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Reflecting on Anthony Abell’s 1959 Chinese New Year Message: A Historical Perspective

Sir Anthony Abell was a British colonial officer who served as the Governor of Sarawak. He joined the Colonial Administrative Service back in 1929 and was posted to Nigeria. Then in 1950, Abell was offered the governorship of Sarawak where he was concurrently High Commissioner to Brunei.

He was originally appointed for a three-year term only but his term was extended.

In the end, Abell worked in Sarawak from Apr 4, 1950 till Nov 15, 1959.

When the formation of the Malaysian federation was still in discussion, Abell returned to be a member of the Cobbold Commission.

Here is a little random, unknown fact about the former governor; he was not exactly a foodie.

Peter Mooney, the former Crown Counsel of Sarawak once wrote in his autobiography, “The Governor, Sir Anthony Abell, was a bachelor who had spent his previous service in Africa. He had no great interest in food and the lunches and dinners he gave were adequate but undistinguished. Simple Malay food, clearly chosen as well as prepared by the staff, was served at his private lunches and dinners.”

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In 1959, Abell delivered a Chinese New Year Message which was published in The Sarawak Gazette. Here are some key points of his message:

“May I start this New Year message by wishing all of you peace and prosperity and happiness in the year ahead. This year I am spending Chinese New Year in Sibu where I will be visiting many friends of long standing. I would however like to send a special message to all my kind friends in Kuching who in the normal course of events I would today visit in their homes to meet their families on this great Chinese family occasion.”

The tranquility of Sarawak

“This will be the last Chinese New Year I shall spend among you as Governor. The pleasure I always derive from your unvarying hospitality and kindness is therefore on the occasion touched with sadness. You and I have spent nine peaceful and very happy years together during which time Sarawak was made great material progress. These years have been unmarred by any form of strife and our ancient tradition of tranquility and concord have been maintained and I hope strengthened. I am very thankful for this and I know you and all the other people in Sarawak are proud of our record too.

“It is customary to count our blessing at a season of happiness and goodwill like this because they provide the basis of our confidence in the future but it is also wise at the New Year to do little stocktaking as well and see how we can face better the problems of the coming year.”

The Chinese Contribution

“It is true that 1958 was not a year of great commercial prosperity. By comparison with my early years in Sarawak it was rather lean. This is due to circumstances over which we have little control and we can but hope that the prices of our major exports will hereafter improve. You have in the past often experienced similar fluctuations in our fortunes. For you Chinese have been in Sarawak for many generations and have made a very notable contribution to the prosperity we at present enjoy. One of the most outstanding of your characteristics is your resilience and adaptability. You came here as strangers long ago to a land which was very different to your own. You had little more than the clothes you wore.

You could not speak the language of this country, you knew nothing of its customs but your vigour and adaptability quickly made an essential part of the community and showed how best you could contribute to Sarawak’s progress.

It is interesting to recall that as long ago as 1850 the first sago refinery was opened in Kuching by Chinese. In 1878 the Rajah allocated land to certain Chinese merchants so that they could experiment with the cultivation of pepper. You found gold and exploited it in Bau. You brought rubber from Malaya and in very many ways demonstrated the commercial promise of this country.”

Chinese Qualities

“Your genius for taking the long view in trade and politics is equally required today. We cannot rely for always on the old methods of earning our living. But by exercising those great virtues of industry, initiative and perseverance which everybody so particularly admires in the Chinese. I know Sarawak will develop its economy with that vigourous pioneering spirit which has served us all so well in the past. I imagine such ideas and plans are among your New Year’s resolutions and I am sure your initiative and enterprise will be increasingly followed by your countrymen of other races.”

The Present and the Future

“You know well that when you are on to a good thing, you should stick to it and back it for all you are worth. Sarawak offers you security in a peaceful environment. In this country enterprise and opportunity can flourish, assisted and protected by an honest and an efficient administration. aWe live by the rule of law. There is freedom and justice assured for all without regard to class or race or creed. There are some who lag behind others in education of health, in wisdom or in riches and it is in all our interests to give a helping hand to the weak and the backward until a common high standard of living and education has been achieved. In this the Chinese can make the greatest contribution of all and therefore perhaps the greatest sacrifices. There can be no real happiness or harmony in our Sarawak family if there is a wide disparity of wealth or learning. Ignorance and poverty breed dangerous frustrations which can explode in savage retaliation.”

It has been more than 60 years since Abell delivered this Chinese New Year Message. His message to help those who are weak and stay united still resonates with Sarawakians today, don’t you agree?

Discover Sarawak’s Must-See Animals: A Guide for Wildlife Enthusiasts

For first time visitors discovering Sarawak, we are sure you have planned alot of things to do in your itinerary.

If you are a nature lover, your visit to the Land of Hornbills would not be complete without getting close to some animals.

Here are five must-see animals in Sarawak when you are in town:

1.Bornean orangutan

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Did you know that orangutans share approximately 97 per cent of their DNA with humans? They are practically our cousins.

There are two species of orangutan. The Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan are two different species that diverged about 400,000 years ago.

The species that is endemic to the island of Borneo is Pongo pygmaeus or the Bornean orangutan.

One of the many differences between the Bornean orangutan and its Sumatran brother is that the former travels on the ground more than its Sumatran counterpart.

Many believe this is due to no large terrestrial predators that could attack an orangutan in Borneo.

However in Sumatra, this great ape sometimes come in contact with the Sumatran tiger.

Thanks to this trait, you can find these must see animals in Sarawak walking around the Semenggoh Nature Reserve if you are lucky.

Located 20km from Kuching city, Semenggoh Nature Reserve is home to semi-wild orangutans.

They spend most of their time in the forest (especially during the fruiting season) but some get back to the centre during feeding time.

So if you are making a visit, make sure you are there during their feeding times at 9am to 10am or 3pm to 4pm.

2.Proboscis monkey

Bako National Park 3

Another mammal that is endemic to Borneo is the proboscis monkey or long-nosed monkey (Nasalis larvatus).

It is known for its distinguished large nose. Proboscis monkeys live commonly in the mangrove forests and on the coastal areas.

