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The Limbang Rebellion from a local point of view

On Dec 8, 1962, Limbang witnessed bloodshed when Sheikh Azahari Sheikh Mahmud (famously known as A.M. Azahari) ordered an attack on the town.

He was the leader of the Brunei People’s Party and North Kalimantan National Army (TNKU).

After attacking the police station, they captured several rifles and machine guns.

They then held the British resident and his wife hostage along with 12 others.

On the morning of Dec 12, the British Royal Marine commandos were tasked to rescue the hostages.

The attack, which later became known as the Limbang Rebellion, without a doubt gained the support local people, especially among the Kedayans.

A Kedayan who worked in Miri District Office back in the 1960s offered his theories.

In a letter published in The Sarawak Gazette on Nov 30, 1965, Said Mohidin explained what he believed the reasons behind the Limbang Rebellion.

Photo from the Memorial service and the unveiling of plague at Limbang on Aug 3, 1963 to honour those who died during the Limbang rebellion. All photos are under © Commando Veterans Archive 2006 – 2016 licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Photo courtesy of Estelle Hart who adds ” Unveiling performed by His Excellency, the Governer of Sarawak, Sir Alexander Waddell KCMG, DSC. Wreaths also laid by General W.C. Walker CBE, DSO, Director of Operations, Brigadier F.C. Barton, OBE, Commander 3rd Commando Brigade, RM”

1.Economic Depression

Said wrote, “Limbang, out of her population of about 15,000 comprises almost 4,000 Kedayans. Most of them, with the exception of a few villages, live in the interior. Being not the only one race in Sarawak who was then, and is still now, economically handicapped or depends merely on rubber as a source of income, they experienced greatly on the effect of the fluctuation of rubber prices in about 1950s; or at least offers every evidence to justify their being out of job in this competitive world.”

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Most of them then moved to Seria and Kuala Belait in Brunei in seeking for job opportunities.

2.Seria oil boom

Speaking of job opportunities, the Seria oil boom was like a heaven-sent opportunity for many Kedayans.

They poured in there in the hundreds in the early 1950s.

It was when they were working there that they heard about A.M Azahari. They believed in A.M. Azahari’s causes and joined his Brunei People’s Party.

The party sought to democratise the government by shifting the national leadership from the palace to the people.

Those who had returned to Limbang tried to form the Limbang branch of Brunei People’s Party. Meanwhile, the locals as well as the then British colonial government were quick to wipe out their influence they even started.

Things started to change in the late 1950s when the Brunei Shell Company no longer needed manual labourers from Sarawak. Many were sent home to Limbang. Obviously, they were not happy to lose their source of income.

Said stated, “They argued that they should not be deprived of their rights to stay in Brunei. Besides, they simply thought that this was the work of the British.”

With that, their opposition against the British and their yearning to stay in Brunei grew.

3.Political set-up in Limbang

According to Said, the native leaders and members had two very great things in commons political-wise. The first one was to return Limbang to Brunei and to oppose the creation of Malaysia.

With the said reasons, they could not care less which party they were in.

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Said wrote, “I often times heard them say, in an answer to my questions, that ‘if Limbang were under Brunei government we would enjoy the same privileges that our brothers and sisters do there’.”

To voice out their opposition, the Kedayan leaders tried every means to get Limbang out before Sarawak join Malaysia.

Said wrote, “They demonstrated jointly against the imposition of house assessment; they submitted their petition to the Cobbold Commission pledging that Limbang should be returned to Brunei; they submitted a mandate to the British Queen and to the Governor of Sarawak of same. All failed.”

“They were very desperate, but many accepted failures democratically and were later seemed to fade away from view. However, a few extremists together with many interior Kedayans were still very determined to return Limbang to Brunei. With this objective coupled with their intention to get seedy independence outside Malaysia, they performed secret indoctrination meetings and have their secret oath taken.”

From there, we know what happened to those who participated in the raid on Limbang.

Of 150 rebels, 12 were killed and 15 were captured.

Read about how the government rehabilitated the rebels after the Limbang Rebellion.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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