Further notes on the historiography of British Borneo.
The changes during that period may be included under a number of headings. First, of course, more history has happened. That always shifts the focus on the past, bringing up new topics, or inviting a revisiting of the old. We cannot help recalling that Sarawak and Sabah have now been states of Malaysia for over forty years, not a dozen, or that Brunei is now a fully independent state, member of the United Nations and of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which itself had its first summit meeting in the year the Festschrift was published. Nor can we fail to take account of the different perspectives that the "development" of the states promotes. Will even historians--clinging to a concept and, as far as possible, to a practice of objectivity--still write in the same way, say, of the forests and their dwellers?
Second, more documentary materials have become available, at least in Britain. The archive-based writing listed in the Festschrift article was done at a time when archives even in London were under a fifty-year rule, not a thirty-year rule. As a result of the change, made indeed about the time the book was published, we know far more about the 1950s and 1960s than otherwise we would, particularly, though not exclusively, in respect to Brunei. More non- or semi-official collections have been deposited, for example at Rhodes House, and notable actors, local and metropolitan, have been interviewed. The Festschrift article offered a warning against pressing for the early opening of achives, lest it merely encouraged their destruction. Reading material at Kew opened under the thirty-year rule does not seem to justify that apprehension, and other governments should be encouraged to go at least as far as the British. The new fear for historians may be lest actors cease to put things down on paper at all. Much business is now done verbally or electronically, and that may in the long term be even more unhelpful to the historian than a disposition to documentary secrecy.
That perhaps relates to a third change, the expansion of the historical profession, and of the range of approaches historians adopt. Of that expansion, those who study Southeast Asia outside the region may speak somewhat wryly, since an earlier expansion has not been sustained. Within Southeast Asia, even amidst other pressing claims, the reverse is the case. "National" history indeed remains the "regnant paradigm," as Ruth McVey puts it, but historians work not only on a range of topics within "national" history, but increasingly on aspects of the history of their ASEAN neighbors.
Much of this endeavor is, of course, sustained by the universities. No longer, alas, in Britain, where the Hull Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, which gave special emphasis to Borneo, has been shut down, and interest in Borneo is sustained more on an individual basis, though not an amateur one. In Malaysia itself, however, universities have vastly expanded in number and size since the 1970s, and there are now three university institutions in what was once loosely called "British Borneo," where in the 1970s there were none. Across the sea, the university history departments on the peninsula take care to give attention to the Borneo parts of the federation, while University Brunei Darussalam and the History Centre have joined the Muzium in attempting to advance the historiography of Brunei. What might be considered the "Track 2" of the historiographical enterprise is well represented by the Literary Societies.
These institutions are also the base for publications, the Museum journals, for example. Other journals, including, of course, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies and Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Malaysian Branch, still welcome material on Borneo, and the present Bulletin has been hospitable to historians. The most notable loss since the 1970s has been of Oxford University Press's local branch, which went the way of the English poetry list. The gap it left--both in republishing classics, and in putting out new work--has not been filled by other publishers, modestly active though some of them have been.
Given all those factors, shifts in focus are to be expected. Some of the older topics remain of interest, even if perspectives have changed. One of those is "piracy." At the time of the Festschrift, my Piracy and Politics in the Malay World, launched in 1963, had been attacked, though not perhaps sunk, and James Warren brought a new level of sophistication to the subject in The Sulu Zone (1981). That has been followed more recently by The Sulu Zone: The World Capitalist Economy and the Historical Imagination (1998) and Iranun and Balangingi: Globalization, Maritime Raiding and the Birth of Ethnicity (2002).
