British Borneo - Sketches of Brunai, Sarawak, Labuan, and North Borneo
by W. H. Treacher
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Sketches of Brunai, Sarawak, Labuan, and North Borneo.


W. H. TREACHER, C.M.G., M.A. OXON., Secretary to the Government of Perak, Formerly Administrator of Labuan and H.B.M. Acting Consul-General in Borneo, First Governor of British North Borneo.

Reprinted from the Journal of the Straits Settlements Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

Singapore: Printed at the Government Printing Department. 1891.



THE Hudson's Bay Company's Charter, 1670. British North Borneo Company's Charter, November 1881, as a territorial power. The example followed by Germany. Borneo the second largest island in the world. Visited by Friar Odoric, 1322, by Berthema, 1503; but not generally known until, in 1518 Portuguese, and in 1521 Spanish, expeditions touched there. Report of Pigafetta, the companion of Magellan, who found there a Chinese trading community. Origin of the name Borneo; sometimes known as Kalamantan. Spanish attack on Brunai, 1573. First Dutch connection, 1600; first British connection, 1609. Diamonds. Factory established by East India Company at Banjermassin, 1702, expelled by natives. British capture of Manila, 1762, and acquisition of Balambangan, followed by cession of Northern Borneo and part of Palawan. Spanish claims to Borneo abandoned by Protocol, 1885. Factory established at Balambangan, 1771, expelled by Sulus, 1775; re-opened 1803 and abandoned the following year. Temporary factory at Brunai. Pepper trade. Settlement of Singapore, 1819. Attracted trade of Borneo, Celebes, &c. Pirates. Brooke acquired Sarawak 1840, the first permanent British possession. Labuan a British Colony, 1846. The Dutch protest. Their possessions in Borneo. Spanish claims. Concessions of territory acquired by Mr. Dent, 1877-78. The monopolies of the first Europeans ruined trade: better prospect now opening. United States connection with Borneo. Population. Malays, their Mongolian origin. Traces of a Caucasic race, termed Indonesians. Buludupih legend. Names of aboriginal tribes. Pagans and Mahomedans.


Description of Brunai, the capital, and its river. Not a typical Malayan river. Spanish Catholic Mission. British Consulate. Inche Mahomed. Moses and a former American Consulate. Pigafetta's estimate of population in 1521, 150,000. Present estimate, 12,000. Decay of Brunai since British connection. Life of a Brunai noble; of the children; of the women. Modes of acquiring slaves: 'forced trade.' Condition of slaves. Character and customs of Brunai Malays. Their religion, gambling, cock-fighting: amoks, marriage. Sultan and ministers and officers of the state. How paid. Feudal rights—Ka-rajahan, Kouripan, Pusaka. Ownership of land. Modes of taxation. Laws. Hajis. Punishments. Executions. A naval officer's mistake. No army, navy, or police, but the people universally armed. Cannon foundries. Brass guns as currency. Dollars and copper coinage. Taxation. Revenue; tribute from Sarawak and North Borneo; coal resources.


Pigafetta's description of Brunai in 1521. Elephants. Reception by the King. Use of spirituous liquors. Population. Floating Market. Spoons. Ladies appearing in public. Obeisance. Modes of addressing nobles. The use of yellow confined to the Royal Family. Umbrellas closed when passing the Palace. Nobles only can sit in the stern of a boat. Ceremonies at a Royal reception; bees-wax candles.

Mr. Dalrymple's description of Brunai in 1884. Quakers' meeting. Way to a Malay's heart lies through his pocket. Market place and hideous women. Beauties of the Harems. Present population. Cholera. Exports. Former Chinese pepper plantations. Good water supply. Nobles corrupt; lower classes not. The late Sultan Mumim. The present Sultan. Kampongs, or parishes and guilds. Methods of fishing: Kelongs; Rambat; peculiar mode of prawn-catching; Serambau; Pukat; hook and line; tuba fishing. Sago. Tobacco; its growth and use. Areca-nut; its use and effects. Costumes of men and women. Jewellery. Weapons. The kris; parang; bliong; parang ilang. The Kayans imitated by the Dyaks in a curious personal adornment. Canoes: dug-outs; pakerangan; prahus; tongkangs; steering gear; similarity to ancient Vikings' boat; boat races. Paddling. The Brunais teetotallers and temperate. Business and political negotiations transacted through agents. Time no object. The place of signatures taken by seals or chops. The great seal of state. Brunais styled by the aborigines, Orang Abai. By religion Mahomedans, but Pagan superstitions cling to them; instances. Traces of Javanese and Hindu influences. A native chronicle of Brunai; Mahomedanism established about 1478; connection of Chinese with Borneo; explanation of the name Kina-balu applied to the highest mountain in the island. Pepper planting by Chinese in former years. Mention of Brunai in Chinese history. Tradition of an expedition by Kublai Khan. The Chinese driven away by misgovernment. Their descendants in the Bundu district. Other traces of Chinese intercourse with Borneo. Their value as immigrants. European expeditions against Brunai. How Rajah Brooke acquired Sarawak amidst the roar of cannon. Brooke's heroic disinterestedness. His appointment as British confidential agent in Borneo. The episode of the murder of Rajah Muda Hassim and his followers. Brunai attacked by Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane. Captain Rodney Mundy follows the Sultan into the jungle. The batteries razed and peace proclaimed.


Sarawak under the Brooke dynasty. By incorporation of other rivers extends over 40,000 square miles, coast line 380 miles, population 280,000. Limbang annexed by Sarawak. Further extension impossible. The Trusan river; 'trowser wearers'; acquired by Sarawak. The Limbang, the rice pot of Brunai. The Cross flown in the Muhamadan capital by pagan savages. A launch decorated with skulls. Dyak militia, the Sarawak 'Rangers,' and native police force. Peace of Sarawak kept by the people. Cheap government. Absolute Monarchy. Nominated Councils. The 'Civil Service,' 'Residents.' Law, custom, equity and common sense. Slavery abolished. Sources of revenue—'Opium Farm' monopoly, poll tax, customs, excise, fines and fees. Revenue and expenditure. Early financial straits. Sarawak offered to England, France and Holland. The Borneo Company (Ltd.). Public debt. Advantages of Chinese immigration 'Without the Chinese we can do nothing.' Java an exception. Chinese are good traders, agriculturists, miners, artizans, &c.: sober and law-abiding. Chinese secret societies and faction fights; death penalty for membership. Insurrection of Chinese, 1857. Chinese pepper and gambier planters. Exports—sago and jungle produce. Minerals—antimony, cinnabar, coal. Trade—agriculture. Description of the capital—Kuching. Sir Henry Keppel and Sir James Brooke. Piracy. 'Head money.' Charges against Sir J. Brooke. Recognition of Sarawak by United States and England. British protectorate. Death of Sir J. Brooke. Protestant and Roman Catholic Missions. Bishops MacDougal and Hose. Father Jackson. Mahomedans' conversion not attempted.


Incident of the Limbang rebellion against Sultan of Brunai. Oppression of the nobles. Irregular taxation—Chukei basoh batis, bongkar sauh, tulongan, chop bibas, &c. The orang kayas. Repulse of the Tummonggong. Brunai threatened. Intervention of the writer as acting Consul General. Datu Klassi. Meeting broken up on news of attack by Muruts. Sultan's firman eventually accepted. Demonstration by H.M.S. Pegasus. 'Cooking heads' in Brunai river. Death of Sultan Mumim. Conditions of firman not observed by successor. Sir Frederick Weld visits and reports on North Borneo and Brunai. Legitimate extension of Sarawak to be encouraged.


The Colony of Labuan, ceded to England in return for assistance against pirates. For similar reasons monopoly of pepper trade granted to the East India Company in 1774. First British connection with Labuan in 1775, on expulsion from Balambangan. Belcher and Brooke visit Brunai, 1844, to enquire into alleged detention of an European female. Offer of cession of Labuan. Rajah Muda Hassim. At Sultan's request, British attack Osman, in Marudu Bay, 1845. Brooke recognised as the Queen's agent in Borneo. Captain Mundy, R.N., under Lord Palmerston's instructions, hoists British flag in Labuan, 24th Dec., 1846. Brooke appointed the first Governor, 1847, being at the same time British representative in Borneo, and independent ruler of Sarawak. His staff of 'Queen's officers'; concluded present treaty with Brunai; ceased to be Governor 1851. Sir Hugh Low, Sir J. Pope Hennessy, Sir Henry Bulwer, Sir Charles Lees. Original expectations of the Colony not realized. Description of the island. The Kadayans. Agriculture, timber, trade. Overshadowed by Singapore, Sarawak, and North Borneo. Writer's suggestion for proclaiming British Protectorate over North Borneo, and assigning to it the Government of Labuan, has been adopted. Population of Labuan. Its coal measures and the failure of successive companies to work them; now being worked by Central Borneo Company (Ltd.). Chinese and natives worked well under Europeans. Revenue and expenditure. Labuan self-supporting since 1860. High-sounding official titles. One officer plays many parts. Labuan celebrated for its fruits, introduced by Sir Hugh Low. Sir Hugh's influence; instance of, when writer was fired on by Sulus. H.M.S. Frolic on a rock. Captain Buckle, R.N. Dr. Treacher's coco-nut plantation. The Church.


