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Looking back at Lubok Antu-Nanga Badau border during Brooke time

In March 1824, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands signed a treaty called the Anglo-Dutch treaty.

The treaty divided the strait of Melaka and assign each side of strait to the Dutch and British respectively.

While in the southern part of Borneo, the Dutch then slowly and surely insert their influence in Kalimantan. And when British adventurer James Brooke arrived in Sarawak in 1841, the Dutch realised that they needed to have a clear border of their territory ASAP.

The importance of a boundary

Reed L. Wadley wrote in Trouble on the Frontier: Dutch-Brooke Relations and Iban Rebellion in the West Borneo Borderlands (1841-1886) these boundaries came to impose different symbols of formal status on people from the same ethnic groups.

He stated, “From the colonial perspective, boundaries were designed to function negatively, to restrict what was deemed illegal such as smuggling and migration, and positively, to promote legitimate activities like taxation and road construction. The usual colonial attitude was that borders should be precisely defined, clearly demarcated, jealously guarded, and exclusive.”

However, the Ibans people living at this borderline particularly at Lubok Antu-Nanga Badau area were not affected by this artificial borderline.

They continued their socio-economic relations with their families and friends across the border.

As for the Dutch, according to Michael Eilenberg in At the Edges of States, salt and firearms were among the illegal trade items of their most concern.

Eilenberg wrote, “Trade in firearms was a military threat, while the salt trade was an economic threat as it reduced local Dutch tax revenue. These two trade items could be purchased considerably more cheaply in Sarawak than through Dutch trade channels.”

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The Dutch also claimed that the Brooke government has lax attitude its citizens. They were uneasy with the fact that Brooke officials often ignored that the Sarawak traders breaching the boundary line into what the Dutch claimed as part of the Netherlands East Indies territory.

Above all, they concerned over Brooke’s moral influence and authority over the border population living in Dutch territory.

The cross-border conflicts between Lubok Antu and Badau area

Along these borderline between the Dutch and Brooke territories, perhaps the most problematic area was at the upper Batang Ai, Batang Lupar and Kapuas Hulu regions.

Here, the two territories shared one common problem; Iban raiding parties. They attacked local communities in both side of Dutch and Brooke areas.

And these two administrations responded to these attacks the same way. They started to attack the rebellious Ibans.

They organised punitive expeditions against them by burning down longhouses and destroyed farms.

Meanwhile the Ibans took opportunity of the loose boundary. When the Brooke officials led a punitive expedition against them, they fled to the Dutch side. The same thing happened when the Dutch tried to pacify them and they retreated to Brooke’s territory.

In a monthly report by a Dutch resident on December 1872 stated that “Raiding (headhunting) was the order of the day. Although Iban on the Dutch side were active in raiding, the main Dutch frustration was a result of the more frequent raids conducted by the Sarawak Ibans.”

In addition to that, the Ibans on both side were also using the borderline to escape tax from both administrations.

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The official border post of Badau, Kalimantan Indonesia.
The cross-border raid at Badaua started from a half-blind boy

In Wild People: Travels with Borneo’s Head Hunters, Andro Linklater shared a story of some of these Iban feuds built up from small beginnings.

Linklater recorded a story of how a half-blind man started a tribal war between Ibans at Badau border of the Dutch Indies and Batang Ai of Sarawak.

A half-blind boy from Batang Ai was sent to collect a basket from Badau.

While he was there, some girls started to tease him for his lack of sight. One girl even went overboard pulling her skirt up in front of the boy.

Meanwhile, the boy did not see anything. He did not even know what happened until he asked around why everybody was laughing.

Then, a group of youths bullied the boy over the incident. In frustration and confusion, the boy admitted he did saw the girl’s underpart.

This angered the youths who thought it was a mockery to their longhouse. They beat him up and challenged him to bring his father to fight.

So the poor boy went back to Batang Ai to inform his father and the longhouse’s elders.

They had a meeting and immediately decided to launch a headhunting raid against the longhouse in Badau.

The result? The longhouse in Badau was left with slaughtered livestock and destroyed farms.

To stop the attack, the Ibans of Badau offered peace offerings of two Chinese jars and two gongs as well as $50 from every family.

The birth of Nanga Badau’s border post

This is just one of the many conflicts occurred at this border. Finally around 1880, the Dutch set up a military border post at Nanga Badau border.

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Eilenberg recorded that the post consisted of one first lieutenant as commander, one second lieutenant, one European Fourier, two European sergeants, two native sergeants, one European corporal, two native corporals, ten European fusiliers, 40 native fusiliers, and one European corpsman.

The main aims of this border patrol were to provide protection to the Dutch resident on his expeditions among the Batang Lupar, to force the submission of hostile Batang Lupars, and to retrieve severed heads.

At the other side of the border, the Brooke administration was not entirely pleased with the border post.

The second White Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Brooke wrote several letters to the Dutch. He complained about the ineffectiveness of such a military post.

Brooke stated that such a heavily armed border patrol might also be considered as somewhat a menace to Sarawak.

Pos Lintas Batas Negara (PLBN) Nanga Badau
The view of the border from Malaysia entry point.

Despite the complaints, the Nanga Badau military post continued to stay to guard the Dutch’s territory.

Even after, the Dutch East Indies was liberated from its colonial rule and became what we know now as Indonesia, the Nanga Badau border post is still exists (though the original building is no longer exists).

Now, it stands as Pos Lintas Batas Negara (PLBN) Nanga Badau of West Kalimantan regency.

Lubok Antu- Nanga Badau serves as one of the three official land border crossings between Sarawak and West Kalimantan. The other two cross border crossings are Tebedu (Malaysia)-Entikong (Indonesia) and Biawak (Malaysia)-Aruk (Indonesia).

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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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