1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sarawak

SARAWAK, a state situated in the north-west of Borneo; area, 55,000 sq. m.; pop. about 500,600. The coast line extends from Tanjong Datu, a prominent cape in 2° 3' N., northwards to the mouth of the river Lawas 5° 10' N. and 115° 30' W., the whole length of the coast line being about 440 m. in a straight line; but a tract, 80 m. in length, of Brunei territory still remains between the mouths of the Baram and Limbang rivers. The frontier of the southern portion of Sarawak is formed by the Serang, Kelingkang and Batang Lupar ranges of mountains.

The inland or eastern boundary is formed by the broken range of mountains which constitutes the principal watershed of the island. Of these the highest peaks are: Batu Puteh (5400 ft.), Tebang (10,000 ft.), Batu Bulan (7000 ft.), Ubat Siko (4900 ft.), Bela Lawing (7000 ft.) and Batu Leihun (6000 ft.), from w ich the Rejang and Baram rivers, on the Sarawak side, and the Koti and Balungun rivers, on the Dutch side, take their rise. North of Sarawak is the Pamabo mountain range (8000 ft.), whence flow the rivers Limbang and Trusan, and the mountains Batu Lawei (8000 ft.) and Lawas (6000 ft.). The interior is mountainous, the greatest elevations being Mount Mulu (9000 ft.), of limestone formation, Batu Lawei (8000 ft.), Pamabo (8000 ft.), Kalulong, Dulit, Poeh and Penrisam. The Rejang is the largest river, the Baram ranking second, the Batang Lupar third and the Limbang fourth. The Rejang is navigable for small steamers for about 160 m., the Baram for about 100 m., but there is a formidable bar at the mouth of the Baram. The chief town of Sarawak, Kuching, with a population of about 30,000, is situated on the Sarawak river 20 m. from its mouth, and can be reached by steamers of a thousand tons.

The fauna is rich. The most important mammals are the maias, or orang utan, the gibbon, the proboscis, semnopithecus and macacus monkeys; lemurs, cats, otters, bears, porcupines, wild pigs, wild cattle, deer and pangolin. Bats, shrews, rats and squirrels are included among the smaller mammals, while sharks, porpoises and dugongs are found along the coast. Of birds, Sarawak has over five hundred species; fish and reptiles are abundant; the jungle swarms with insect life, and is rich in many varieties of fern and orchid.

The mineral wealth gives promise of considerable development. The Borneo Company for some years have successfully worked gold from the quartz reefs at Bau, on the Sarawak river, by the cyanide process, as well as antimony and cinnabar. Antimony occurs in pockets in various localities, notably at Sariki, in the Rejang district, and at Burok Buang and Telapak, in the Baram district and in the river Atun. Cinnabar has also been found in small quantities at Long Liman and in the streams about the base of Mount Mulu. Sapphires of good quality, but too small to be of commercial value, are found in large numbers in the mountain streams of the interior. Coal is worked at Sadong and Brooketon, and shipped to Singapore. The great coal-field of Selantik, along the Kelingkang range in the Batang Lupar district, is being developed. Indications of coal seams have also been found in the river Mukah; at Pela us in the Rejang; at Similajau and Tutau and on Mount Dulit, in the Baram district.

Timber is one of the most valuable products, but with the exception of bilian (iron wood) from the river Rejang, little is exported. The most important timbers are bilian, merebo, rasak, kruin, tapang, kranji, benaga, bintangor, gerunggang, medang, meranti and kapor. Except near the banks of the rivers, which have been cleared by the natives for farming purposes, the whole country is thickly clothed with timber. The industrial establishments also comprise sago mills, brick-works, cyanide-works and saw-mills.

In 1904 the total trade of Sarawak (Foreign and Coastwise) reache a value of $16,466,241 as compared with $4,564,200 in 1890. The remarkable increase in trade is shown by the following table:—

Sago flour



The revenue increased from $457,596 in 1894 to $1,321,879 in 1904; and the expenditure increased in the same period from $486,533 to $1,225,384. The Public Debt of Sarawak on the 1st of January 1905 was $25,000.

The population of the state, in addition to a small number of Europeans, government officials and others, a few natives of British India, and a large number of Chinese traders and pepper planters, consists of semi-civilized Malays in the towns and villages of the coast districts and of a number of wild tribes of Indonesian affinities in the interior. Of these the most important are the Dyaks, Milanaus, Kayans, Kenyahs, Kadayans and Muruts. No census has ever been taken. “ Without the Chinaman,” said the Raja (Pall Mall Gazette, 19th September 1883), “we could do nothing. When not allowed to form secret societies he is easily governed, and this he is forbidden to do on pain of death.” The Milanaus, who live in the northern districts, have adopted the Malay-dress, and in many cases have become Mahommedans; they are a contented and laborious people. Slavery has been abolished, except among certain of the inland tribes among whom it still obtains in a very mild form: head-hunting has been entirely suppressed by the government, save for occasional outbreaks among the Dyaks.