Interest in another spectacular topic, the Brooke rulers of Sarawak, also continues. The University of Queensland Press' blurb on Cassandra Pybus' book White Rajah: A Dynastic Intrigue (1996) attempts to evoke it. The "enthralling saga of conflict and betrayal," focusing on Raja Charles' first-born, Esca, is intended to be, as she says, not a novel but a work of history. Looking like the former, it is in fact more the latter. Though it may not be presented quite in the style academics expect, it is a welcome attempt to explore "the possibilities of reconstructing the past to admit the experience which has been excluded and the voice which has been suppressed" (p. xiii). Esca had been a focus of Bob Reece's article, "A 'Suitable Population': Charles Brooke and Race-Mixing in Sarawak," Itinerario (1985), and is also mentioned in his stimulating essay, "European-Indigenous Miscegenation and Social Status in Nineteenth Century Borneo" in Vinson H. Sutlive, Jr., ed., Female and Male in Borneo: Contributions and Challenges to Gender Studies (n.d.). Much more recently, Reece has offered a sound and beautifully illustrated account of The White Rajahs of Sarawak: A Borneo Dynasty (2004).
Craig A. Lockard completed a compendious thesis on Kuching in 1973, "The Southeast Asian Town in Historical Perspective: A Social History of Kuching, Malaysia, 1820-1970" (Ph.D. thesis, University of Wisconsin). In 1976 he published "The Early Development of Kuching, 1820-1857," and in 1978 he offered a reappraisal of the Chinese "rebellion," "The 1857 Chinese rebellion in Sarawak: A Reappraisal," published by JSEAS (1978). The thesis finally emerged in print as From Kampung to City: A Social History of Kuching, 1820-1870 in 1987 thanks to the Ohio University Center for International Studies. Bob Reece published "Two Accounts of the Chinese Rebellion"--those of Harriette McDougall, the Bishop's wife, and of Daniel Owen, a catechist--in SMJ (1992).
Colin Crisswell's rather disappointing life of Raja Charles Brooke, Rajah Charles Brooke: Monarch of All He Surveyed, appeared from OUP in 1978. My own The Burthen, the Risk and the Glory, a political biography of Raja James based largely on the papers of the Brooke family now deposited in Rhodes House Library, was also published by OUP in 1982. A precursory piece was "Spenser St. John and his 'Life in the Forests of the Far East'" in the SMJ (1975), and a by-product, "St. John's Biography of Sir James Brooke," SMJ (1990). Max Saint published studies of two early Sarawak figures, Bishop Francis McDougall and Charles Grant, in A Flourish for the Bishop and Brooke's Friend Grant (1985). McDougall also features, of course, in Graham Saunders' Bishops and Brookes: The Anglican Mission and the Brooke Raj in Sarawak, 1848-1941 (1992). With Bob Reece, Saint wrote an introduction to OUP's reprint of Harriette McDougall's Sketches of our Life at Sarawak (1992), itself reprinted in BRB (1992). Another excellent introduction--Reece's to the reprint of Hugh Low' Sarawak: Notes during a Residence in that Country with H. H. the Rajah Brooke--was also reprinted in BRB (1990).
Matassim Hj. Jibah has attempted to give a more rounded account of a figure demonized in earlier accounts of James's venture, "Mahkota," in his "Pengiran Indera Mahkota Shahbandar Mohammed Salleh and James Brooke in the History of Brunei," BMJ, 4,3 (1979). Another, very different, "demon" was given a new look in John Bastin, "James Motley and his Contributions to the Natural History of Labuan," JMBRAS, 60, 2 (1987).
J. H. Walker's Power and Prowess: The Origins of Brooke Kingship in Sarawak (2002) seeks to offer a new slant on the first Raja himself. Attempting this, he accepts the injunction of Tony Milner and others to read "between the lines." But, while one can "interrogate" sources, they cannot answer back, and there is always a risk of finding between the lines things that are not really there. It is a risk that Walker does not avoid. Employing the concept of "men of prowess" that the late Oliver Wolters developed in a different context is not an unreasonable step in itself. But the evidence that James Brooke was aware of the concepts that Walker outlines--semangat, potency, for example--seems--despite his sensitivity--less than conclusive. To what extent those whom he aspired to rule or control or of whom he sought support were also guided by such concepts is also a matter of some speculation, perhaps more.
