Abu Bakar’s Rebellion and Sanang(Keling)’s involvement

Rebellion seems to be one of the logical consequences of conquest, for throughout human history where force is used to expand territory, rebellion is never very far behind. Being the inevitable outcome of conquest is no guarantee of success, however, and there are probably many more failed rebellions than ones that succeed. The history of European colonialism around the world provides a near limitless suite of both outcomes, and the Dutch experience in West Borneo is no exception, although–apart from the fairly well-known Kongsi Wars of the 1850s and 1880s (Heidhues 2003) and the decades-long campaign to pacify the Iban (Wadley 2007)–we know little about the various and overwhelmingly unsuccessful rebellions and insurgencies that arose in response to Dutch rule. For example, within the first decade of their re-established sovereignty over West Borneo, the Dutch were faced with a short-lived revolt in the late 1850s by the pangerans Anom, Kuning, and Ratu of Sintang (who chafed over their loss of power under new treaties) (Kielstra 1890) and a revolt during the early 1860s in the upper Melawi led by Mas Nata Wijaya (who claimed to be the true pangeran of Sintang) (Niclou 1887). (2)

Given this early track record of successful Dutch suppression of revolts throughout West Borneo, it is a bit surprising to see an attempted rebellion along the Embaloh River in 1879, by a certain Haji Abu Bakar in league with some Iban from the upper Rejang of Sarawak. (3) Unfortunately, we have only the colonial version to guide us, and the Dutch may have seen it as useful to present the incident as a rebellion, rather than something else. Thus, what actually motivated Abu Bakar and his accomplices may have been quite different, but is difficult to know from the evidence at hand (though Embaloh oral history may still preserve some memory of the incident and other documentary sources [below] may yield more clues).

In early January 1879, Iban raiders from the Katibas attacked a large boat near Nanga Mandai; the five-man crew, along with the traders Sukin (Chinese) and Abang Salim (Malay), fled into the forest and were not pursued. Much of their cargo, including rice, was lost overboard, but about 700 dollars worth of getah (forest latex) was stolen. Dutch officials determined that the raiders were led by Sanang (a.k.a. Keling), son of the headman Unggat, who was in league with Abu Bakar. At about the same time, Abu Bakar had swindled an Arab trader named Sheik Imal at Nanga Embaloh–selling him 10,000 gantangs of rice for 400 dollars but only delivering 2,000 gantangs. A few days after the Iban raid, Abu Bakar left for Sarawak (with five small cannons he took from the government outpost at Nanga Embaloh), claiming his mother was ill upriver.

Abu Bakar actually worked as the native representative for the Dutch colonial government along the Embaloh, having come well-recommended as the adopted son of Pangeran Suma, who himself served in that role in the early 1870s although the Dutch had not always trusted him. (4) (NB: This is a different Pangeran Suma from the ones of Selimbau and Suhaid mentioned in Wadley 2006.) In Enthoven’s (1903:96-97) genealogy of Bunut’s nobility, Abu Bakar appears as the son of a Malay noble, Raden Riya, with the title of Raden Surya Ugama, and as married to the sister of Selimbau’s ruler. With an Embaloh mother (there is no mention of his father’s origins, though a mix of Embaloh and Malay is likely), Abu Bakar was in a good position of local influence and had been responsible for arranging a peace-making ceremony between the Katibas Iban and people of the Embaloh and Bunut rivers. Prior to his hasty departure for Sarawak, some 200 Katibas Iban had come to the Embaloh, ostensibly in expectation of the peacemaking, living off their Embaloh hosts and rice that Abu Bakar provided them. Although Abu Bakar had guaranteed that the Iban would behave themselves, people in Bunut and along the Palin River worried that they were making the area insecure. Abu Bakar’s connection to the Katibas was not coincidental, either: He and Sanang knew each other well as their fathers, Pangeran Suma and Unggat, had been friends for years. (The Dutch claimed that as principal headman of the Katibas, Unggat received an income of 50 or 75 dollars from the Sarawak government derived from tax revenue, an office to which Sanang may have hoped to succeed.)

During his investigation in mid-January, Controleur J.C.E. Tromp became certain that Abu Bakar had planned an attack with the Katibas Iban during the time of the peacemaking, most likely against Bunut and five Embaloh settlements, using the stolen money and goods to finance the assault. It is not clear from the reports, however, whether he planned a treacherous attack at the ceremony itself (which seems unlikely given the guaranteed presence of Dutch forces) or an ambush as participants journeyed upriver. Bunut certainly was his main target, and he gave people in four of the most-upriver Embaloh communities–Keram, Bukung, Belimbis, and Pinjawan–the choice of following him or having their houses burned. Abu Bakar apparently held influence in those communities, especially Belimbis and Pinjawan where his mother and other close kin lived. (5)

Not only was the attack and robbery near Nanga Mandai led by Sanang, but several Embaloh were involved as well; namely, Makati (headman of Bukung), Kesui and Langi of Belimbis, Jenal of Pinjawan, and men from one of the three or four houses of Teliai where Suka was headman. The raiders carried the stolen goods to Bukung and Belimbis before moving on to Sarawak. Following Abu Bakar, people from those four communities also transported their household wares to Sarawak while hiding other valuables in the forest. It is unlikely that this migration was willing: A Palin headman, Benuang, left for Sarawak at the same time with some 60 households, after giving Sanang a number of ceramic jars and other valuables, and Abu Bakar supposedly threatened others who did not want to move with beheading by the Iban and having their headless corpses thrown into the river to give notice to the Malays of Bunut and the controleur. In addition, Sanang and his men had extorted chickens, taro, and other food from the inhabitants of Ulak Pauh, Paat, and Nanga Sungai when they had passed that way.