British North Borneo; mode of acquisition; absence of any real native government; oppression of the inland pagans by the coast Muhamadans. Failure of American syndicate's Chinese colonization scheme in 1865. Colonel Torrey interests Baron Overbeck in the American concessions; Overbeck interests Sir Alfred Dent, who commissions him to acquire a transfer of the concessions from the Sultans of Brunai and Sulu, 1877-78. The ceded territory known as Sabah. Meaning of the term. Spanish claims on ground of suzerainty over Sulu. Not admitted by the British Government. The writer ordered to protest against Spanish claims to North Borneo, 1879. Spain renounced claims, by Protocol, 1885. Holland, on ground of the Treaty of 1824, objected to a British settlement in Borneo; also disputed the boundary between Dutch and British Borneo. The writer 'violates' Netherland territory and hoists the Company's flag on the south bank of the Siboku, 1883. Annual tribute paid to the Brunai Government. Certain intervening independent rivers still to be acquired. Dent's first settlements at Sandakan, Tampassuk, and Pappar. Messrs. Pryer, Pretyman, Witti, and Everett. Opposition of Datu Bahar at Pappar. Difficult position of the pioneer officers. Respect for Englishmen inspired by Brooke's exploits. Mr. W. H. Read. Mr. Dent forms a 'Provisional Association' pending grant of a Royal Charter, 1881, composed of Sir Rutherford Alcock, A. Dent, R. B. Martin, Admiral Mayne, W. H. Read. Sir Rutherford energetically advocates the scheme from patriotic motives. The British North Borneo Company incorporated by Royal Charter, 1st November, 1881; nominal capital two millions, L20 shares. 33,030 shares issued. Powers and conditions of the Charter. Flag.


Area of British North Borneo exceeds that of Ceylon; points of similarity; styled 'The New Ceylon.' Joseph Hatton's book. Tobacco planters attracted from Sumatra. Coast-line, harbours, stations. Sandakan town and harbour; founded by Mr. Pryer. Destroyed by fire. Formerly used as a blockade station by Germans trading with Sulu. Capture of the blockade runner Sultana by the Spaniards. Rich virgin soil and fever. Owing to propinquity of Hongkong and Singapore, North Borneo cannot become an emporium for eastern trade. Its mineralogical resources not yet ascertained. Gold, coal, and other minerals known to exist. Gold on the Segama river. Rich in timber. 'Billian' or iron-wood; camphor. Timber Companies. On board one of Her Majesty's ships billian proved three times as durable as lignum vitae. Mangrove forests. Monotony of tropical scenery. Trade—a list of exports. Edible birds'-nests. Description of the great Gomanton birds'-nests caves. Mr Bampfylde. Bats' Guano. Mode of collecting nests. Lady and Miss Brassey visit the Madai caves, 1887. Beche-de-mer, shark fins, cuttle fish. Position of Sandakan on the route between Australia and China—importance as a possible naval station. Shipping. Postal arrangements. Coinage. Currency. Banking. Probable cable station.


Importance of the territory as a field for the cultivation of the fine tobacco used for 'wrappers.' Profits of Sumatra Tobacco Companies. Climate and Soil. Rainfall. Seasons. Dr. Walker. The sacred mountain, Kina-balu. Description of tobacco cultivation. Chinese the most suitable labour for tobacco; difficulty in procuring sufficient coolies. Count Geloes d'Elsloo. Coolies protected by Government. Terms on which land can be acquired. Tobacco export duty. Tobacco grown and universally consumed by the natives. Fibre plants. Government experimental garden. Sappan-wood. Cotton flock.


Erroneous ideas as to the objects of the Company. Difficult to steal Highlanders' trowsers. Natives 'take no thought for the morrow.' The Company does not engage in trade or agriculture. The Company's capital is a loan to the country, to be repaid with interest as the country developes under its administration. Large area of land to be disposed of without encroaching on native rights. Land sales regulations. Registration of titles. Minerals reserved. Transfer from natives to foreigners effected through the Government. Form of Government—the Governor, Residents, &c. Laws and Proclamations. The Indian Penal, Criminal, and Civil procedure codes adopted. Slavery—provision in the Charter regarding. Slave legislation by the Company. Summary of Mr. Witti's report on the slave system. Messrs. Everett and Fryer's reports. Commander Edwards, R.N., attacks the kidnapping village of Teribas in H.M.S. Kestrel. Slave keeping no longer pays. Religious customs of the natives preserved by the Charter. Employment of natives as Magistrates, &c. Head-hunting. Audit of 'Heads Account.' Human sacrifices. Native punishments for adultery and theft. Causes of scanty population. Absence of powerful warlike tribes. Head hunting—its origin. An incident in Labuan. Mr. A. Cook. Mr. Jesse's report on the Muruts to the East India Company. Good qualities of the aborigines. Advice to young officers. The Muhamadans of the coast, the Brunais, Sulus, Bajows. Capture by Bajows of a boat from an Austrian frigate. Baron Oesterreicher. Gambling and cattle lifting. The independent intervening rivers. Fatal affray in the Kawang river: death of de Fontaine, Fraser and others. Mr. Little. Mr. Whitehead. Bombardment of Bajow villages by Captain A. K. Hope, R.N., H.M.S. Zephyr. Captain Alington, R.N., in H.M.S. Satellite. The Illanuns and Balinini. Absence of Negritos. The 'tailed' people. Desecration of European graves. Muhamadans' sepulture. Burial customs of the aborigines.


Importance of introducing Chinese into Borneo. Java not an example. Sir Walter Medhurst Commissioner of Chinese immigration. The Hakka Chinese settlers. Sir Spencer St. John on Chinese immigration. The revenue and expenditure of the territory. Zeal of the Company's officers. Armed Sikh and Dyak police. Impossible to raise a native force. Heavy expenditure necessary in the first instance. Carping critics. Cordial support from Sir Cecil Clementi Smith and the Government of the Straits Settlements. Visit of Lord Brassey—his article in the 'Nineteenth Century.' Further expenditure for roads, &c., will be necessary. What the Company has done for Borneo. Geographical exploration. Witti and Hatton. The lake struck off the map. Witti's murder. Hatton's accidental death. Admiral Mayne, C.B. The Sumpitan or Blow-pipe. Errors made in opening most colonies, e.g. the Straits Settlements. The future of the country. The climate not unhealthy as a rule. Ladies. Game. No tigers. Crocodiles. The native dog. Pig and deer. Wild cattle. Elephants and Rhinoceros. Bear. Orang-utan. Long-nosed ape. Pheasants. The Company's motto—Pergo et perago. Governor Creagh. Mr. Kindersley.



In 1670 CHARLES II granted to the Hudson's Bay Company a Charter of Incorporation, His Majesty delegating to the Company actual sovereignty over a very large portion of British North America, and assigning to them the exclusive monopoly of trade and mining in the territory. Writing in 1869, Mr. WILLIAM FORSYTH, Q.C., says:—"I have endeavoured to give an account of the constitution and history of the last of the great proprietary companies of England, to whom a kind of delegated authority was granted by the Crown. It was by some of these that distant Colonies were founded, and one, the most powerful of them all, established our Empire in the East and held the sceptre of the Great Mogul. But they have passed away

——fuit Ilium et ingens Gloria Teucrorum—

and the Hudson's Bay Company will be no exception to the rule. It may continue to exist as a Trading Company, but as a Territorial Power it must make up its mind to fold its (buffalo) robes round it and die with dignity." Prophesying is hazardous work. In November, 1881, two hundred and eleven years after the Hudson's Bay Charter, and twelve years after the date of Mr. FORSYTH'S article, Queen VICTORIA granted a Charter of Incorporation to the British North Borneo Company, which, by confirming the grants and concessions acquired from the Sultans of Brunai and Sulu, constitutes the Company the sovereign ruler over a territory of 31,000 square miles, and, as the permission to trade, included in the Charter, has not been taken advantage of, the British North Borneo Company now does actually exist "as a Territorial Power" and not "as a Trading Company."

Not only this, but the example has been followed by Prince BISMARCK, and German Companies, on similar lines, have been incorporated by their Government on both coasts of Africa and in the Pacific; and another British Company, to operate on the Niger River Districts, came into existence by Royal Charter in July, 1886.

It used to be by no means an unusual thing to find an educated person ignorant not only of Borneo's position on the map, but almost of the very existence of the island which, regarding Australia as a continent, and yielding to the claims recently set up by New Guinea, is the second largest island in the world, within whose limits could be comfortably packed England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, with a sea of dense jungle around them, as WALLACE has pointed out. Every school-board child now, however, knows better than this.

Though Friar ODORIC is said to have visited it about 1322, and LUDOVICO BERTHEMA, of Bologna, between 1503 and 1507, the existence of this great island, variously estimated to be from 263,000 to 300,000 square miles in extent, did not become generally known to Europeans until, in 1518, the Portuguese LORENZO DE GOMEZ touched at the city of Brunai. He was followed in 1521 by the Spanish expedition, which under the leadership of the celebrated Portuguese circumnavigator MAGELLAN, had discovered the Philippines, where, on the island of Mactan, their leader was killed in April, 1520. An account of the voyage was written by PIGAFETTA, an Italian volunteer in the expedition, who accompanied the fleet to Brunai after MAGELLAN'S death, and published a glowing account of its wealth and the brilliancy of its Court, with its royally caparisoned elephants, a report which it is very difficult to reconcile with the present squalid condition of the existing "Venice of Hovels," as it has been styled from its palaces and houses being all built in, or rather over, the river to which it owes its name.

