Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Sarawak coast is safe

‘The coast of Sarawak is as safe to the trader as the coast of England, and an unarmed man can traverse the country without let or hindrance.’ This is taken from a foreword, written by James Brooke, the first so-called White Rajah of Sarawak, to the diaries of his nephew Charles Brooke who did much to help tame the territory’s wild natives - while his uncle was still alive, and after, during his near 50 year term as the second Rajah, which ended with his death 100 years ago today.

Charles Johnson was born in Somerset in 1829, educated at Crewkerne grammar school, and joined the navy when only 12 years old. In his early 20s, he left the navy, and travelled to Sarawak, where his uncle James Brooke, was its leader, the first White Rajah of Sarawak. Charles changed his name to Brooke, and joined his uncle’s service, learning the language and employing local people to tame the territory’s wilder elements. In 1864, the UK recognised Sarawak as a separate state, and the following year James named Charles as his successor. In 1868, he was proclaimed the second Rajah; and a year later he married Margaret Alice Lili de Windt in England. They had six children, three of whom survived infancy. Charles Brooke also had an older son with a Malay woman.

Thereafter, Charles Brooke continued his uncle’s policies of suppressing piracy and slavery, while encouraging trade and development. He ruled Sarawak for 50 years, generally with a mild hand, enlarging the territory, building roads and a railway, but resisting rapid modernisation or much immigration. In 1888, Britain agreed to make Sarawak a protectorate; and in the same year, Queen Victoria awarded Brooke a knighthood. When he died, on 17 May 1917, his son, Charles Vyner, became the next and last Rajah before Sarawak was ceded to the UK in 1946. There is not much information about Charles Brooke readily online, but see Wikipedia, The Brooke Trust, The British Empire, or a Daily Mail view of the White Rajahs.

In 1866, the London-based Tinsley Brothers published Charles Brooke’s two volume Ten Years in Sarawak, part memoir and part diary of his time before becoming Rajah. Both parts are freely available to read online at Internet Archive (vol 1, vol 2).

James Brooke, still the Rajah at the time, provided a foreword to the book: ‘I have been requested by the publishers to affix a few prefatory remarks to my nephew’s book upon Sarawak, and having read the sheets as they were passing through the press I willingly do so. Its defects I leave others to discover; I do not coincide in all his opinions, nor do I agree with many of his theories; but the simple and truthful narrative of his adventures as the leader of the wild and numerous Dyak tribes, will interest many readers as it has interested me. He is looked up to in that country as the chief of all the Sea Dyaks, and his intimate knowledge of their language, their customs, their feelings, and their habits far exceeds that of any other person. His task has been successfully accomplished, of trampling out the last efforts of the piratical Malayan chiefs, and their supporters amongst the Dyaks of Saribus, and of the other countries he has described. He first gained over a portion of these Dyaks to the cause of order, and then used them as his instruments in the same cause, to restrain their countrymen. The result has been that the coast of Sarawak is as safe to the trader as the coast of England, and that an unarmed man could traverse the country without let or hindrance. It is a gratification to me to acknowledge my nephew’s devotion to the cause to which my own life has been devoted.’

Brooke introduces chapter 6 in volume 2 as follows: ‘An attack on the Kayan country had been for some time past in contemplation, and was deferred last year in consequence of the season being too far advanced, and the people very badly off for provisions.

In arranging the preliminaries of such an undertaking, to decide whether the attack was to be made or not, I felt the pulse of the people by making inquiries of five or six chiefs only, and in this case did so while at Sakarang. They gave me positive assurances that the Government should organise an attack as soon as possible, as the Kayans every year were becoming more troublesome and dangerous. They remarked, “You see, we are yet young and strong; but there is no saying what we may be next year; and as the Kayans have to be attacked, let us do it at once, and have done with it.”

Mr. Cruickshank, the Resident of Rejang, had frequently sent letters complaining of the depredations and havoc they were committing yearly on our Dyaks and trade. Ransacking the interior of their country was the only effectual method of bringing them to their senses, for they have never yet seen a force more powerful than themselves, and no attacking party, except Dyaks, had heretofore encroached upon the confines of their country. Six weeks was the time allowed for the population to complete their farming, prepare boats, and provision for two months - to furnish axes, arms, and other needfuls, requisite for such an undertaking up river and inland. We were busily employed making cartridges and repairing gear and boats.’

And here are a few diary extracts that follow.

19 May 1863
‘The two heavy guns were fired at sunset, as a preparatory signal for the final start in the morning. I had written letters to Sarawak and England, and for the sixth time made my will, and was now anxious to be off. There were many natives very apprehensive in their minds about the success of the coming attack, and they were extremely fearful of sickness in penetrating so far inland. Abang Aing, prince of caution, care, and prudence, requested me to supply him with a roll of white cloth as grave-clothes, in order to perform the last obsequies to those who should remain behind. I had sent word to Watson to await our arrival at Kabong, and my brother had already proceeded to Kanowit, accompanied by Sergeant Lees, in charge of guns, rockets, muskets, and ammunition, to the amount of several thousand rounds.’

20 May 1863
‘The boat was launched, the two guns again fired off with heaviest of cartridges, and at mid-day we started. My crew were mostly old followers and servants who had been with me for years. Our boat was in very perfect order, well painted, and decorated with flags; for nothing tells so much as pride instilled and esprit de corps encouraged in the minds of the people. My fellows, however, had been dilatory in making a start. The last farewell and good wish given to the wife and family, the lord and master marches from his house with due decorum, stepping carefully to avoid any approach to a trip or fall, as bad consequences would then be predicted. The Mahomedans (Malays) permit no kissing and embracing in public, but their expressions of farewell are much the same as with us. [. . .]

