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‘Fake news’ about Sarawak in The Manila Bulletin in 1931

On Oct 1, 1931, the editor of The Sarawak Gazette published an extract from the Manila Bulletin.

Founded in 1900, the bulletin is the Philippines’ largest English language broadsheet newspaper.

Published under what the gazette referred as ‘Fiction Column(?)’, the title of the article was “Only one Filipino lives in the British Oil Colony of Sarawak.”

From the title alone, there is obviously an error since Sarawak became a British Crown Colony only after World War II in 1946.

The content of the article did not sit well with the Gazette’s editor who hit back with sarcastic comments, calling it a ‘fairy tale’.

First, here is the extract from The Manila Bulletin which was published on Aug 7, 1931:

“Did you ever know that there is but one single Filipino, struggling for his existence and hobnobbing among whites and nomadic hunters representing the lowest type of culture, in Sarawak, the only place in the world where a white rajah can be found?

Mr and Mrs H.K Fortune, of the Shell Oil Company at Borneo, say so. They arrived in the city from Borneo where they stayed more than four years and are now on their way to the United States.

Sarawak is a British protectorate on the north-western coast of Borneo. It has an area of 42,000 square miles and a population of about 600, one-third of whom are Europeans, mostly British.

It has extensive oil wells owned and managed by the government of Great Britain.

Mr. Fortune, who had been in that unique place, stated that there is only one Filipino there. He said that the Filipino is a barber. He said that he knew before a Filipino garage mechanic but that he had never heard about that boy during the past three years. It is his belief that the Filipino mechanic had sailed for the Philippines.

It was indicated by Mrs. Fortune that place in Borneo is under the direct control and super vision of C.B. Brooks, the only white rajah in the world.

She said that that rajah is living like a king. He has a family which lives luxuriously. The foreign populace of that place is made up mostly of Europeans and few Americans.

There were more than 350 Europeans at that place two years ago but the number had been decreased considerably.

Mr Fortune said that no person, except when expressly authorised by the government of Great Britain, can land in that small but rich oil country.

He said that all boats calling at that place are required to stop more than 21 miles from the shore. No passengers, under ordinary circumstances, are allowed to go to that land.

Smoking is prohibited, Mrs Fortune said. That is one reason why the government of Great Britain is taking all steps to avoid letting any visitor go to that place for fear that the cigar stubs of the foreigners may set fire to the oil there.

No resident of Sarawak is allowed to leave the place for more than 21 days a year.

Mr Fortune said, “When you are entitled to what we call ‘local leave’, you can visit Java and Sumatra for 21 days but not more than that under ordinary circumstances. Some of the residents are entitled to ‘home leave’ in which case they can take a vacation to their respective countries for about eight months.”

Mr. and Mrs. Fortune are on a ‘home leave’ vacation to the United States.

They are stopping in the Philippines to visit Mr For tune’s brother who has been residing in Iloilo for the past 24 years.

The Sarawak Gazette’s editor responds to The Manila Bulletin:

We are safe in saying that this article represents the largest printed collection of “Terminological Inexactitude” since Ananias published his memoirs.

The Filipino ‘struggling for his existence’, runs a prosperous barber’s shop and we have never seen him hobnobbing with any ‘nomadic hunters’, no sir, all wrong.

We are expecting at any moment to hear that in the city of Manila, locked up in the local zoo, there is a Sarawakian aborigine of the lowest culture, flapping his wings and yawning through his hideous proboscis as he reads with sorrow and pity the latest Manila Bulletin; winks at a passing Pterodactyl and eventually flops down dead, having realised that there are only 599 of his kind left in his tobacco-less homeland, a home which he will never again approach nearer than 21 miles, and also that he should have visited Java or Sumatra for not more than 21 days.

Did Mr Fortune really tell the Editor of Manila Bulletin all these things? If so the credulity of Editors is incredible – and it might be use if a series of lecturers are delivered in Miri for the benefit of certain people for the benefit of certain people to leave it, the subject being “The Land We Live in” or “The Truth at Last Together with a few Pardonable Embellishments for the American Press.

What do you think? Were the Fortunes ill-informed about Sarawak during their four-year stay in the kingdom? Did they purposely spin a yarn just to get themselves on the paper? Or was it a 1930s version of fake news published by the Manila Bulletin? Let us know in the comment box.

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Was it a fake news? Credit: Pixabay.
Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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