More persuasive, perhaps, is Walker's recent reading of the Hikayat Panglima Nikosa ("Hikayat Panglima Nikosa and the Sarawak Gazette: Transforming Texts in Nineteenth Century Sarawak," Modern Asian Studies, 39, 2 ). The earliest known Malay document from the Sarawak River region, the Hikayat was republished in 1983, with an introduction by P. L. Thomas, the translator, and Bob Reece (1983). It is to be seen, Walker suggests, not as a source for Sarawak history in the pre-Brooke period, but as an indication of the concerns of members of the Malay elite in the 1870s.
Charles Brooke's views on miscegenation, Reece argues, were "informed, not by notions of racial equality, but of animal breeding and the superiority of the hybrid in an environment which was believed not to be conducive to European reproductive success" (n.d:485). His new biography of Charles Brooke is eagerly anticipated (see Reece 2003). In a measure, his book on the "transfer" of the Raja's authority to the British Crown in 1946, The Name of Brooke (1982), is also biographical, and, with the skills of a journalist investigator as well as historian, he gives us vivid pictures of the personalities involved in what turned out to be the last phase in the history of the raj, Vyner Brooke, his brother Bertram, his son Anthony [Peter], and the mysterious G. T. M. MacBryan. That is all the more valuable inasmuch as the public archives are, tantalizingly, not fully open. The same skills vividly depict other sides of the story, including the background to the assassination of the second Governor of the new Colony. Not surprisingly, Reece has also applied his biographical skills to a noteworthy figure of the raj/post-raj phase, Abang Hj. Mustapha, Datu Bandar (1993). There he joins Vinson H. Sutlive, whose Tun dugah of Sarawak Colonialism and Iban Response was published by the Sarawak Literary Society in 1992.
The autobiographical contribution to the history of an earlier phase in the history of the raj by A. B. Ward's Rajah's Servant, mentioned in the Festschrift piece, was continued by K. H. Digby, whose Lawyer in the Wilderness, covering the years 1934-1951, was published as Data Paper 114 by the Cornell Southeast Asia Program in 1980. Alastair Morrison's Fair Land Sarawak: Some Recollections of an Expatriate Official, which takes us into the Colony phase, was also published by the Southeast Asian Program in 1993.
British records have been far more helpful in the growing historiography of the sultanate of Brunei. Through them, for example, D. E. Brown continued the pioneering work of his Brunei: The Structure and History of a Bornean Malay Sultanate (1970) with "Sultan Mumin's Will and Related Documents," BMJ, 3 (1974). A. C. Watson published reports made by Inche Mahomed bin Mahommed Kassim, the Malay who was in day-to-day charge of the British consulate in Brunei 1861-1890 ("Letters from Brunei: Inche Mahomed's Consular Reports 1866-1890," BMJ, 5, 4 (1984)). Graham Saunders has boldly attempted a history of the sultanate (1994). In general the focus has been on more recent times, though that, too, is not without its hazards. Parts of D. S. Ranjit Singh, Brunei 1839-1938: The Problems of Political Survival (1984), rather overlap Britain, the Brookes and Brunei, but it goes on to cover the Residency period and mainly using newspaper sources, the post-war phase, taking the story up to 1982, shortly before the sultanate secured "full independence." The latter phase is also the focus of B. A. Hamzah's "Oil and Independence in Brunei. A Perspective," a by-product of a Fletcher School thesis published in Southeast Asian Affairs in 1981. His book, The Oil Sultanate, was published in Kuala Lumpur by Muwaddah Enterprises in 1991.
The study of those phases has since been greatly enriched by the research and writing of B. A. Hussainmiya at Universiti Brunei Darussalam. His masterpiece is Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin III and Britain: The Making of Brunei Darussalam (1995). He made thorough use of the records at Kew, then available--though some are held back--up to 1963. He also made use of local sources and was able to conduct some crucial interviews. The book deserves and rewards the "close reading" that Milner and Walker deploy. "One senses," Roger Kershaw wrote in 1998, "that Hussainmiya is glancing over his shoulder at a potential academic audience as well as the Brunei official intelligentsia" ("Academic Correctness under Monarchy: Universiti Brunei Darussalam and Its Research" [BRB 2003:139]). His account, however, meets to a high level the historians' demand for objectivity, and he has since managed to enhance the contribution history can make to public debate by further publications, in particular "'Manufacturing Consensus': The Role of the State Council in Brunei Darussalam," JSEAS (2000a) and The Brunei Constitution of 1959: An Inside History (2000b).
