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Pigs reared in Batu Lintang Camp had better food than the POWs

When Batu Lintang camp was liberated on Sept 11, 1945 by the Australian 9th Division, the camp population was 2,024.

Overall, there were 1,392 prisoners of wars (POWs), 395 were male civilian internees and 237 were civilian women and children.

There were two death orders found among the official Japanese papers at the Japanese-run internment camp. Both papers described how to execute every POW and internee in the camp.

For unknown reasons, the first death order which was scheduled on Aug 17 or 18 was not carried out.

Meanwhile, the second order was scheduled on Sept 15, four days after the camp was liberated.

While Batu Lintang POW Camp was able to escape mass executions, it does not change the fact that hundreds of POWs died there during World War II (WWII).

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).

The war crime trials against the Japanese officers of Batu Lintang Camp

Batu Lintang Camp
Th Sydney Morning Report’s headline on Batu Lintang POW Camp trial news.

On Dec 18, 1945, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the war crime trial held against the Japanese soldiers in-charge of Batu Lintang Camp.

Lieutenant R. Balzer, the prosecuting officer, told the court that between 600 and 700 POWs including Australian officers of the Eight Division, died in Batu Lintang Camp.

The prisoners died due to starvation, brutal assaults, and denial of available medical supplies.

They were suffering from all kinds of diseases such as malaria, beriberi, dysentery, dengue fever, diphtheria, scabies and skin infections.

The four accused were Captain Takeo Nakato and Motoi Tokino and Lieutenants Ojima and Yamamoto.

The news report stated, “Lieutenant Isaki, giving evidence against his own countrymen, said the only meat the prisoners received was pig’s heads. All the prisoners were in bad condition, while the Japanese were in excellent condition. He admitted that 400 Allied prisoners had died of malnutrition in the last 12 months of the war.”

Meanwhile, Colonel W. Lempriere showed the court medical evidence stating that if 2,000 survivors, including 170 Australian officers, had not received medical attention and proper diet, the majority would have died within three months.

One victim had the incredible weight of 3st 4lb (about 20kg) when rescued, and was still in a dreadful condition.

Balzer accused the defendants of ‘unmitigated sadism’ and of making a carefully calculated plot slowly to kill off the prisoners.

Moreover, Balzer claimed that the diet fed to the camp’s pigs was more nutritious than the food given to the prisoners.

In the end, the four officers were found guilty on all charges and sentenced to deaths.

So how bad the was the condition on Batu Lintang Camp?

Fred Bindon was a private in the Australian Army when he was captured in Singapore. He was then sent to Batu Lintang camp.

There, he convinced the Japanese Army officers that he was a cook. He was then allowed to be a cook in the kitchen.

Taking this opportunity, he would steal food and give it to the other prisoners and internees.

His granddaughter, Paula Mcloughlin told the Borneo Post in 2017, “Sometimes he was caught for stealing food. He had some bamboo scars underneath his nails and he said that was very torturous.”

In the meantime, Eric Oliver was another POW imprisoned at Batu Lintang Camp. He was a warrant officer in the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF).

He was forced to ditch his plane in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra after being shot up by the Japanese.

Oliver was then captured and imprisoned in Changi Jail before he was sent to Kuching.

According to Lancashire Post, Oliver was on grave digging duty during his imprisonment.

He buried up to ten of his comrades every day towards the end of his incarceration.

Oliver’s misery did not end with the war, he went home suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Sometimes, he woke up in the middle of the night crying telling his wife, “I keep thinking about the lads who died.”

By June-July 1946, the bodies in the cemetery at Batu Lintang camp had been exhumed. They were then reburied in the Labuan War Cemetery.

Besides the officers, the Australian war crime court also charged 45 guards (mostly Formosan), suspected of ill-treating prisoners at the Batu Lintang camp.

The court acquitted three of the guards and sentenced the remainder to terms of imprisonment ranging from one year to life.

What happened to the 300 prisoners of Labuan POW camp during WW2?

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 it comes to prisoner-of-war (POW) camps in Malaysian Borneo, most people immediately think of Batu Lintang in Kuching and Sandakan POW camps.

What is less known is that Labuan had a POW camp for some time during World War II (WWII).

The purpose of Labuan POW Camp

By 1944, the Japanese military decided to build an airstrip on Labuan to give additional air cover for Brunei Bay.

Captain Nagai Hirawa was appointed to command the Labuan POW Camp. He arrived in Labuan with 300 British POWs from Sandakan on June 16, 1944.

Another 200 POWs arrived from Kuching on Aug 15, 1944.

According to post-war investigation report, the camp was originally sited on the grounds of the Victoria Golf Club.

However due to the constant air raids by Allied forces over the waterfront area, the campsite was moved to a new compound 3 miles north of the harbour.

It was here that the POWs were kept until they departed for Brunei on Mar 7, 1945.

Tracing the steps of the prisoners

Agnes McEwan and Campbell Thompson summarised briefly the footsteps of POWS in Labuan.

“In August 1944, Tom Tadman, Charles Shun, John Parker and Frederick Wain were among a group of 300 sent to Labuan to construct an airfield intended for the defence of a fleet anchorage planned for Brunei Bay,” they stated.

Reportedly, life was not too bad for the POWs. Things changed in October that year when the Allies began bombing airfields in the region, including Labuan.

The Japanese started to reduce rations for the prisoners and then the death tolls began to increase significantly.

On Jan 23, 1945 Captain Nagai left for Ranau and his place was taken by Sergeant Major Sugino.

McEwan and Thompson wrote, “By March 1945, 188 of the prisoners taken to Labuan had died. Due to the proximity of Allied shipping, the remainder began the move back to Kuching.”