The Spaniards found at Brunai Chinese manufactures and Chinese trading junks, and were so impressed with the importance of the place that they gave the name of Borneo—a corruption of the native name Brunai—to the whole island, though the inhabitants themselves know no such general title for their country.

In some works, Pulau Kalamantan, which would signify wild mangoes island, is given as the native name for Borneo, but it is quite unknown, at any rate throughout North Borneo, and the island is by no means distinguished by any profusion of wild mangoes.[1]

In 1573, a Spanish Embassy to Brunai met with no very favourable reception, and three years later an expedition from Manila attacked the place and, deposing a usurping Sultan, re-instated his brother on the throne, who, to shew his gratitude, declared his kingdom tributary to Spain.

The Portuguese Governor of the Moluccas, in 1526, claimed the honour of being the first discoverer of Borneo, and this nation appears to have carried on trade with some parts of the island till they were driven out of their Colonies by the Dutch in 1609. But neither the Portuguese nor the Spaniards seem to have made any decided attempt to gain a footing in Borneo, and it is not until the early part of the 17th century that we find the two great rivals in the eastern seas—the English and the Dutch East India Trading Companies—turning their attention to the island. The first Dutchman to visit Borneo was OLIVER VAN NOORT, who anchored at Brunai in December, 1600, but though the Sultan was friendly, the natives made an attempt to seize his ship, and he sailed the following month, having come to the conclusion that the city was a nest of rogues.

The first English connection with Borneo was in 1609, when trade was opened with Sukadana, diamonds being said to form the principal portion of it.

The East India Company, in 1702, established a Factory at Banjermassin, on the South Coast, but were expelled by the natives in 1706. Their rivals, the Dutch, also established Trading Stations on the South and South-West Coasts.

In 1761, the East India Company concluded a treaty with the Sultan of Sulu, and in the following year an English Fleet, under Admiral DRAKE and Sir WILLIAM DRAPER captured Manila, the capital of the Spanish Colony of the Philippines. They found in confinement there a Sultan of Sulu who, in gratitude for his release, ceded to the Company, on the 12th September, 1762, the island of Balambangan, and in January of the following year Mr. DALRYMPLE was deputed to take possession of it and hoist the British flag. Towards the close of 1763, the Sultan of Sulu added to his cession the northern portion of Borneo and the southern half of Palawan, together with all the intermediate islands. Against all these cessions the Spanish entered their protest, as they claimed the suzerainty over the Sulu Archipelago and the Sulu Dependencies in Borneo and the islands. This claim the Spaniards always persisted in, until, on the 7th March, 1885, a Protocol was entered into by England and Germany and Spain, whereby Spanish supremacy over the Sulu Archipelago was recognised on condition of their abandoning all claim to the portions of Northern Borneo which are now included in the British North Borneo Company's concessions.

In November, 1768, the Court of Directors in London, with the approval of Her Majesty's Ministers, who promised to afford protection to the new Colony, issued orders to the authorities at Bombay for the establishment of a settlement at Balambangan with the intention of diverting to it the China trade, of drawing to it the produce of the adjoining countries, and of opening a port for the introduction of spices, etc. by the Bugis, and for the sale of Indian commodities. The actual date of the foundation of the settlement is not known, but Mr. F. C. DANVERS states that in 1771 the Court ordered that the Government should be vested in "a chief and two other persons of Council," and that the earliest proceedings extant are dated Sulu, 1773, and relate to a broil in the streets between Mr. ALCOCK, the second in the Council, and the Surgeon of the Britannia.

This was a somewhat unpropitious commencement, and in 1774 the Court are found writing to Madras, to which Balambangan was subordinate, complaining of the "imprudent management and profuse conduct" of the Chief and Council.

In February, 1775, Sulu pirates surprised the stockade, and drove out the settlers, capturing booty valued at about a million dollars. The Company's officials then proceeded to the island of Labuan, now a British Crown Colony, and established a factory, which was maintained but for a short time, at Brunai itself. In 1803 Balambangan was again occupied, but as no commercial advantage accrued, it was abandoned in the following year, and so ended all attempts on the part of the East India Company to establish a Colony in Borneo.

While at Balambangan, the officers, in 1774, entered into negotiations with the Sultan of Brunai, and on undertaking to protect him against Sulu and Mindanau pirates, acquired the exclusive trade in all the pepper grown in his country.

The settlement of Singapore, the present capital of the Straits Settlements, by Sir STAMFORD RAFFLES, under the orders of the East India Company in 1819, again drew attention to Borneo, for that judiciously selected and free port soon attracted to itself the trade of the Celebes, Borneo and the surrounding countries, which was brought to it by numerous fleets of small native boats. These fleets were constantly harassed and attacked and their crews carried off into slavery by the Balinini, Illanun, and Dyak pirates infesting the Borneo and Celebes coasts, and the interference of the British Cruisers was urgently called for and at length granted, and was followed, in the natural course of events, by political intervention, resulting in the brilliant and exciting episode whereby the modern successor of the olden heroes—Sir James Brooke—obtained for his family, in 1840, the kingdom of Sarawak, on the west coast of the island, which he in time purged of its two plague spots—head-hunting on shore, and piracy and slave-dealing afloat—and left to his heir, who has worthily taken up and carried on his work, the unique inheritance of a settled Eastern Kingdom, inhabited by the once dreaded head-hunting Dyaks and piratical Mahomedan Malays, the government of whom now rests absolutely in the hands of its one paternally despotic white ruler, or Raja. Sarawak, although not yet formally proclaimed a British Protectorate,[2] may thus be deemed the first permanent British possession in Borneo. Sir JAMES BROOKE was also employed by the British Government to conclude, on 27th May, 1847, a treaty with the Sultan of Brunai, whereby the cession to us of the small island of Labuan, which had been occupied as a British Colony in December, 1846, was confirmed, and the Sultan engaged that no territorial cession of any portion of his country should ever be made to any Foreign Power without the sanction of Great Britain.

These proceedings naturally excited some little feeling of jealousy in our Colonial neighbours—the Dutch—who ineffectually protested against a British subject becoming the ruler of Sarawak, as a breach of the tenor of the treaty of London of 1824, and they took steps to define more accurately the boundaries of their own dependencies in such other parts of Borneo as were still open to them. What we now call British North Borneo, they appear at that time to have regarded as outside the sphere of their influence, recognising the Spanish claim to it through their suzerainty, already alluded to, over the Sulu Sultan.

With this exception, and that of the Brunai Sultanate, already secured by the British Treaty, and Sarawak, now the property of the BROOKE family, the Dutch have acquired a nominal suzerainty over the whole of the rest of Borneo, by treaties with the independent rulers—an area comprising about two-thirds of the whole island, probably not a tenth part of which is under their actual direct administrative control.

They appear to have been so pre-occupied with the affairs of their important Colony of Java and its dependencies, and the prolonged, exhausting and ruinously expensive war with the Achinese in Sumatra, that beyond posting Government Residents at some of the more important points, they have hitherto done nothing to attract European capital and enterprise to Borneo, but it would now seem that the example set by the British Company in the North is having its effect, and I hear of a Tobacco Planting Company and of a Coal Company being formed to operate on the East Coast of Dutch Borneo.

The Spanish claim to North Borneo was a purely theoretical one, and not only their claim, but that also of the Sulus through whom they claimed, was vigorously disputed by the Sultans of Brunai, who denied that, as asserted by the Sulus, any portion of Borneo had been ceded to them by a former Sultan of Brunai, who had by their help defeated rival claimants and been seated on the throne. The Sulus, on their side, would own no allegiance to the Spaniards, with whom they had been more or less at war for almost three centuries, and their actual hold over any portion of North Borneo was of the slightest. Matters were in this position when Mr. ALFRED DENT, now Sir ALFRED DENT, K.C.M.G., fitted out an expedition, and in December, 1877, and January, 1878, obtained from the Sultans of Brunai and Sulu, in the manner hereafter detailed, the sovereign control over the North portion of Borneo, from the Kimanis river on the West to the Siboku river on the East, concessions which were confirmed by Her Majesty's Royal Charter in November, 1881.

I have now traced, in brief outline, the political history of Borneo from the time when the country first became generally known to Europeans—in 1518—down to its final division between Great Britain and the Netherlands in 1881.

If we can accept the statements of the earlier writers, Borneo was in its most prosperous stage before it became subjected to European influences, after which, owing to the mistaken and monopolising policy of the Commercial Companies then holding sway in the East, the trade and agriculture of this and other islands of the Malay Archipelago received a blow from which at any rate that of Borneo is only now recovering. By the terms of its Charter, the British North Borneo Company is prohibited from creating trade monopolies, and of its own accord it has decided not to engage itself in trading transactions at all, and as Raja BROOKE'S Government is similar to that of a British Crown Colony, and the Dutch Government no longer encourage monopolies, there is good ground for believing that the wrong done is being righted, and that a brighter page than ever is now being opened for Borneo and its natives.

