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How did rubber plantations become part of rural Sarawak?

In Malaysian history class, we learned that rubber plantations in the country was promoted by an Englishman named Henry Nicholas Ridley (1855-1956).

He was a botanist, naturalist, and geologist who spent most of his time in Singapore.

His career on this side of the globe started in 1888. He applied and was selected the first director of Gardens and Forests in the Straits Settlements.

Before he made his way here, he was to meet Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari to prepare for his new job.

After reaching Singapore, Ridley was in charge of introducing new plants of economical value to the region. Against popular belief, he was not the first person to introduce rubber to this part of the world as it was already introduced 10 years earlier by Sir Hugh Low.

However, he did establish the taping method for harvesting latex. He was also the one who heavily promoted rubber plantations in Malaya.

He was so passionate in promoting rubber planting that he was always stuffing rubber seeds into the pockets of everyone he met, with hopes that they would plant the seeds. That was how he earned the nickname “Mad Ridley”.

The first rubber tree planted in Sarawak was in the Anglican bishop’s garden in Kuching
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Rubber trees are tapped for their resins. Credits: Pixabay

While we learned a lot of Malaysian history in school, we only know a little about Sarawak’s own history with the rubber tree.

Ridley might not have been the one who promoted rubber in Sarawak as vigorously as he did in Malaya, but he did provide a written account of rubber planting in the state.

In September 1905, Ridley wrote an article which was published in the Agricultural Bulletin of the Straits Settlements.

He stated, “It would now be interesting to hear from the present Custodians of the gardens mentioned if the trees are still in existence, and to what girth they have attained at the sere and yellow age of 39 years.”

According to Ridley’s account, the first rubber trees planted in Sarawak were from seeds imported from the Botanic Gardens, Singapore. Reverend Bishop George Frederick Hose brought them in 1881. Bishop Hose was the uncle of Marudi resident, ethnologist and botanist Charles Hose.

He further stated, “One of these trees is still standing in the Bishop’s garden at Kuching and two more in the garden of the Resident. The former measures 6 feet 4 inches in girth at three feet from the ground and the others are nearly as large. The remainder of the trees have disappeared.”

The first rubber plantation in Sarawak

Ridley actually visited Sarawak four times, in 1903, 1904, 1914 and 1915. During his visits, Mad Ridley could not help but go out and see the rubber plantations.

The first rubber plantation he visited was the Coffee Estate on the slopes of Mount Matang. There, they planted the rubber trees together with coffee, tea and Mauritius hemp.

However according to Ridley, the rubber trees were in bad condition. Although the trees were five years old, they looked like the size of two-year-old trees.

“Many of the trees had fallen, others remained as dead stumps, or if alive bore only a few struggling leafy branches. Round Kuching, in the cemetery and along the roads, a good many para rubber trees have been planted lately, and seem to be doing fairly well, though it is too soon yet to form an opinion of them.”

Based on Ridley’s observation of rubber planting in Sarawak, the soils were too sandy.

“The greater part of the hills of Sarawak, at least that portion which I have seen, are sandstone or limestone, and a great area of the diluvium of the lower country is therefore very sandy. But the Lundu hills which I visited are granite, compose of a fine-grained granite. The soil here is less sandy and more argillacuous, with sandy mounds or small hills scattered about it. This seemed to be the most suitable ground for para rubber I saw in Sarawak. Another likely spot is long the Kucing river near Santubong, I had not time to visit this, but head that somewhere here Chinese were planting para rubber.

The first rubber export in Sarawak and the Rubber Boom
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Natural rubber sheets in drying priocess. Credits: Pixabay.

Based on a report from 1962, the first rubber was exported from Sarawak in 1910.

When the world price of rubber hit historic highs during that decade (the first time in 1905-1906, followed by another boom in 1909-1910), Sarawak got hit by rubber fever.

Then Simanggang Resident AB Ward observed in his memoirs that 1911-1912 were the Planting Eras, as “Natives caught the rubber infection badly. Malays planted all the land they could. Dyaks followed suit, and rubber banished all thoughts of tribal warfare and headhunting.”

Professor Rob Cramb in Land and longhouse: Agrarian Transformation in the Uplands of Sarawak describes how the Saribas Iban took advantage of the money-making opportunity in rubber.

“Initially it was the wealthier Iban communities with a large land base and an accumulated surplus from the gutta and coffee booms which embarked on rubber planting.”

He also cites examples of early enterprising farmers like Tuai Rumah Budin in Stambak, who planted over 4,000 seedlings his son Lumpoh brought back from Singapore, and Penghulu Saang who planted his rubber in Pelandok in the Paku branch of the Saribas in 1912.

Although the price of rubber fell sharply after 1910, it nonetheless became the main agricultural export of the country until the late 1960s.

Unlike Malaya and other rubber producing countries, the kingdom was relatively late in establishing rubber plantations, as the Brookes favoured smallholders and were reluctant to give indigenous farmland to European companies.