On their way to meet deaths

Captain Nagai claimed that POWs were given quinine for their malaria. Even so, with the lack of food combined with heavy labour that they were forced to do, it came as no surprise why many of them did not survive.

The group arrived in Brunei on Mar 8, 1945 and remained there until the beginning of May.

By this time, only 82 men arrived from the initial 300.

From there, the remaining 82 men were taken to Kuala Belait and on to Miri on May 28.

Then on June 8, the POWs had now been reduced to 46. The Japanese ordered them to make their way into the jungle along a rough track where they rested for two days.

McEwan and Thompson stated, “There the Japanese officer in charge, Sergeant Major Sugino, received news that the Australian 9th Division had landed at Brunei Bay, only 125 miles away. As a precaution against the prisoners being rescued, Sugino decided to put into operation the Final Disposition – the murder of all POWs.”

They were shot to death and their bodies buried by the guards.

In search of one of the soldiers continues

In 2017, the Telegraph reported on how a retiree living in London had spent much of the past 75 years looking for his brother’s grave.

Len Tadman talked about how he and his two sisters had visited Singapore and Borneo five times trying to retrace his brother’s steps.

So what happened to Len’s brother, Tom Tadman?

McEwan and Thompson in their book revealed some of the fates of these prisoners of Labuan POWs camp, including Tom’s.

Tom, or Lance Bombardier Thomas Tadman, died in Brunei on Apr 3, 1945. His cause of death is unknown.

Meanwhile, others who were part of the Labuan group like Gunner Charles Shun, Staff Sergeant John Parker and Gunner Frederick Wain who died in Labuan at different times throughout 1944 to 1945 were also never recovered.

What happened to Labuan POW camp?

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Military police guard four Japanese officers of the Borneo Prisoners of War and Internees Guard Unit, outside the Australian 9th Division Headquarters where they were to appear at a war crimes trial, Labuan Island, December 1945. AWM 123170

Soldiers of the Australian 24th Brigade landed in Labuan on June 10, 1945. They quickly captured the harbour and main airfield.

Meanwhile, the Japanese offered little resistance as they were greatly outnumbered.

When the Australian forces arrived at the abandoned Labuan POW camp in June, they only found unmarked graves.

After the Allied forces liberated POW camps in Batu Lintang and Sandakan, they started to round up the Japanese soldiers and their Formosan guards responsible for abuses and killings.

They housed them in the former Labuan POW camp site and turned the site into a military court.

Labuan became one of the 16 locations of the war crime trials held between December 1945 and January 1946.

During one of the trials, Sugino was charged with having ‘caused to be killed 46 POWs at Miri on June 10, 1945’. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Of the 300 POWs who had left for Labuan in 1944, not even one was left alive. Hence, none was left to tell their stories of what really happened at Labuan POW camp.

Formosan Guards

Fighting for Japan: The Korean and Formosan soldiers during WWII

When a soldier serves in a war for his country, it is out of patriotism. But what happens when soldiers fight in a war for a country that colonised them?

After World War II (WWII), many Korean and Taiwanese (Formosan) soldiers were convicted for war crimes alongside Japanese troops.

How did they end up fighting for a nation who conquered their home countries in the first place? Was it voluntary? What happen to them after the war has ended?

The recruitment of Taiwanese Imperial Japan Service

Taiwan and the Penghu Islands were under the Japanese empire between 1895 and 1945.

It started when China’s Qing dynasty ceded Taiwan province in the Treaty of Shimonoseki after Japanese victory in the First Sino-Japanese War.

At first under Japanese rule, the Taiwanese were not allowed to serve in combat and they were working mostly as translators for the Japanese army operating in China.

When the United States joined the war in 1942, Japan started to recruit Taiwanese in combat capacities.

Many Taiwanese joined the service for the sake of their families. Those who served were given extra food for their loved ones.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Formosa was a short-lived republic that existed in Taiwan from May 23 to Oct 21, 1895.

Even though the republic only lasted a few months, many Taiwanese who served during WWII were called Formosan soldiers.

Officially, they were Taiwanese Imperial Japan Servicemen referring to any Taiwanese person who served in the Imperial Japanese Army or Navy during WWII.

Overall, it is estimated a total of 207,182 Taiwanese served in the military of Imperial Japan in both the Second Sino-Japanese War and WWII.

Drafted Taiwanese soldiers during World War II
Taiwanese servicemen in the Imperial Japanese Army. Credits: Public Domain.

The recruitment of Korean Voluntary Unit

Meanwhile, Korea was officially under the Japanese empire when Japan formally annexed the Korean empire in 1910 in the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910.

Starting from 1938, Japan started to enlist Koreans into the Japanese military as the first Korean Voluntary unit.

By 1944, all Korean males were drafted to either join the Imperial Japanese army or work in military-related industry.

According to Utsumi Aiko of Keisen University, many of these men feared they would be shipped to Japan as indentured servants if they did not join the army.

Others were perhaps attracted by the high pay rates offered, about 50 yen per month, an amount that was considered a large amount at that time.

Korean and Formosan soldiers as Prisoners-of-wars (POWs) camp guards

According to Yuki Tanaka in his book Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II, after the Japanese army decided to employ Korean and Formosan soldiers as POW camp guards, they came up with a set of instructions.

Entitled “Outline for Dealing with POWs”, the instruction detailed two principal reasons for the use of non-Japanese guards in prison camps.

Yuki stated:

“One reason was to destroy the lingering sense of superiority attached to white people by many Asian societies that had been colonised and consequently to elevate the Japanese as ‘white substitutes’. By having Koreans and Formosans guard white prisoners under Japanese command, the Japanese military hoped that the old ‘pecking order’ would be reversed- that non-Japanese Asians would come to see whites as inferior, subjugated people and the Japanese as the ‘natural’ leaders of Asia. The other, more mundane purpose was to free up more Japanese men to be sent to the front line. On May 15, 1942, 10 days after the outline had been distributed, the recruitment of Korean and Formosan guards began.”