Before finishing with this part of the subject, I may mention that the United States Government had entered into a treaty with the Sultan of Brunai, in almost exactly the same words as the English one, including the clause prohibiting cessions of territory without the consent of the other party to the treaty, and, in 1878, Commodore SCHUFELDT was ordered by his Government to visit Borneo and report on the cessions obtained by Mr. DENT. I was Acting British Consul-General at the time, and before leaving the Commodore informed me emphatically that he could discover no American interests in Borneo, "neither white nor black."

The native population of Borneo is given in books of reference as between 1,750,000 and 2,500,000. The aborigines are of the Malay race, which itself is a variety of the Mongolian and indeed, when inspecting prisoners, I have often been puzzled to distinguish the Chinese from the Malay, they being dressed alike and the distinctive pig-tail having been shaved off the former as part of the prison discipline.

These Mongolian Malays from High Asia, who presumably migrated to the Archipelago via the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, must, however, have found Borneo and other of the islands partially occupied by a Caucasic race, as amongst the aborigines are still found individuals of distinctive Caucasic type, as has been pointed out to be the case with the Buludupih tribe of British North Borneo, by Dr. MONTANO, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Borneo in 1878-9. To these the name of pre-Malays has been given, but Professor KEANE, to whom I beg to acknowledge my indebtedness on these points, prefers the title of Indonesians. The scientific descriptions of a typical Malay is as follows:—"Stature little over five feet, complexion olive yellow, head brachy-cephalous or round, cheek-bones prominent, eyes black and slightly oblique, nose small but not flat, nostrils dilated, hands small and delicate, legs thin and weak, hair black, coarse and lank, beard absent or scant;" but these Indonesians to whom belong most of the indigenous inhabitants of Celebes, are taller and have fairer or light brown complexions and regular features, connecting them with the brown Polynesians of the Eastern Pacific "who may be regarded as their descendants," and Professor KEANE accounts for their presence by assuming "a remote migration of the Caucasic race to South-Eastern Asia, of which evidences are not lacking in Camboja and elsewhere, and a further onward movement, first to the Archipelago and then East to the Pacific." It is needless to say that the aborigines themselves have the haziest and most unscientific notion of their own origin, as the following account, gravely related to me by a party of Buludupihs, will exemplify:—

"The Origin of the Buludupih Race.

In past ages a Chinese[3] settler had taken to wife a daughter of the aborigines, by whom he had a female child. Her parents lived in a hilly district (Bulud = hill), covered with a large forest tree, known by the name of opih. One day a jungle fire occurred, and after it was over, the child jumped down from the house (native houses are raised on piles off the ground), and went up to look at a half burnt opih log, and suddenly disappeared and was never seen again. But the parents heard the voice of a spirit issue from the log, announcing that it had taken the child to wife and that, in course of time, the bereaved parents would find an infant in the jungle, whom they were to consider as the offspring of the marriage, and who would become the father of a new race. The prophecy of the spirit was in due time fulfilled."

It somewhat militates against the correctness of this history that the Buludupihs are distinguished by the absence of Mongolian features.

The general appellation given to the aborigines by the modern Malays—to whom reference will be made later on—is Dyak, and they are divided into numerous tribes, speaking very different dialects of the Malayo-Polynesian stock, and known by distinctive names, the origin of which is generally obscure, at least in British North Borneo, where these names are not, as a rule, derived from those of the rivers on which they dwell.

The following are the names of some of the principal North Borneo aboriginal tribes:—Kadaians, Dusuns, Ida'ans, Bisaias, Buludupihs, Eraans, Subans, Sun-Dyaks, Muruts, Tagaas. Of these, the Kadaians, Buludupihs, Eraans and one large section of the Bisaias have embraced the religion of Mahomet; the others are Pagans, with no set form of religion, no idols, but believing in spirits and in a future life, which they localise on the top of the great mountain of Kina-balu. These Pagans are a simple and more natural, less self-conscious, people than their Mahomedan brethren, who are ahead of them in point of civilization, but are more reserved, more proud and altogether less "jolly," and appear, with their religion, to have acquired also some of the characteristics of the modern or true Malays. A Pagan can sit, or rather squat, with you and tell you legends, or, perhaps, on an occasion join in a glass of grog, whereas the Mahomedan, especially the true Malay, looks upon the Englishman as little removed from a "Kafir"—an uncircumcised Philistine—who through ignorance constantly offends in minor points of etiquette, who eats pig and drinks strong drink, is ignorant of the dignity of repose, and whose accidental physical and political superiority in the present world will be more than compensated for by the very inferior and uncomfortable position he will attain in the next. The aborigines inhabit the interior parts of North Borneo, and all along the coast is found a fringe of true Malays, talking modern Malay and using the Arabic written character, whereas the aborigines possess not even the rudiments of an alphabet and, consequently, no literature at all.

How is the presence in Borneo of this more highly civilized product of the Malay race, differing so profoundly in language and manners from their kinsmen—the aborigines—to be accounted for? Professor KEANE once more comes to our assistance, and solves the question by suggesting that the Mongolian Malays from High Asia who settled in Sumatra, attained there a real national development in comparatively recent times, and after their conversion to Mahomedanism by the Arabs, from whom, as well as from the Bhuddist missionaries who preceded them, they acquired arts and an elementary civilization, spread to Borneo and other parts of Malaysia and quickly asserted their superiority over the less advanced portion of their race already settled there. This theory fits in well with the native account of the distribution of the Malay race, which makes Menangkabau, in Southern Sumatra, the centre whence they spread over the Malayan islands and peninsula.

The Professor further points out, that in prehistoric times the Malay and Indonesian stock spread westwards to Madagascar and eastwards to the Philippines and Formosa, Micronesia and Polynesia. "This astonishing expansion of the Malaysian people throughout the Oceanic area is sufficiently attested by the diffusion of common (Malayo-Polynesian) speech from Madagascar to Easter Island and from Hawaii to New Zealand."


[Footnote 1: The explanation Sago Island has been given, lamantah being the native term for the raw sago sold to the factories.]

[Footnote 2: A British Protectorate was established over North Borneo on the 12th May, over Sarawak on the 14th June, and over Brunai on the 17th September, 1888. Vide Appendix.]

[Footnote 3: The Buludupihs inhabit the China or Kina-batangan river, and Sir HUGH LOW, in a note to his history of the Sultans of Brunai, in a number of the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, says that it is probable that in former days the Chinese had a Settlement or Factory at that river, as some versions of the native history of Brunai expressly state that the Chinese wife of one of the earliest Sultans was brought thence.]


The headquarters of the true Malay in Northern Borneo is the City of Brunai, on the river of that name, on the North-West Coast of the island, where resides the Court of the only nominally independent Sultan now remaining in the Archipelago.[4]

The Brunai river is probably the former mouth of the Limbang, and is now more a salt water inlet than a river. Contrary, perhaps, to the general idea, an ordinary eastern river, at any rate until the limit of navigability for European craft is attained, is not, as a rule, a thing of beauty by any means.

The typical Malay river debouches through flat, fever-haunted swampy country, where, for miles, nothing meets the eye but the monotonous dark green of the level, interminable mangrove forest, with its fantastic, interlacing roots, whose function it appears to be to extend seaward, year by year, its dismal kingdom of black fetid mud, and to veil from the rude eye of the intruder the tropical charms of the country at its back. After some miles of this cheerless scenery, and at a point where the fresh water begins to mingle with the salt, the handsome and useful nipa palm, with leaves twenty to thirty feet in length, which supply the native with the material for the walls and roof of his house, the wrapper for his cigarette, the sugar for his breakfast table, the salt for his daily needs and the strong drink to gladden his heart on his feast days, becomes intermixed with the mangrove and finally takes its place—a pleasing change, but still monotonous, as it is so dense that, itself growing in the water, it quite shuts out all view of the bank and surrounding country.

One of the first signs of the fresh river water, is the occurrence on the bank of the graceful nibong palm, with its straight, slender, round stem, twenty to thirty feet in height, surmounted with a plume of green leaves. This palm, cut into lengths and requiring no further preparation, is universally employed by the Malay for the posts and beams of his house, always raised several feet above the level of the ground, or of the water, as the case may be, and, split up into lathes of the requisite size, forms the frame-work of the walls and roof, and constitutes the flooring throughout. With the pithy centre removed, the nibong forms an efficient aqueduct, in the absence of bambu, and its young, growing shoot affords a cabbage, or salad, second only to that furnished by the coco-nut, which will next come into view, together with the betel (Areca) nut palm, if the river visited is an inhabited one; but if uninhabited, the traveller will find nothing but thick, almost impenetrable jungle, with mighty trees shooting up one hundred to a hundred and fifty feet without a branch, in their endeavour to get their share of the sun-light, and supporting on their trunks and branches enormous creepers, rattans, graceful ferns and lovely orchids and other luxuriant epiphytal growths. Such is the typical North Borneo river, to which, however, the Brunai is a solitary exception. The mouth of the Brunai river is approached between pretty verdant islets, and after passing through a narrow and tortuous passage, formed naturally by sandbanks and artificially by a barrier of stones, bare at low water, laid down in former days to keep out the restless European, you find your vessel, which to cross the bar should not draw more than thirteen or fourteen feet, in deep water between green, grassy, hilly, picturesque banks, with scarcely a sign of the abominable mangrove, or even of the nipa, which, however, to specially mark the contrast formed by this stream, are both to be found in abundance in the upper portion of the river, which the steamer cannot enter. After passing a small village or two, the first object which used to attract attention was the brick ruins of a Roman Catholic Church, which had been erected here by the late Father CUARTERON, a Spanish Missionary of the Society of the Propaganda Fide, who, originally a jovial sea captain, had the good fortune to light upon a wrecked treasure ship in the Eastern seas, and, feeling presumably unwonted twinges of conscience, decided to devote the greater part of his wealth to the Church, in which he took orders, eventually attaining the rank of Prefect Apostolic. His Mission, unfortunately, was a complete failure, but though his assistants were withdrawn, he stuck to his post to the last and, no doubt, did a certain amount of good in liberating, from time to time, Spanish subjects he found in slavery on the Borneo Coast.

