The 1880 advertisement inviting Chinese settlers to Sibu

Patricia Hului

Advertising has been around since people created the written word. In this 21st century, we are constantly bombarded with advertisements, whether it’s in newspapers, websites, social media, billboards or signage.

Today’s advertisements usually sell different types of products and services.

But we at KajoMag bet that you have never seen an advertisement by a government inviting immigrants to settle in their respective regions in exchange for land and rice.

Building a kingdom

During the reign of second White Rajah, Charles Brooke, the Kingdom of Sarawak was slowly becoming politically stable.

Hence, the government started to draft development plans. One of the plans was to cultivate the land along the lower Rajang river.

In order to do so, the government needed a workforce. They had this action plan to invite Chinese immigrants to settle in the area and start cultivating.

At that time, there were already Chinese settlers in the area, but they were mainly traders and merchants.

(Left) Sibu_Bazaar_(1900-1930) Credits: The National Archives UK headquartered in Kew, Richmond, Greater London. [Public domain].
(Right) Arrival of Chinese immigrants in 1900 at Sibu. Credits: [Public domain]
So Charles put out an advertisement in the Sarawak Gazette which was printed on Nov 29, 1880:

I, Charles Brooke, Rajah make known the following terms which the Government of Sarawak hereby agrees to fulfill with any Company of Chinese who will engage to bring the Rajang River Chinese Settlers with wives and families numbering not less than three hundred souls, who will employ themselves in gardening and farming paddy or in other cultivation;-

1st – The Government will provide land sufficient for their requirements free of charge.

2nd – The Government on first starting will build them temporary houses, and make a good path to their landing place.

3rd – The Government will give them one Pasu (14.4 kg) of rice per man or woman a month and little salt and half the amount to every child for the first 12 months.

4th- The Government engage to keep upstream communication with Kuching and carry any necessaries for these settlers on the most reasonable terms.

5th – The Government will build a Police Stations near them to protect them and assist in making themselves understood in the native language and generally look after them.

6th – In carrying out the above engagements the Government expect the said will permanently settle in the territory of Sarawak.

Kuching, 11 November, 1880

Thanks to this advertisement, there were about 500 Chinese who came over to cultivate the land along the Lower Rajang area.

Later on, according to local historian Chang Pat Foh, many of them moved to Sibu area. Nonetheless, the large scale Chinese immigration did not happen until the early 20th century.

This was when the government directly sponsored the entry of three different Chinese groups: Foochows (1900), Cantonese (1901) and Henghuas (1911).