Being accustomed to its natural habitats, these primates are known to swim across rivers and are even able to dive underwater.

While the largest remaining populations can be found in Kalimantan, there are a few found in Sarawak.

In Sarawak, one of the best places to see proboscis monkeys in the wild is Bako National Park.

There, you might catch these must -ee animals in Sarawak jumping from one tree to another or munching on fruits or leaves.

3.Saltwater crocodiles

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There are two species of crocodiles found in Sarawak: the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) and the Malayan gharial (Tomistoma shlegii).

However, the one you really catch a glimpse of while in Sarawak is none other than what the Australians call the ‘saltie’.

It is the largest living reptile in the world.

If you are in Kuching, make a trip to Jong’s Crocodile Farm and Zoo in Siburan. It is one of seven crocodile farms in Malaysia that is registered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Another place to see a saltwater crocodile is at Matang Wildlife Centre.

It is not a zoo but a centre dedicated to the rehabilitation of endangered animals before being released back into the wild.

The crocodiles sent to the centre are usually the ones caught intruding human settlements.


Julie Larsen Maher 1966 Wreathed Hornbill PPZ 02 02 17
Press Photos: (All Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS)

Unless you are an avid bird watcher, you are considered one of the lucky ones if you are able to see hornbills fly freely in the sky.

Despite the name ‘Land of the Hornbills’, don’t expect these birds to be easily spotted unless you head over the the Piasau Nature Reserve in Miri.

There are eight species of hornbill found in Sarawak including White Crested Hornbill, Wrinkled Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Black Hornbill, Bushy Crested Hornbill, Pied Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill and Rhinoceros Hornbill.

The Rhinoceros Hornbill is not only the state bird of Sarawak but Malaysia’s national bird.

To see this iconic bird, Santubong National Park reportedly is the closest site to Kuching which offers a chance to see the Rhinoceros Hornbill.

5.Bornean bearded pig

Bornean Bearded Pigs

You might think, “Why would I want to see a pig when I come to Sarawak?” This is not any pig, this is the Borneo bearded pig.

Putting aside its name, the Bornean bearded pig (Sus barbatus) can also be found in Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula as well as some small islands in Sulu archipelago.

This pig can be recognised by its prominent beard which is more pronounced in males.

Make a trip to Bako National Park and you can find them around the park HQ or along the beach.

If you are staying over at the park, don’t be surprised if you hear snorting sounds in the middle of the nights. Sometimes, these pigs would hover around the accommodation area scavenging for food.

NKF Malaysia launches VoKAL at the 16th Annual Patient Forum

VoKAL serves as an official platform to elevate voices and transform policies for better kidney care in Malaysia

Kuching Sarawak, 1 October 2023 –  The National Kidney Foundation (“NKF”) of Malaysia held its 16th Annual Patient Forum 2023 in Kuching on October 1. Since 2003, the forum has been dedicated to serving kidney patients, their caregivers, and personnel from government, private, and NGO dialysis centres.

“I would like to express my gratitude to the National Kidney Foundation of Malaysia for their efforts in choosing Kuching as the location for their 16th forum. Their decision to subsidise registration costs is commendable, as it paves the way for greater public participation, allowing a wider audience to partake in this valuable event,” said Dato’ Sri Professor Dr. Sim Kui Hian, Deputy Premier, of Sarawak and Minister For Public Health, Housing And Local Government.

“NKF has been championing the fight against kidney-associated diseases through improving kidney care and preventive education. Recognising the need for support among kidney patients, this forum provides a convenient platform for patients to access essential information and advice,” said Dato’ Dr Zaki Morad Mohd Zaher, Chairman of NKF Malaysia.

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In conjunction with Patient Forum 2023, NKF also launched VoKAL (Voice-out Kidney Alliance), a nationwide kidney support group. VoKAL serves as an official platform for patients, caregivers, donors, service providers, and healthcare professionals to express their thoughts and concerns regarding kidney-related matters.

The primary purpose of VoKAL is to operate as an advocacy and advisory body, amplifying voices through support, advocacy campaigns, and activities that result in substantial contributions to kidney care in Malaysia. Its goal is to serve the community by providing a venue for formal recommendations to government and policymakers. These proposals address critical issues such as improving affordability and expanding access to quality treatments for kidney disease; protecting living donor rights, and removing barriers to organ donation; championing patient’s rights and empowerment; as well as supporting policy changes that can reduce the risks of kidney diseases.

NKF Malaysia invites all patients and interested parties to join VoKAL today and be the change of our kidney community needs. Your voice matters in shaping policies for better kidney care in Malaysia. Raise your voice at

Discover Kuching’s Culinary Delights: A Comprehensive A-Z Guide!

If you web-searched ‘ Food to eat in Kuching’ or ‘Kuching Food Guide’ or ‘Food to Try in Kuching’ or ‘What food is famous in Kuching’, honestly the results are pretty much the same.

Here at KajoMag, we want you to take your gastronomic adventure in Kuching (Unesco Creative City of Gastronomy since 2021!) to another level and not just go through the food list halfheartedly.

So how about enjoying the best food that Kuching has to offer alphabetically?

This is our pick of what to eat in Kuching from A to Z (a non-halal version):

A is for ABC

ABC, also known as ais kacang, is one of the many ways Kuchingites use to escape from the tropical heat.

It traditionally consists of shaved ice, red beans, cendol, grass jelly with evaporated milk or coconut milk drizzled on top.

If you have no idea where to have one, here are some of KajoMag’s suggestions.

B is for Beef Noodle

Kuching is known for its own version of beef noodle or mee sapi.

This noodle dish is served with been sprouts and beef slices on top as well as a bowl of hearty beef-based soup.

Some of the best places to have that satisfying bowl of beef noodle are Ah Mui Beef Noodle and Green Hill Corner Hawker Centre.

C is for (Salad) Chicken Rice

Do not be fooled by the name of this dish and expect a bowl full of greens.

Sarawak’s version of salad chicken rice is rice served with fried chicken.

The ‘salad’ part is the pink-coloured dressing made from mayonnaise mixed with tomato sauce.

The original version of this dish also came with baked beans.

