The history of Sarawak is almost like a script from Hollywood adventure movies. The state was carved out from the ancient state of Brunei by a young Englishman, James Brooke. In 1839 he chanced upon the unloading of antimony ore in Singapore during a stopover on his voyage to the Far East. Upon learning that the mineral came from Borneo he changed his course and set sail to the island hoping to find the source. That decision led to the birth of the state of Sarawak.
As fate would have it, he arrived at a time when the local people were staging a rebellion against the Sultan of Brunei or more specifically against the Pengiran Mahkota, the Sultan's governor. The uprising brought to a halt the mining of antimony, a mineral from which Brunei acquired much of its revenue. The Raja Muda, the Sultan's uncle was sent to help the governor to quell the rebellion and to get production going on again. He saw in the Englishman, with his cannon-mounted yatch and muskets, a quick answer to his predicament. The request for help from the Raja Muda was met by James Brooke and the rebellion was quickly quelled. With that act, James Brooke was to alter the history of the region and give birth to a new state.
Pleased with his help in resolving the conflict, the Sultan of Brunei decided to cede that rebellious part of his sultanate to James Brooke as a reward and to rid himself of the troubles the rebels gave him. And so the State of Sarawak was born. Alas for the Sultan of Brunei, this act of generousity turned out to be the beginning of the erosion of the Brunei territory. In those days of rampant headhunting and piracy the far-flung regions of Brunei was ungovernable unless the Sultan was willing to forsake the comforts of the palace to lead military expeditions to impose his rule. Neither he nor his nobles were willing to do that. James Brooke, on the other hand, was eager and keen. Driven by an almost missionary zeal he took up the task of bringing law and order on behalf of the Sultan through what he ostensibly called pacification expeditions. For this he had adroitly exploited the local rivalry of the tribes from the different region, using the band of warriors from one river against another. Employing the proverbial "carrot and stick" tactic he would fight the recalcitrant natives to submission and then offered them peace if they agree to live within his sphere of control. His services were not free, for the reward of his military successes was the ceding of the "pacified areas" to him. In every area he had pacified and acquired he built a fort at strategic point of the river. As rivers were the chief means of transport and communication, he effectively controlled the area within the basin. The safety of the proximity of the fort and an armed force also attracted people to settle around them and all of the major towns of Sarawak sprouted from them.
Simanggang ( now known as Sri Aman ) grew around Fort Alice by the upper Sadong river, Kanowit flourished around Fort Emma, mid-way up the mighty Rejang river.
In an era when the most fearsome weapons were spears, parang ( native swords ) and blowpipes, Brooke's guns and cannons were as relatively powerful as today's guided missiles and smart bombs. His cannon-mounted yatch "Royalist" must have looked as intimidating as an aircraft carrier to the brave but hopeless outgunned native warriors in their war boats.
Within a few years he had "pacified" and expanded Sarawak manifold. His nephew and successor, Charles Brooke continued in the same vein bringing the territory of the state to its present size at the expense of Brunei.
The Brooke rule lasted one hundred years, ended after the Second World War when the third Rajah, Vyner Brooke ceded Sarawak to Britain. Sarawak remained a British colony until 1963 when she gained independence by joining the Federation of Malaysia.
( copyright by Paradima Productions Sdn. Bhd., - reproduced with permission )