These non-Japanese soldiers were trained in Japanese and forbidden to use their native language. They were also given Japanese names.

The Formosan guards were sent mostly to Southeast Asia including Borneo while the Koreans were scattered around the world including the Central Pacific.

The cruelty of Korean and Formosan soldiers

POWs who survived the war claimed that the troops from Japan’s colonies such as Korea and Taiwan were the most vicious abusers of prisoners.

One of them, Arthur Lane told The Telegraph in 2014, “ The Japanese guards were bad, but the Koreans and the Formosans were the worst. These were men who the Japanese looked down on as colonials, so they needed to show they were as good as the Japanese. And they had no one else to take it out on other than us POWs.”

Lane was one of the 180,000 to 250,000 Allied POWs who was sent to work on the infamous Death Railway. In the end, about 102,000 Allied prisoners died.

In another example case of mistreatment of POWs by Korean guards took place in North Sumatra.

Around February 1945, there were 12 Korean guards assigned for approximately 1,500 t o 1,600 prisoners as they were tasked to build a military road.

While it was fortunate that there were no deaths reported during the construction, the guards frequently beat the prisoners who fell out of line to make them keep walking.

This is not the only example of Korean and Formosan soldier’s brutality. Survivors of Batu Lintang POWs camp as well as Sandakan POWs camp had all claimed Formosan soldiers were worse than the Japanese.

Justice Bert Rolling who represented the Netherlands at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal once stated, “Many of the commanders and guards in POW camps were Koreans and it is said that they were sometimes far more cruel than the Japanese.”

Explaining the cruelty of Korean and Formosan soldiers

So why were the Korean and Formosan soldiers cruel towards the POWs?

In the book The Routledge History of Genocide, Cathie Carmichael and Richard C. Maguire stated that the Germans did the much the same in the death camp system, where brutal Ukrainian auxiliaries worked under SS supervision.

“Japanese officers and soldiers routinely treated Korean and Formosan soldiers with utter contempt, beating and humiliating them even though they were ostensibly allies. In turn, Allied POWs consistently noted that Korean and Formosan guards were among the most brutal of their captors as these humiliated underdogs of the Japanese war machine worked off their shame and loss of face on POWS,” they stated.

Carmichael and Maguire gave an example of Sandakan POW Camp in North Borneo (present-day Sabah). The Australian POWs noticed a dramatic changed in the level of brutality once a large party of Formosan guards arrived in April 1943.

They noted, “The Japanese treated the Formosans as their inferiors and the Formosans took to delivering mass beatings of POW work details under the flimsiest of pretext.”

Meanwhile, Yuki explained there is no coincidence that was why the Korean guards on the Burma-Thailand railway and the Formosan guards in Borneo were capable of great cruelty.

“It was an effect of the power structure that operated within the prison camp system.”

The retaliation of Korean and Formosan guards

There were many instances when these Korean and Formosan guards went against the Japanese soldiers.

In Sandakan, there was a Japanese officer who was murdered by a Formosan guard. According to Michele Cunningham in Hell on Earth: Sandakan-Australia’s greatest war tragedy, the guard was angry because Captain Takakuwa and Lieutenant Suzuki had beaten him for having a dirty rifle.

The beating was a trigger point for him as he was also discontent generally with the way the Japanese treated the non-Japanese guard.

The guard took a rifle and fired at Takakuwa, wounding him in the soldier and then killed Suzuki with a shot right in the head.

He also wounded a couple more soldiers before throwing a grenade that failed to explode. The Formosan guard then committed suicide by shooting himself.

There were cases of Korean and Formosan soldiers, however, who did not abuse the POWs over whom they were left in-charge.

One guard, who went by the name Toyoda Kokichi, would reportedly cook chicken, rice and fish for the POWs with supplies he had bought from local villagers using his own money. Moreover, he would allow the POWs under him to take it easy and work at their own pace.

In most cases, retaliating against the Japanese resulted in severe punishments (sometimes execution) upon the Korean and Formosan soldiers themselves.

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Military police guard four Japanese officers of the Borneo Prisoners of War and Internees Guard Unit, outside the Australian 9th Division Headquarters where they were to appear at a war crimes trial, Labuan Island, December 1945. AWM 123170

What happened to the Korean and Formosan soldiers after World War II?

After the Japanese surrendered marking the end of WWII, it also marked the end of Japanese rule over Korea on Aug 15, 1945 as well as over Taiwan.

In total, there were 5,379 Japanese, 173 Formosans and 148 Koreans who were tried.

Of these number, 984 were sentenced to death, 476 to life imprisonment and 2,944 to some of punishments.

As for the Korean and Formosan soldiers, 23 Korean and 26 Formosan were sentenced to death.

Those who went home alive did not carry on living a normal life.

In 1995, Joan Kwek the daughter of Hugh Waring, one of the Australian officers in Sandakan and Kuching came across a Japanese language book in the National Library of Australia.

The book, the title of which was translated as Cry of the Colonial Soldiers Imprisoned as War Criminals, was written by a former Formosan guard in Kuching named Okabayashi Takemitsu.

Kwek, who was proficient in the Japanese language stated, “The book was a cry of resentment against the Japanese who taught him to be a guard, the Australians who convicted him as a war criminal with a sentence of 15 years, the Australians who mistreated him while a prisoner himself for ten years on remote island prisons near Borneo and New Guinea, the Japanese who said he was no longer Japanese after he finally finished his sentence (Taiwan was by then no longer a Japanese colony), and the Japanese who continue to deny him any form of compensation or pension for his sacrifice in the name of the Emperor.”