Nowadays, the common version of salad chicken rice is with mayonnaise drizzled on top of the fried chicken and tomato sauce on the side.

The most popular place to have a plate of this is none other than KEN Salad Chicken Rice on Jalan Pending.

D is for Dabai

Dabai (Canarium odontophyllum) is an indigenous seasonal fruit that can only be found in Sarawak.

Many call it the Sarawak olive because they look similar.

If you are not in town during dabai season, no worries. You can still enjoy this fruit but in another form.

Nasi goreng dabai or dabai fried rice is one of the ways to enjoy the fruit all year round since it is made from salted dabai.

E is for Ensabi

Ensabi is a local mustard green which is known for its distinct bitter taste.

It is commonly prepared by stir-frying it with garlic and anchovies with salt to taste.

Sarawakians love the preserved version of it called kasam ensabi.

From a simple dish that the folks at the longhouse enjoy, now it has found its way to Kuching hawker stalls selling indigenous food.

One of these stall is as at Langkau Arau Rumah Asap Dayak.

F is for Fried Midin


Another must-try vegetable is Sarawak is midin (Stenochlaena palustris).

It is a type of fern usually prepared by frying with garlic or shrimp paste (belacan).

Have it with rice and some protein such as chicken or pork, and voila! You will have the perfect plate for lunch.

G is for Gula Apong Ice-cream

Do not think about leaving Kuching without giving this a try.

Gula Apong Ice-cream is one of many must-try desserts when you are in town.

It is basically vanilla ice-cream topped with gula apong, a Sarawak palm sugar.

H is for Hot bowl of Terung Dayak Soup

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One of many ways to cook this local eggplant, Terong Dayak Asam Pedas

Terung Dayak or terung asam is a type of eggplant which is commonly found in Sarawakian cuisine.

They are usually cut into quarters and cooked with or without their seeds.

Most people do not remove the skin because it comes off easily when cooked.

One of the best ways to have it is to cook the eggplant in soup with pork or smoked fish.

I is for Ikan Terubuk Masin

Ikan terubuk masin is salted toli shad or Chinese herring.

It is one of highly prized fish among Sarawakians.

Nowadays it has become one of the must-buy food souvenirs among tourists who came to Sarawak.

Whether you have it here right on site in Sarawak or bring it back home to savour, this fish is one of many Sarawakian foods you must eat in Kuching.

J is for Jani

You cannot come to Sarawak and not pick some of the local languages. This largest state of Malaysia has more than 40 sub-ethnic group, each with its own distinct language.

Here at KajoMag, we want to teach you the Iban word ‘jani’ which means pig.

While the African Americans are known to have their cookouts featuring a menu of soul food, the Iban people have always love to gather among family and friends to barbeque and drinking some beers.

And a typical Iban or even Dayak barbecue is incomplete without jani or pork.

You can have the barbecued pork with rice or on its own, it doesn’t matter as long as you have a can of cold beer to wash it down.

No invites to a BBQ? No worries, you still can have it in Kuching.

The best places to have Dayak-style barbecued pork are at Rumah Asap Tabuan Dayak and Langkau Arau Rumah Asap Dayak.

While you are there, don’t forget to order some barbecued pork intestines.

K is for Kueh chap

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Kueh Chap

Speaking of pork intestines, here is a dish you must have in Kuching if you love having some pig’s innards.

Originating from Teochew cuisine, this dish consists of flat, broad rice sheets served in a soup made with dark soy sauce along with an assortment of pork cuts.

You can have early in the morning for breakfast or late at night for supper, it doesn’t matter.

Some of the places that served best kueh chap in town are Lao Ya Keng Food Court at Carpenter Street and 3rd Mile Wet Market Food Court.

L is for Laksa Sarawak

A Twitter user in 2012 once asked the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain to settle the score on who has the best laksa? Penang, Sarawak, Johore or Singapore?

Bourdain tweeted back only one word ‘Sarawak’ so sorry not sorry Penangites, Johoreans and Singaporeans.

A classic bowl of Laksa Sarawak is made of rice vermicelli served in spiced coconut broth with shredded chicken, shredded omelette, bean sprouts, prawns and coriander.

Some of the famous places in Kuching to have a taste of this dish are Choon Hui Cafe and Golden Arch Cafe.

M is for Mee Kolo

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Kolo mee at Woon Lam Cafe 1999.

Never ever ask a group of Kuchingites on where is the best Mee Kolo or Kolo Mee especially on social media platforms, you might accidentally trigger a debate as heated as the Taiwan parliament.

A kolo mee is springy egg noodles tossed in a sweet and savoury shallot, lard and vinegar dressing. Kuching’s most popular variant is the kolo mee merah (red). It uses oil from cooking char siu for that extra flavour as well as the red colouring.

Kuchingites are proud of their kolo mee and sometimes can be very defensive on which stall offers the best.

Most of the time, nostalgia is a powerful ingredient and Kuchingites tend to pick the best based on where they had it as a child.

For instance, someone who grew up in the 3rd Mile area would probably choose the stall on the first floor of 3rd Mile Wet Market to have the best kolo mee.

Regardless, there is one thing for sure. A first-time visitor to Kuching cannot leave the city without having this bowl of springy noodles.

N is for Nasi Aruk

For a dose of traditional Sarawakian Malay food in your gastronomic adventure in Kuching, do give nasi aruk a try.

Basic nasi aruk is made from rice, garlic, onion and anchovies.

What makes it different from the typical fried rice, nasi aruk does not use any oil to fry the rice and it requires a longer frying time resulting in a more smoky flavour in the rice.

O is for Oyster Pancake

Sometimes also known as oyster omellete, this dish is best to have while it is still hot and crispy.

It is one of the must-ordered dishes at any seafood or Chinese restaurants in Kuching.

But you can still have it as a snack on a late night out with friends.

The dish is round and crispy pancake with oysters cooked with it.

P is for Pansuh

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Manok pansuh (chicken cooked in bamboo)

Originally an Iban dish, pansuh is food that is cooked in bamboo.