Had the poor fellow settled in the interior, amongst the Pagans, he might, by his patience and the example of his good life, have made some converts, but amongst the Mahomedans of the coast it was labour in vain. The bricks of his Brunai Church have since been sold to form the foundation of a steam sawmill.

Turning a sharp corner, the British Consulate is reached, where presides, and flies with pride the Union Jack, Her Majesty's Consular Agent, Mr. or Inche MAHOMET, with his three wives and thirteen children. He is a native of Malacca and a clever, zealous, courteous and hospitable official, well versed in the political history of Brunai since the advent of Sir JAMES BROOKE.

The British is the only Consulate now established at Brunai, but once the stars and stripes proudly waved over the Consulate of an unpaid American Consul. There was little scope at Brunai for a white man in pursuit of the fleeting dollar, and one day the Consulate was burnt to the ground, and a heavy claim for compensation for this alleged act of incendiarism was sent in to the Sultan. His Highness disputed the claim, and an American man-of-war was despatched to make enquiries on the spot. In the end, the compensation claimed was not enforced, and Mr. MOSES, the Consul, was not subsequently, I think, appointed to any other diplomatic or consular post by the President of the Republic. A little further on are the palaces, shops and houses of the city of Brunai, all, with the exception of a few brick shops belonging to Chinamen, built over the water in a reach where the river broadens out, and a vessel can steam up the High Street and anchor abreast of the Royal Palace. When PIGAFETTA visited the port in 1521, he estimated the number of houses at 25,000, which, at the low average of six to a house, would give Brunai a population of 150,000 people, many of whom were Chinese, cultivating pepper gardens, traces of which can still be seen on the now deserted hills. Sir SPENCER ST. JOHN, formerly H. B. M. Consul-General in Borneo, and who put the population at 25,000 at the lowest in 1863, asserts that fifteen is a fair average to assign to a Brunai house, which would make the population in PIGAFETTA'S time 375,000. From his enquiries he found that the highest number was seventy, in the Sultan's palace, and the lowest seven, in a fisherman's small hut. PIGAFETTA, however, probably alluded to families, fires I think is the word he makes use of, and more than one family is often found occupying a Brunai house. The present population perhaps does not number more than 12,000 or 15,000 natives, and about eighty Chinese and a few Kling shop-keepers, as natives of India are here styled. Writing in 1845, Sir JAMES BROOKE, then the Queen's first Commissioner to Brunai, says with reference to this Sultanate:—"Here the experiment may be fairly tried, on the smallest possible scale of expense, whether a beneficial European influence may not re-animate a falling State and at the same time extend our commerce. * * * If this tendency to decay and extinction be inevitable, if this approximation of European policy to native Government should be unable to arrest the fall of the Bornean dynasty, yet we shall retrieve a people already habituated to European habits and manners, industrious interior races; and if it become necessary, a Colony gradually formed and ready to our hand in a rich and fertile country," and elsewhere he admits that the regeneration of the Borneo Malays through themselves was a hobby of his. The experiment has been tried and, so far as concerns the re-animation of the Malay Government of Brunai, the verdict must be "a complete failure." The English are a practical race, and self-interest is the guide of nations in their intercourse with one another; it was not to be supposed that they would go out of their way to teach the degenerate Brunai aristocracy how to govern in accordance with modern ideas; indeed, the Treaty we made with them, by prohibiting, for instance, their levying customs duties, or royalties, on the export of such jungle products as gutta percha and India rubber, in the collection of which the trees yielding them are entirely destroyed, and by practically suggesting to them the policy, or rather the impolicy, of imposing the heavy due of $1 per registered ton on all European Shipping entering their ports, whether in cargo or in ballast, scarcely tended to stave off their collapse, and the Borneans must have formed their own conclusions from the fact that when they gave up portions of their territory to the BROOKES and to the British North Borneo Company, the British Government no longer called for the observance of these provisions of the Treaty in the ceded districts. The English have got all they wanted from Brunai, but I think it can scarcely be said that they have done very much for it in return. I remember that the late Sultan thought it an inexplicable thing that we could not assist him to recover a debt due to him by one of the British Coal Companies which tried their luck in Borneo. Moreover, even the cession to their good and noble friend Sir JAMES BROOKE of the Brunai Province of Sarawak has been itself also, to a certain extent, a factor in their Government's decay, that State, under the rule of the Raja—CHARLES BROOKE—having attained its present prosperous condition at the expense of Brunai and by gradually absorbing its territory.

Between British North Borneo, on the one side, and Sarawak, on the other, the sea-board of Brunai, which, when we first appeared on the scene, extended from Cape Datu to Marudu Bay—some 700 miles—is now reduced to 125 or 130 miles, and, besides the river on which it is built, Brunai retains but two others of any importance, both of which are in rebellion of a more or less vigorous character, and the whole State of Brunai is so sick that its case is now under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government.

Thus ends in collapse the history of the last independent Malay Government. Excepting only Johor (which is prosperous owing to its being under the wing of Singapore, which fact gives confidence to European and Chinese capitalists and Chinese labourers, and to its good fortune in having a wise and just ruler in its Sultan, who owes his elevation to British influences), all the Malay Governments throughout the Malay Archipelago and in the Malay Peninsula are now subject either to the English, the Dutch, the Spanish or the Portuguese. This decadence is not due to any want of vitality in the race, for under European rule the Malay increases his numbers, as witness the dense population of Java and the rapidly growing Malay population of the Straits Settlements.

That the Malay does so flourish in contact with the European and the Chinese is no doubt to some extent due to his attachment to the Mahomedan faith, which as a tee-total religion is, so far, the most suitable one for a tropical race; it has also to be remembered that he inhabits tropical countries, where the white man cannot perform out-door labour and appears only as a Government Official, a merchant or a planter.

But the decay of the Brunai aristocracy was probably inevitable. Take the life of a young noble. He is the son of one of perhaps thirty women in his father's harem, his mother is entirely without education, can neither read nor write, is never allowed to appear in public or have any influence in public affairs, indeed scarcely ever leaves her house, and one of her principal excitements, perhaps, is the carrying on of an intrigue, an excitement enhanced by the fact that discovery means certain death to herself and her lover.

Brunai being a water town, the youngster has little or no chance of a run and game ashore, and any exercise he takes is confined to being paddled up and down the river in a canoe, for to paddle himself would be deemed much too degrading—a Brunai noble should never put his hand to any honest physical work—even for his own recreation. I once imported a Rob Roy canoe from England and amused myself by making long paddling excursions, and I would also sometimes, to relieve the monotony of a journey in a native boat, take a spell at the paddle with the men, and I was gravely warned by a native friend that by such action I was seriously compromising myself and lowering my position in the eyes of the higher class of natives. At an early age the young noble becomes an object of servile adulation to the numerous retainers and slaves, both male and female, and is by them initiated in vicious practices and, while still a boy, acquires from them some of the knowledge of a fast man of the world. As a rule he receives no sort of school education. He neither rides nor joins in the chase and, since the advent of Europeans, there have been no wars to brace his nerves, or call out any of the higher qualities of mind or body which may be latent in him; nor is there any standing army or navy in which he might receive a beneficial training. No political career, in the sense we attach to the term, is open to him, and he has no feelings of patriotism whatever. That an aristocracy thus nurtured should degenerate can cause no surprise. The general term for the nobles amongst the Brunais is Pangeran, and their numbers may be guessed when it is understood that every son and daughter of every many-wived noble is also a Pangeran.

Some of these unfortunate noblemen have nothing wherewith to support their position, and in very recent times I have actually seen a needy Pangeran, in a British Colony where he could not live by oppression or theft, driven to work in a coal mine or drive a buffalo cart.

With the ordinary freeborn citizen of Brunai life opens under better auspices. The children are left much to themselves and are merry, precocious, naked little imps, able to look out for themselves at a very much earlier age than is the case with European infants, and it is wonderful to see quite little babies clambering up the rickety stairs leading from the river to the house, or crawling unheeded on the tottering verandahs. Almost before they can walk they can swim, and they have been known to share their mother's cigarettes while still in arms. All day long they amuse themselves in miniature canoes, rolling over and over in the water, regardless of crocodiles. Happy children! they have no school and no clothes—one might, perhaps, exclaim happy parents, too! Malays are very kind and indulgent to their children and I do not think I have seen or heard of a case of the application of the parental hand to any part of the infant person. As soon as he is strong enough, say eight or nine years of age, the young Malay, according to the kampong, or division of the town, in which his lot has been cast, joins in his father's trade and becomes a fisherman, a trader, or a worker in brass or in iron as the case may be. The girls have an equally free and easy time while young, their only garments being a silver fig leaf, fastened to a chain or girdle round the waist. As they grow up they help their mothers in their household duties, or by selling their goods in the daily floating market; they marry young and are, as a rule, kindly treated by their husbands. Although Mahomedans, they can go about freely and unveiled, a privilege denied to their sisters of the higher classes. The greatest misfortune for such a girl is, perhaps, the possession of a pretty face and figure, which may result in her being honoured with the attentions of a noble, in whose harem she may be secluded for the rest of her life, and, as her charms wane her supply of both food and clothing is reduced to the lowest limit.

