Sybil Kathigasu's Clinic, Papan, Perak
Sybil Kathigasu is little known outside of Malaysia, however her contribution to the resistance movement during World War II helped many local people survive the Japanese occupation. A trained nurse, Sybil and her doctor husband, along with their three children, moved to the small town of Papan (near Ipoh) after war broke out in Malaya in 1941. After her husband moved back to Ipoh to continue his work as a doctor, Sybil started up her own medical dispensary and took on the role as the local midwife.
During this time Sybil secretly treated men from the Perak People’s Anti-Japanese Army (PPAJA) at her clinic. She also had in her possession three illegal shortwave radios through which she would gain information and relay to the anti-Japanese fighters. Activity such as this was highly risky and eventually in 1943 she was captured by the Japanese and tortured and interrogated for over two years. Sybil never revealed any information about the PPAJA despite the injuries she sustained and consequently was imprisoned for the remainder of the war. In 1945 when World War II finally ended, Sybil was released from prison. Due to her severe wounds she was transported to the UK for medical treatment but sadly in 1949 she passed away as a result of her injuries.
In 2003, President of the Perak Heritage Society, Law Siak Hoong, developed and opened the Sybil’s Clinic @ Papan Museum in the very same house Sybil lived in during World War II. A double story shophouse, the museum provides an overview of Sybil’s life before the war, the medical work she provided to the anti-Japanese movement, her imprisonment and the way she has been memorialised after her death. Paired with the text panels is a collection of diverse objects – some are objects from the wartime period, including furniture and farming implements, some are personal items from Sybil herself and others are more reflective of her medical career, such as medicine bottles and washing bowls. While the house has been altered slightly in the last 60 years, major features from Sybil’s time in the house, such as the hiding hole where she kept the shortwave radios, have been maintained and are visible to visitors.
Collaborating with an international museum designer, Law Siak Hoong based the content of the museum on Sybil’s own memoir ‘No Dram of Mercy’. As the museum has only ever received minimal funding, the space is only opened to visitors upon contact with Law Siak Hoong and progress on future exhibitions tends to progress slowly.