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How New Year’s Day was celebrated in 1875 Sarawak

In many countries, New Year’s Day celebrations usually start as early as the night before with food and drinks and, of course, a fireworks display.

Then the first day of the year proceeds with all kinds of activities.

From going to picnic with families and friends, to last minute shopping for school supplies, New Year’s Day is always a busy celebration.

Did you know that Sarawakians have been celebrating New Year’s Day since more than 145 years ago?

Let us look back at how 1875 Sarawak celebrated the brand new year.

The year 1875 was welcomed with the booming of a gun from the fort at the stroke of midnight.

Then the song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was sung to celebrate the brand new year.

While the band paraded into Kuching town, all the European officers came out of their respective houses to wish each other ‘Happy New Year’.

The celebration didn’t just circle around the expatriates only.

At the mosque, the Muslims welcomed the year 1875 according to their faith.

The minute the clock struck twelve, they started to ‘berzikir’ till nearly daylight.

On New Year’s morning, about 60 people sat down for breakfast at The Rajah’s Arm Hotel.

Owned by Low Kheng Whatt in partnership with a European named Montgomery, the hotel was first opened on Dec 1, 1872.

However, it went into liquidation in 1875. Then, the second White Rajah Charles Brooke took over and reopened it on Jan 1, 1876 as the Sarawak Club.

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The breakfast was attended mainly by Sarawak government officers as well as Borneo Company staff and Chinese businessmen. Out of these 60 plus people, only two were women.

A lot has changed on how we celebrate New Year’s Day.

New Year’s Day Boat Race

At noon, hundreds of people started to gather along the Sarawak riverbank to witness a boat race.

Overall, there were seven boats who entered the race on New Year’s Day and they had pretty interesting names.

They were Api Naraka (owned by Mr W.M. Crocker), Ayer Penawar (Mr E.J. Smith), Bujang Kilat (Mr J. Hardie), Bujang Pukat (Mr J.M Lewis), Bujang Tudong (Mr Kassim), Sakalip Mata (Confederates) and Ular Sawa (Mr Kongkong).

The New Year’s Day in 1875 Sarawak ended with a dinner at the hotel which was attended mostly by Sarawak government officers.

Clearly, there were many differences of celebrating the brand new year compared to now; we no longer have gunshots from the fort nor a band marching through Kuching town after midnight.

Nonetheless, it would be fun to revive the boat race at Sarawak river to celebrate the new year. It would be an activity that brings everyone together.

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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