During Charles Brooke’s reign, only five large rubber estates were established.

By 1941 before the World War II, there were 236,557 acres of rubber plantations in Sarawak.

Check out these six exhibitions during WAK 2019

What About Kuching (WAK 2019) is back for its third and the biggest edition yet.

Featuring a total of 56 collaborations and 99 events, WAK 2019 will turn Kuching city into a hub of colourful activities between Sept 28 to Oct 27.

Since its inception in 2017, WAK had been a true partnership between the public and private sectors while exemplifying its cohesiveness as Sarawakians and patriots of Sarawak.

WAK 2019 has also activated its Location X-traordinaire- the building that was once Ting & Ting Supermarket.

The month-long festival will all kinds of events such as conferences, workshops, live music, parties and sport events.

WAK 2019
But if art is what you are looking far, check out these six exhibitions during WAK 2019:
1.Art Street Kuching: Ruangseni Exhibition
Date: Sept 28 – Oct 27
Time: 8am – 5pm
Location: Location X

From fine art paintings, sculptures to a film photography segment; this WAK 2019 exhibition explores an over-arching theme that offers visitors a metaphorical and literal understanding of ‘Dreams’.

The exhibition will feature the works of Benyamin Bahri, Mj Samaroon, Norma Saini, Sonia Luhong, Syed Rusydie, Billy Simon, Iona Danald, Jack Arjuna Chan, Ida Thien and Bethany Balan.

Do watch out for their workshops which span throughout WAK 2019.

2.The Art of the Tinsmith
Date: Sept 28 – Oct 27
Time: 9am – 6pm
Location: The Japanese Building at the Old Courthouse

Let this exhibition walks you through the craft of the traditional tinsmith’s workshop.

3.Driven by Inspirations – My Artistic Journey: Ramsay Ong
Date: Oct 1 – Oct 27
Time: 10am – 6pm
Location: Location X

Sarawak’s very own renowned artist Ramsay Ong will feature 12 pieces of fine arts at this exhibition.

Visitors will be able to take an insight into his transitions through various mediums and inspirational moments that has shaped him as an artist today.

4.Sarawakiana Carnival 2019: Sale, Demonstration & Exhibition of Sarawak Arts, Sculpture and Handicrafts
Date: Oct 4 – Oct 6
Time: 8.30am – 4.30pm
Location: Sarawak State Library’s lobby

An event about Kuching or Sarawak overall can never be complete without an exhibition about Sarawak craft. This exhibition will feature the art of carving and sculpture in Sarawak.

5.Discover Kuching – Photography Exhibition
Date: Oct 5 – Oct 11
Time: 10.30am – 5.30pm
Location: Ground Floor @The Hills Mall

Organised by Swinburne Photomedia and Design Club, this exhibition aims to showcase and promote local Kuching lifestyle and culture through photography.

Besides exhibition, there will be photography and editing workshops happening at the venue.

Date: Oct 12- Oct 13
Time: 11am – 6pm
Location: Ground Floor @ Plaza Merdeka Mall

Expect to see how four fields of arts (visual art, dance, music and theater) to come together in this exhibition called Symbiosis.

Organised by Visual Art Department from Sekolah Seni Malaysia Sarawak, the exhibition promises it is a showcase to remember.

About WAK

In 2017, Donald and Marina Tan founded a festival which brings together numerous communities in Kuching city to stage their different contents under one roof called ‘What About Kuching’ or better known as WAK.

It is an ‘open access’ festival, meaning that anyone and everyone can participate and all it takes is for those interested to fill in a proposal form during the Call for Proposal period from March to May each year.

Find more about the rest of WAK 2019 events here.

KajoPicks: 5 best foods to go with your beer at Kuching Food Fest 2019

So by now, you might have seen all the reviews for Kuching Food Fest 2019. From the most popular foods, most popular ice-creams to the classic and best foods you should actually try.

But we, at KajoMag are going to share with you the type of food that actually matters to us – food that goes well with beer.

First of all, what kinds of foods are compatible with your brew? That actually depends on what kinds of beer you are having.

Generally, foods that digest well with your beer are barbecued meat (think Sabahan sinalau bakas) and fried salty foods.

According to Men’s Journal, cheese, sandwiches and pizza could go well with almost any beer. While chicken, seafood, pasta go well with light beer and fried foods should be paired with any brew which cleanse your palate like Stella Artois.

If you prefer your brew as dark as your soul like stout, be a carnivore and choose burgers, steak and roasted meats instead.

Some of the choices of beer offered at the Kuching Food Fest include Carlsberg, Asahi, Tiger, Royal Stout and various flavours of Somersby cider.

So here are our picks for five best foods to go with our Carlsberg Draught, Asahi and Somersby Blackberry Cider during Kuching Food Fest:
1.Thai Pork Barbecued at Stall No.211 (3 sticks for RM15)
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Thai BBQ Pork Meat

If you have been to any night markets in Thailand and tried their barbecued pork, this is the closest thing you can get to it here.

