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What you need to know about the Kedang Expedition 1886

When second White Rajah, Charles Brooke visited Simanggang in June 1885, the Iban chiefs there complained to him that the Lemanak and Skrang peoples were constantly being attacked by those living near the Kedang ridge on the border between Sarawak and Dutch Borneo.

According to the Sarawak Gazette report published on Mar 7, 1949, the conflicts had continued off and on for almost 20 years.

So Charles decided to put an end to it. Somehow, he believed that the only decision he could make was to attack the Kedang people. But, of course, not without the permission from the Dutch government to cross the border.

He sent a letter to the Dutch, together with maps of longhouses for his punitive expedition.

At first, a Dutch officer suggested a joint attack on these Kedang areas. But Charles rejected the motion, believing his force was better than the Dutch.

Finally, in October 1885, the Rajah received a favourable reply from the Dutch. They allowed him to bring his mostly Iban forces to attack Kedang.

After discussions with the local chiefs, the Brooke government decided to assemble at the mouth of Lingga River during the new moon in March, 1886.

On the evening of March 8, they held a council of war to discuss their strategy. The Brooke government planned on targeting the Ibans living in the upper Delok (Sarawak), the Kedang ridge (on both sides) and in the Lanjak area (Netherlands Indies).

The next morning, a force of 355 boats with 10,000 to 12,000 fighting men came together, heading to Kedang. They finally made a landing on March 12.

After climbing for some hours, they finally came across Iban Kedang farming grounds.

The Kedang Expedition war plan

The government plan was to divide the force into four detachments with each group consisting about 2,500 men.

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A man referred to as Orang Kaya Pemancha in the report was the leader of the first group. This detachment headed to Gunung Lanja to lay waste all that line of country, avoiding Lake Sariang and Badau.

Meanwhile, the second group was led by an Iban chief named Minggat. Charles instructed them to burn and destroy everything they came across along the Kedang ridge.

Another Iban chief named Jabu led the third detachment. They were to march across the Kedang ridge but back by another path via Miniang stream.

Lastly, the fourth group was to stay at the camp. Their task was to burn houses near the camp, destroying anything they could not carry and gather ripe paddy. Soon enough, the camp was full of rice, pigs, poultry, dogs and valuable jars.

Minggat’s group was the first to return to camp on the March 19. They reported they destroyed 37 longhouses without losing any men.

Then, Orang Kaya Pemancha returned on March 25, reporting that his force had burnt eight longhouses and plundered everything they could carry.

The last group to return was Jabu’s. While the official number of the longhouses they burned was not recorded but it was the only the party that fell short.

Overall, the total number of longhouses destroyed was not less than 80 and the amount of havoc “quite beyond computation”.

The Dutch’s reaction to the aftermath of the Kedang Expedition

The Dutch reportedly were very unsatisfied with the manner in which the expedition was carried out, especially the rampant raiding and looting conducted by the Iban mercenaries and their attacks on several Iban longhouses that the Dutch regarded as friendly.

Before the expedition, the Dutch requested that Charles inform them of his plans in time so that they could protect the Emperan Iban they regarded as well-disposed and prevent them from giving aid to their kin who were to be attacked.

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Since it was a time when there was no WhatsApp, the Dutch complained they received the letters from Sarawak on the expedition plan quite late.

The Dutch resident in Pontianak, Resident Gijsberts only received Charles’ letter (dated on Feb 25) on March 10.

Meanwhile the controleur in the area received a letter from Sarawak resident (dated March 3) on the 12th. He reportedly rushed to protect any longhouses that he could.

In the meantime, Gijsberts arrived in the area with soldiers from Pontianak and Sintang. They were able to protect the longhouses of their district headman at Lanjak.

Once the Kedang Expedition returned to Sarawak, the Dutch counted 41 burned longhouses on their territory with at least 13 of which were considered friendly. There were also 16 dead, including some women and children.

Michael Eilenberg in his book At the Edges of States stated that in order to handle the problem after the expedition, the Dutch created a new district (Onderafdeeling Batang Loeparlanden) in the borderland. They then permanently stationed a Dutch district officer (controleur) in the area. They also increased the number of soldiers at the border post in Nanga Badau.

In the end, Iban leaders on both sides of the border tendered their submission to the Dutch and the Brookes respectively.

On the Dutch side, their government gave the Iban two conditions for submission. First, they had to pay a fine as a promise to stop raiding. Secondly, all longhouses upriver affected by the Kedang expedition had to move away from the border into specific territories further downriver.

Nanga Badau Border Post in current day.
Sarawak defended its action during Kedang Expedition
Charles Brooke (left) and map showing the route of Kedang Expedition. Credits: Reed L. Wadley.

Reed L. Wadley in his paper “Trouble on the Frontier: Dutch-Brooke Relations and Iban Rebellion in the West Borneo Borderland (1841-1886)” analysed the complex relationship between these two governments.

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Later in early April, Resident Gijsberts met who his Sarawak counterpart, Henry Deshon in Pontianak to discuss about the matter.

Logically, the first question the Dutch asked was whether Sarawak purposely sent the letters late.

Deshon, who was present during the expedition, maintained his innocence about the late arrival of the letters. Furthermore, he said the map, submitted by Charles indicated the target area within Dutch territory was inaccurate.

Gijsberts then pointed out around 20 longhouses in the Kedang and Delok areas were still left standing, casting in doubt Sarawak’s claims that the expedition was completely successful.

“For their part and reflecting Brooke’s feeling that the Dutch were weak in the dealing with the Iban, Deshon offered to post an agent in West Borneo to advise the Dutch on Dayak matters, something the Dutch rejected outright,” Wadley wrote.

What a way to tell someone that they were incompetent in their jobs by posting one of your own in other people’s territory.

Wadley continued, “However the continual acrimony and distrust (expressed publicly and no doubt even more strongly in private), the Dutch realised that the close cooperation with Sarawak was important for keeping the border Iban in check.

“Resident Gijsberts even wrote to the Governor-General in Batavia that he preferred their present, rocky relationship with Sarawak to that with the Iban.”

Furthermore, after 1886 and possibly because of the Kedang Expedition, Sarawak-Netherlands Indies relations seem to have improved.

Wadley added, “There were generally fewer complaints by Dutch officials to their superiors about Sarawak cooperation, and there appears to be more cooperation in arresting and extraditing cross-border troublemakers.”

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 Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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