Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Perspectives of Sarawak History

I came across this familiar looking book in the library recently ...

It brought back memories of my history lessons in Form 2 or Form 3. I'm sure most of my generation in Sarawak went through this book during that time. I recall reading stories of exciting battles and uprisings and rebels and pirates.

Of course at that time, the White Rajahs and the British were portrayed as the good guys, and the baddies were Rentap (the Iban chief of Bukit Sadong fame), Sharif Masahor (the Melanau warrior) , Liu Shan Bang (leader of the 1857 Chinese Uprising) and Rosli Dhobi (who assasinated the second British governor Sir Duncan Stewart in 1949).

Nowadays the history books, written during the post-Malaysian independence era, tell a slightly different story. The White Rajahs and British are exposed as imperialist exploiters of our innocent land and people, whilst Rentap, Masahor, Liu and Rosli Dhobi are local heroes, fighting for their people and way of life.  I found some interesting website links on Rentap , Sharif Masahor, Liu and Rosli Dhobi that you might want to check out ...

All this goes to support two important lessons that I've heard from different people: "History is written by the eventual victors" and also "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter".  Both good points to remember to give yourself greater perspective as you read about events of the past, and even as you observe current happenings around the globe.

On Sarawak history, I suppose the truth - if there's any such thing - lies somewhere in between these two extremes. Few people are really 100 percent good just as no one is ever totally evil. It's usually not a case of simply black or white, but many shades in-between.


  1. which one was at the Battle of Benting Maru? I remember that from the book

  2. Sharif Masahor was at BBM.
    Liu Shan Ban was in Bau and reputedly died standing.

  3. He James, I found your post while doing a little search of my mother and fathers' life in Sarawak. She was Joan Rawlins. I am lucky to have a copy of each edition, and I agree with your observations on how using one's own judgement to get a better understanding of the past. Regards, Mike

  4. Joan and my father Douglas Rawlins loved their time in Sarawak very much. I have a couple of copies of her book which I hold dealy. Both gone now.
    Happy memories for the children too of course.
    Very Best Regards, Mike Rawlins

  5. Hi Mike Rawlins - I'm honoured that you found this blog, and pleased to know you. Keep in touch. My current email is jslyong@gmail.com .