Although Kuching Food Fest does not offer any Thai beers like Chang, this flavourful and tender barbecued pork is a champion because it goes well with any other beer.

The stall also offers other items on the menu such as garlic and cheese sausages. But take it from us; if you are planning to drink beer, the garlic sausage can leave a funny after-taste on your palate, so this is best eaten on another day.

2.Swedish Kurobuta Meatballs at Stall No.190 (6 balls for RM10)
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Swedish meatballs.

Just by taking in the aroma, you can tell these Swedish meatballs are made from fresh ground pork because it gives off that warm smell of your mum cooking minced pork soup in the kitchen.

Surprisingly, the best pairing for Swedish Kurobuta Meatballs is Somersby Blackberry Cider.

So you might want to try other fruity ciders to go with it.

3.Sausages from Pinoy Lechon Baboy at Stall No.122 (1 stick with 3 sausages for RM10)
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While the meatballs go well with cider, the pork sausages from Pinoy Lechon Baboy are sweet and the flavours tend to get lost with the sweetness of the ciders.

These sausages go best with punchy beers or lagers like Carlsberg and Asahi.

4.Takoyaki at Stall No.10 (One box for RM12.90)
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Unlike most takoyaki which are filled with minced or diced octopus, this one has its legs poking out from the batter.

Plus, the best part of this snack is that the octopus is nicely cooked and not chewy. Choose this if you are looking something light to go with your beer.

5.Stuffed Chicken with Rice at Stall No.176 (One piece for RM8.50)
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Stuffed Chicken with rice.

This food item is a random find at the festival and unexpectedly, it is compatible with beer.

It is made from chicken stuffed with rice. You can choose the original normal white rice and Malaysian favourite nasi lemak.

The marinade for the chicken is more on the sweet side and the rice is equally flavourful.

About Kuching Food Fest 2019

Kuching Food Festival or widely known as Kuching Food Fest is part of Kuching Festival, an annual event organised by Kuching South City Council (MBKS) to celebrate Kuching being elevated to city status on Aug 1, 1988.

This year the food fair happening from July 26 to Aug 16 is made up of 281 stalls selling a wide variety of food ranging from local, Japanese, Korean, Western Indian and Taiwanese cuisine.

While it might not be easy to find a seat due to the crowd, there are designated places for those having beer.

Do take note that some of the beer brands might run out sooner then you think, so you might want to go early.

Besides food, the festival also features nightly entertainment and a trade fair.

Read more about tips before going to Kuching Food Fest here.

An amusing story of papayas during WWII in Kuching

During World War II (WWII), Batu Lintang camp housed both Allied prisoners of war (POWs) and civilian internees.

The living conditions within the compounds were cramped. The occupants were separated into different compounds and groups, namely British officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs), Australian officers and NCOs, Dutch officers and NCOs, British other ranks, British Indian Army, Indonesian soldiers, Roman Catholic priests and religious men, male civilian internees and female civilian internees.

There were altogether 110 priests and religious Catholics, including 44 Capuchin friars, five Mountfort missionaries, 22 Brothers of Huijbergen and 38 Mill Hill missionaries.

These priests and religious men who were mostly Dutch and Irish, had a large plot of land to grow vegetables and fruits in their compound.

Meanwhile, other compounds such as those that belonged to the Australian, Dutch and British officers had not enough land for cultivation.

Besides vegetables and fruits, the priests happened to be successful in growing papayas.

According to The Sarawak Gazette report (Apr 1, 1947), it was not a surprise to see a Japanese soldier came to their compound asking for papayas.

He said that his chief needed three papayas immediately and they must be large and fully ripe.

The priests then obeyed, giving the soldier the papayas that he demanded.

Lieutenant-Colonel Tatsuji Suga and ‘his papayas’
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Then Lieutenant-Colonel Tatsuji Suga came into the picture. He was the commander of all Prisoner-of-War (POW) and civilian internment camps in Borneo .

Suga was believed to be a Christian. There were accounts of him attending church services at the internment camps during the war.

Within an hour after the three priests reluctantly surrendered their papayas to the Japanese, a messenger arrived from the camp commandment office.

He said that the Lieutenant-Colonel would like to see the three priests, whom he learned were all over 70 years of age.

So the priests quickly wore their best robes and proceeded to the office where they met with Suga.

Suga told the priests that while he treated all his prisoners sympathetically, he was particularly considerate of the aged.

“That being so he trusts his visitors will accept as a token of his respect and appreciation, a small gift.”

And guess what? He handed to each priest, one very succulent papaya.

The betrayal of Pengiran Muda Hashim and his family

Pengiran Muda Hashim (also known as Raja Muda Hashim) has famously gone down in history as the man who sought the backing of James Brooke and his schooner, the Royalist, to fight against rebels and pirates in Sarawak.

Responding to the request, Brooke succeeded in controlling the uprising in Sarawak.

Subsequently, Brooke was appointed Governor of Sarawak and he became a close friend with the pengiran.