By the treaty with Great Britain traffic in slaves is put down, that is, Borneo is no longer the mart where, as in former days, the pirates can bring in their captives for sale; but the slaves already in the place have not been liberated, and a slave's children are slaves, so that domestic slavery, as it is termed, exists on a very considerable scale in Brunai. Slaves were acquired in the old days by purchase from pirates and, on any pretext, from the Pagan tribes of Borneo. For instance, if a feudal chief of an outlying river was in want of some cash, nothing was easier than for him to convict a man, who was the father of several children, of some imaginary offence, or neglect of duty, and his children, girls and boys, would be seized and carried off to Brunai as slaves. A favourite method was that of "forced trade." The chief would send a large quantity of trade goods to a Pagan village and leave them there to be sold at one hundred per cent, or more above their proper value, all legitimate trade being prohibited meanwhile, and if the money or barter goods were not forthcoming when demanded, the deficiency would be made up in slaves. This kind of oppression was very rife in the neighbourhood of the capital when I first became acquainted with Borneo in 1871, but the power of the chiefs has been much curtailed of late, owing to the extensive cessions of territory to Sarawak and the British North Borneo Company, and their hold on the rivers left to them has become very precarious, since the warlike Kyans passed under Raja BROOKE'S sway. This tribe, once the most powerful in Borneo, was always ready at the Sultan's call to raid on any tribe who had incurred his displeasure and revelled in the easy acquisition of fresh heads, over which to hold the triumphal dance. The Brunai Malays are not a warlike race, and the Rajas find that, without the Kyans, they are as a tiger with its teeth drawn and its claws pared, and the Pagan tribes have not been slow to make the discovery for themselves. Those on the Limbang river have been in open rebellion for the last three or four years and are crying out to be taken under the protection of the Queen, or, failing that, then under the "Kompani," as the British North Borneo Company's Government like that of the East India Company in days gone by, is styled, or under Sarawak.

The condition of the domestic slaves is not a particularly hard one unless, in the case of a girl, she is compelled to join the harem, when she becomes technically free, but really only changes one sort of servitude for another and more degrading one. With this exception, the slaves live on friendly terms with their masters' families, and the propinquity of a British Colony—Labuan—has tended to ameliorate their condition, as an ill-used slave can generally find means to escape thither and, so long as he remains there, he is a free man.

The scientific description of a typical Malay has already been given, and it answers well on almost all points for the Brunai specimen, except that the nose, as well as being small, is, in European eyes, deficient as to "bridge," and the legs cannot be described as weak, indeed the Brunai Malay, male and female, is a somewhat fleshy animal. In temperament, the Malay is described as "taciturn, undemonstrative, little given to outward manifestations of joy or sorrow, courteous towards each other, kind to their women and children. Not elated by good or depressed by bad fortune, but capable of excesses when roused. Under the influence of religious excitement, losses at gambling, jealousy or other domestic troubles they are liable to amok or run-a-muck, an expression which appears to have passed into the English language." With strangers, the Brunai Malay is doubtless taciturn, but I have heard Brunai ladies among themselves, while enjoying their betel-nut, rival any old English gossips over their cup of tea, and on an expedition the men will sometimes keep up a conversation long into the night till begged to desist. Courtesy seems to be innate in every Malay of whatever rank, both in their intercourse with one another and with strangers. The meeting at Court of two Brunai nobles who, perhaps, entertain feelings of the greatest hatred towards each other, is an interesting study, and the display of mutual courtesy unrivalled. I need scarcely say that horseplay and practical joking are unknown, contradiction is rarely resorted to and "chaff" is only known in its mildest form. The lowest Malay will never pass in front of you if it can be avoided, nor hand anything to another across you. Unless in case of necessity, a Malay will not arouse his friend from slumber, and then only in the gentlest manner possible. It is bad manners to point at all, but, if it is absolutely necessary to do so, the forefinger is never employed, but the person or object is indicated, in a sort of shamefaced way, with the thumb. It is impolite to bare a weapon in public, and Europeans often show their ignorance of native etiquette by asking a Malay visitor to let them examine the blade of the kris he is wearing. It is not considered polite to enquire after the welfare of the female members of a Brunai gentleman's household. For a Malay to uncover his head in your presence would be an impertinence, but a guttural noise in his throat after lunching with you is a polite way of expressing pleased satisfaction with the excellence of the repast. This latter piece of etiquette has probably been adopted from the Chinese. The low social position assigned to women by Brunai Malays, as by nearly all Mahomedan races, is of course a partial set-off to the general courtesy that characterises them. The average intelligence of what may be called the working class Malay is almost as far superior to that, say, of the British country bumpkin as are his manners. Mr. H. O. FORBES says in his "Naturalist in the Eastern Archipelago" that he was struck with the natives' acute observation in natural history and the accuracy with which they could give the names, habits and uses of animals and plants in the jungle, and the traveller cannot but admire the general handiness and adaptability to changed circumstances and customs and quickness of understanding of the Malay coolies whom he engages to accompany him.

Cannot one imagine the stolid surprise and complete obfuscation of the English peasant if an intelligent Malay traveller were to be suddenly set down in his district, making enquiries as to the, to him, novel forms of plants and animals and asking for minute information as to the manners and customs of the new people amongst whom he found himself, and, generally, seeking for information as the reasons for this and for that?

Their religion sits somewhat lightly on the Brunai Malays; the Mahomedan Mosque in the capital was always in a very dirty and neglected state, though prayers were said there daily, and I have never seen a Borneo Malay under the influence of religious excitement.

Gambling prevails, doubtless, and so does cock-righting, but neither is the absorbing passion which it seems, from travellers' accounts, to be with Malays elsewhere.

When visiting the Spanish settlements in Sulu and Balabac, I was surprised to find regular officially licensed cock-fighting pits, with a special seat for the Spanish Governor, who was expected to be present on high days and holidays. I have never come across a regular cockpit in Brunai, or in any part of northern Borneo.

The amoks that I have been cognisant of have, consequently, not been due to either religious excitement, or to losses at gambling, but, in nearly every case, to jealousy and domestic trouble, and their occurrence almost entirely confined to the British Colony of Labuan where, of course, the Mahomedan pains and penalties for female delinquencies could not be enforced. I remember one poor fellow whom I pitied very much. He had good reason to be jealous of his wife and, in our courts, could not get the redress he sought. He explained to me that a mist seemed to gather before his eyes and that he became utterly unconscious of what he was doing—his will was quite out of his control. Some half dozen people—children, men and women—were killed, or desperately wounded before he was overpowered. He acknowledged his guilt, and suffered death at the hands of the hangman with quiet dignity. Many tragical incidents in the otherwise uneventful history of Labuan may be traced to the manner in which marriages are contracted amongst the Borneo Malays. Marriages of mere love are almost unknown; they are generally a matter of bargain between the girls' parents and the expectant bridegroom, or his parents, and, practically, everything depends on the amount of the dowry or brihan—literally "gift"—which the swain can pay to the former. In their own country there exist certain safeguards which prevent any abuse of this system, but it was found that under the English law a clever parent could manage to dispose of his daughter's hand several times over, so that really the plot of Mrs. CAMPBELL PRAED'S somewhat unpleasant play "Arianne" was anticipated in the little colony of Labuan. I was once called upon, as Coroner, to inquire into the deaths of a young man and his handsome young wife, who were discovered lying dead, side by side, on the floor of their house. The woman was found to be fearfully cut about; the man had but one wound, in his abdomen, penetrating the bowels. There was only one weapon by which the double murder could have been committed, a knife with a six inch blade, and circumstances seemed to point to the probability that the woman had first stabbed the man, who had then wrenched the knife from her grasp and hacked her to death. The man was not quite dead when found and he accused the dead woman of stabbing him. It was found, that they had not long been married and that, apparently with the girl's consent, her father had been negociating for her marriage with another. The father himself was subsequently the first man murdered in British North Borneo after the assumption of the Government by the Company, and his murderer was the first victim of the law in the new Colony. Altogether a tragical story.

Many years ago another amok, which was near being tragical, had an almost comical termination. The then Colonial Treasurer was an entertaining Irishman of rather mature age. Walking down to his office one day he found in the road a Malay hacking at his wife and another man. Home rule not being then in fashion with the Irish, the Treasurer, armed only with his sun umbrella, attempted to interfere, when the amoker turned furiously on him and the Irish official, who was of spare build, took to his heels and made good his escape, the chase, though a serious matter to him, causing irrepressible mirth to onlookers. The man was never captured, and his victims, though disfigured, recovered. I remember being struck by the contemptuous reply of Sir HUGH LOW'S Chinese servant when he warned him to be on his guard, as there was an amoker at large, and alluded to Mr. C.'s narrow escape—it was to the effect that the Treasurer was foolish to interfere in other people's concerns. This unwillingness to busy oneself in others' affairs, which sometimes has the appearance of callousness, is characteristic of Malays and Chinese.

