Five historical facts that must be in the film, White Rajahs

Many Sarawakians welcomed the making of the film, White Rajahs who once colonized Sarawak from 1841 to 1941. News in the local papers reported that the state government has given a substantial financial support.  Nonetheless the producer needs to be reminded of five historical facts that must be included and presented objectively. They should be mindful of the sensitivities of various Sarawakians as well as that of neighbouring countries, especially Brunei Darussalam. It is advisable that the producer should make engagements with various ethnic groups as well as historians.

Brookes were never citizens of Sarawak

James Brooke

History tends to be subjected to contesting interpretations of events of the past that may be bias and malicious.  The history of White Rajahs is no exception.  As a personal colony of the Brookes, they remained the citizens of Britain, indigenous historians and foreigners will certainly have their own interpretations.  At the same time the producer must take into account the role of the Sultanate of Brunei which ruled literally the territory of the whole of Sarawak as it is today.  The brotherly diplomatic relation with Brunei Darussalam must be treated with utmost care.  Similarly, he should be aware that even many English themselves are not too proud with the Brookes. They were never became the citizens of Sarawak, they remained foreigners.

The making of the film, White Rajahs, should be seen from the lens of Sarawakians and not that of foreigners.  A way to navigate out of the maze of the past the producer should be objective and fair portraying the characters and events in the history of Sarawak.

Sarawak was Sawaku, Cerava, Saragua

1. The name Sarawak has been known as Sawaku in 1365 by the Javanese; Saragua by the Spanish in 1575 and Cerava by the Portuguese in the 16th Century. Sarawak was first established by the Malay ruler, Datu Merpati with its capital in Santubong in about 600CE and later relocated to Lidah Tanah, further upstream. It was located in the Sarawak River basin, not the size of the present Sarawak that stretches from Lundu to Lawas.

Pengiran Indera Mahkota Muhamad Salleh

Muhamad Salleh

2. Later Sarawak became a vassal of the Sultanate of Brunei in the 18th Century with Kuching as its centre of administration. In 1820 the Sultan of Brunei appointed Pengiran Indera Mahkota Pengiran Shahbandar Muhammad Salleh ibnu Pengiran Sharmaymuda as the Governor; he was an intellectual who was educated in Batavia during the Dutch colonial rule. He was bitterly opposed to the granting of Sarawak to James Brooke in 1841. Kuching was then wholly a Malay town, like any other Malay towns in the Malay Archipelago at the time.  He later wrote a political poem, Syair Rakis in 1848 lamenting the loss of Sarawak to James Brooke.

Chinese gold miners

 3. A few historical facts on the Chinese Rebellion in 1857 could be a sensitive event to be re-enacted. Hence the producer should get all the facts correct first. The Chinese gold miners who settled in Bau were those who have escaped from the war in Sambas and Montrado gold mines. They were obviously immigrants to Sarawak and should be considered as foreigners. As such the rebellion should not be interpreted as the symbol of Sarawak nationalism.

Datu Patinggi Abdul Ghafur saved the Brookes

Datu Patinggi Ali

4. The Chinese Rebellion has attracted a few researches in the past where new facts have be discovered to give new interpretations of the history of Sarawak. A closer reading of old record found that James Brooke and the town of Kuching were saved by the Malays of Kuching and not by the Ibans of Batang Lupar. James Brooke jumped into the Sungai Bedil Kechil and was saved by the villagers just beside the Astana. The Malays led by Datu Patinggi Abdul Ghafur and Abang Abdul Gafur drove out the Chinese rebels back to the ulu of Sarawak Rivers. Only then the Ibans arrived in Kuching. 

The Malay Plot

5. There is also the Malay Plot in 1860 planned by Datu Imam Abang Abdul Gafur and Syed Masahor.  James Brooke admired their fine characters and intelligence but were later cruelly exiled; the former to Singapore and the later to Melaka where died and buried in distant lands.

The state government as the main financial sponsor has the responsibility and duty to ensure that this film should adhere to the historical facts and the interpretations should be from the eyes of Sarawakians and not some outsiders.

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Studied History as my major from the University of Malaya, in particular history of Sarawak for BA, MA and PhD. My writings come from the English literature and my stories are from history. I have written several books, among them are Malay Politics in Sarawak (Oxford, 1985); Melayu Sarawak: Sejarah Yang Hilang (UNIMAS, 2013; 2nd ed. Saramedia, 2016).

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