--- Story on Adenan Satem, a James Ritchie special report for hegehegeh.com 

On January 11, 2017 day I received the tragic news that Tan Sri Adenan Haji Satem or “Tok Nan” had suffered a fatal heart attack at Sarawak heart center at Kota Samarahan.

It was a shock for the nation, but somehow, I knew it was coming.

The signs were there—in the recent years he had suffered several heart attacks and once in Singapore his heart stopped twice but thanks to his doctors, he lived to become Sarawak’s fifth Chief Minister.

Despite the warnings from his family and medical practitioners, he never slowed down because he was a man with a mission.

Probably knowing that he had little time on his hands, he threw caution to the wind. 

In December 2013, three months before he succeeded Tun Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud to helm the Sarawak government, he was told by the former in Mecca during the “Umrah” (mini Hajj) that would helm the government.

Even though Adenan had worked for Taib in Kuala Lumpur and was his brother-in-law, Adenan was chosen because he was the most experienced member of the Sarawak cabinet.

I had known Adenan since becoming Kuching’s NST correspondent in 1981 and over the years developed a close relationship with him. I had often visited his family home at Damai where I became close to the family.

A journalist and band boy in the 1960s, Adenan went on to become a Crown Counsel from Adelaide University, following in the footsteps of his St Joseph schoolmate and mentor Taib.

Born in Kuching on January 27, 1944 — at the tail end of the Second World War — Adenan was the son of Customs officer Haji Satem bin Haji Sulong, a Kuching Malay from Kampung Bandarsah 2, just off the present Jalan Ajibah Abol.

Haji Satem was no less a rare breed — he had excelled as a civil servant in the British colonial government and received a long service award. 

During the run-up to the formation of Malaysia in the early 1960s, he was also appointed as a Counsellor with the Cobbold Commission.

Part 1: Celebrating the life of Sarawak’s big brother!! [Part 1]

Adenan’s mother Hajjah Rabiah binti Usman who was of Indian-Muslim and Chinese descent and the second wife of Haji Satem, also a religious teacher in their village, was also a great influence in Adenan’s life.

Both husband and wife were of the opinion that their seven children would be sent to either one of the top schools in Kuching, St Joseph and St Thomas, they chose the former.

Adenan’s oldest brother Amin was the first to attend St Joseph’s school while Adenan, who was the second youngest of the siblings, followed in older brother’s footsteps and spent eight years in the Catholic institution.

An avid reader, Adenan first attended St Anthony’s in Sarikei followed by Sacred Heart School in Sibu. On his return to Kuching, Adenan attended primary five at St Joseph’s school where he remained until he completed his Upper Six examinations.

Adenan gave credit to his mother for encouraging and guiding him from childhood until he earned a scholarship to study law at the University of Adelaide in South Australia.

In 1964 after completing his Higher School Certificate (HSC) with distinction, he worked as a temporary teacher and then joined the Sarawak Tribune as a reporter for six months. 

A prolific writer and avid reader, he wrote several articles, one of which was “The Burden and the Glory” on the holding of public office.

Adenan explained that in his article he wrote that when an individual assumes public office, the “burden” can be rewarded with “glory”. 

He said that glory always came with a price. “After a while, the glory fades and it is always the burden that remains.”

After Taib returned to Sarawak as a crown counsel from the Adelaide university in 1962, it was Adenan’s turn to follow in his footsteps.

On July 22, 1963 Taib was appointed one of Sarawak’s first cabinet Ministers.

Little did Adenan realise that their destinies would be intertwined.

After returning from Australia where he served as prosecutor in the Crown Law Office of Adelaide from 1969 till 1970, he tied the knot with Taib’s sister Aisha Zainab.

In 1972, a year after his appointment as a Magistrate in Kuching, Adenan and was invited to Kuala Lumpur to become an assistant secretary in the Natural Resources Ministry under Taib.

Three years later Adenan returned to Kuching and ventured into legal practice.

His political career took off in 1976 when he was appointed as the legal advisor and a committee member of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).

In 1978 he won in the Muara Tuang State constituency (now called Asajaya) by-election and won again in the 1979 State election.

In December 1983, Adenan continued his winning style and became the Muara Tuang incumbent for another term. He won again in the 5th State election in April 1987.

In the September 1991 election he doubled his majority of 8,272 votes; and due to his popularity and won unopposed in the subsequent in September 1996.

Five years later in September 2001, Adenan went on to with with an even larger majority with 9,708 votes in the same constituency.

Now Adenan was a record seven-term assemblyman for the Muara Tuang constituency.

