Farewell, dayung sangon

Catherine’s graduation photo.

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By Lian Cheng and Peter Sibon

THE tragic death of Catherine Janet Tiwi following her heroic act to save her colleagues whom she thought were trapped in the burning teachers’ quarters of SK Bungan in Mulu has rocked the nation.

Her demise in the wee hours of July 25 has put a heavy weight on the hearts of many. It has also carved a very deep hole in the hearts of her beloved family, and time may not heal their sense of grief and emptiness.

We grieve with her family — father, Tiwi Nios, and mother, Wency Seimon, and her three brothers — as well as her relatives and friends.

Only 25 years old, Catherine, who was fondly called `Cate’ by her relatives and friends, was doted by her parents as she was their only rose in a family of boys. She was gifted academically and was just one year away from obtaining her master’s degree from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) when she met her fate. She and her Sabahan boyfriend, Hilary Dius, 28, had even planned to get engaged by March next year.

Indeed, Catherine was supposed to have a beautiful life ahead of her.

No one knows whether all these plans or the image of Hilary or that of her father or mother flashed in her mind moments before she decided to dash into the burning structure.

What we are certain of is that she had grave concern for the safety of her two colleagues when she made that daring attempt to save them. Somehow, her two colleagues managed to find their way to safety, but not Catherine. Although she had some knowledge of firefighting as her father is a fireman attached to the Bau fire station, it was, unfortunately, not sufficient to protect her.

She was found charred in the teachers’ quarters, and the only thing left to identify her was something her mother had given her — a ring, which she wore on her left finger.

Catherine’s life was cut short because she put others before herself. This Bidayuh girl from Kampung Skio in Bau was indeed exemplary and brave, and all of us — her family, relatives and all the strangers in Sarawak — love and respect her for that.

This is the second tragedy of a similar nature in Sarawak in recent years.

In the other incident, 29-year-old Herman Sihas, also a Bidayuh, drowned while trying to save a total stranger whom he saw struggling in a gushing monsoon drain.

Like Catherine, no one knows what went through the mind of this lad from Kampung Jangkar in Lundu when he decided to make that extremely dangerous dive to save SMK Batu Lintang’s Form 6 student Kho Ying Qi that day.

He paid with his life for his willingness to get someone out of trouble. His family later made a shocking revelation — Herman did not even know how to swim.

A Bidayuh friend wondered aloud, “What is it about us Bidayuhs? One after another, and they did not think of themselves when risking their lives to save others?”

No one had the answer, but Catherine and Herman, a Muslim convert, made their parents proud. Their community is very proud of them, too.

As Cate is laid to rest today, we mourn the passing of this dayung sangon (pretty maiden) while also recalling the bravery of Herman.

We thank them both for showing us that goodness still prevails. May we continue to tell their stories of bravery and unselfishness so that they will continue to live on in the memories of many. Catherine and Herman, may you rest in peace. — DayakDaily