The readers of a book of travels are somewhat under a disadvantage in forming their opinion of a country, in that incidents are focussed for them by those of the same nature being grouped together. I do not wish it to be thought that murders and amoks are at all common occurrences in Northern Borneo, indeed they are very few and far between, and criminal acts of all kinds are remarkably infrequent, that is, of course, if we regard head-hunting as an amusement sanctioned by usage, especially as, in the parts under native government, there is a total absence of any kind of police force, while every man carries arms, and houses with palm leaf walls and innocent of locks, bolts and bars, offer unusual temptations to the burglariously inclined. My wife and I nearly always slept without a watchman and with the doors and windows unclosed, the servants' offices being detached from the house, and we have never had any of our property stolen except by a "boy."

Brunai is governed by a Sultan styled Iang-di-pertuan, "he who rules," and four principal Ministers of State, "Wazirs"—the Pangeran Bandahara, the Pangeran di Gadong, the Pangeran Pamancha and the Pangeran Temenggong. These Ministers are generally men of the royal blood, and fly distinctive flags at their residences, that of the Bandahara being white, of the di Gadong, green, and of the Temenggong, red. The flags are remarkably simple and inexpensive, but quite distinctive, each consisting of a square bit of bunting or cloth of the requisite colour, with the exception of the Temenggong's, which is cut in the shape of a burgee. The Sultan's flag is a plain piece of yellow bunting, yellow being the Brunei royal colour, and no man, except the Sovereign, is permitted to exhibit that colour in any portion of his dress. It shows how little importance attaches to the female sex that a lady, even a slave, can sport yellow in her dress, or any colour she chooses. Theoretically the duties of the Bandahara are those of a Home Secretary; the di Gadong is Keeper of the Seal and Chancellor of the Exchequer; the Pamancha's functions I am rather uncertain about, as the post has remained unfilled for many years past, but they would seem to partake of those of a Home Secretary; and the Temenggong is the War Minister and Military and Naval Commander-in-chief, and appears also to hear and decide criminal and civil cases in the city of Brunai. These appointments are made by the Sultan, and for life, but it will be understood that, in such a rough and ready system of government as that of Brunai, the actual influence of each Minister depends entirely on his own character and that of the Sultan. Sometimes one Minister will practically usurp the functions of some, or, perhaps, all the others, leaving them only their titles and revenues, while often, on a vacancy occurring, the Sultan does not make a fresh appointment, but himself appropriates the revenue of the office leaving the duties to take care of themselves.

To look after trade and commerce there is, in theory, an inferior Minister, the Pangeran Shabander.

There is another class of Ministers—Mantri—who are selected by the Sultan from among the people, and are chosen for their intelligence and for the influence and following they have amongst the citizens. They possess very considerable political power, their opinions being asked on important matters. Such are the two Juwatans and the Orang Kaya di Gadong, who may be looked upon as the principal officers of the Sultan and the Wazirs.

The State officials are paid by the revenues of certain districts which are assigned, as will be seen below, to the different offices.

The Mahomedan Malays, it has already been explained, were an invading and conquering race in Borneo, and their chiefs would seem to have divided the country, or, rather, the inhabitants, amongst themselves, in much the same way as England was parcelled out among the followers of WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. The people of all the rivers[5] and of the interior, up to the limits where the Brunai Malays can enforce their authority, own as their feudal lord and pay taxes to either the Sultan, in his unofficial capacity, or to one of the nobles, or else they are attached to the office of Sultan or one of the great Ministers of State, and, again theoretically speaking, all the districts in the Sultanate are known, from the fact of the people on them belonging to a noble, or to the reigning Sultan for the time being, or to one of the Ministers of State, as either:—

1. Ka-rajahan—belonging to the Sultan or Raja.

or 2. Kouripan—belonging to certain public officials during their term of office.

or 3. Pusaka or Tulin—belonging to the Sultan or any of the nobles in their unofficial capacity.

The crown and the feudal chiefs did not assert any claim to the land; there are, for instance, no "crown lands," and, in the case of land not owned or occupied, any native could settle upon and cultivate it without payment of any rent or land tax, either to the Sultan or to the feudal chief of the district; consequently, land was comparatively little regarded, and what the feudal chief claimed was the people and not the land, so much so that, as pointed out by Mr. P. LEYS in a Consular report, in the case of the people removing from one river to another, they did not become the followers of the chief who owned the population amongst whom they settled, but remained subject to their former lord, who had the right of following them and collecting from them his taxes as before. It is only of quite recent years, imitating the example of the English in Labuan, where all the land was assumed to be the property of the Sovereign and leased to individuals for a term of years, that the nobles have, in some instances, put forward a claim to ownership of the land on which their followers chose to settle, and have endeavoured to pose as semi-independent princes. These feudal chiefs tax, or used to tax, their followers in proportion to their inability to resist their lords' demands. A poll tax, usually at the rate of $2 for married men and $1 for bachelors, is a form of taxation to which, in the absence of any land tax, no objection is made, but the chiefs had also the power of levying special taxes at their own sweet will, when they found their expenditure in excess of their income, and advantage was taken of any delay in payment of taxes, or of any breach of the peace, or act of theft occurring in a district, to impose excessive fines on the delinquents, all of which if paid went to the chief; and if the fine could not be paid, the defaulter's children might be seized and eventually sold into slavery. The system of "forced trade" I have alluded to when speaking on the subject of domestic slavery. The chiefs were all absentees and, while drawing everything they could out of their districts, did nothing for their wretched followers. The taxes were collected by their messengers and slaves, unscrupulous men who were paid by what they could get out of the people in excess of what they were bidden to demand, and who, while engaged in levying the contributions, lived at free quarters on the people, who naturally did their best to expedite their departure. Petty cases of dispute were settled by headmen appointed by the chief and termed orang kaya, literally "rich men." These orang kayas were often selected from their possessing some little property and being at the same time subservient to the chief. In many cases, it seemed to me, that they were chosen for their superior stupidity and pliability. I have made use of the past tense throughout my description of these feudal chiefs as, happily, for reasons already given, the "good old times" are rapidly passing away.

The laws of Brunai are, in theory, those inculcated by the Koran and there are one or two officials who have some slight knowledge of Mahomedan law. Owing to the cheap facilities offered by the numerous steamers at Singapore, there are many Hajis—that is, persons who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca—amongst the Brunais and the Kadaaans, amongst the latter more especially, but of course a visit to Mecca does not necessarily imply that the pilgrim has obtained any actual knowledge of the holy book, which some of them can decipher, the Malays having adopted the Arabic alphabet, but without, however, understanding the meaning of the Arabic words of which it consists. A friend of mine, son of the principal exponent of Mahomedan law in the capital, and who became naturalised as a British subject, had studied law in Constantinople.

There is no gaol in Brunai, and fines are found to be a more profitable mode of punishment than incarceration, the judge generally pocketing the fine, and when it does become necessary to keep an offender in detention, it is done by placing his feet in the stocks, which are set up on the public staging or landing before the reception room of the Sultan, or of one of his chief Ministers, and the wretched man may be kept there for months.

The punishment for theft, sanctioned by the Koran, is by cutting oft the right hand, but this barbarous, though effective, penalty has been discountenanced by the English. On one occasion, however, when acting as H. B. M. Consul-General, I received my information too late to interfere. I had been on a visit to the late Sultan in a British gunboat, and anchored off the palace. During the evening, just before dinner, notwithstanding the watch kept on deck, some natives came alongside and managed to hook out through the ports my gold watch and chain from off the Captain's table, and the first Lieutenant's revolver from his cabin. During our interview next morning with the Sultan, I twitted him on the skill and daring of Brunai thieves, who could perpetrate a theft from a friendly war-ship before the windows of the Royal palace. The Sultan said nothing, but was evidently much annoyed, and a few weeks afterwards the revolver and the remains of my watch and chain were sent to me at Labuan, with a letter saying that three thieves had been punished by having had their hands chopped off. I subsequently heard that two of the unfortunate men had died from the effects of this cruel punishment.

On another occasion, some Brunai thieves skilfully dismounted and carried off two brass signal guns from the poop of a merchant steamer at anchor in the river, eluding the vigilance of the quarter-master, while the skipper and some of the officers were asleep on the skylight close by. The guns were subsequently recovered.

Execution is either by means of the bow string or the kris.

I had once the unpleasant duty of having to witness the execution by the bow string of a man named MAIDIN, as it was feared that, being the son of a favourite officer of the Sultan, the execution might be a sham one. This man, with others, had raided a small settlement of Chinese traders from Labuan on the Borneo coast, killing several of the shop-keepers and looting the settlement. So weak was the central government, and so little importance did they attach to the murder of a few Chinese, that, notwithstanding the efforts of the British Consul, MAIDIN remained at liberty for nearly two years after the commission of the crime.

The execution took place at night. The murderer was bound, with his hands behind his back, in a large canoe, and a noose of rope was placed round his neck. Two men stood behind him; a short stick was inserted in the noose and twisted round and round by the two executioners, thereby causing the rope to compress the windpipe. MAIDIN'S struggles were soon over.

