over with a special black paint-like solution as a protection to prevent wood-rot.
Even so, it was all a new experience for most of us. However, we did not really do a good job of it as some of the settlers had to hurriedly do repair jobs the next day.
It was a lot of fun for a city boy like me. My experience of kampong life was only confined to a week or two of school holidays with my cousins in Kuala Pilah mostly. That was where I had my roots.
We also had to dig a long trench apparently to divert some water source .I remembered Alan an outlandish guy (who, a few years later during his Convocation wore a huge medallion as big as a beef burger which hung from his neck) He came that morning in very tight shorts which split (much to the amusement of everyone around) It happened when he heaved the cangkul (hoe) too heavily and came down too fast.
There was also John, an exchange student from London. While resting in between the diggings he was offered raw tapioca, to which he exclaimed, ‘this is not poison is it , ok to eat?’
During the last night, the settlers ‘threw a party’, a kenduri which we initially thought was specifically organised for us. Actually, we had the good fortune of being at the right place and at the right time. It was a farewell do for the Manager. Since we were there they had ‘cooked extra and included us in’. The Manager was going on transfer to Felda Kong Kong in Johore apparently.
A surprise was in store for Syed Alwi when we were about to board the bus home the next morning. Syed had made himself so loveable with his friendly and outgoing ways with the settlers that it did not go unnoticed by one of the young girls there. Being the group leader Syed was one of the last to board. A young girl (barely 15 years old) suddenly pushed her way among the adults who were shaking hands bidding us farewell. She got to the speechless Syed. She handed a nicely folded letter to him and there was a twinkle in her eyes when she did.
On the bus there were people who joked and asked Syed in jest ‘about the letter’. Syed just kept smiling. Syed was not telling. He talked about other things. Nothing came of it really because Syed did not get married to anybody from Felda. That I know for a fact.
And the young girl ? She probably would have been a feeble grandmother in her late fifties by now, and maybe, just maybe a millionaire in her own right.
LBJ settlers (the young girl’s parents amongst them I would think) became ‘the instant new rich’ when part of their lands were acquired or bought over by investors. They were the lucky lot because their deals were inked much earlier than others.
Unlike the settlers from other land schemes around LBJ (including Sendayan?) who were offered large sums for their land. It remained unpaid for many years when the investors reneged on the deals following the 1997 financial crisis.
There were talk of rescue packages outlined by the YB Menteri Besar, Mohamed Hassan sometime ago. It could have been resolved by now but they may not get as much as they had expected.