The friendship between James Brooke and Pengiran Muda Hashim

The close relationship between Brooke and the pengiran was in fact not favourable to his nephew Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien II and some of the royal family members of the Brunei Sultanate.

Just like Brooke, Pengiran Muda Hashim was against piracy and the slave-selling business. However, it was believed that part of the sultan’s income derived from the profits of selling slaves. The sultan accused his uncle and his family of being pro-English.

So in 1844, the Sultan summoned Pengiran Muda Hashim and his whole family to return to Brunei.

The pengiran returned home accompanied by his friend Brooke on board HMS Samarang.

Upon arriving in Brunei, the pengiran discovered that the role of Bendahara (similar to Prime Minister) originally meant for him, had been taken by Pengiran Yusuf.

Despite this, the pengiran still decided to stay on in Brunei as it was his home.

After a while, however, tensions started to rise between Pengiran Muda Hashim and Pengiran Yusuf.

The peak of the tension

The tension between Pengiran Yusuf and Pengiran Muda Hashim reached its peak on June 3, 1845 when civil war broke out between them.

Pengiran Muda Hashim was assisted by one of his brothers Pengiran Badruddin.

The battle took place in an area called Barakas, Brunei. The brothers brought along 1,000 soldiers from the Kedayan tribe while the Bendahara had about 300 loyal followers.

By sheer numbers alone, Pengiran Yusuf was defeated in the battle and he fled to Kimanis in current-day Sabah.

After the battle, the Sultan reluctantly appointed Pengiran Muda Hashim as the Bendahara and named him as his heir to the throne.

This event caused the previous heir to the Sultan’s adopted son, Pengiran Temenggung Pengiran Anak Hashim, to feel threatened, enough to finally make a plan for the murder of the pengiran.

The murder plot against Pengiran Muda Hashim

Owen Rutter in The Pirate Wind detailed the murder plot against Pengiran Muda Hashim and his family.

According to Rutter, the man assigned to execute the coup against the newly appointed Bendahara was a commoner named Haji Saman.

Rutter wrote,“Without warning, and in the dead of night, forty or fifty armed men surrounded the house of Pengiran Muda Hashim, set fire to it in several places then began a general attack.”

At first, the pengiran managed to escape with his wife and children while some of his brothers were killed.

When Haji Saman and his followers caught him, he persuaded them to allow him to send a message to the Sultan begging for his life.

But the Sultan refused to spare his life. Together with his surviving family and followers, Pengiran Muda Hashim retreated to a vessel. An explosion happened on the vessel killing almost everyone except for the pengiran. Determined not to be taken alive by his enemies, Pengiran Muda Hashim ended his life by shooting himself in the head with a pistol.

Sketch of Pengiran Raja Muda Hashim who became the close friend of Brooke, c. 1846
James Brooke mourns his friend Pengiran Muda Hashim

Meanwhile, in Sarawak, Brooke was not informed about the death of his friend.

Japar, one of Pengiran Badruddin’s slave boys had survived the attack. He tried to relay his master’s last message to Brooke but was unable to escape from Brunei.

Japar eventually made his way to board a British warship HMS Hazard that took him to Sarawak to meet with Brooke.

After much difficulties, Japar reached Kuching on Mar 30, 1846. It was from Japar that the White Rajah finally found out about the bloody coup.

Pengiran Muda Hashim
The pengiran and his friend James Brooke.
Regarding the death of Pengiran, the first White Rajah’s feelings are best described in his own words. Here is an excerpt from his journal dated Apr 1, 1846:

“It is impossible for me to describe the indignation which I feel at this almost unheard of butchery of every member of the royal family known to be well-inclined to the British policy.

This infamous act has sealed the most flagrant breach of treaty entered into with Her Majesty’s government with the blood of the Sultan’s nearest relatives, and His Highness has now openly declared that he is prepared to fire upon the British flag whenever it shall appear near the defences which he is erecting.

Had this dreadful event arisen out of any source of internal struggle for sovereignty or power, however much to be regretted, it would not have rendered me so miserable as this fearful intelligence has now done.

Sure Her Majesty’s Government will well consider the case. It is beyond a doubt that the treachery and bad faith of the Sultan has resulted entirely from the fidelity of the Pengiran Muda Hashim, and of Pengiran Badruddin, to their engagements and the treaty entered into with the British authorities in these seas.

What other object can the Sultan have in placing himself in a position of such decided hostility to the British Government than a determination to have again recourse to the former atrocious system of a piracy and murder?

No less than thirteen of the members of the royal family have been massacred; and that the vicious sovereign gave his consent, if he did not directly order these murders, is clear on the face of the evidence before me.

Had I the power I would destroy both the city and Sultan, or at least would depose him; then if possible I would rescue the son of Muda Hashim and his surviving brothers, and place them in a fresh locality, and commence de novo with a better government under my own supervision.

I can write no more, my poor, poor friends, how sad and melancholy has been your fate! Never, never can I forget it. The regret, the indignation which I feel overpowers me.”

