The Improbable Story of Sarawak

In 1841, James Brooke, an English aristocrat with wanderlust, who is presumed to have been a homosexual, charmed a Sultan and bumbled his way into Borneo, the world’s third largest island full of warring head hunters and pirates.

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Showing a compassion, cultural awareness and love that is still all too uncommon even today, Brooke via diplomacy and the odd bit of help from passing British gunships created the independent state of Sarawak. Brooke and his two heirs ruled this state as the famed White Rajahs. During the reign of the first two Rajahs, head hunting was replaced with British common law, religious pluralism was respected and a mutual respect was fostered between the peoples of Sarawak.

Among their most distinguished guests was the Scottish naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who jointly published the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin in 1858. A theory he developed independently to Darwin 15 miles from the centre of Kuching. Such is the beauty and biodiversity of the Borneo’s tropical rainforests.

Peaceful life in Sarawak came to an abrupt halt in 1941 when the Japanese invaded as part of World War II. Kuching must have charmed the Japanese too though, for it was spared serious damage as both the British and Japanese chose to surrender rather than destroy it. A fate it’s neighbour to the north, Kota Kinabula the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah did not receive being near annihilated twice.

After the war the 3rd and last White Rajah, Charles Vyner Brooke ceded Sarawak to the British Crown. Two decades of colonial rule followed before in 1963 Sarawak joined with Malaya, Singapore and British North Borneo (Sabah) to form the Federation of Malaysia as a semi-autonomous state.

James Graham

— My warmest thanks to my friend and the guest author of this post, James Graham. If you haven’t clicked on any of the links, check out the website onthisday.com, it will help to make you smarter. It’s currently going through a face lift, so in one month’s time it’s going to be even more awesome. Roshan

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