Manok pansuh is chicken cooked in bamboo with ginger, lemongrass and tapioca leaves. The bamboo is then roasted over a fire.

A dish that was common in the longhouses where bamboo is easily found, has now made its way to food courts and restaurants.

Q is for Qing Mian or Green Noodle

Qing Mian is green noodle in Mandarin. This noodle dish is more widely known as spinach noodle in which the noodle gained its colour from.

The unique thing about this noodle dish is that every stall that sells it has its own recipe.

Some serve the noodle with pork and others with beef.

Chong Chon Green Noodle for instance is served with beef while the one at ABC Food Centre comes with minced pork.

R is for Roti Kompia

Roti means bread in Malay and this is the only bread on the list.

It is made with lard, salt and flour.

One can enjoy it just like that or with savoury minced pork as its filling; either way is equally delicious.

S is for Sarawak Three Layer Tea

Teh C Peng Special

Widely known as Teh C Peng Special, this is perhaps the most popular tea beverage in Sarawak.

The three layers part of the drink come from tea, evaporated milk and gula apong (palm sugar).

This is one of many prides of Kuching since it is originally invented right here in this city.

T is for Tomato Crispy Mee

Here is another unique Sarawak dish for you to try in Kuching.

It is deep-fried noodle served with sweet and sour tomato gravy with vegetables and sliced chicken or pork on top.

U is for Umai

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Umai made from raw fish, citrus fruit and bunga kecala

This popular traditional dish is a traditional food of the Melanau people.

It is consists of sliced raw fish mixed with onions, chillies, vinegar, salt and lime juice.

The dish is similar to Latin American ceviche and the Filipino kinilaw.

V is for Vermicelli Noodle With Shrimp Paste aka Belacan Beehoon

The list of ingredients that make up of this dish doesn’t make sense if you just go through it one by one.

But if you actually sit down and enjoy it, this dish does make sense.

Imagine rice vermicelli served in a dressing made from belacan (shrimp paste), chilli, tamarind and dried shrimp.

On top of it, there are cuttlefish, cucumber, bean sprouts and century egg.

W is for White Lady

Here is another source of pride of Kuchingites, the White Lady.

It is a dessert-like beverage made from evaporated milk, mango juice, longan and pineapple.

Some of the places where you can have a glass of the White Lady are Old Rex Cucur Udang Cafe and Swee Kang Ais Kacang.

X is for Xiu Mai Kuching style, Sio bee

Sio bee is Kuching’s interpretation of xiu mai or siu mai.

Unlike siu mai that contains both pork and shrimp, sio bee contains only pork inside.

Y is for Yong Tao Foo

Yong tao foo is a Hakka dish consisting of tofu filled with ground meat mixture.

The term ‘yong tao foo’ is also used to describe a clear soup dish with various forms of tofu stuffed ingredients such as bittergourd and ladies fingers.

The soup can include other ingredients such as fish balls, crab sticks and vegetables like bak choy and white Chinese cabbage.

Here in Kuching, a yong tao foo stall sometimes comes in a buffet-style where you can pick your ingredients to make up your soup.

Z is for Zao Cai Fen Gan and other Foochow foods

While Foochow food is more associated with Sibu town, you can find them here in Kuching city.

One of them is definitely Zao Cai Fen Gan or Zao Cai Hong Ngan. It is rice noodle cooked with preserved mustard greens.

The best part is you can have either dry or soup version of this dish. Both versions are equally delicious.

KajoMag’s recommended place to have this is at Mee Kwong Cafe.

Other Foochow dishes that can be found in Kuching are kampua, ding bian hu and mee sua.

KajoReviews: Rajah’s Servant by A.B. Ward, an account of a Brooke officer in Sarawak

It is always fascinating to read books written by Europeans who came to Sarawak before there were even proper records by locals of our own state.

Stories about our ancestors’ lifestyles and customs were sometimes seen narrowly through their European point of views.

Hence, the words such as ‘savages’ and ‘primitive’ were often found in their writings.

However if the books were written by Europeans who worked here during Brooke dynasty and during the time Sarawak was under British colony, the tone of writing can be completely different.

Perhaps due to the years they called Sarawak home and getting to know the local peoples, these writers tended to write with not only less judgmental mind but with more understanding and sometimes, fondness.

Brooke officer Ward
Resident Arthur Bartlett Ward at Simanggang circa 1913 (back row, left). Vyner Brooke (seated, second left)

Looking at a Sarawak forgotten historical figure through the eyes of a Brooke officer

One of the things we can learn from reading the memoirs of Brooke’s former civil servants or British colonial officers is to know about the locals.

Some of these locals had contributed to Sarawak but became pretty much forgotten in history.

Thankfully, they left a lot of impact to these former Sarawak officers that their stories were recorded in their books, including Arthur Bartlett Ward.

Ward was born on May 14, 1879. He served for 24 years in the Sarawak Civil Service from 1899 until 1923, 17 of which were spent under the second White Rajah, Charles Brooke.

Throughout his service, he had worked in Sri Aman, Bintulu, Limbang, Brooketon and Kuching.

In his memoir written in 1934, Ward had described many of his experiences visiting outstation posts throughout Sarawak.

While in Lubok Antu, he had the pleasure to meet with a police officer named Dagang.

“The fort was garrisoned by a guard of fortmen under the charge of old Police Sergeant Dagang. He was known to us as ‘Sniff and Jingle’ from his habit of sniffing and jingling his official keys to announce a visit to the officers’ quarters. After making a report Dagang always expected a drink of gin. His face was reminiscent of a hideous gargoyle covered with green mildew after gin it almost seemed to assume phosphorescent light.

All the same Dagang was a man in ten thousand. A Banting Dyak who had embraced Mohammedanism, he enlisted as a fortman at Simanggang at 17 years of age. He accompanied the Rajah (then Tuan Muda) on board the sailing gunboat Venus at the attack on Mukah in 1860. The advance up the Mukah river was made at night and the ‘Venus’ ran foul of thick rattan hawser stretched from bank to bank. Heavy fire was opened on the helpless vessel and things are looking bad when Dagang leaped overboard, a ‘parang’ between his teeth, and severed the rope.