What Sarawak nature looked like in the 19th century according to Harriette McDougall

Harriette McDougall was the wife of Francis Thomas McDougall, the first Anglican Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak from 1849 to 1868.

They first arrived in Sarawak on June 29, 1848 then subsequently established a medical mission as well as a home school here.

The couple spent the next 20 years -on and off- in the Kingdom, visiting various areas in Sarawak.

In 1888, Harriette published ‘Sketches of Our Life at Sarawak’, a book sharing her experience while staying in Borneo.

While some of her accounts were controversial, arguable and biased; she cited the deaths of the Great Kayan Expedition as “their own fault” and stated Islam as “not a faith which teaches mercy or respects life”, Harriette did give descriptions of Sarawak nature during the mid-19th century that would be important for historians or ecologists today.

They not only gave glimpses of how the state appeared back then, but how much has changed in term of biodiversity:

Here are some of the places Harriette described in her book ‘Sketches of Our Life at Sarawak’:
1.Buntal Bay
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Welcome to Buntal Esplanade!

Over recent years, scientists identified Bako Buntal Bay as the wandering site for at least 27 migratory bird species in their annual migration between Southeast Asia and Australasia.

However, can you imagine that the number of bird species could be more during the mid 19th century?

According to Harriette, there was no settlement at Buntal bay when they occasionally visited the area.

Harriette wrote, “As the tide ebbed the birds arrived–tall storks, fishing eagles, gulls, curlew, plover, godwits, and many others we did not know. They flew in long lines, till they seemed to vanish and reappear, circling round and round, then swooping down upon the sand where the receding waves were leaving their supper. I never saw a prettier sight. The tall storks seemed to act like sentinels, watching while the others fed.”

She continued, “And there are many such spots in Borneo where no human foot ever trod, and where trees, flowers, and insects flourish exceedingly; where the birds sing songs of praise which are only heard by their Maker, and where the wild animals of the forest live and die unmolested. There is always something delightful to me in this idea. We are apt to think that this earth is made for man, but, after many ages, there are still some parts of his domain unconquered, some fair lands where the axe, the fire, and the plough arc still unknown.”

2.Muara Tebas
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The view of Muara Tebas.

When Harriette and her companions needed to enter Sarawak, they used the Muara Tebas route.

Along this route, she took in the view of villages and environment along the river banks.

Though Harriette mistook crocodiles for alligators, she did describe how the mangrove forests came alive with glittering fireflies during the night.

During this 21st century, one can only imagine how beautiful that sight was.

“The river winds continually, and every new reach had its interest: a village of palm-leaf houses built close to the water, women and children standing on the steps with their long bamboo jars, or peeping out of the slits of windows at the schooner; boats of all sizes near the houses, fishing-nets hanging up to dry, wicked alligators lying basking on the mud; trees of many varieties–the nibong palm which furnishes the posts of the houses, the nipa which makes their mat walls, and close by the water the light and graceful mangroves, which at night arc all alive and glittering with fire-flies. On the boughs of some larger trees hanging over the stream, parties of monkeys might be seen eating the fruits, chattering, jumping, flying almost, from bough to bough.”

3.Batang Rajang

When Harriette arrived at Batang Rajang, she described it as a glorious river saying “It is not visited by a bore, and eighty miles from the sea it is half a mile broad, and deep to the banks.”

She also had high praises for the flowers in Borneo.

Harriette wrote, “They seldom grow on the ground, though you may sometimes come upon a huge bed of ground orchids, but mostly climb up the trees, and hang in festoons from the branches. One plant, the Ixora, for instance, propagating itself undisturbed, will become a garden itself, trailing its red or orange blossoms from bough to bough till the forest glows with colour.

The Rhododendron, growing in the forks of the great branches, takes possession of the tall trees, making them blush all over with delicate pinks and lilacs, or deepest rose clusters. Then the orchideous plants fix themselves in the branches, and send out long sprays of blossom of many colours and sweetest perfume.”

At the Rajang river, Harriette also paid attention to the sounds or birds.

According to her there were not many singing birds in Borneo but she did notice the curious creaking noise made by the wings of Rhinoceros hornbills as they fly past.

(We bet Sarawakians nowadays may not be aware of how hornbills’ wings sound.)

Regardless, the biggest noisemaker of the Borneon jungle was none other than the gibbons or as Harriette called them, the Wawa monkey.

Here is how she lengthily described the sounds of gibbons:

“More musical is the voice of the Wawa monkey, a bubbling like water running out of a narrow-necked bottle, always to be heard at early dawn, and the sweetest of alarums. A dead stillness reigns in the jungle by day, but at sunset every leaf almost becomes instinct with life. You might almost fancy yourself beset by Gideon’s army, when all the lamps in the pitchers rattled and broke, and every man blew his trumpet into your ear. It is an astounding noise certainly, and difficult to believe that so many pipes and rattles, whirring machines and trumpets, belong to good-sized beetles or flies, singing their evening song to the setting sun. As the light dies away all becomes still again, unless any marshy ground shelters frogs. But to hear all this you must go to the old jungle, where the tall trees stand near together and shut out the light of day, and almost the air, for there is a painful sense of suffocation in the dense wood.”