The work of A. V. M. Horton, a private scholar who emerged from and continued a connection with the Hull Centre, has been even more copious, though some of it is less readily available. He published his account of The British Residency in Brunei, 1906--1959 in 1984 (Hull: Centre for South-East Asian Studies). That was followed by a carefully annotated edition of M. S. H. McArthur's crucial report of 1904--for which the Festschrift article had issued a discreet call--published as one of Ohio University's Monographs in International Studies in 1987. In the same year Horton's article, "The Disturbances in the Tutong and Belait Districts of Brunei (1899-1901)," was published in JSEAS, 18, 1 (1987b), and the following year the Brunei Museum Journal published "M. S. H. McArthur and Brunei 1904-1908 or 'A Dying Kingdom' Reprieved" (1988).
A number of articles on the government of Brunei have also followed, marked by an unexampled thoroughness, including, for example, "Post War Constitutional Changes in Brunei: 1944-1948" (1990a), "The Muara Damit Negotiations 1920-1924" (1992a), and "'I Have Taken Steps to Ensure that the Utmost Economy is Exercised': Government Finance in Brunei, 1906-1932" (1994). Articles on other topics also contribute to our knowledge through their scholarly care and particularity, for example "Brunei, Sarawak and the Kota Batu Lands (1903-1917)" (1985); "Rajah Charles Brooke and Mining Concessions in Brunei 1888-1924" (1986a); "The British Resident Murdered: Ernest Maundrell and Brunei 1915-1916" (1990b); "Rajah Charles Brooke, the Central Borneo Company, and Oil Prospecting in Brunei (1883-1929)" (1992b); "Brunei: The Redemption of Monopolies and the Hatton Hall Case 1903-1907" (1993); "James Hatton Hall (1866-1945): Planter, Merchant Soldier" (1995a); and "'A Pauper with a Valuable Property for Sale': The British Borneo Petroleum Syndicate and the Search for Oil in Brunei, 1906-1923" (1995b).
Horton has himself published A New Sketch of the History of Brunei (1995c) and Turun Temurun: A Dissection of Negara Brunei Darussalam (1995d), originally written for the Library of Congress, but not published by it, a shrewd and detailed work. A Biographical Dictionary of Negara Brunei Darussalam: (1841-1998), which he also published in 1995, has since gone through a number of editions.
Independent Brunei's search for a distinct identity within the larger contexts of the Malay world and Islam has been studied, for example, by C. H. Gallop, "Brunei Darussalam and the Modern Novel," JMBRAS (2004). G. Braighlinn [Roger Kershaw] has offered an account of the creation of Brunei's state ideology in Ideological Innovation under Monarchy: Aspects of Legitimation Activity in Contemporary Brunei (1992). Geoffrey C. Gunn describes his book Language, Power, and Ideology in Brunei Darussalam (1997) as "a work of historical sociology or at least political anthropology." For Kershaw it is a "high-minded and thought-provoking ... work" that yet "fails to live up to its high theoretical pretensions," perhaps because "the framework itself is less than optimally focused" (Kershaw 2003:145). But, even if, as Kershaw says, "Hussainmiya comes closer to the mark on the dynamics of modern history" (2003:146), Gunn's book offers a stimulating account of a unique polity, where wealth and literacy are combined with hierarchy and ideology.