Many go through the form of their forefathers in listening to the sounds of omens; but the ceremony now is very curtailed, compared with what it was a few years ago, when I have known a chief live in a hut for six weeks, partly waiting for the twittering of birds to be in a proper direction, and partly detained by his followers. Besides, the whole way in advancing, their dreams are religiously interpreted and adhered to; but, as in all such matters, interpretations are liable to a double construction. The finale is, that inclination, or often fear, is most powerful. A fearful heart produces a disagreeable dream, or a bad omen in imagined sounds from bird or deer; and this always makes a force return. But they often loiter about so long, that the enemy gains intelligence of their intended attack, and is on the alert. However absurdly these omens lead the human race, they steadily continue to follow and believe in such practices. Faith predominates and hugs huge wonders, and tenaciously lives in the minds of the ignorant. Some of the Dyaks are somewhat shaken in the belief in hereditary omens, and a few follow the Malay custom of using a particular day, which has a strange effect on European imaginations. [ . . .]

The effect of these signs on myself was often very marked; and no Dyak could feel an adverse omen more than myself when away in the jungles, surrounded by these superstitious people. Still I could sympathise with the multitude; and the difficulty lay in the question, whether my influence would be sufficient to counteract such phantoms. It must not be thought that I ever attempted to lead the Dyaks to believe that I was an owner of charms or such absurdities, which could not have lasted beyond a season, and could never be successful for a length of time. My desire was always to extinguish such an idea; but natives persisted in their belief. A Maia’s (orang utan) head was hanging in my room, and this they thought to be my director to successful expeditions.’

21 May 1863
‘We stopped to-day at Lingga, and I visited Banting for a few hours. There was little eagerness displayed by these Dyaks to follow the force. They are a strange and stubborn lot, and the only way to deal with them is to leave them very nearly to their own devices; after they have accused everyone of stupidity and want of forethought, except the right party (themselves), they find themselves much behindhand, and have extra hard work to overtake the force. The Bantings, however, have their redeeming qualities; they are braver than most of the other tribes, and are truehearted, but quarrelsome and troublesome in all expeditions. I believe it principally arises from their looking on themselves as the right-hand men in war proceedings; and as they have always been on friendly terms with the white men, they have escaped being attacked and burnt out.’

22 May 1863
‘We proceeded as far as the Si Ludam stream, accompanied by only a few boats. The Dyaks were already suffering severely from sickness; six men in a boat next to mine were groaning with pains of colic, besides others who had been stung by the poisonous fish on the mud. Of course they all requested medicine. Nearly two bottles of brandy and a quantity of laudanum were finished this afternoon. I felt this to be rather early in the day for ailments - almost before we were out of sight of our river.

The next morning we stopped at Kabong, a sandy spit which lies at the mouth of the Kaluka river. Here we found about forty large boats, and many Malays. Watson had just gone on towards Kanowit with another forty boats from Saribus. The Kaluka district had been shamefully governed from time immemorial, and as yet this place has derived few reforms from the superior Government of Sarawak; in fact, to pass reforms while the country is still in the possession of Malay rulers, is to little purpose, as the latter are not capable of benefiting by them. New blood is sadly required in this place before any beneficial change can be wrought, as the population, without being vicious, is weak, and has no reliance upon their own regime, nor any confidence that they could successfully imitate others. The consequence is, that there are continual alarms and false reports. And now the Malays hastened on board with a cock-and-bull story that the Kayans had removed to some impregnable fastnesses. This was told me by an officious old Nakodah, who was desirous of returning to his wives. I sent him to his boat with a flea in his ear, and informed him he should have the honour of leading the attack if his story proved true. There were also many nice quiet fellows among the inhabitants, who talked very sensibly; but all allowed that considerable apprehension was felt for the success of such a distant undertaking, against tribes whom they had been bred up to fear as the most powerful of all populations.’

24 May 1863
‘We were off at about 730 a.m. with a following of sixty boats, each averaging forty men. It was a fine morning, with only a ripple caused by a fresh land-breeze; but one cannot be otherwise than anxious when pulling along the coast with only three inches of dry planking above water. However, we reached the mouth of Niabur, and there entered a creek leading to the
Rejang river just in time, for the sea-breeze was commencing, and the surf had already shown white on an outstretching point of sand. Some of the larger boats went round by sea, and we all reached the rendezvous together for cooking at mid-day, but found there was little or no drinking-water, as all that remained in this dry season had been mixed with the tubar root for poisoning fish; so we only rested to eat boiled rice, and again pushed on through the creeks. This was puzzling navigation, and people often lose themselves for days in such places. Most of these rivers are about two hundred yards broad, and to all appearance deep, with the Nipa palm and mangrove abounding on the banks. At 3 P.M. we came out in the Rejang river, which is more than a mile in breadth. The tide was in our favour, and we pushed on to Sarikei, where there were some huts of people who had lately taken up their abode here. This place was burnt down, as before mentioned, in 1859, subsequent to the murders of Messrs. Fox and Steele at Kanowit. We had made fifty miles to-day with paddles alone. Sarikei is twenty-six miles from the mouth of Rejang.’

The Diary Junction

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