Although they were convinced that the Embaloh themselves would not join Abu Bakar’s attack, as a precaution the Dutch stationed an armed boat at Nanga Embaloh, and the Mangku Bumi of Bunut led a large force to strengthen the fortification there. Interestingly, the Mangku Bumi had considerable influence in the five most-downriver Embaloh settlements–Ulak Pauh, Paat, Nanga Sungai, Teliai, and Benua Ujung–where many of his mother’s kin lived. (6) People in the remaining Embaloh settlements also prepared for the threatened attack from Sarawak. The attack, of course, never came. Notified by the Dutch of Abu Bakar’s and Sanang’s activities, the Sarawak government arrested them in March or April, and the two men quietly faded from the documents. How long they stayed in jail and how much of the stolen goods were recovered may be hidden in the Sarawak archives. Presumably, the Embaloh who were conscripted by Abu Bakar returned home and resumed their old lives. The Dutch certainly do not say any more on the subject in the documents i have reviewed. (7) However, in a postscript to his report, Resident Kater mentions that the Assistant Resident received a letter from Abu Bakar (presumably before he fled to Sarawak?) saying that the Malay rulers along the Kapuas were in league against him. This provides the only hint of motivation, suggesting that, instead of a rebellion against the Dutch per se, it was local-level political disputes that motivated Abu Bakar’s efforts. What exactly he hoped to accomplish is unclear and is likely to remain so until someone stumbles across additional references in the archives, perhaps in documents specifically dealing with Bunut, or records or oral histories of the incident.

References Cited

Enthoven, J. K. K. 1903 Bijdragen tot de Geographie van Borneo’s Wester-afdeeling. Vol. I. Leiden: Brill. Heidhues, Mary Somers 2003 Golddiggers, Farmers, and Traders in the “Chinese Districts” of West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Ithaca NY: Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University.

Kielstra, E. B. 1890 Bijdragen tot de geschiedenis van Borneo’s Westerafdeeling. De Indische Gids 12 (2): 2185-2226.

King, Victor T. 1985 The Maloh of West Kalimantan: An Ethnographic Study of Social Inequality and Social Change among an Indonesian Borneo People. Dordrecht: Foris.

Niclou, H. A. A. 1887 Batang-Loepars–verdelgings-oorlog, Europeesch-Dajaksche sneltocht. Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch Indie 1: 29-67.

Wadley, Reed L. 2006 Abang in the middle and upper Kapuas: Additional evidence. Borneo Research Bulletin 37: 50-58.

2007 Slashed and burned: War, environment and resource insecurity in West Borneo during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13 (1): 109-128.

Reed L. Wadley

Department of Anthropology

University of Missouri-Columbia

Columbia MO 65211, USA

(1) The research upon which this note is based was funded by the International Institute for Asian Studies, Netherlands (1998-2001).

(2) There is a large bundle of documents concerning this rebellion in the Dutch colonial archives: Kabinetsverbaal (Geheim) 25 March 1868 H4, Ministerie van Kolonien, Nationaal Archief (hereafter NA), Den Haag, Netherlands. Time constraints did not allow me to explore these records at all.

(3) The following account is drawn from Report of Controleur Tromp, 22 January 1879; Letter to Governor-General from Resident Kater, 29 January 1879; Letter to the Committee of the Government of Sarawak from Resident Kater, 29 January 1879: Letter from William Crocker (Sarawak Government Committee) to Resident Kater, 20 March 1879; Letter to the Committee of the Government of Sarawak from Resident Kater, 6 April 1879–all in Mailrapport 1879 No. 224 (NA); and Letter to the Government Committee of Sarawak from Resident Kater, 2 July 1879, Mailrapport 1879 No. 551 (NA).

(4) Kort verslag der residentie Westerafdeeling van Borneo over de maand December 1872, Mailrapport 1873 No. 50 (NA).

(5) See the maps in King (1985) for the location of these communities along the Embaloh.

(6) There is no information from the Mailrapport documents or from Enthoven’s genealogies as to the relationship between Abu Bakar and the Mangku Bumi. More broadly, however, this underscores the close interrelationship between the Embaloh and upper Kapuas Malays (the founder of the Bunut kingdom, for example, being of Embaloh descent himself; Enthoven 1903:94), and the considerable though largely unexplored influence each had on the other culturally and linguistically (King 1985:58-61).

(7) Given the volume of material in the Dutch national archives, I focused on that which concerned the Iban (Batang Loepars) and much less on the goings-on in adjacent areas unless they directly involved Iban.
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