The British archives serve the historian of the Japanese occupation much less amply, of course, than they serve the historian of the pre- and post-war periods, though they help to cover prewar Japanese interests, as Sabibah Osman has shown in her "Japanese Economic Activities in Sabah from the 1880s until 1941" (1998), and Danny Wong in "Anti-Japanese Activities in North Borneo before World War Two, 1937-1941" (2001). The indefatigable Horton has added to our knowledge of the subsequent invasion with "A Note on the British Retreat from Kuching 1941-1942," SMJ (1986b), and Hussainmiya has drawn on interviews as well as British records for his paper "Resuscitating Nationalism: Brunei under the Japanese Military Administration (1941-1945)," in Akitoshi Shimizu and Jan van Breman, eds., Wartime Anthropology in Japan (2003). Bob Reece's wide range of skills enabled him to produce a readable and memorable account of Sarawak's experience, Masa Jepun: Sarawak under the Japanese 1941-1945, published by the Sarawak Literary Society (1998). The year 1998 also saw the publication in the Ohio series of a collection of documents, Japanese Empire in the Tropics, which the editor, Ooi Keat Gin, allowed Reece to see in advance of publication. His own monograph, Rising Sun over Borneo: The Japanese Occupation, 1941-1945, was published by St Martin's Press, New York, in 1999.
Those books were, of course, a contribution to occupation studies in general, as well as to a hitherto untended field in Borneo's history. On the achievement of the Japanese in restoring oil production--one of their major objectives--neither Ooi nor Reece is, however, ideally clear. Self-sufficiency in food, another aim, Dr. Ooi claims that the Japanese attained, unlike the Brookes, whose endeavors he notes in "For Want of Rice: Sarawak's Attempts at Rice Self-Sufficiency during the Period of Brooke Rule, 1841-1941" (1998). Their methods, it should be said, were rather different. Perhaps Ooi says too little about them, too little, too, about the fear that, as Reece shows, their regime inculcated. Ooi's overall judgment is placed within the framework of the argument that has been carried on among historians of the occupation. Was it a turning-point in the history of Southeast Asia, or of countries in Southeast Asia? The late Harry Benda argued that it was crucial in bringing about the emergence of new elites. Robert H. Taylor and Al McCoy have argued for continuity. As his comments in his documentary volumes indicate, Ooi aligns himself, so far as Sarawak is concerned, with those who differ from Benda.
Ooi has also contributed to what might be called the domestic history of Sarawak. His article, "Sarawak Malay Attitudes towards Education during the Period of Brooke Rule, 1841-1946," appeared in JSEAS (1990), "Mission Education in Sarawak during the Period of Brooke Rule, 1840-1946," in SMJ (1991), "Education in Sarawak from Brooke Rule to Colonial Office Administration 1841-1963," in BRB (1992), and "The Attitudes of the Brookes towards Education in Sarawak 1841-1941," in JMBRAS (1997a). His book, Of Free Trade and Native Interests: The Brookes and the Development of Sarawak, 1841-1941 (1997b), based on a doctoral dissertation for the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hull, presents the first substantial economic history of the raj. He retains, however, the regnal pattern common in the historiography of Sarawak, dealing in the first section with the policies of its rulers, and in the later sections with "implementation" and "effects and impact." His "single most important source" was the Sarawak Gazette, a "mine of information," but more or less official. Those who have worked on Sarawak indeed have to reckon with a paucity, or a spasmodicity, of documentation. It is not surprising that Ooi is sometimes able to tell us more about proposals than practice.
Without emphasizing it, Ooi suggests the ambiguity of the Brookes' attitude to development. Clearly, as he says, they were opposed to speculative European companies, but they certainly favored the Borneo Company Limited and later the oil company. In general, however, the priority (the sago rivers aside) was political. The limits on European investment were supported by the wish to protect the native peoples from exploitation, as he several times says; but they were also designed to preserve the raj.
Amarjit Kaur has approached development from another angle, the creation of transport infrastructure. "Transport and the Sarawak Economy, 1841-1983," appeared in the Borneo Research Bulletin (1993), and she extended north with "Hantu and Highway: Transport in Sabah 1881-1963," in Modern Asian Studies (1994). On that infrastructure, she has built accounts of economic change, "The Babbling Brookes: Economic Change in Sarawak 1841-1941" (1995), and, extending north by a comparative route, Economic Change in East Malaysia: Sabah and Sarawak since 1850 (1998).