Dagang showed his pluck in numerous expeditions, always proving himself a steady soldier and a gallant leader. The old man died in 1915. He was the type of the old class of government servant one was proud to know and treat as a trusted friend.”

If Dagang hadn’t appeared in Ward’s memoir, we would never heard of about the gallant story of ‘Sniff and Jingle’.

Brooke’s policy: Turning enemies into alliances?

Often through these memoirs, we caught a glimpse what was it like to be working under the Brooke’s administrations.

On that note, we can’t help but notice one specific way the former White Rajah ‘managed the locals’ in those days.

During his posting at Simanggang, Ward worked closely with senior native officer Tuanku Putra.

This local Brooke officer had interesting background.

Ward wrote, “The Tuanku was the son of Sharif Sahap, the prime pirate who had been defeated by Sir James at Pemutus in 1844. He was distinctly of the Arab type, and being a Sharif, claimed lineal descent from the Prophet Mohammed. Tall with spindle legs and a Jewish nose, his nickname with us was ‘The Camel, though his fine character had nothing in common with the animal.

“His responsible position was an example of the Rajah’s policy towards those who had once defied him. Having shown his power and reduced his opponents to impotence, they were gradually given important positions in the Government and in practically every case, these ex-rebels proved their worth, and became the most reliable and loyal supporters of the Rajah’s ruler. ‘En passant’ it is rather curious to reflect that, with natives especially, the greatest rascals always make the most faithful servants.”

More than 100 years ago, there were Ibans who made it to New York?

Having spent so much time among the Ibans in Simanggang, there is no surprise Ward spoke highly of them.

He wrote,

“The Dyak in his jungle retreat is a charming person, both men and women of pleasing appearance, short in stature but well made, full of life, hardworking and independent. Hospitality with them is not so much as a custom as a law. The Malay, owing to his contact with Islamic traditions, is reserved and indolent, his womenfold lurk in the background. Not so the Dyak, he is open in his nature, and the women are very much in the fore. My experience of the so-called ‘savage’ of the jungle is that he is definitely more moral, honest and sober than his fellow who has learned Western ideas.

“There is not so much that our wonderful civilization can teach them. The Dyak has an adventurous, roving disposition, so that parties of the young men constantly break away seeking what fortune may bring them in other lands. They go the Malay Peninsula, to Java, to the Celebes Sea, and once in a Dyak house far in the interior I was proudly shown a picture postcard of Brooklyn City Hall sent home by the chieftain’s son, who had reached New York as a ship’s hands.”

We would have never known these little yet still important facts like this about our own people if it were never been mentioned in Wards’ autobiography.

Some facts are still debatable

Still, there are many things told through Wards’ words are debatable to this day.

It is understood that Ward jotted them down based on what the locals told him back in those days. Yet, some of these facts are never or rarely heard of during present times.

This include about the origin of the Kedayan people.

Ward called them ‘one of the riddles of Borneo’ perhaps due to of their unclear origin.

As for they came from, Ward wrote, “Bulkiah, Sultan of Brunei about 1500, a sea-rover and conqueror better known throughout the East in verse and prose as Nakoda Ragam, married a Javanese princess who brought with her many followers to Brunei. These intermarried with the Bisayas, and it is conjectured that the Kedayans spring from this union.”

As we compare this to the common legend about the Kedayans, it is widely believed that a group of Javanese came to Borneo during the rule of Sultan of Bolkiah in Brunei.

However, the common known reason is that the Sultan was interested in Java’s local agricultural techniques.

Hence he brought some of the Javanese farmers back to Brunei to spread their knowledge.

These Javanese farmers subsequently intermarried with local Bruneian Malay people (not Bisaya as per stated by Ward) giving birth to the Kedayan people.

Rajah’s Servant, a book that is definitely worth reading

There are plenty of other Brooke officers as well British colonial officers who came and left with written memoirs of their experiences in Sarawak.

One of many reasons why Rajah’s servant is different from the rest is easily you can tell by the title ‘Rajah’s Servant’.

Ward obviously loved his job in Sarawak and even more so enjoyed working under Charles Brooke. He had mad respect for the former rajah.

When writing about Charles’ death, Ward wrote, “Sarawak had lost a loving ruler. I had lost my hero and a benefactor.”

As for his last days as a Sarawak officer, Ward described them as ‘painful’.

“I sent in my request to be allowed to retire. It was a wrench to so after twenty-four years in a country I was devoted to. All the same I think I was right. I had held the chief executive post for nearly eight years and in that period ideas become set. In every undertaking fresh blood infuses a new spirit, so necessary when old methods move slow to modern thought,” Ward wrote.

Perhaps that is the number one quality from Ward we need from leaders these days; the self-awareness to know when to stop and retire, the consciousness to know that their ideas are slowly going irrelevant against time, and above all having the grasp of reality of when to let go their powers.

Ward might not share the same nationality with Sarawakians but we can never doubt his love and passion for Sarawak.

However, if you also share the same passion for the state like he did, this is one of the books you must read.

The first submarines that entered Sarawak waters

Do you know that about a century ago three submarines actually made their ways into Sarawak waters?

On Mar 1, 1922, The Sarawak Gazette reported that HM Submarines L1, L2 and L3 arrived in Kuching on Feb 24 under the command of Lieutenant-Commander A.B Greig of L3.

Hms l1 submarine

“They berthed alongside the Ban Hok Wharf and through the courtesy of the officers, a number of people including the Datus and other natives, were enabled to go over the ships during their stay,” the report stated.

Rajah Vyner Brooke even organised a ‘most enjoyable dance’ at the Astana in honour of their visit on Feb 25.

The locals also managed to get in few rounds of football matches with the visiting submarine crew.

During their stay in Kuching, the Hockien School at the head of Jalan Tabuan was converted into shore quarters for them.

These submarines were bound for Jesselton (present-day Kota Kinabalu) before making their ways to Manila.

The submarine L2 left Sarawak on Feb 28 while the other two submarines on Mar 1, 1922.

If camera phones were exist back then, we bet there would be tonnes of photos coming out from this historical visit.

So what happened to these submarines in the end?

