Brief History of Sarawak under the Brooke

History of Sarawak

Sarawak first came to the attention of Westerners in 1839, when the English adventurer James Brooke made his way to this untravelled corner of Southeast Asia, known as Borneo. After a long period of wandering, Brooke met the Sultan of Brunei who told him of the myriad tribes living in the south of his kingdom that were constantly warring with each other and his small sultanate. This ceaseless fighting disrupted the peace of the sultan’s kingdom, but he could not control them.
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Brooke came up with a clever solution in which he aligned some of the tribes with the sultan and convinced them to conquer the others. This plan worked, resulting in lasting peace for the region. Brunei’s sultan was so pleased that he gave Kuching to Brooke in 1841, naming him raja over the lands which are now Sarawak.

James Brooke became an instant legend among European colonists, earning the title the ‘White Raja of Sarawak’. His family is said to have ruled Sarawak and its diverse population firmly but with compassion. He appointed local tribal leaders to administrative positions within his army and government, earning him respect from his subjects.

Raja Brooke was quite a rebel, however, and refused to allow England to incorporate Sarawak under its colonial umbrella. He shut the trading doors to the British, dealing instead with Singapore. As a result, Kuching never blossomed like other regional colonial cities such as Singapore or Penang, which enjoyed the full support of the crown.

When Raja Brooke died in 1868, his nephew Charles Brooke took over. Charles’s son Vyner succeeded his father in 1917, and was Sarawak’s last White Raja, a position he kept until WWII, when the Japanese invaded the region and took control. After the war, Sarawak was declared a British colony. When the country gained independence in 1963, Sarawak and Sabah happily joined the new federation. Today, Sarawak remains the largest state in Malaysia and enjoys a strong economy based on its natural resources, and to a lesser degree, toursim.


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