Borneo states favoured Malaysia, according to United Nations 1963 report

Sept 16, 1963 marks the day the Federation of Malaysia was established. But did you know that the United Nations only released its UN Malaysia Assessment Mission report two days before on Sept 14?

UN Secretary-General U Thant had sent nine men on a mission with the agreement of Britain, to satisfy Indonesia and the Philippines on whether the Borneo states (Sarawak and North Borneo) agreed on the setting up of Malaysia. The Philippines was laying territorial claim on a portion of North Borneo, while Indonesia under President Sukarno objected to the formation of Malaysia, calling Tunku Abdul Rahman’s plans ‘neo-colonialist’.

In the UN report, U Thant stated: “In response to the request made by the Governments of the Federation of Malaya, the Republic of Indonesia, and the Republic of the Philippines, on Aug 5, 1963, I agreed to ascertain, prior to the establishment of the Federation, the wishes of the people of Sabah (North Borneo) and Sarawak.

“As foreseen in my communication of Aug 8, 1963, a mission was established, comprising two teams, one for Sarawak and the other for Sabah, working under the supervision of my personal representative.”

Headed by Laurence Michemore and composed entirely of UN secretariat members, the mission eventually found that the great majority of the people of Sabah and Sarawak ‘strongly supported’ Malaysia.

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Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysian Federation. Credit: Pixabay.
Here are principal findings by the UN Malaysia Mission on Borneo states’ stand on the federation:

1.Sarawak and North Borneo had reached a stage a self-government that would enable their people to make a responsible choice of their future.

2.Their decision to join Malaysia was the result of the freely expressed wishes of their peoples.

3.The great majority of the people of North Borneo had strongly supported the Malaysia proposals from the time of the elections to the present.

4.An analysis of the Sarawak election returns showed 61% in favour of Malaysia; 22.2% opposed and 16.8% neutral.

5.Of the 183,191 Sarawak citizens who took definitive stands on Malaysia, 73.3% were in favour and 26.7% opposed.

6.Sarawak’s elected representatives stood in favour of Malaysia, 284 to 123, or 66.2% to 28.7%. The other 22 could not be classified in either groups.

7.In North Borneo, doubts and reservations appeared to be limited to groups, largely in the interior and may have been attributed to satisfaction with the status quo, lack of information or lack of clear understanding of the proposal or suspicion of unfamiliar ideas.

8.Popular support for Malaysia in North Borneo had increased since the elections.

9.Malaysia was a major issue in recent elections in both Borneo states and the vast majority of the electorate understood the proposal to join Malaysia.

10.The actions of Sarawak’s Council Negri in welcoming the establishment of Malaysia could be regarded as the expression of the wish of the people through established legislative institutions.

U Thant’s statement on the report

Meanwhile, U Thant also concluded that the majority of the peoples of North Borneo and Sarawak wanted the idea of Malaysia.

“I have come to the conclusion that the majority of the peoples of Sabah and of Sarawak have given serious and thoughtful consideration to their future and to the implications for them of participation in a Federation of Malaysia.”

However, some argued that the UN could not carry out such a comprehensive survey in large territories like Sabah and and Sarawak in such a short amount of time when most parts were not even accessible back then.

Still, U Thant defended the team stating, “While more time might have enabled the mission to obtain more copious documentation and other evidence, it would not have affected the conclusions to any significant extent.”

The little-known story of floating dead bodies off Buntal Bay

What would you do if you came across a scene of floating dead bodies? It is an unimaginable sight for today’s Sarawakians but that was what happened during the early part of World War II.

Before we get into the floating dead bodies, let’s talk about the Japanese attack on Kuching during World War II.

On Dec 16, 1941, the Japanese forces managed to secure Miri and Seria with only very little resistance from British forces.

About a week later on Dec 22, a Japanese convoy left Miri for Kuching but was spotted by a Dutch flying boat (otherwise known as a seaplane). It radioed in a warning to a Dutch submarine, HNLMS K XIV which was under the command of Lieutenant Commander Carel A. J. van Groenevald.

Since HNLMS K XIV saw the Japanese coming, it managed to break the Japanese convoy on Dec 23. It attacked two Japanese troopships Hiyoshi Maru and Katori Maru off the coast of Santubong.

Both of these army transports sunk together with hundreds of Japanese troops. Another troopship Hokkao Maru was beached to prevent it from sinking while Nichiran Maru was less seriously damaged.

The rest of the troops were able to land and they were met by the 15th Punjab Regiment which resisted the attack. But the British Indian Army was soon outnumbered and retreated up the river. By Christmas eve, Kuching was already in Japanese hands.

What happened to the dead bodies?
Buntal Esplanade 11
Kampung Buntal.

