Sarawak Raj was a very “different” kind of leadership
The White Rajahs ruled Sarawak from 1841 to 1946. The first ruler, subject of the new Hollywood feature film, was Sir James Brooke. As a reward for helping the Sultan of Brunei fight piracy and insurgency among the indigenous peoples, he was granted the province of Sarawak in 1841, as an independent Kingdom.
Brooke pursued a policy of paternalism, with the goal of protecting the indigenous peoples – the Iban and other Dayak tribes – from capitalist exploitation. He installed laws banning slavery, headhunting and piracy.
After James Brooke laid much of the groundwork for the expansion of Sarawak, his nephew Charles, the second Rajah, was the “great builder”. He constructed public buildings, such as a hospital, in addition to forts, as well as extending the borders of the state.
Vyner Brooke, the son of Charles, instituted significant political reforms. He ended the absolute rule of the Rajah in 1941, before the Japanese invasion during World War II, by granting new powers to the parliament.
The Brooke family still maintains strong ties to the state and its people and are represented by the Brooke Trust, and by Anthony Brooke’s grandson Jason Desmond Anthony Brooke, at many state functions and supporting heritage projects.
The Brookes’ architectural legacy can still be seen throughout Sarawak.
Photo: Sir James Brooke
DELVING INTO HISTORY AT FORT MARGHERITA
In Kuching, the very prominent Fort Margherita on the riverfront was built by the second Rajah, Charles Brooke. Designed in the style of an English castle in 1879, it protected Kuching from pirate attacks, and was named after Charles Brookes’ wife Margaret Alice Lili de Windt. In 2016, having previously housed the Police Museum, it was transformed into the “Brooke Gallery” – showcasing the Brooke dynasty.
ANOTHER REMINDER OF THE BROOKE LEGACY: FORT ALICE, SRI AMAN
Fort Alice, built in 1864 in the coastal town of Sri Aman, around 200km north of Kuching, was given the second name of the Rajah’s wife. After years of loving restoration, it was opened to the public in 2015, and won the gold award for conservation in Malaysia’s Institute of Architects’ 2017 Awards. The gallery inside shows the history of the fort itself, the small town of Sri Aman as well as the tense contention between the Iban people and the British soldiers of the Brooke era.