Like Okabayashi Takemitsu, many non-Japanese soldiers sought for pension and compensation from the Japanese government after the war.

Some were granted some kind of compensation after battling their pleas in courts, but in most cases the amount was much less than what the Japanese soldiers received.

Formosan Guards

Not all were happy with the Korean and Formosan soldiers seeking for compensation

Of course, not everyone was happy with the fact that these veterans were seeking for Japanese compensation after the war.

Lane, who had witnessed many atrocities as an Allied POW, was one of them.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Lane said, “These men volunteered and they all knew exactly what they were doing. And they mistreated us because they wanted to please their masters and knew they could get away with it. They joined up for kicks, when Japan was winning the war, and they took advantage of that for their own enjoyment.”

For Lane, instead of getting compensation or apology from the Japanese government, he believed a more fitting result would be to have them taken out and whipped for what they did to the POWs.

In the end, a total of 207,183 Taiwanese served in the Imperial Japanese Army and 30,304 of them were declared killed or missing in action.

It is unsure how many Koreans were missing or killed in action during WWII as they fought for the Japanese. However in 1944, the total number of Korean military personnel was estimated at 242,341.

What do you think KajoReaders? Do you think the Korean and Formosan soldiers deserve apology or compensation from the Japanese government? Let us know in the comment box.

Early records of inoculation and smallpox vaccination in Sarawak

If you are not familiar with inoculation or variolation (deliberately introducing the pathogen into an uninfected person), it is the method first used to immunize an individual against smallpox with material taken from a patient or a recently variolated individual, in the hopes that a mild, but protective infection would result.

The procedure was most commonly carried out by rubbing powdered smallpox scabs of fluid pustules (an inflamed blister containing pus) into superficial scratches made on the skin.

Then the patient would develop pustules identical to those caused by naturally occurring smallpox. This would lead them to develop a less severe disease than naturally acquired smallpox.

Slowly after two to four weeks, these symptoms would slow down indicating successful recovery and immunity.

According to historian Loh Chee Yin, vaccination against smallpox was introduced into Sarawak in the 1960s. However, inoculation was already practiced in the 1850s.

Drawing accompanying text in Book XII of the 16th-century Florentine Codex (compiled 1555–1576), showing Nahuas of conquest-era central Mexico with smallpox. Credit: Creative Common

Early records of smallpox inoculation in Sarawak

One of the early records of inoculation in Sarawak was recorded by Brooke Hugh Low in 1876. At that time, he was holding the post of Assistant Resident of Sibu. When he was travelling up the Baram river which was still under Brunei territory (Baram was ceded to Sarawak in June 1882).

He recorded about a smallpox epidemic which decimated the Kayan population in the area.

“I next proceeded up the Baram as far as Long Lusan, where Oyong Ngau now lives. He abandoned Batu Gadin on account of the smallpox which carried of 200 persons in his own house; 1,333 Kayans are estimated to have fallen victims to this epidemic, and 3000 Kenyahs. Although I did not ascend the river above this point I met several of the upriver chiefs, both Kayans and Kenyahs, and among the latter, Paran Libut’s brother, Tama Peng Wang, who assured me that his tribe had been decimated and that the Upper Baram, which before was populous, is now a mere waste. Houses which a year ago could boast of 100 fighting men can now scarcely muster 10. Fortunately for the Kayans there was a Selimbu Malay, one Haji Unus, at Batu Gadin who understood inoculation and inoculated some 3,600 persons of both sexes, and though many died, many also were saved.”

A record of Ibans practicing inoculation

Bishop Walter Chambers once wrote in 1857 about how inoculation saved a community of Ibans in Lingga.

“The smallpox attacked six months ago (1856) the people up the main river, the Batang Lupar. In some of the Dyak houses it made frightful ravages, chiefly through the panic fear into which it threw the occupants, who in some cases, fled into the jungles, abandoning their sick friends and carrying the infection in their own bodies. It is said there are longhouses, whose occupants having thus rushed away, not one of them has since made his appearance.

The Dyaks regard the smallpox as an evil spirit, with the notion which induced our English peasantry to use the same caution to fairies- they never venture to name the smallpox, but designate it politely by the titles Rajah and Buah-kagu. I heard an old woman yesterday, telling how that, during the time she was nursing her grandson, she was continually begging, ‘Rajah have compassion on him, and on me, and spare his life- my only child.’

In the neighbourhood of Sakarran, the Malays inoculated with success both their own people and the Dyaks. By inoculation the disease was gradually drawing near to Lingga.

I wished the Dyaks not to inoculate until the appearance of the disease in the country, but they had an idea that the ‘Rajah’ was more mild to those who thus made submission to him. Out of hundreds who have been inoculated, only three have died under the operations.”

The Kayans’ knowledge of smallpox

Loh believed that the Kayans in those days were aware of the infectious nature of smallpox long before the introduction of inoculation and vaccination. They knew that immunity could be secured by complete isolation from affected villages.

He cited an example from Charles Hose’s The Pagan Tribes of Borneo (1912). This is what Hose wrote:

“With this object the people of tributary stream will fell trees across its mouth or lower reaches so as to block it completely to the passage of boats, or a less drastic measure, will stretch a rope of rattan from a bank as a sign that no one may enter. Such a sign is generally respected by the inhabitants of other parts of the river basin. They are aware also of the risk of infection that attends the handling of a corpse of one who has died of epidemic disease, and they attempt to minimise it by throwing a rope aorund it and dragging it to the graveyard, and there burying it in a shallow grave in the earth, without touching it with the hands.”

As for the Ibans, it was a normal practice for the unaffected members of a longhouse to run away into the jungle to avoid smallpox infection.

