Printer Friendly

In search of Simon [Sindurang Bulakang]: a pioneer defender of Kadazan rights in colonial North Borneo.

In 1910, the Dusun of Papar (2) engaged the services of an English lawyer to summon the North Borneo (Chartered) Company administration to answer to charges that the Company had erred in selling land owned by members of the community to the railway and to plantation estates, thus violating the rights of the people. The community also alleged that the estates which had sprung up in the area had violated the customs and traditions of the people by destroying the graveyards of the community and scattering the remains of the dead. The action to sue the Company Government was the culmination of almost three years of unceasing and untiring efforts by Dusun leaders to champion the community's rights. The outcome of the lawsuit, however, was rather mixed. The Judicial Commissioner ruled that the government and the estates had erred in encroaching into some of the Dusun-owned lands, and they were asked to compensate those who had suffered losses. However, in its entirety, the ruling did not favor the community, as the Government and the estates were asked to compensate the Dusun according to the price that a Dusun would sell to another Dusun; they were not asked to return the land they had taken. Not happy with the ruling, the Dusun and their English lawyer intended to appeal, but were prevented from doing so by a series of measures introduced by the government aimed at discouraging the appeal. The matter dragged on for another ten years before a Parliamentary Paper in 1920 more or less absolved the Government from responsibility except for several matters deemed to be related to the case. (3) However, by 1920, interests in the case had waned and many of the Dusuns who had fought for their rights were already of advanced age and the matter was allowed to slowly fade away, so much so that little could be recalled by the community with regard to the case. In a sense, the case was totally forgotten by the community.

Throughout the entire episode of championing the rights of the Dusun in Papar, many were involved. Among the local Dusun, one leader's name stood out--Simon, who was simply introduced in most documents as a headman of Kampung Kapinpinan (4) in Papar. From the official documents it is apparent that this Simon was known to Company officials right from the beginning. It was Simon who was deputized by his community to go to Labuan to present the petition to the High Commissioner seeking a redress of the land problem. It was also Simon's name which appeared in the final document concerning the case in the Parliamentary Paper of 1920. Who was Simon? How much is known of him locally? Obviously this name is now long forgotten. A more prominent name from Papar would be the Dahm family of Limbahau, particularly Bernard Dahm, who was awarded a Papal Medal. Bernard Dahm was a younger contemporary of Simon, yet the name of Simon just simply laded away. (5)

This paper is not an attempt to rescue someone from obscurity, as much has been mentioned of the man in official documents, yet so little is known of him. This paper will look at the character of Simon through three perspectives, each based on a particular genre of historical sources. Thus far, the portrayal of Simon and his colleagues who fought for their rights has been based solely on perspectives provided through official documents. Given the nature of his anti-government activities, these views on Simon were entirely negative. This paper takes a slightly different approach by turning to non-official or alternative sources. What emerged from this exercise is the possibility of having two new perspectives of the man, namely, one which is quasi-official, but with some sympathetic feelings, and one that is rather personal. The emergence of these two new if not alternative perspectives suggests the possibility of reconstructing historical figures or personalities (in this case, Simon) which could be different from existing perspectives offered by official narratives. More importantly, this paper, though entailing nothing more than an exercise in interrogating historical documents, argues for the greater use of non-official documents in reconstructing the past.

This paper is divided into three parts. The first part will provide the setting of the land issue and how that led to Simon and his community organizing petitions against the government. The second part aims at providing glimpses into the life of Simon through the official perspective--Simon as a leader in fighting for the rights of his people, and someone who achieved some level of notoriety in the eyes of the government officials against whom his actions were aimed. The third part will give an alternative view of Simon from the perspective of non-official sources: diaries, church records and personal letters. It will investigate and interrogate non-conventional sources relating to Simon, and demonstrate the importance of non-conventional sources in reconstructing various aspects of local history.

It is hoped that this exercise will help to answer the main questions of: Who was Simon? What propelled him to be the leader of his community? What were the underlying reasons for his involvement? How did he fade away? More importantly, this paper will attempt to examine the role of individuals in defending community rights in early North Borneo.

