Tuesday, 9 April 2013


The war in Borneo seems to be coming to an end, with the Borneo Post reporting today that all of Sabah is in the hands of the security forces and denying claims that a further hundred armed intruders have entered the state. Military activity is continuing, though, with security forces holding 32 people captured in the waters off the island. Firearms, knives and axes were seized.

There remains surprisingly little coverage of all this in the Western press. At least the Daily Mail has noticed that some of the indigenous people of Borneo are getting a raw deal and have covered the legal steps the Penan people are taking to recover their own land from the loggers.

The main problem that indigenous peoples in Borneo used to face was from logging companies, but now palm oil plantations pose an even greater threat to the people and fauna. (If any of you saw the recent BBC TV programme with Terry Pratchett in Borneo, you'll know what I mean.) A video that my Borneon friend sent me suggests that the levels of corruption that surrounds land sales means that there is little that people can do to resist deforestation. It's worth watching.

James Brooke thought the Dyaks romantic, representing the Noble Savage, beloved of many 19th century thinkers. He wanted to see them protected from a Malay governing class that exploited them and failed to protect them.

My book, The White Rajah, tries to show the moral ambiguity of European rule in the Far East. For me, the position of people like Brooke was ambiguous. Terrible things were done under his rule, but he did offer protection to the Dyaks that was lost when the Brooke Dynasty came to an end. We can reasonably ask who is going to protect them now?

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