One feature that stands out from Ooi's book is the economic attachment of Sarawak to Singapore: the founding of the latter indeed begins the modern transformation of the former. Another feature, as R. M. Pringle emphasized, is the role allocation of the Sarawak communities, decided both by commercial change and by dynasty: the Chinese came to dominate commerce, the Malays administration. The Iban tend to escape the ready categorizations Southeast Asian historians offer.
Those communities have been further studied, in part by members of them. Oxford University Press published John M. Chin's The Sarawak Chinese in 1981, and followed up with Daniel Chew's more systematic Chinese Pioneers on the Sarawak Frontier 1841-1941 in 1990. Back in 1976 Edwin Lee published The Towkays of Sabah: Chinese Leadership and Indigenous Challenge in the Last Phase of British Rule (Singapore UP). More than a generation later Danny Wong Tze-ken published The Transformation of an Immigrant Society: A Study of the Chinese of Sabah (1998).
Other communities have not been ignored. In a book based on another Hull thesis, Jayum A. Jawan writes on the best documented of the indigenous populations of Borneo, Iban Politics and Economic Development: Their Patterns and Change (1994). A Hull thesis by Sabibah Osman, "Malay-Muslim Political Participation in Sarawak and Sabah 1841-1951" (1983) has so far not been published in full.
Sabah is, in general, less fully studied than Sarawak. The State, however, celebrated its centenary--controversially dating it from the Company's charter--in 1981 by publishing Commemorative History of Sabah, edited by Anwar Sullivan and Cecilia Leong, and the journal literature has also been building up. Mat Zin bin Mat Kib covers a significant topic in a concise manner in "Christianisation in Sabah and the Development of Indigenous Communities: A Historical Study," JMBRAS, 77, 1 (2004). How North Borneo came to be called "Sabah" is covered by an article in the same number of JMBRAS by P. J. Rivers, "The Origin of 'Sabah' and a Reappraisal of Overbeck as Maharajah" (2004).
Jawan's book is also in another line of succession. It continues the work on the politics of the states begun by Michael Leigh and Margaret Roff in 1974. That has also been continued in Sahib Said's book, Malay Politics in Sarawak, 1945-1966: The Search for Unity and Political Ascendancy (1985), and in James F. Ongkili's thesis, "Political Development in Sabah: The Emergence of a Modern Polity" (1986). James Chin's Chinese Politics in Sarawak: A Study of the Sarawak United People's Party, published by OUP in 1996, may be read alongside the autobiography of Stephen Yong, A Life Twice Lived, published by the author in 1998. In 2000, Vernon L. Porritt published 'Operation Hammer.' Enforced Resettlement in Sarawak in 1965, and in 2004 The Rise and Fall of Communism in Sarawak 1940-1990.
A further context for accounts of Borneo politics is, of course, provided by the state structures. In the period before the proposal for the creation of Malaysia was put forward, they hardly allowed for modern forms of participation. After its creation they were set within other constraining patterns, those created by the Brunei monarchy which stayed outside Malaysia and those created by the federal arrangements for those that joined it.
Ian Black's excellent thesis on the early years of North Borneo was published as A Gambling Style of Government in 1983 and a small supplement was offered in my "Mat Salleh and Krani Usman," (Tarling 1985). In 2000 D. S. Ranjit Singh published The Making of Sabah 1865-1941. The Dynamics of Indigenous Society, attempting "to look at the processes involved from 'the bottom-up' as well as from the 'the top-down,' to show how, in both pre-Company and Company times, grass-roots circumstances modified political patterns which had been externally imposed" (Singh 2000:xiii). No full-scale work has covered the later years. The emphasis, once more, is on Sarawak, with Vernon L. Porritt, British Colonial Rule in Sarawak 1946-1963 (1997), and Naimah S. Talib, Administrators and Their Service: The Sarawak Administrative Service under the Brooke Rajahs and British Colonial Rule (1999).