Here is an example of how the Ibans who refused to be inoculated reacted to the epidemic according to Spenser St. John:

“When the smallpox was committing sad havoc among those Sea Dyak villagers who would not allow themselves to be inoculated, they ran into the jungle in every direction, caring for no one but themselves, leaving the house empty, and dwelling far away in the most silent spots, in parties of two and three, and sheltered only by a few leaves. When these calamities come upon them, they utterly lose all command over themselves, and become as almost timid children. Those seized with the complaint are abandoned; all they do is to take care that a bundle of firewood, a cooking pot, and some rice, are placed within their reach. On account of this practice, few recover, as in the delirium they roll on the ground and die.

When the fugitives become short of provisions, a few of the old men who have already had the complaint creep back to the houses at night and take a supply of rice. In the daytime, they do not dare to stir or to speak above a whisper for fear the spirits should see or hear them. They do not call the smallpox by its name, but are in the habit of saying, “Has he yet left you? At other times, they call it jungle leaves or fruits; and at other places the datu or the chief. Those tribes who inoculate suffer very little.”

Other records of inoculations and vaccination in Sarawak

In those days when a smallpox epidemic attacked Sarawak, the news was usually reported in the Sarawak Gazette.

In 1868 for example, Sibu had a mild attack of smallpox. The gazette reported as the people failed to receive vaccine from Kuching, they were inoculating themselves.

On Apr 29, 1874, the gazette reported a smallpox epidemic was raging along the Batang Lupar and Rajang rivers.

The then principal medical officer-in-charge Dr. E. P. Houghton investigated the epidemic in person and found the disease to be measles and chickenpox.

Dr Houghton wrote in his report, “I vaccinated some children at Simanggang, which was successful and left a public vaccinator there to carry on the vaccination. I also started vaccination at Sibu in Rajang which was successful, and left two public vaccinators to vaccinate the people.”

Two years later in June 1876, Dr Houghton wrote this in the Sarawak Gazette; “Smallpox occasionally visits us but only in a sporadic form, and since vaccination has been so successfully carried on, there is every reason to hope this scourge will eventually be stamped out.”

Looking back at Sarawak history, smallpox epidemica appeared periodically affecting selected communities in the state.

These epidemics not only affected the Sarawak populations back in those days, it also caused the early migration of Sarawakians leading them to move from one place to another to flee from the disease.

If you’re freaking out about smallpox on top of your fears of the Covid-19 outbreak, don’t worry; smallpox was eradicated globally in 1980.

What you need to know about the first Sarawak Chamber of Commerce

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This is part of Sarawak that no longer exists, which is the first Sarawak Chamber of Commerce:

After 30 years of Brooke rule in Sarawak, the end of 1871 saw how vastly the import and export trade of the country had increased.

The previous 10 years showcased a steady rise of $100,000 a year until it reached $1,680,000.

Trivia: Did you know the Sarawak Dollar (1858-1953), symbolised by $, was on par with the Straits Dollar? It was used by the Straits Settlements which included a number of territories including Singapore.

In October 1872, the second Rajah of Sarawak proposed to the Supreme Council to have a Mercantile Committee to deal with the increase in trade.

The committee consisted of leading merchants who worked as a consultative body. They met once a quarter year (once every four months) to discuss commercial affairs.

Additionally, they discussed if there were any reforms, improvements or suggestions for the government.

From Mercantile Committee to Sarawak Chamber of Commerce

In February 1873, the Rajah had already completed his plans and drawn up rules to set up the organisation. He eventually called it the Sarawak Chamber of Commerce.

Back in those days, the chamber was made up of European, Chinese, Indian and Malay merchants.

How did these merchants earn their wealth? They mostly owned large vessels that enabled them to trade in Brunei, Labuan, Sabah and even the Philippines.

The Dayaks at that time had not yet earned enough to enable them to join as a member.

In order to join, one had to have land, house or other property amounting up to $2000. If it was a company, the entity must be worth at least $10,000.

According to historian W.J. Chater, the chamber had several functions. “The objects of the Chamber, then laid down by the Rajah, were to facilitate all operations of trade, monetary transactions, traffic, freights, suggesting town and thoroughfare improvements from a commercial point of view; also in settling weights and measures and in giving opinions in matters relating to the Creditors and Debtors’ Court.”

The discussions took place in Malay but the records were kept in English.

The first meeting of Sarawak Chamber of Commerce

Sarawak Chamber of Commerce’s very first meeting was held on May 1, 1873 in a meeting room in the Government Offices.

The first major issue that the Chamber had to deal with was the fact that there were no vessels other than Government steamers to carry freights between Sarawak and Singapore.

Therefore, the Rajah urged members of the Chamber to persuade the leading businessmen to form a shipping company.

In order to avoid unfair competition, he even offered to sell the government steamer, Royalist.

Subsequently, the Singapore and Sarawak Steamship Co. was formed in July 1975. The company then changed its name to Sarawak Steamship Co., Limited. It first operated using the Royalist and a new steamer was built in England called the Rajah Brooke.

Chater stated, “Although the Chamber was expected to meet once a quarter, this was at first unnecessary and for some years they met only once in six months, when their main duty was to decide the value to be placed on rattans; apparently a very valuable item of export in those days.”

Later, the Chamber decided the value and export duty to be levied on other important exports of the time such as sago, gambier, birds’ nests and pepper.

Overall, there were little records of activities of Sarawak Chamber of Commerce.

The end of Sarawak Chamber of Commerce

According to Chater, the Sarawak Chamber of Commerce was shut down in January 1900 without any given reason.

Eventually, most of the chamber’s duties were taken over Kuching Municipal Office in 1906 as well as Chinese Chamber of Commerce a few years later.

Chinese History Museum 2
Chinese History Museum now which was used to be Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

How did the name of Sarawak’s capital get changed to Kuching?