943px Firing at Aircraft. Hm Submarine L2 Art.IWMART1108
Hm Submarine L2 image: a seascape with a submarine on the surface, firing its deck gun. In a large skyscape, two aircraft are seen in the distance. This is photograph Art.IWM ART 1108 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

HMS L1, L2 and L3 were L-class submarines built for the Royal Navy during World War I. All three survived the war.

By 1923, all of the three submarines placed in the reserve flotilla in Hong Kong.

In March 1930, HMS L1 was stranded at Penanwell Cove in Cornwell England while being towed to Newport.

She was scrapped where she lay and some of her metal remains can still be seen there today on low spring tides.

Meanwhile, HMS L2 was also sold for scrapping in March 1930. About a year later, HMS L3 found herself in similar fate being sold for scrapping in February 1931.

British submarine L3 1918
Photograph of British submarine L3 and some crewmembers, at Plymouth

All images are under public domain.

The sad life of Dr Zo, the Jewish government dentist during Brooke’s time

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As we go through old memoirs written by those who had served in Sarawak, be it during the Brooke administration or the British colony, there are indeed countless fascinating stories.

And what makes these old stories more fascinating are the people behind them.

Naturally, these people don’t feature in our textbooks because of the minor roles they played in our history, but that doesn’t make their life stories less interesting to learn or read about.

Kenelm Hubert Digby published his memoir Lawyer in the Wilderness about his life in Sarawak in 1980.

In his book, he told us plenty of stories that took place from the middle of 1934 to the end of 1951.

One of those stories was about the first medical officer appointed at Batu Lintang Camp during the Japanese occupation of Sarawak.

According to Digby, the doctor was a Jewish refugee from Germany who had served in the Prussian cavalry in the First World War.

“He was primarily a dentist by profession, but he was also qualified to practice as a doctor in Germany. This qualification was not recognized in Sarawak, but in 1939 he had obtained a contract as Government Dentist,” Digby wrote.

On how he ended up in Sarawak and became a dentist here, Digby did not explain.

Digby didn’t even share the dentist’s real name other than stating that he was generally known as ‘Zo’ due to his frequent use of that German exclamation.

Apart from that, Digby shared that Dr Zo was a very amiable man whose principal interest was music.

Dr Zo, the Jewish doctor in a Japanese POW camp

Batu Lintang Camp FOSM
Flying over the prisoner of war camp (POW) in Batu Lintang at a low height, RAAF Beaufighter pilots reported sighting white POWs, clad in khaki shorts, who excitedly waved as the RAAF aircraft flew over to drop leaflets announcing Japan’s surrender. Credits: Public Domain (Copyright expired).

When the Japanese landed in Kuching on Christmas Eve in 1941. Dr Zo was quickly interned at Batu Lintang Camp along with the rest of the Europeans.

Digby narrated, “In the early days of the occupation was detained with the other European members of the Medical Department in the General Hospital. He was sent to the police station to tend the wounds of the “Astana Party,” and thereafter he stayed with us and acted as our medical officer, until the other doctors were brought to Lintang in or about August 1943. Zo did great and good work amongst us, with the very minimum of medicines and equipment and in the face of a barrage of unreasoning hostility.”

Since Dr Zo had served in the German Army before, Digby claimed his military training was ‘always coming to the fore’.

He wrote, “Most of us were satisfied with our status as civilians and did our best to offer moderate passive resistance to the military discipline which was imposed upon use. Many of us had never been soldiers and with the best will in the world, which we by no means possessed, we would have had great difficulty in comprehending the working of the military mind. When it was a Japanese mind as well our difficulty was greater still, Zo ,however, had no such worries. His background and upbringing had made him extremely receptive to military command, and it was in his nature to obey without question any instruction emanating from a gentleman of sufficiently martial appearance. He seemed to realise what our masters were doing and why they did it. One obtained the impression that, their cruelty apart, he would have given the same sort of orders if he had been in their place.”

During his interment at Batu Lintang Camp, Dr Zo volunteered his service at the camp ‘hospital’.

Digby pointed out that Dr Zo did excellent work there in spite the filthy conditions in which the patients were housed and the almost total absence of medicine.

“He pulled several teeth out without any sort of anesthetic,” he stated.

Dr Zo and his life after the war

According to Digby, Dr Zo’s services to His Majesty’s subjects received poor recognition.

After the war, he returned to England on the same boat with most of the Europeans from Sarawak.

Unfortunately for Dr Zo, he was arrested at London and once again repeated his WWII nightmare of being placed behind barbed wire.

Digby wrote, “Only the valiant efforts of the Sarawak Government Agent secured his release after three weeks. Even then he was not given his full ration of clothing coupons and turned up to dine with me at a Piccadilly restaurant in curious and borrowed apparel. He was not permitted to travel more than five miles from his residence without police permission, and so, since he was far too proud to seek such permission, he was debarred from visiting his friends who lived outside London.”

Dr Zo and his sad life ending

The depressing part of Dr Zo’s story is where he ended up after the war.

When he was living in Kuching, Zo had a wife and a seven-year-old son.

Shortly before the Japanese landed, he managed to evacuate his family through Kalimantan.

The mother and son somehow managed to reach Java.

Sadly, Zo’s wife committed suicide in Java and later his son was adopted by a Dutch couple.

Zo’s unfortunate fate did not stop there as his son was killed by Indonesian insurgents soon after that.

At the last part about Zo in his book, Digby wrote, “Like the rest of us, Zo had come home immensely looking forward to reunion with his family, and, when the sad story was told to him after his release from the British internment camp, he was a broken man. He resented bitterly the treatment which England was according to him and went to Sweden, where he died at the end of 1949. I was invited to write an obituary for the Sarawak Gazette, but my account of his persecution was deemed to be unprintable, and so my contribution was rejected.”

Since what Digby wrote for his obituary never saw light of day, we can only imagine what the content was.

A quirky story of Bishop Francis Hollis being interrogated during WWII

Bishop Francis Hollis (1884-1955) was a British clergyman in the Anglican church.

He first came to Sarawak in 1916 to serve as assistant priest at the St. Thomas Cathedral at Kuching until 1923.