Papar in 1910

The district of Papar is one of the oldest human settlements in Sabah. It was certainly one of the three earliest settlements where the Chartered Company first established its rule; the others were Sandakan and Tempassuk. The Company Residency was set up by the Papar River. The district was (is) populated by two main ethnic groups, the Bajau and the Dusun. The former were distributed in villages along the coast, particularly on the western side of the Papar River. Two major Bajan villages were Pengalat Besar and Pengalat Kecil. Most of the Bajau, who were Muslims, were either fishermen or engaged in small-scale planting activities. Numerous Dusun villages were situated on the Papar plains on the southern side of the Papar River; others were on both sides of the Papar River in the interior section of the river. The Dusun were originally pagan or animistic. However, with the introduction of the Roman Catholic mission in that area in the last two decades of the 19th century, many of the Dusun converted to Christianity (Catholicism). The Dusun were basically farmers, and well-known padi planters. Their skills in rice cultivation had resulted in Papar being known as the "rice bowl" of the territory. It also reflected the close association of the Dusun with their lands. As the district stretches to the south, one would encounter some Kedayan and Bisayas or even Brunei Malay, but their numbers remained small within the Papar district. The Chinese made up the third major group of the local population. Arriving en masse in the last decade of the 19th century, the Chinese were divided into three main groups. First, shopkeepers who had followed the Company flag to establish themselves in Papar township. The second group were settlers, immigrants who were brought into the state and given land for planting purposes. The last group were those brought in to work on the railway and, later, the rubber estates that sprang up in the area.

The opening of the area for the planting of cash crops such as rubber was directly associated with the advent of the North Borneo Company (also known as the Chartered Company) administration. It was mainly the opening of the rubber estates and the construction of the railway that brought the Dusun face-to-face with the question of encroachment and violation of their rights, especially pertaining to land and customary culture. The rubber estates and the railways were two major developments that significantly altered the administrative and economic landscape of the state. It is difficult to say which came first, for they were intertwined. The idea of railway construction was championed by a number of the major shareholders of the Chartered Company in London. Led by William Clarke Cowie, its Managing Director, the group believed that the introduction of the railway would help to open up the west coast to British plantations and, at the same time, serve as an economic impetus for that part of the state. The idea was to construct a railway to eventually link the west and east coasts. This however, failed to materialize. The railway started from Brunei Bay, at a small village later known as Weston, down to Beaufort, before linking up with Papar and, finally, Jesselton in the north as the terminus. The project began in 1896 and was not completed until 1906.

Rubber seeds were introduced into the state during the 1890s. Among those responsible for helping to ensure that the crop would flourish was Henry Ridley, the very botanist who was known for his passion for rubber planting, earning him the title of"Mad Ridley." The crop was first introduced at the experimental agricultural station at Silam, and later at Tenom. It came at a very crucial time when tobacco, once the mainstay of North Borneo's economy, was suffering from a massive drop in demand as a result of protective tariffs introduced by several countries, including the United States. By the time the trees were growing at the stations, it was apparent that this was the crop that could perhaps save the plantation economy of the state. As a result of its successful introduction, rubber became the main crop planted. The Government began by offering land at a generous premium and low quit-rent. As a result, many rubber companies began to take up land on the west coast, stretching from the Kudat Peninsula (Langkon Estate), to Bukit Padang Estate that eventually emerged alter the establishment of Jesselton, to Putatan and Lok Kawi estates, Papar Estate, Membakut Estate, to Mawao Estate in the south. From there, the railway turned towards Tenom and Melalap where huge estates such as the Manchester Rubber Estates, Melalap Estate and Sapong Estate had been established.

Most of the estates south of Jesselton were established along the railway line. Hence, when the Dusun people of Papar began to feel that their land rights were being violated, they were, in many instances, facing the double menace of the rubber estates--whose owners constantly refused to listen to their appeals and reasoning--and the railway. They had no clue as to where to complain about the railway. But it was obvious that the Dusun of Papar felt that some of their lands had been forcefully taken away from them, either by the government or the estates. Those lands nearer the railway track were taken by the Government and given to the railway. The estates had been granted land concessions that, in many cases, also included lands previously owned or used by the community, particularly for communal purposes, such as graveyards, grazing lands and for gathering. Others had had their land, usually planted with fruit trees, taken for failing to register their land and have it surveyed as required by the 1903 Land Proclamation (Law), a law which many simply did not understand.

The Land Laws and the Dusun

Among the first things that the Chartered Company did during the initial stage of its administration was to introduce a series of laws and regulations relating to land issues. Until 1913, all the land laws were issued as Land Proclamations, each with the effect and ingredients of a proper land law. In promulgating these land laws and their subsequent amendments, the Company adhered as best it could to the various articles of the Royal Charter granted to the Company by the British Government in November 1881, particularly on issues pertaining to the welfare and rights of the natives. In general, the statutory law introduced by the Company recognized the position of native customs and native rights to communal lands. Among the first laws introduced by the Chartered Company were the Land Proclamations of 1881 and 1889. These, especially the 1889 edition, emphasized the protection of native rights to lands; it stipulated that "before any title-deed to land could be issued to a European the chiefs had to be informed of the area under consideration and the headmen or chiefs had to be shown the surveying marks erected for their information. The District Officer was not to leave it to the chiefs to bring forward any claims; he himself was to make careful inquiries aimed at protecting native rights" (Tregonning 1965: 120). These rights covered all lands under cultivation, fruit trees, grazing land, burial grounds, graves, native tracks, and shrines. In the event of disputes, the rights were to be settled by either a reservation of land or payment of monetary compensation. The natives were granted the right to appeal to the Governor for compensation before the issue of the title deeds would be authorized.