The government consists of the raja (the succession is hereditary) who is absolute, assisted by a supreme council of seven, consisting of the three chief European officials and four Malay magistrates, nominated by him. There is also a general council of fifty which meets every three years. It includes, besides European and Malay officials, native chiefs chosen from all the principal tribes of the country. The whole country comprises four administrative divisions, each of these being subdivided into several districts. The first division consists of Sarawak proper, which comprises the districts of the river Sarawak, and those of Lundu and Sadong. The second division is formed by the Batang Lupar, Saribas and Kelakah districts. The third division consists of the Rejang, Mukah, Oya and Bintulu; the fourth of the Baram, Limbang, Trusan and Lawas districts. The military force—some 250 men, Dyaks and Sikhs—is under the control of an English commandant. There is also a small police force, and the government possesses a few small steam vessels. The civil service is regularly organized and pensioned. The superior posts, about 50 in number, are filled by Englishmen. There are both Roman Catholic and Protestant missions in Sarawak, the latter forms part of the see of the bishop of Singapore. Sarawak is easily accessible from Singapore, whence the passage occupies about forty-six hours: steamers run at intervals of seven days. The coast is well lighted, lighthouses having been built and maintained in good order at Tanjong Po, Sirik, Mukah, Oya, Tanjong, Kidurong, Baram Mouth and Brooketon. The climate is equable, the daily temperature ranging on the average between 70° and 90°. The nights are generally cool. The rainfall averages about 200 in. annually, it is heaviest during the north-east monsoon (October-March), but continues through the south-west monsoon, which blows for the rest of the year.

History.—In 1839–1840 Sarawak (which then comprised only the districts now constituting the first and second divisions), the most southern province of the sultanate of Brunei, was in rebellion against the tyranny of the Malay officials, insufficiently controlled by the raja Muda Hassim. The insurgents held out at Blidah fort in the Siniawan district, and there Sir James Brooke first took part in the affairs of the territory. By his assistance the insurrection was suppressed, and on September 24th Muda Hassim resigned in his favour and he became raja of Sarawak. In 1843–1844 Captain (afterwards Admiral Sir Henry) Keppel (q.v.) and Raja Brooke expelled the Malay and Dyak pirates from the Saribas and Batang Lupar rivers, and broke up the fleets of Lanun pirates, which, descending from the Sulu Islands and the territory which is now British North Borneo, had long been the scourge of the seas.

In 1857 the Chinese, who for many generations had been working the alluvial deposits of gold in Upper Sarawak, sacked Kuching, killed two or three of the English residents and seized the government; Raja Brooke narrowly escaping with his life. His nephew, afterwards raja, quickly raised a force of Malays and Dyaks in the Batang Lupar district and suppressed the insurrection, driving the main body of the rebels out of the Sarawak territory. Raja Sir Charles Johnson Brooke (b. 1829) succeeded his uncle at his death in 1868; in 1888 he was created G.C.M.G. and Sarawak was made a British Protectorate, and in 1904 the position of his highness as raja of Sarawak was formally recognized by King Edward. His eldest son, the raja Muda (Charles Vyner Brooke, b. 1874), has for some years taken part in the administration of the country.

The extent of the raj of Sarawak, at the time when Sir James Brooke became its ruler, was not more than 7000 sq. m.; since that time the basins of the four rivers, Rejang, Muka, Baram and Trusan, have been added. The sultan of Brunei, who claimed suzerainty over them, ceded them on successive occasions in consideration of annual money payments. A few years after these cessions had been made many of the people of the river Limbang rose in rebellion against the sultan, and their territory was annexed by Sarawak, with the subsequent approval of the British government. In 1905 the basin of yet another river, the Lawas, was added to the northern end of Sarawak, the territory being acquired by purchase from the British North Borneo Company.

See Charles Brooke, Ten Years in Sarawak (1866); Gertrude L. Jacob, The Raja of Sarawak (1876); Spencer St John, Life in the Forests of the Far East (1862), and Life of Sir James Brooke (1879); “Notes on Sarawak” in Proc. Roy. Geogr. Soc. (1881), by W.M.Crocker; “In the Heart of Borneo,” Proc. Roy. Geogr. Soc. (July 1900), by Charles Hose; and The Far Eastern Tropics (1905), by Alleyne Ireland.  (C. H.)