Hollis then served among the Bidayuh at St James Church Quop for five years. In 1928, Hollis was appointed as the Principal of St Thomas’ School where he held the position for the next five years.

Then in 1934, he was made Archdeacon of Sarawak before his consecration as Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak in 1938.

During World War II (WWII), he was interned at Batu Lintang Camp by the Japanese. After the war ended, a series of internment stories were published at The Sarawak Gazette monthly. One of the stories was of Hollis’ experience being interrogated by the Japanese.

Francis Hollis

Bishop Francis Hollis of Sarawak addressing the congregation at a thanksgiving day service held in Batu Lintang Camp. Civilians are seated in the foreground most of whom had been internees under the Japanese (Taken by Photographer Lieutenant A. W. Horner on Sept 12, 1945). Copyright -Public Domain.

Bishop Francis Hollis being called out for questioning during his internment at Batu Lintang Camp published in The Sarawak Gazette:

His Lordship the Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak is called out for questioning.

“You, you’re a priest?” says the Japanese officer by way of beginning the interview.

“Well, no, no, not exactly,” replies His Lordship with his customary diffidence, “you see I’m the bishop,”

“Oh! (pause) Roman Catholic bishop?”

“No, I’m not a Roman Catholic bishop?”

“Roman Catholic priest, then?”

“No, you see I am not a Roman Catholic.”

This is a little too much for the military mind.

“You are bishop, but you are not priest and not Roman Catholic. Then what are you?”

“Well, you see, the fact is, that is to say that the fact is, that I am a bishop of the Church of England.”

“Church of England? Church of England? Roman Catholic Church of England.”

“No, no, just Church of England. The Church of England is not Roman Catholic.”

Light dawns. With a smile of relief at his success in at last unraveling so untangled a mystery the officer heaves in his breath and blows it out again.

“Ah-ah-ah! Now I understood. Henry Eight!”

#KajoReviews: Sarawak by Hedda Morrison, a coffee table book must-have

Sarawak by Hedda Morrison is a photography book published in 1957.

The book features photographs taken by the author during the 8 years she spent in Sarawak.

Morrison was married to Alastair Morrison, a district officer when Sarawak was under the British Crown Colony.

Overall, the Morrisons stayed for over 20 years in Sarawak. During this time, she produced two books: Sarawak (1957) and Life in a Longhouse (1962).

She accompanied her husband for his work allowing her to photograph the people she met and the places she visited.

Morrison reportedly used two car batteries to power her portable darkroom enlarger while without power for six years in Sarawak.

On top of that, she stored her negatives in an airtight chest using silica gel as a drying agent to overcome the perils of a tropical climate.

The outcome; her photographs of Sarawak are undoubtedly magnificent and the descriptions that came with them are insightful.

Her texts are mostly based on her personal experiences and opinions.

Sarawak by Hedda Morrison

Sarawak by Hedda Morrison

When Westerners publish something about Sarawak, they usually go into two different directions; romanticizing or condescending.

Morrison definitely belongs to the first category.

Commenting on the Iban people, Morrison stated, “The Ibans are an independent, brace, good-humoured, generous, open-handed people. They are also excitable and emotional. Their personal honesty and innate sense of hospitality are outstanding. There are no locked doors in longhouses. Theft is very rare and intensely despised.”

As for the Kayans and Kenyahs, she opined “In general Kayans and Kenyahs are progressive and exceptionally school conscious. They are quiet and reserved; slow and rather phlegmatic.”

While observing the Bidayuh, Morrison concluded, “The Land Dayaks are very conservative and singularly lacking in the way of wander-lust. There is a good deal of land hunger in the hill areas where they reside and where they cultivate paddy by the usual wasteful system of shifting cultivation. The land has been overworked and much of its fertility has been lost but despite this they are, as a people, very reluctant to migrate to other areas of Sarawak. A curious feature of their paddy cultivation is that they do not head of paddy with a small knife like the other peoples of Sarawak but pluck it off between their fingers.”

The rare photos of Sarawak by Hedda Morrison

Going through Hedda Morrison’s Sarawak is like going through a time portal back to Crown Colony of Sarawak.

She documented some of rare sights of Sarawak that we no longer could see today.

One example is how the Malays in Lundu prepared traditional medicine for pregnant women.

This particular medicine is made from bud of Rafflesia which was sliced up finely and mixed with various spice.

We will never see this sight again because the Rafflesia is now a totally protected plant.

Another sight that we no longer see but can be found in the book is the photo of boat-hawkers.

These were floating shops which travel from one village to another.

Moreover, there are photos of no-longer existing buildings.

For instance, there is a photo of Kampung Pichin’s longhouse in Serian. Today, the villagers no longer live in longhouses but in individuals houses instead.

There is also a photo of a Kenyah longhouse Long Selaan in the upper Baram. However, this particular building no longer exists.

We need a new version of Sarawak by Hedda Morrisson

Her photographs are all undoubtedly magnificent. However, it is possible that they were also not captured in the moment but staged for the photographer.

In a photo taken at Long Buroi in the upper Tinjar, Morrison took photo of a former spirit medium conducting a healing session through spirit invocation.

She honestly shared that despite the subjects being Christians, they all agreed to reenact the session for the photographer.

Another unfortunate fact about the book is the lack of names of the subjects.

Morrison offered a great deal of portraits but their names were not included.

Regardless, we wish that there would be a new generation of local photographers who will document Sarawak like Morrison did, because Sarawak definitely needs an upgraded version of this book.

Stories from the past about crocodiles in Sarawak

If Sarawak were not already nicknamed the Land of Hornbills, the next best nickname for our state should definitely be Land of the Crocodiles.

One of the two crocodile species that can be found here is Crocodylus porosus or the saltwater crocodile.

It is the largest living reptile and crocodilian known. The locals call it ‘buaya katak’, which literally translates to ‘crocodile frog’ due to its ability to jump out of the water and attack its prey by the shore and even up a tree.

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Saltwater crocodile is called buaya katak in Malay due to its ability to jump out of water like this. Credit: Pixabay.