According to George Jamuh in an article published The Sarawak Gazette on Dec 7, 1949, one of the troopships was bombed at Tanjung Sipang on Santubong Peninsular.

After the bombing, hundreds of dead bodies floated into Buntal Bay with many of them washed ashore and some even wedged between the roots of mangrove trees.

“For weeks Buntal villagers did not dare to eat fish, particularly crabs, and some ikan badukang that were sent to the Kuching fish market contained fingers and toes of Japanese soldiers,” George wrote.

Soon enough, the area was full of flies, maggots and foul odours. Then, it came to a point that the villagers near Buntal bay, without waiting for orders, buried these dead bodies.

The villagers buried them where they found them, leaving some mark above each grave.

After some weeks, perhaps after the Japanese started to settle in Kuching, some of the Japanese officers came down and forced all the local men to exhume the bodies.

George was doubtful if all were the dead bodies were dug up because there were reports of more remains found after the war.

He wrote, “It was understood that only the skulls were taken to be cremated and the villagers were told that individual ashes were to be sent to relatives in Japan. This tale the villagers swallowed; but, in the absence of identity discs or dented numbers on the skulls, how could this be done? Unless, of course, it was done in the way APC powders were mixed and distributed by the Japanese.”

Now comes the question; is it possible that some of Japanese soldiers’ remains are still buried at Buntal bay?

Why is there a badger on the old Sarawak coat of arms?

If you have never seen the old Sarawak coat of arms, you can spot it on the pediment above the pillars of the Kuching General Post Office on Jalan Tun Haji Openg.

There you will see the shape of an animal on top of a shield and the words “Dum Spiro Spero”.

Now comes the question what is that animal? It is actually a European badger, an animal that cannot be found in Sarawak.

If you are not familiar with a badger, remember Trufflehunter from The Chronicles of Narnia, one of Aslan’s followers?

Why is there a European badger on the old Sarawak coat of arms?

The White Rajahs were a dynastic monarchy of the British Brooke family. With the first ruler James, they founded and ruled the Kingdom of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946.

The heraldic arms of the Brooke dynasty were based on the emblem used by James. It consisted of a red and black cross on a yellow shield, crested by a badger.

This animal, in Middle English, was known as a “brock” and was also a nickname for people named “Brook” or “Brooke”. Hence the animal refers to the dynastic surname.

There are different kinds of badgers out there such as honey badger, American badger, European badger, Asian badger and Japanese badger.

The closest thing we have to the European badger (Meles meles) on the coat of arms is the Bornean ferret-badger (Melogale everetti). Although its only known certainty of location is on Mount Kinabalu and nearby regions in Sabah, it is suspected it can be found in Kalimantan and Sarawak too.

Sarawak old coat of arms
Sarawak’s old coat of arms (left) beside the one used today.
The current Sarawak coat of arms

Instead of a badger, we have our own Rhinoceros hornbill befitting the state’s nickname ‘Land of Hornbills’. The bird itself wears a shield on our current coat of arms. This design was established in 1988. The hornbill’s wings have 13 feathers representing all the Malaysian states.

It also features Malaysia’s national flower, the hibiscus.

Right below the hornbill is a banner bearing Sarawak’s motto “Bersatu, Berusaha, Berbakti” which means ‘Unity, Effort, Service’.

This motto was to replace Kingdom of Sarawak’s Dum Spiro Spero.

The history of James Brooke’s schooner, the ‘Royalist’

If Sarawakians were to name one 19th century schooner that they may know, the answer would most probably be the Royalist.

(For Pirates of the Caribbean fans who said The Black Pearl, you’d be off by a century as the trilogy was set roughly in the mid-1700s.)

The Royalist itself was famously known to have played an important role in establishing British adventurer James Brooke’s foothold in Sarawak.

He bought the vessel in 1836 with money he had inherited from his father.

The Findlay

That being said, did you know that the Royalist was not Brooke’s first vessel?

Brooke always wanted to sail to this part of the globe. He was reportedly inspired by the book The Eastern Seas written by George Windsor Earl. According to Robert Payne in The White Rajahs of Sarawak, Brooke begged his father for a ship – any ship.

“At last, in February 1834, his father relented and promised to buy a ship for him and to furnish it with merchandise.”

Finally, he saw a ship he wanted in Liverpool. It was black, with a black hull and black mast.

Like any young man excited over a new ride, Brooke got excited and told his friend about it.

In a letter to Cruikshank, he wrote: “Me voila done! I have a vessel afloat, and nearly ready for sea- a rakish slaver brig, 290 tons burden- one that would fight or fly as occasion demanded, and made to pay her expenses The Indian Archipelago, the northeast coast of China, Japan, New Guinea and the Pacific is the unlimited sphere of our adventure.”

So, the ship (which was called The Findlay) sailed from England on May 6, 1834.

Unfortunately for Brooke, his captain (a friend named Kennedy) and first mate (Harry Wright) did not see eye to eye with each other.