Hand-picked to enter Federal politics, he contested in Batang Sadong in the March 2004 11th parliamentary election and was appointed Federal Minister of Natural Resources and Environment—a portfolio he held for only two years.

Unhappy with his Kuala Lumpur stint, the Federal cabinet minister returned to Kuching where he remained as a parliamentarian and assemblyman without a portfolio.

Two years later Taib came to Adenan’s rescue and knowing he was an avid fishing enthusiast, fielded him in the coastal constituency of Tanjung Datu which he easily won.

Part 2: Adenan becomes a Parliamentarian [Part 2]

Four years later he was appointed Special Advisor to the Chief Minister, and later in 2011.

During this time Adenan’s heart condition became a stumbling block as the over-zealous politician pushed himself harder while trying to solve the many issues that Sarawak faced.

One of Adenan’s great concerns was for the Penan community—a disadvantaged minority. He was also worried by the decades-long environmental degradation left behind by excessive logging which had caused wanton destruction

On one occasion Adenan quoted the Bible, and in a pun, portrayed man as the biggest destroyer of the forests.

He said: “In the 1970s, I wrote a speech (during a State legislative sitting) called ‘The Eighth Day. According to biblical knowledge, God created the world in six days, on the seventh day he rested.

“But on the eighth day, mankind messed it up,” he quipped tongue-in-cheek.

When Taib fell ill in 2005 after contracted colon cancer, word to Adenan that Taib was going to step down and had picked Adenan as his successor. 

Apparently, it a ploy by employed by Adenan’s challengers who wanted to trick Adenan into thinking that he was the “chosen one”.

How could the astute and wise politician be so gullible and na├»ve believe the story?  

Would Adenan be so impatient that he would jump the gun instead of biding his time?

Adenan had taken the bait and resigned as a Federal Minister to return to Sarawak to become the supremo!

But by then Taib had recovered and was back at his office and Adenan was a man without a job.

Left in the lurch and certain that his days were numbered, Adenan spent his time golfing and fishing at his favorite haunt—the Sematan coastal region.

One day I called him to ask if he was okay and he invited me to Sematan to buy fish for the family.

After buying fish for Helen and Rebekah, we stopped at his “Kampung” farmhouse, complete with a massive fish pond in the Siburan suburb where he stripped to his crocodile-brand underpants.

Part 3: Adenan’s demise shocks Abang Johari [Part 3]

Chain-smoking and looking disconsolate, I tried to console him.

I said: “Whatever is going through your mind now, I believe it’s your destiny to become Chief Minister.” 

A man of few words, his simple reply was: “Im okay James!” 

Adenan election as successor was only indicated to him only weeks before his appointment in early 2014. 

Apparently, both Taib and Adenan, had separately planned a pilgrimage for the Hajj in Mecca fate brought the duo together.

Taib was already booked to go to Mecca and that Adenan was also going on the Hajj.

Taib invited Adenan to join his entourage where the Chief Minister broke the news that he was retiring and said that his “blue-eyed boy” would succeed him.

On Feb 12, 2014 Taib announced he was stepping down and had chosen Adenan Satem as his successor.

Three months earlier on December 18, at the launching of an exhibition “Celebrating the Writer” to honor me as a journalist, the jovial Adenan took a dig as me as he read my lengthy CV. 

He quipped: “I never thought a part-time singer with the Aurora Hotel can become a good writer…maybe he was a frustrated singer who turned to writing by accident.”

He continued: “James has written 26 books and we hope he will write another 26 books…and hopefully one of them will be on Adenan Satem” to a roar of laughter.

Well, “Tok Nan” I have done your bidding!

“And hopefully, one of them will be a biography on Adenan Satem—not that anybody cares to write a book about me.” 

 “I don’t know how much he was paid as a part-time singer.” he mused knowing well that he had at one time been a teenaged band boy and Elvis fan!!! He continued: “Then in 1970 after his HSC exam…he didn’t say whether he passed it or not (the crowd laughed)…but anyway he is man of many talents...I know he is a good singer...but not as good as me! (he laughed with the crowd)!!!!

 Adenan was generous with his comments and referring to the 26 books I had written, the brash but self-effacing Adenan added:

“He is what I might say is a contemporary historian. The things that he wrote today in the future will become history. So he is like a chronicler…and in the years to come the generations will go over his book and learn to appreciate what Sarawak was like in those times and in our age….that is the single contribution of a chronicler.”

And then he chuckled: “And hopefully, one of them will be a biography on Adenan Satem—not that anybody cares to write a book about me.” 

Indeed dear friend, I am now keeping my promise! (*)