In the olden days, Sarawak’s capital was also known as ‘Sarawak’.

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Kuching view. Credits: Pixabay.
Why did the second White Rajah, Charles Brooke decide to change Sarawak’s capital name to Kuching on Aug 12, 1872?

Abang Othman Datu Haji Moasili wrote in The Sarawak Gazette on Aug 31, 1964 that explained the reason behind it.

“The story, according to the old Malays and as related to me by my father, the late Datu Hakim, goes that the second Rajah who spent most of his time as Tuan Muda and later as Rajah Muda and Rajah among the Sea Dayaks in the Second Division used continually to be asked, as is the Iban custom not what town he came from but which river he came from?” he wrote.

Abang Othman described a small rivulet called the Sungei Sarawak located about 16 miles above Kuching from which the capital originally derived its name.

He continued, “But much closer to his residence, the Astana and only a short distance down the river, near the present Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, there used to be another rivulet, the Sungei Kuching, until it was filled in, in 1928.”

This rivulet was the river nearest to the Astana. Plus, it was well known to the Ibans, as they used to put up there for shelter during the night on their visits to the capital.

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The Chinese General Chamber of Commerce is now the Chinese History Museum.

Kuching river

Hence, when people used to ask the Rajah where he came from he would say “Kuching river”.

Over time, the word ‘river’ was dropped and he was known among the Dayaks as “coming from Kuching”.

As the territory of Sarawak expanded, it caused some confusion to call the country and the capital by the same name. This led to the necessity for a distinction to be made between them.

Abang Othman stated, “At first, the difficulty was overcome by calling the capital ‘Sarawak Proper’. But as it had now become known to the Sea Dayaks, who formed the largest number of the population as Kuching, the Rajah decided officially to change the name from Sarawak to Kuching.”

Read more:

How Sarawak, Land of Hornbills, got its name?

The legend of Iban warrior Unggang and goddesses of Mount Santubong

The legend of Iban warrior Unggang and goddesses of Mount Santubong

If it weren’t for Benedict Sandin (1918-1982), many Iban legends and folktales would have been forgotten by now. Originally from Paku, Benedict was an ethnologist, historian and Sarawak Museum curator (December 1966- March 1974).

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Mount Santubong

Here is one of his stories that was published on the Sarawak Gazette. This time he told the story of Iban warrior Unggang.

Long time ago at a small stream called Entanak, lived a very powerful Iban war leader named Unggang “Lebor Menoa”.

During his time, there was no chief in the Saribas river area more well known than him.

When he was still a young warrior, Unggang dreamt that he was travelling in a boat from the mouth of the Saribas river to Mount Santubong.

He then attempted to climb to the top of that mountain. Halfway up, he met two beautiful maidens who just finished bathing.

They said that they did not have much time to talk, and one of them handed him a stone that she had used to scrub her skin. The stone was called Batu Perunsut.

She told him that the stone was a charm that he could use whenever he led his people to war.

The woman also told Unggang that none of the people who lived in the countries between Santubong and the mouth of Saribas river could possibly beat him in war.

Luckily for him, she warned him if he led his war parties southeast beyond Santubong, the stone would have no effect.

Later, the women revealed to him that they were Kumang and Lulong, the goddesses who lived on the summit of Santubong.

Unggang’s path to becoming a great warrior

Shortly after he had the dream, Unggang built a large war boat with which he used to lead his warriors to guard the mouth of the Saribas river from being penetrated by enemies. At the time they were the Bajau and Illanun pirates.

They also killed strangers that came into the river from the South China Sea.

Besides guarding his territory, Unggang sailed farther along the coast of Sarawak to look for trading ships.

During one of his sails, he came across with a band of Chinese traders who negotiated with him.

The Chinese traders sought his permission to trade in the Saribas country.

Unggang agreed with condition that these Chinese traders agreed to fly white flags on their vessels.

Due to this agreement, many Chinese traders came to Saribas to trade their cooking pots, brassware, earthen bows, pants and cloths. In return, the Chinese brought back shell armlets, beads, cowry shells and so on.

Meanwhile, Unggang and his men killed anybody who entered the Saribas river without flying a white flag on their boats.

Although Unggang seemed to be a ferocious warrior, he was also a savvy tactician, and allied himself with the Malays who lived in the coastal areas. Hence, he never attacked his Malay neighbours.

Unggang’s son Luta

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Illustration of Dayak men.

After Unggang died, his son Luta succeeded him as the chief. During Luta’s reign as chief, a fight started between the Dayaks of Saribas and Skrang against their neighbours of the lower Batang Lupar (the Dayaks from Undop, Balau and Sibuyau).

During one of these tribal wars, Luta’s youngest brother Ngadan was killed by Temenggong Juti and his men from Sebuyau.

Also killed during the war in Undop was Angkum, one of the brothers to Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana Bayang, a leader from Padeh who led the Saribas Iban.

Due to these incidents, Luta took his revenge by invading Sebuyau and killed many of them there.

Meanwhile, Dana Bayang avenged his brother’s death by invading Undop with the largest force from the Saribas and Skrang.

After invading Sebuyau, Luta took his brothers Mulok and Ketit to sail to the Belitung island near Sumatra.

He wanted to go there because he heard a rumour that someone in Belitung was selling a tuchong (shell armlet) which could be fitted over one’s head. Apparently, Luta was anxious to buy this for his inheritance.

However, the three brothers never returned to the Saribas. The rumour back then they were shipwrecked. A piece of their broken boat found at the beach near Sungai Ubah not far from Tanjung Datu.

The location of Luta’s alleged shipwreck was located beyond Santubong mountain from Saribas. Perhaps the charm that worked to protect Unggang before did not work to protect his sons once they went beyond southeastward of Santubong.