Kennedy and Wright were constantly quarreling along the journey. Brooke then abruptly decided to sell The Findlay and its cargo.

The Eastern Seas 2
The Eastern Seas by George Windsor Earl.
The Royalist

Frustrated, Brooke returned to Bath, England where he spent his time fox-hunting and yachting. At this time, Payne stated that he “seemed to have no purpose in life.”

Finally, his purpose in life came in the form of a 142-ton topsail schooner.

When Brooke’s father died in December 1835, he inherited £30,000 (about £3,780,000 in 2019). He immediately bought a yacht, The Royalist. She was believed to be built in Cowes in 1834 as a gentleman’s yacht for Rev T.L Lane.

It was “armed with six six-pounders, a number of swivel guns, and every kind of small arms.”

The Royalist was a vessel of the Royal Yacht Squadron, one of the most prestigious yacht clubs in the world that still exists to this day.

Due to this, she could fly The White Ensign. This was a flag flown on British Royal Navy ships and shore establishments.

In other words, the Royalist was accorded the same right as ships of the Royal Navy.

This time, Brooke had learned his lesson from The Findlay, so he chose his officers wisely. For his first journey on the Royalist, he took some of his relatives and friends to the Mediterranean.

During this journey, he even brought along his nephew John Brooke Johnson Brooke who later became Rajah Muda, his heir to the Kingdom of Sarawak. This was before Brooke disinherited him in favour of his younger brother, Charles.

They travelled to Malta, Bosporus, Halicarnassus (now Bodrum) and Rhodes. Then, they returned home in June, 1837.

For 18 months, Brooke studied where he was going and charted his journey.

In fact, his initial plan was to establish a settlement at Malludu Bay (now Kota Marudu, Sabah).

The Royalist sets sail to the Far East

After that long and studious period of planning, he was ready to sail the Royalist by the end of 1838.

He was famously quoted from his diary stating, “Could I carry my vessel to places where the keel of European ship never before played the waters, could I plant my foot where white man’s foot has never been before – could I gaze upon scenes which educated eyes have never looked on – see man in the rudest state of nature – I should be content without looking to further rewards.”

Finally, the Royalist sailed from Devonport on Dec 16, 1838 with 19 crew members.

On June 1, 1839, Brooke arrived in Singapore where he remained for a few weeks. It was here that Brooke finally heard about Sarawak.

Payne wrote, “He learned that the antimony ore, which gleamed with a dull silvery gleam and which he could see being unloaded in Singapore harbour, came from Sarawak. He learned, too, that the Rajah (Pangeran Muda Hashim) was fighting some obscure rebels in the interior. There had been no mention of Sarawak in his prospectus. Now he was on fire to enter Sarawak.”

At that time, the future king never thought he would became the first White Rajah of Sarawak.

The Royalist arrives in Sarawak

So Brooke made his preparation, readying gifts such as silk, cloth, sweets, preserved ginger, gunpowder to present to Pangeran Muda Hashim.

Even during the 19th century Made-in-China items were famous as Brooke prepared a huge box of toys from China for Pangeran’s children.

On July 27, the Royalist left Singapore and heading toward Borneo. Then on Aug 11, they laid eyes on Mount Santubong for the first time.

Three days later on Aug 14, the Royalist sailed slowly up Sarawak river passing through mangroves and nipah palms along the riverbank.

“At night, less than two miles from Kuching, he dropped anchor. At first dawn the Royalist rounded a bend in the river, and at seven o’clock came in sight of Kuching,” Payne wrote.

And the rest is history.

The Eastern Seas
A small replica of The Royalist on display at The Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita.
The royal shipwreck

Two years after Brooke became the first White Rajah of Sarawak on September, 1843, the Royalist was recorded in Brunei.

Then, it was reported that the Royalist was sold as a trading vessel early in 1844 but still retained her name.

On Dec 11, 1854, the schooner was wrecked near Kawhia, New Zealand. Her captain then, a man named Tavernor wrote a letter on Dec 12, 1854 to Charles Davis reporting on the wreck.

“I had done my best to save the vessel from destruction; but afterwards my whole thought was how to save our own lives, but fortunately the tide and serf left us sufficiently for us to get onshore safe. We then commenced to get everything from the wreck that we possibly could, it then being 6 o’clock, and the tide making fast, this morning we cut her fore-mast and main-mast away, saved them with sails and yards, and a little timber, whether we shall save more I cannot say all the timber and most part of the wheat, the vessel is now a total wreck.

The Royalist was 86 tons register, and had on board 1,700 bushels wheat, and 14,000 feet sawn timber, at the time she went ashore.”

Captain Tavernor (Dec 12, 1854)
The Resurrection of the Royalist

In September 2018, the Royalist made headlines as it would make a return to Kuching after 180 years.

Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg announced that the replica of the Royalist, with the exact scale of the original vessel will be placed at the Brooke Dockyard.

This would be after The Brooke Trust and Hollywood were done using it for their shoot in the upcoming White Rajah film.

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