Have you heard of Sarawak national war song ‘Rix Rax’?

Patricia Hului

‘Rix Rax’ was originally written as a Sarawak war song, but it eventually became a closing hymn for a party.

The discussion on ‘Rix Rax’ in the Sarawak Gazette

In a letter published to the Sarawak Gazette on Feb 29, 1956, N.S Haile inquired about what he called the ‘Sarawak National Anthem’.

Haile wrote, “I wonder whether any of your readers can assist me in tracing the Sarawak National Anthem? Ever since I read about the existence of one, in John Macgregor’s Through the Buffer State, I have been hoping in vain to hear it played on Radio Sarawak, or by the Police Band in the Museum Gardens. Macgregor, who visited Kuching in the 1890s, makes the following reference to the anthem:

‘The country is kept in order by a small police force, mostly of Indian Sikhs… And there are also four companies of native Dyak troops, known as the Sarawak Rangers, commanded by Major D, a retired British officer, who takes the greatest interest in his lively little levy. This little corps has everything complete, from the commanding officer down to the drummer boy, and even a national anthem that goes under very melodious and patriotic name of ‘Rix Rax!’ whatever that may mean.’

Tracing the copy of ‘Rix Rax’

In response to Haile’s letter, N. Heyward wrote a letter to the gazette which was published a month later on Mar 31, 1956.

According to Heyward, his information on ‘Rix Rax’ was provided by the then Anglican Bishop of Borneo Reverend Nigel Edmund Cornwall.

In 1953 when the Bishop was on leave, he lunched with a retired schoolmaster named G. C. Turner. Turner was the grandson of Francis McDougall who was the first Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak (1855-1868).

Turner reportedly gave Bishop Cornwall a copy of the “Sarawak National War Song” which has the handwriting of Bishop McDougall’s wife Harriette.

According Heyward, Cornwall then handed a copy of the manuscript to Radio Sarawak in 1953.

Accompanying his letter to the gazette was the manuscript of ‘Rix Rax’ which was in Cornwall’s possession.

The Sarawak Gazette pointed out that the ink of the old manuscript was somewhat faded and it was ‘found impossible to get a clear and legible reproduction’.

However, the gazette did published the original words of the ‘Rix Rax’ song.

It goes:

Rix rax filly bon bon bon,
Filly bon bon bon,
Filly bon.

Rix rax filly bon bon bon,
Filly bon bon bon,
Filly bon.

Kayoh kayoh balah moussu
Kayoh kayoh balah moussu Sarawak
Sarawak menang
Sarawak Sarawak Sarawak menang.

‘Rix Rax’, the closing song of 19th century Sarawakian parties

If you need to get a bunch of Sarawakians to hype up during a party, just play the Iban song ‘Berkikis Bulu Betis’ by Andrewson Ngalai.

This song will surely get the crowd sing ‘La La La La La La La’.

Just like ‘Berkikis bulu betis’, the ‘Rix Rax’ song is a must-played song in Sarawak, not to pump up the crowd but to close a party.

We know this from Harriette McDougall, the wife of Bishop Francis McDougall.

She wrote in her book, “It is an established rule now that we go to the Rajah’s on Tuesday evening, and he comes to us on Thursday, and we are to dine together once a month… You have no idea how merry we are, but there is no resisting the fun of this patchwork society. Last Tuesday, Mr. H, a tall and immensely stout man, would persist in dancing a Minuet de la Cour with a little midshipman.

“He mounted a Dayak cap and feathers and made us laugh till we cried. I danced a quadrille with the Rajah, who dances beautifully and is as merry as a child. A charade was acted, which, with the dancing, infinitely amused the natives of whom I should think 150 were present. The evening closed with singing ‘Rix Rax’, the national anthem of Sarawak, the Europeans clapping their hands and the natives yelling a war yell for the chorus.”

Who wrote the ‘Rix Rax’?

According to author Nigel Barley in his book White Rajah: A Biography of Sir James Brooke, Harriette and Brooke Brooke had written ‘Rix Rax’. They based it on an old German nonsense song ‘catch’.

However, Barley stated the lyrics that he came across actually went like this,

‘Rix Rax, filly bow bow bow bow, filly bow bow bow,
Rix Rax Sarawak, Sarawak, Sarawak shall win,
I see from far the Dayak fleet of war. How fast!
And meet Saribas pirate fleet! And Sarawak and Sarawak and Sarawak shall win.’

Barley was correct in one thing that the song was based on an old German tune.

However, it was reportedly the first Rajah himself, James Brooke, who wrote the song, not as an anthem but as a Sarawak National War Song in 1848.

Regardless of how the lyrics originally went, wouldn’t be interesting fun to be able to hear this war song again, especially during a party?

KajoReaders, let us know what you think in the comment box.