After the brothers’ untimely death, none of their descendants were able to lead their warriors to fight.

Hence, the leadership in the Saribas area fell onto the shoulders of Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana Bayang. He later became one of the most of famous Iban warriors and leaders.

The contents of a leaflet announcing the Japanese surrender in 1945

After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Royal Australian Air Force planes dropped leaflets all over Sarawak’s First Division.

According to The Sarawak Gazette, the leaflet was foolscap size (a bit longer than A4) with a broad orange border and it was only available in English.

The content of the leaflet was about what to expect or do when the Japanese surrendered their power after the end of the war.

These leaflets were dropped all over Kuching, Batu Kawah, Bau, Lundu, Serian and Simunjan.

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Aboard HMAS Kapunda as the Japanese envoy’s interpreter reads the surrender terms to Major-General Yamamura, the Kuching Garrison Commander (right). Copyright expired-public domain.
Here is the text of of the leaflet:

To the people of the First and Second Division of Sarawak.

1.News of the Japanese surrender will already have reached you. In addition to the Australian troops who will be coming to remove the Japanese, three officers of the Sarawak government are coming to help you, they are Lieutenant Colonel W.P.N.L Ditmas, Lieutennat Colonel C.E. Gascoigne and Major G.T Myles. They belong to a military unit known as the British Borneo Civil Affairs Unit (BBCAU).

2.The following general instructions are issued for your help and guidance:

A)You are asked to conserve your stocks of food as carefully as possible and to continue planting food stuffs to your utmost ability, as shortage of shipping and food makes the supply problem difficult.

B)Persons living outside the Kuching Municipal Area are asked to stay where they are until called, this applies particularly to the Bau and Serian districts.

C)Looting or stealing of any property whatsoever is a very serious offence and is liable to severe punishment. This includes all Japanese owned property, also property taken from others by the Japanese but in the case of the latter, after investigation and in due course this property will be returned to the rightful owners.

D)In the event of the Japanese authorities relinquishing administrative control before the arrival of the Allied troops and until further orders are received from BBCAU, Native officers and other government servants at present in office should administer the areas under their control in accordance with the laws of Sarawak and of conditions existing in Sarawak immediately prior to the Japanese occupation in 1941. Their main duty is to ensure the protection of life and property. Ketua-ketua kampung and Kapitan-kapitan Cina and other chiefs will continue to exercise the powers they held prior to the Japanese occupation. Improper behavior during the period of enemy occupation will be investigated.

E)The native officer in-charge of Kuching district and the senior inspector in charge of Police in Kuching will report to BBCAU immediately on its arrival at Pending or Kuching.

F)It is possible that some stocks of food still exist in the First and Second divisions. All of these must be safeguarded and police guards put over the places in which they are stored. In cases of genuine need, issues of food may be made from any of such stores, but full details of total stocks, amounts of issues with names and dates must be recorded.

G)All government office buildings, including the Museum, the Power Station, Churches, the Mosque and Cinemas, and all stores of valuable commodities must be placed under Police guard to ensure their safety.

H)It should be be the immediate responsibility of all Native Officers assisted by their staffs to make reports on the availability of all food supplies and the location and quantity of all food in stores, and the condition and location of any former Government or Japanese vegetables gardens or rice plantations. These reports for the whole of the First and Second Divisions are to be handed to or sent to BBCAU as soon as possible after their arrival in Kuching. The Kuching Chinese Chamber of Commerce is requested to assist with this work.

Today, one can only imagine how Sarawakians felt when reading the leaflet, especially those who lived in fear during the Japanese occupation.

5 things you should know about Sarawak’s flags throughout the years

Did you know that the current Sarawak flag was inspired by the state’s old flag when it was under the reign of the White Rajahs?

Over the years, there have been several changes to the Sarawak flag with the current design becoming official in 1988.

And who could forget the Trisakti that was designed and first hoisted by the then Chief Minister of Sarawak Abdul Rahman Ya’kub in 1973?

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The Trisakti flag: The blue was supposed to symbolise Sarawakians being unified in pursuit of national aspirations; the red to symbolise their perseverance and determination; and the white to reflect honesty and purity.

The current design retains the same colour scheme as the flag of the former kingdom, except with two significant changes. The cross was replaced with two diagonal bars while the crown was substituted with a nine-pointed star.

Here are 5 things you should know about the history of previous Sarawak flags before all these changes:
1.Before there was an official flag, there was the flag of St George.
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Brooke’s personal standard was the flag of St George’s Cross. Photo credit: The Sarawak Gazette.

When the first White Rajah James Brooke came into power, he originally used St. George’s Cross as the state’s flag.

It was a red cross on a white background in the form of swallow-tailed pennant. James flew this flag over his first fort at Berlidah, not far from Siniawan.

2.The first official Sarawak flag was designed by James Brooke.

Finally in 1845, James decided to give Sarawak a flag of its own. However, he only hoisted it three years later on Sept 21, 1848.

The flag was made up of a half blue and half red cross of his Armorial Bearings on a yellow background.

So what did the first White Rajah do after there was an official Sarawak flag? In 1845, he applied to the British Ministries for Foreign and Colonial Affairs in order for them to recognise Sarawak by allowing a Protectorate flag to be displayed.

However, it took the British government 15 years (January, 1864) to recognise Sarawak as an independent state and another 35 years (June, 1888) before Britain expressed its protection.

James was reported to have regretted that the flag did not contain a quartered Union Jack (like you see in today’s New Zealand and Australian flags).

3.Was it blue or purple?
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The first official Sarawak flag caused some debate over whether it was a blue and red cross or a purple and red cross. Photo credit: The Sarawak Gazette.