Such books, as well as Hussainmiya's major work and James Ongkili Sr.'s book, help to provide the Malaysian context. But for what happened both during its rather painful creation and its often contentious early years, it is necessary also to resort to the substantial literature on the venture as a whole. Its ur-history may be investigated through, for example, D. S. Ranjit Singh's article, "British Proposals for a Dominion of Southeast Asia, 1943-1957" (1998). Then pursue larger works, such as J. A. C. Mackie's masterful Konfrontasi (1974), the more recent works of John Subritzky, Confronting Sukarno: British, American, Australian and New Zealand Diplomacy in the Malaysian-Indonesian Confrontation, 1961-5 (2000), and Matthew Jones, Conflict and Confrontation in South East Asia, 1961-1965: Britain, the United States and the Creation of Malaysia (2002), and the more tendentious book by Greg Poulgrain, The Genesis of Konfrontasi (1998). Pursue, too, Mohamad Yusop's article "The Malaysia Plan and the first Brunei Elections, 1962" (1998).
Whether Borneo's history can or will be written in the future more as an integral part of a national history of Malaysia remains, perhaps, to be seen, though Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Y. Andaya made the attempt as far back as 1982, with A History of Malaysia, first published by Macmillan in 1982. Perhaps a balance can be achieved between the local and the national. It will be important, too, that the "international" boundaries do not rule out cross-border studies and collaborative and comparative work with historians of Kalimantan. Nor, more generally, should the focus on local and the national discourage the continued participation of scholars from other parts of the world. The expanded involvement of local and national scholars has been in welcome evidence over the last three decades. But the historiography of British and post-British Borneo would be much weaker without the substantial contributions of Reece and Horton.
Whatever the future of history-writing on Borneo may be, it must surely leave room for the informed and engaged super-amateurs that have contributed so much in the past. Two of them have recently been celebrated, very different men, in quite different ways. Robert Nicholl, who, as well as contributing many articles to the Brunei Museum Journal--including, for example, the documentary "Relations between Brunei and Manila A.D. 1682-1690" (1977)--published European Sources for the History of Brunei in the Sixteenth Century (Muzium Brunei, 1975) and Raja Bongsu of Sulu: A Brunei Hero in His Times (MBRAS Monograph No. 19, 1991), was honored, in the year before his death, with a collection of essays, many on Borneo topics, From Buckfast to Borneo, edited by Victor King and A. V. M. Horton (Hull: Centre for South-East Asian Studies, 1995). Judith M. Heimann's absorbing The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and His Remarkable Life, was published by the University of Hawai'i Press in 1999.
Since 1976, when the author's earlier survey was published, the historiography of "British" or once-"British" Borneo has expanded and become more diverse. Perhaps the most striking feature is the growth of published material on the history of Brunei, ambiguous as is the attitude of its government to research into the past. Sarawak has continued, however, to attract attention, substantially, however, as before, because of curiosity about its Brooke rulers. Without any such focus, Sabah's historiography seems to be relatively neglected.
Partly because of the paucity or spasmodicity of the written record, historians of Southeast Asia have been open to methods and insights afforded by the development of other disciplines. That is certainly the case with historians of Borneo, and Walker, for example, has followed the "linguistic turn." There is, however, still plenty of scope, even within the written records, for applying more "traditional" skills, and neither should rule out the other.
Undertaking even a brief survey such as the present can hardly be concluded without a reference to the purpose of historiography. Since the 1970s Ranke's ideal has been increasingly challenged, and some have taken the recognition that complete objectivity is unattainable as a mandate for complete relativity. The preferable view is surely that, while objectivity is unattainable, dismissing the attempt is irresponsible. Indeed, somewhat paradoxically, that may only make it easier to employ history to buttress ideology. In Southeast Asian studies the regnant paradigm is still the nation-state. The proper task of the historian, to borrow Soedjatmoko's eloquence, is "with the fruits of his endless efforts, constantly to feed and refresh historical consciousness as a creative impulse in the life of his nation" (1965:413).
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New Zealand Asia Institute
University of Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand
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|Publication:||Borneo Research Bulletin|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2005|
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