In the case of common people the kris is used, the executioner standing behind the criminal and pressing the kris downwards, through the shoulder, into the heart. This mode of execution has been retained by the European rulers of Sarawak. In British North Borneo the English mode by hanging has been adopted.

Formerly, when ancient customs were more strictly observed, any person using insulting expressions in talking of members of the Royal family was punished by having his tongue slit, and I was once shewn by the Temenggong, in whose official keeping it was, the somewhat cumbrous pair of scissors wherewith this punishment was inflicted, but I have never heard of its having been used during the last twenty years, although opportunities could not have been wanting.

I was once horrified by being informed by an observant British Naval Officer, who had been to Brunai on duty, that he had been disgusted by noticing, notwithstanding our long connection with Brunai and supposed influence with the Sultan, so barbarous a mode of execution as that of keeping the criminal exposed, without food, day and night, on a stage on high posts in the river. I had never heard of this process, and soon discovered that my friend had mistaken men fishing, for criminals undergoing execution. Two men perch themselves up on posts, some distance apart, and let down by ropes a net into the river. Waiting patiently—and Brunais can sit still contentedly doing nothing for hours—they remain motionless until a shoal of fish passes over the net, when it is partially raised and the fish taken out by a third man, and the operation repeated.

I do not think my naval friend ever published his Brunai reminiscences.

I have already said there is no police force in Brunai; an official makes use of his own slaves to carry out his orders, where an European would call in the police. Neither is there any army and navy, but the theory is that the Sultan and Ministers can call on the Brunai people to follow them to war, but as they give neither pay nor sufficient food their call is not numerously responded to.

Every Brunai man has his own arms, spear, kris and buckler, supplemented by an old English "Tower" musket, or rifle, or by one of Chinese manufacture with an imitation of the Tower mark. The parang, or chopper, or cutlass, is always carried by a Malay, being used for all kinds of work, agricultural and other, and is also a useful weapon of offence or defence.

Brunai is celebrated for its brass cannon foundries and still produces handsome pieces of considerable size. PIGAFETTA describes cannon as being frequently discharged at Brunai during his visit there in 1521. Brass guns were formerly part of the currency in Brunai and, even now, you often hear the price of an article given as so many pikuls (a pikul = 133-1/3 lbs), or catties (a catty = 1-1/3 lbs) of brass gun. The brass for the guns is chiefly furnished by the Chinese cash, which is current in the town.

In former days, in addition to brass guns, pieces of grey shirting (belachu) and of Nankin (kain asap) and small bits of iron were legal tender, and I have seen a specimen of a Brunei copper coinage one Sultan tried to introduce, but it was found to be so easily imitated by his subjects that it was withdrawn from circulation. At the present day silver dollars, Straits Settlements small silver pieces, and the copper coinage of Singapore, Sarawak and British North Borneo all pass current, the copper, however, unfortunately predominating. Recently the Sultan obtained $10,000 of a copper coin of his own from Birmingham, but the traders and the Governments of Singapore and Labuan appear to have discountenanced its use, and he probably will not try a second shipment.

The profit on the circulation of copper coinage, which is only a token, is of course considerable, and the British North Borneo Company obtained a substantial addition to its revenue from the large amount of its coin circulated in Brunai. When the Sultan first mooted the idea of obtaining his own coin from England, one of the Company's officers expostulated feelingly with him, and I was told by an onlooker that the contrast of the expressions of the countenances of the immobile Malay and of the mobile European was most amusing. All that the Sultan replied to the objections of the officer was "It does not signify, Sir, my coin can circulate in your country and yours can circulate in mine," knowing well all the time the profit the Company was making.

The inhabitants of the city of Brunai are very lightly taxed, and there is no direct taxation. As above explained, there is no land tax, nor ground rent, and every man builds his own house and is his own landlord. The right of retailing the following articles is "farmed" out to the highest bidder by the Government, and their price consequently enhanced to the consumer:—Opium (but only a few of the nobles use the drug), foreign tobacco, curry stuff, wines and spirits (not used by the natives), salt, gambier (used for chewing with the betel or areca nut), tea (little used by the natives) and earth-nut and coco-nut oil. There are no Municipal rates and taxes, the tidal river acting as a self cleansing street and sewer at the same time; neither are there any demands from a Poor Law Board.

On the other hand, there being no Army, Navy, Police, nor public buildings to keep up, the expenses of Government are wonderfully light also.

Other Government receipts, in addition to the above, are rent of Chinese house-boats or rather shop-boats, pawnbroking and gambling licenses, a "farm" of the export of hides, royalties on sago and gutta percha, tonnage dues on European vessels visiting the port, and others. The salaries and expenses of the Government Departments are defrayed from the revenues of the rivers, or districts attached to them.

Considerable annual payments are now made by Sarawak and British North Borneo for the territorial cessions obtained by them. The annual contribution by Sarawak is about $16,000, and by the British North Borneo $11,800. These sums are apportioned amongst the Sultan and nobles who had interests in the ceded districts. I may say here that the payment by British North Borneo to the Sultan of the State, under the arrangement made by Mr. DENT already referred to, is one of $5,000 per annum.

An annual payment is also made by Mr. W. C. COWIE for the sole right[6] of working coal in the Sultanate, which he holds for a period of several years. Coal occurs throughout the island of Borneo, and its existence has long been known. It is worked on a small scale in Sarawak and in some portions of Dutch Borneo, and the unsuccessful attempts to develope the coal resources of the Colony of Labuan will be referred to later on.

In the Brunai Sultanate, with which we are at present concerned, coal occurs abundantly in the Brunai river and elsewhere, but it is only at present worked by Mr. COWIE and his partners at Muara, at the mouth of the Brunai river—Muara, indeed, signifying in Malay a river's mouth. The Revd. J. E. TENNISON-WOOD, well known in Australia as an authority on geological questions, thus describes the Muara coalfields:—"About twenty miles to the South-west of Labuan is the mouth of the Brunai river. Here the rocks are of quite a different character, and much older. There are sandstones, shales, and grits, with ferruginous joints. The beds are inclined at angles of 25 to 45 degrees. They are often altered into a kind of chert. At Muara there is an outcrop of coal seams twenty, twenty-five and twenty-six feet thick. The coal is of excellent quality, quite bitumenised, and not brittle. The beds are being worked by private enterprise. I saw no fossils, but the beds and the coal reminded me much of the older Australian coals along the Hunter river. The mines are of great value. They are rented for a few thousand dollars by two enterprising Scotchmen, from the Sultan of Brunai. The same sovereign would part with the place altogether for little or nothing. Why not have our coaling station there? Or what if Germany, France or Russia should purchase the same from the independent Sultan of Brunai?" As if to give point to the concluding remarks, a Russian man-of-war visited Muara and Brunai early in 1887, and shewed considerable interest in the coal mines.[7]


[Footnote 4: He has since been "protected"—see ante page 6, note.]

[Footnote 5: Owing to the absence of roads and the consequent importance of rivers as means of getting about, nearly all districts in Borneo are named after their principal river.]

[Footnote 6: This right was transferred by Mr. COWIE to Raja BROOKE in 1833.]

[Footnote 7: The British Protectorate has obviated the danger.]


The fairest way, perhaps, of giving my readers an idea of what Brunai was and what it is, will be by quoting first from the description of the Italian PIGAFETTA, who was there in 1521, and then from that of my friend the late Mr. STAIR ELPHINSTONE DALRYMPLE, who visited the city with me in 1884. PIGAFETTA'S description I extract from CRAWFORD'S Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands.

"When," says he, "we reached the city, we had to wait two hours in the prahu (boat or barge) until there had arrived two elephants, caparisoned in silk-cloth, and twelve men, each furnished with a porcelain vase, covered with silk, to receive and to cover our presents. We mounted the elephants, the twelve men going before, carrying the presents. We thus proceeded to the house of the Governor, who gave us a supper of many dishes. Next day we were left at our leisure until twelve o'clock, when we proceeded to the King's palace. We were mounted, as before, on elephants, the men bearing the gifts going before us. From the Governor's house to the palace the streets were full of people armed with swords, lances and targets; the King had so ordered it. Still mounted on the elephants we entered the court of the palace. We then dismounted, ascended a stair, accompanied by the Governor and some chiefs and entered a great hall full of courtiers. Here we were seated on carpets, the presents being placed near to us. At the end of the great hall, but raised above it, there was one of less extent hung with silken cloth, in which were two curtains, on raising which, there appeared two windows, which lighted the hall. Here, as a guard to the King, there were three hundred men with naked rapiers in hand resting on their thighs. At the farther end of this smaller hall, there was a great window with a brocade curtain before it, on raising which, we saw the King seated at a table masticating betel, and a little boy, his son, beside him. Behind him women only were to be seen. A chieftain then informed us, that we must not address the King directly, but that if we had anything to say, we must say it to him, and he would communicate it to a courtier of higher rank than himself within the lesser hall. This person, in his turn, would explain our wishes to the Governor's brother, and he, speaking through a tube in an aperture of the wall would communicate our sentiments to a courtier near the King, who would make them known to his Majesty. Meanwhile, we were instructed to make three obeisances to the King with the joined hands over the head, and raising, first one foot and then the other, and then kissing the hands. This is the royal salutation. * * * All the persons present in the palace had their loins covered with gold embroidered cloth and silk, wore poiniards with golden hilts, ornamented with pearls and precious stones, and had many rings on their fingers.

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