The History of Sarawak: Where Do We Begin?

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  • Topic: Brunei, Sarawak, Borneo
  • Pages : 13 (5021 words )
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  • Published : April 29, 2013
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The History of Sarawak: Where Do We Begin?

This is a kind of a love story. There is a Malay saying tak kenal maka tak cinta which has been used for the tourist promotion song, "to know Malaysia is to love Malaysia" and the Sarawak version should be "to know Sarawak is to love Sarawak". Undoubtedly to know the history of Sarawak is to love Sarawak. For the historians it is not that simple as falling in love. In the case for Sarawak we do not know where and when to begin. Sarawak has a fairly rich historiography, thanks to the Brooke. But unfortunately the present historiography of Sarawak begins with the Brunei Rule as the background for the Brooke period. My lecturer in the university, James Ongkili taught me this approach and in one of his articles he says: "No historical study of Sarawak and Sabah can begin without that of Brunei; for Sarawak was part of the Brunei Sultanate until the adventurous James Brooke succeeded in implanting himself as the Rajah of Sarawak in 1841, ... "1 This has a tremendous impact on my thinking and approach in looking at the history of Sarawak and northern Borneo as reflected in my book.2 After trying to construct the history of the Sultanate of Brunei for my students at the University of Brunei, it struck me that there were some autonomous riverine politics in northern Borneo long before the emergence of the sultanate. This led me to challenge both my former teacher's and my own views. The present approach in the writing of the history of Sarawak is unsatisfactory even if it commences with Brunei since the Brunei Period is treated briefly as the background to the Brooke Rule. Hence, perhaps it is more accurate to say that the present historiography of Sarawak begins with the coming of James Brooke, the founder of the Brooke dynasty which was to rule for almost a century. This paper proposes aynore remote beginning in the writing of the history of Sarawak on the belief that the "older the better" the state will be. To do that there is a need for some definitions. DEFINITION OF SARAWAK: IN TIME AND SPACE

Historically, in time and space there are three Sarawaks- The first is what I like-to call the Ancient Sarawak Politico-cultural Area (ASPA), secondly, the Old Sarawak (OS)thirdly, the New Sarawak (NS).3 At this stage it is easier to define the OS and NS than ASPA which will be the main focus of this paper. OS refers to the Sarawak River valley which was given to James Brooke by the Sultan of Brunei in 1841 and which later became the First Division in the NS. NS is the modern state of Sarawak created by the Brookes through purchase and permanent lease of most of the territories of the sultanate stretching from Tanjung Datu to Lawas River valley. The creation of the NS took place from 1841 to 1905 when Lawas was purchased from the British North Borneo. The two Sarawaks (OS and NS) were obviously political entities of their own but of a fairly recent creation. The OS was created by the Sultanate of Brunei while the NS was created by the Brookes at the expense of the sultanate itself. In either case the history of Sarawak could begin with the Brunei or the Brooke Period and this leaves the period before the 15th century, literally as the "Dark Age". In time there was Sarawak but in space it is difficult to define. To define space for Sarawak, it is proposed here that there were once three politico-cultural areas in northern Borneo (see map 1). The first is what I called the Ancient Sarawak Politico-cultural Area (ASPA)which stretches from Sambas to Bintulu that we know today. The second could be called the Brunei Politico-cultural Area (BPA) which includes the rivers after Bintulu Api-Api (Kota Kinabalu, Sabah now). The third is what could be labelled as the Sabah-Sulu Politico-cultural Area (SSPA). The division of these three politico-cultural areas is based on ethnicity which could be discerned very clearly. Briefly there is a distinct Malay dialect groups, namely the Sarawak Malays,...
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