The second crocodile species is the false gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii) or Malayan gharial.

Sarawakians might know it as buaya jujulong or baya kenyulong.

Crocodiles in Sarawak have a centuries-long reputation for their ferocity and attacks against humans.

They also became a source of legend among the natives.

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Do you have any personal experiences with crocodiles in Sarawak? Let us know in the comment box. Credit: Pixabay.

Here are some stories about crocodiles in Sarawak from the past that you might never heard of:

1.James Brooke narrated about the capture of a crocodile with remains found in its stomach in his journal.

This was what the first White Rajah wrote in his journal on Nov 25, 1845.

“A male crocodile was caught this morning, measuring fifteen feet four inches in length; and it is astonishing how quiescent these animals are when taken, allowing their feet to be fastened over their back, and a strong lashing put round the mouth without any resistance, and then brought down, floated between two small canoes. When dragged out of the water to be killed, the monster only moved his tail gently backwards and forwards.

Yet when hungry, it is evident that he would attack both men and boats, for the bones of a poor fellow found in his stomach. It is probable that these cold-blooded reptiles digest their food very slowly and that one meal, which is a gorge, lasts them for some time, as is the case with the larger serpents; otherwise, if, like the dragon of all, he required a man or maid for breakfast, the demand would be a heavy drain on a small population.

The thigh and leg bones of the Malay were perfect, and the feet had some portion of the flesh adhering to them, and were crushed into a roundish form, whilst the head was found separated at the joinings or process. The poor man’s jacket and trousers were also found which enabled the relatives to recognise his remains, and, from his having been a fisherman, it was probable that he was attacked whilst occupied with his lines.”

2.The Brooke government once paid Sarawakians for every crocodile brought in dead.

Robert Taylor Pritchett (1828-1907) was a well-known artist and illustrator.

He visited both North Borneo (present-day Sabah) and Sarawak. Pritchett then wrote a paper about his journey.

The paper was published in Journal of the Society of Arts on Mar 29, 1889.

About the crocodiles in Sarawak, Pritchett stated, “The river leading up to the capital, Kuchin (Kuching), was some years ago, rather a good place for crocodiles, and you will agree with me, I think, when I tell you that Rajah Brooke decided to give one rupee per foot for every crocodile brought in dead, and Mr. Crocker told me that during the year 1881 he paid 2000 rupees, which showed 2,000 feet of crocodiles varying from 4 to 18 feet.”

Mr. Crocker here is most probably William Maunder Crocker. He joined the Sarawak civil service from 1864 until 1886.

Unfortunately, there is no official record found on the number of dead crocodiles that the Brooke government had paid for.

3.How a 12-year-old girl rescued her brother from a crocodile attack

It is possible to survive from a crocodile attack as well as to rescue someone who is being attacked by a crocodile.

These testimonies which were recorded in A History of Sarawak under its Two White Rajahs 1839-1908 (1909) by Sabine Baring-Gould and Charles Agar Bampfylde have proven so.

“A little Malay boy, just able to toddle, was larking in the mud at low water when he was seized by a crocodile, which was making for the water with its screaming little victim in its jaws, when the child’s sister, a girl of twelve, and his brother of eight, rushed to his assistance. The boy hopelessly tried to stop the crocodile by clinging to one of its fore-paws but the girl jumped upon the brute’s back, and gradually working her way to its eyes which were then just above water, succeeded in gouging out one with her fingers. This caused the crocodile promptly to drop its prey, but only just in time, as it was on the point of gliding into deep water. By the girl’s vigorous intervention it not only lost its prey but also its life, for two men coming up hacked the brute to pieces. The little heroine had remembered the story of how her grandfather saved his life in the same way. To scoop out the eyes is the only chance of escape for one taken, and it must be done promptly. The little boy was scarcely hurt. The girl’s courageous deed duly received a graceful recognition from the Ranee.

“Another girl, a Dayak girl this time, rescued her mother, who was dragged out of a boat, in which they were together, by a large crocodile. She threw herself upon the monster, and by thrusting her fingers into its eyes compelled the brute, after a short but sharp struggle, to release its prey.”

4.“May I be killed by a crocodile if I am guilty”

In the same book, Baring-Gould and Bampfylde explained a common phrase among Sarawakians in those days.

“Death caused by a crocodile is one of the most horrible of deaths, and it is often a protracted one, as the victim is borne along above water for some distance, then taken down, based against some sunken log, and brought up again. “May I be killed by a crocodile if I am guilty” is a common invocation made by Malays in protestation of their innocence; in other words, they invoke the most deadful death that comes within their ken. So did once a young Malay woman in the Simanggang Court on being convicted of a serious crime. That evening, whist she was bathing, a smothered cry, that she had barely time to utter, announced that her prayer had been heard.”

5.The duality when speaking to a crocodile

Edwin H. Gomes was an Anglican missionary who spent 17 years in Sarawak.

One of the books he wrote about his life here is Seventeen Years Among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo (1911).

In one part of the book, Gomes narrated on how a crocodile was caught by professional hunters.

According to him, professional crocodile catchers are supposed to possess some wonderful power over the animals which enables them to land them and handle them without trouble.

Once the crocodile was caught using a bait tied on a rattan line, the next step was to tie the reptile up.

In order to do this, the hunters started to talk to the creature.

Gomes observed,

“The animal is addressed in eulogistic language and beguiled, so the natives say, into offering no resistance. He is called a ‘rajah amongst animals’, and he is told that he has come on a friendly visit and must behave accordingly. First the trapper ties up its jaws – not a very difficult thing to do.

“The next thing he does appears to me not very safe. Still speaking as before in high-flown languagae, he tells the crocodile that he has brought rings for his fingers, and he binds the hind-legs fast behind the beast’s back, so taking away from him his grip on the ground, and consequently his ability to use his tail.

“Though the animal is spoken to in such flattering terms before he is secured, the moment his arms and legs are bound across his back and his powerless for evil, they howl at him and deride him for his stupidity.”

After the poor animal was derogated, according to Gomes, ‘he is taken to the nearest government station, the reward is claimed, and he is afterward cut open, and the contents of his stomach examined.’

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