The only recorded account of the first hoisting of the Sarawak flag can be found in “Letters from Sarawak” in 1851 by Harriette McDougall, the wife of Bishop McDougall.

She wrote a letter to her son Charley who was at school in England, which was later published to help raise missionary funds in Sarawak.

Unfortunately, Charley passed away a year after this letter was written due to a blow from a cricket ball.

Going back to the Sarawak flag, this was what Harriette wrote to her son:

“The Sarawak flag is a purple and red cross, out of Sir James Brooke’s armorial shield, on a yellow background, yellow being the royal colour of Borneo. It was given by the Rajah to his people on his return from England in 1848 and I remember well what a grand occasion it was. HMS Meander was at Sarawak (the old name for Kuching) at the time, and their band played ‘God save the Queen’, as the flag was the first time hoisted on the flag-staff before the Rajah’s house.

All the English (probably only men) were assembled there, and a great crowd of natives, Malays and Dayaks, whom the Rajah addressed in the Malay language telling them the flag which he had that day given them would he hoped, be their glory and protection, as the flag of England had been hers. The Malays listened with love and reverence to his words and from house across the river, I could hear their acclamation.”

Although Mrs McDougall here pointed out that the flag was a purple and red cross, the second White Rajah Charles had clarified in a letter that the cross was in fact blue and red.

But that did not stop many of the early writers from the late 19th century stating that the colours were purple and red.

4.The first recorded official notification regarding the Sarawak flag was issued on May 7, 1870.

According to archivist W.J Chater, the first official notification regarding the Sarawak flag was concerning the dimensions of the flag.

It also stated, “Black bunting to be used in place of blue” denoting the change from the cross’ blue colour to black and quash the rumours that it was purple instead of blue.

5.The three bodies that first used Sarawak flags officially

While it is common to see the Sarawak flag hoisted up in front of government buildings these days, back in the olden days the Rajah first gave the Sarawak flags to three bodies, namely the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G) in 1871, the Borneo Company in 1874 and the Roman Catholic Mission in 1906.

The Roman Catholic Mission hoisted the Sarawak flag for the first time on Vyner Brooke’s birthday (Sept 26, 1906).

Meanwhile, the Kuching branch of the Borneo Company Limited hoisted the flag only for a short time. Then they refused to do so reportedly because they found ‘it was too ugly’ and the blue border being a Chinese sign of mourning might have been considered unlucky for business.

Book your home away from home at the Riverside Majestic Astana Wing

What type of traveler are you? Are you the type to hit the ground running, or the kind that just wants to relax, kick off your shoes and absorb your surroundings first? At Riverside Majestic’s Astana Wing, you can have it both ways (or more).  

Situated in the middle of Kuching City’s golden triangle made up of a unique balance between the city’s architectural and cultural heritage sites, and its business district; you can explore, enjoy the local cuisine as well as its nightlife, all on foot from the ease of your hotel.

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Riverside Majestic Astana Wing itself provides a luxurious hotel stay for casual travellers, while also providing fully-equipped facilities for digital nomads. It’s perfect for local event planners as well as incoming business travellers looking for an event venue and hotel stay with a killer view, and that is of one of Kuching’s most iconic heritage locations, the Kuching Waterfront.

No matter what floor you are on, the Kuching Waterfront remains the mainstage of your view. Thanks to constant upgrading and recent additions to the waterfront like the Darul Hana Bridge and most notably the Darul Hana Musical Fountain, you can never take a bad photo of the waterfront, morning, noon or night. 

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The view of Kuching’s historical waterfront from the Riverside Majestic’s events and meetings floor which features the spacious Alamanda Room, Orchid Room and Rafflesia Room.

For digital nomads and business travellers

Riverside Majestic Astana Wing enables digital nomads to plug and play here. Besides free wifi throughout the hotel, facilities such as the Surf & Chat business centre at the Mezzanine allows you to work while on holiday. 

It’s neatly placed just above the buzz of families and fellow travellers checking in at the reception counter, and private enough for business professionals to work or hold discussions and meetups with clients and partners. Their choice of punchy colours and comfortable sofa arrangements definitely provide inspiring backdrops for serious business discussions.

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Besides their business facilities, you can also enjoy a coffee or a meal as you take in the view.

Meanwhile, the Sape Restaurant provides a diverse and comprehensive breakfast buffet spread offering Western and Asian breakfast favorites. 

The Deli Cafe below the Surf & Chat is perfect for a quick munch or a sugar hit with your coffee or tea. 

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For a fine dining experience at the top where you can enjoy the skyline over the Kuching Waterfront, you can spend the evening with a business partner or a loved one at Suasana on 18 Fine Dining.

Meanwhile, for those who don’t want to skip leg day or want to take advantage of the sun, the gym and swimming pool facilities are in the main Riverside Majestic Puteri Wing, and navigable through a scenic corridor connecting the two buildings.

A look at the Insiders Club

This is the handy app you didn’t know you needed. Free to download, membership is also free. Once you’ve logged in, you are automatically an Insiders Club member and can enjoy great deals and prices on their rooms and restaurants. 

For frequent travelers to Kuching’s Cat City who enjoy the luxury, convenience and reliability of this hotel chain made up of Riverside Majestic Astana Wing, Puteri Wing and Grand Margherita Hotel, you can keep updated with their deals, book your rooms under member prices or collect and redeem Insiders Club points.

You can even book Room Promo Packages which will include sightseeing packages along with your hotel stay, making this app a perfect tool for business travellers and families looking for a fuss-free, memorable holiday.

Kuching may not be the biggest tourist draw when it comes up against tour destinations like the Maldives or Phuket, but Sarawak’s capital city has a lot of heart made up of its living and historic heritage, all of which can be experienced from the comfort of Riverside Majestic Astana Wing.

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