While the 1889 Proclamation looked favorable to the natives, the same could not be said of the attitude of the planting community who had, since the turn of the century, begun to become increasingly influential, if not powerful. In fact, the planters gathered to form the North Borneo Planters' Association which was given a place in the State Legislative Council. To the planters, while it was very noble on the part of the North Borneo Company administration to safeguard the natives' rights to land based on customary rights, the actual enforcement had caused many problems for the estates that were beginning to spring up in large numbers, particularly on the west coast. Many of the companies found the old native rights unacceptable under Western law, hence there was a tendency to ignore these rights. This form of action by the companies so worried the government, especially in the face of the rising number of planting companies wanting to open up estates, that the government decided to act further to provide some safeguard of native rights. In 1903, Governor E. P. Gueritz introduced the Land Proclamation of 1903 which aimed at providing protection for native rights to lands by the issuance of written titles. European firms were forbidden to deal with natives for land. Governor Gueritz also authorized the voluntary acceptance of a written title by any native holding land under customary tenure. Thus began the task of a land settlement scheme aimed at surveying the native lands and preparing for title deeds to be issued to the natives. The plan, however, did not receive enthusiastic response from the natives. When the first settlement scheme had completed its task in the surveying and issuance of title deeds for the Putatan (inclusive of Penampang) area, 3,000 individual title deeds were prepared. Most of these were left unclaimed in the District Office (Tregonning 1965: 120). This situation persisted for around two years before the natives began to take them seriously and began to claim the titles.

This situation began to change when more planting companies began to apply to take up land on the west coast. Suddenly, the natives began to see the importance of having written title deeds as a safeguard to their lands. They were also slowly becoming more amenable to the idea of paying quit-rent, something which was rather alien to them.

This change of attitude also saw a rise in demand among the natives to have their lands surveyed, to the extent that by 1909 the survey teams were struggling to keep up with their assignments (Tregonning 1965:121).

The alienation of land for rubber planting and other uses had started after the introduction of the 1903 Land Proclamation. Under this ordinance, the natives were encouraged to take out individual titles for their land. However, the ordinance did not cover communal and grazing land. This was the underlying problem that received a strong reaction from the Dusun of Papar in 1910. A severe staff shortage in the Chartered Company administration had resulted in a delay in the issuing of land titles. When visiting the west coast to investigate the problem, Henry Walker, the Land Commissioner, reported:
   I went to Jesselton per S.S. Marudu on the [4th January and visited
   Beaufort and Yenom. Inspected the books at each station. The
   indexes at Jesselton were not written up and with that exception,
   the books are in order. I consider the clerical assistance at
   Jesselton to be quite inadequate to cope with the class or mass of
   work. The Putatan Native Titles are still unissued. This remark
   applies also to Papar.... I note I did not ask for the shop rents
   at Papar but I discussed the matter of issuing the native titles at
   Putatan and Papar with the Resident who proposes to send his Malay
   clerk with the Demarcator Maksud Ali to issue the native titles at
   those two places. (6)

The delay in issuing the land titles, coupled with reluctance by the Dusun to pay for the process of land alienation, resulted in plots remaining unmarked and later being sold to the rubber estates. A few weeks before the Dusun submitted their petition, G. C. Woolley, (7) then Acting Land Commissioner, visited Papar to hear a land case. According to him: "Land office affairs here (Papar) seem to be in rather a chaos." (8)

It was under such circumstances that many of the Dusun who lived along the railway line found themselves suffering from loss of land and their precious fruit trees. They also claimed to have suffered the loss of grazing lands and burial grounds. Negative feelings were mounting to the extent that they sought remedial action from the government. At the initial stage, they went to seek the help of the District Officer, who was not of much help. (9) When they complained to the Resident, E. H. Barraut, he also seems to have refused them. In fact, it led to a stand-off between the Dusun and the Resident, whom they accused of being drunk when dealing with them. (10) Even though the Chartered Company had dispatched its land officers to take a look at the situation, to the extent of preparing funds to pay out compensation for fruit trees or other losses, the Dusun were generally unhappy with the compensation meted out by the Government. Many felt it was too meagre and, in most cases, their complaints and pleas were not entertained. This caused the Dusun in Papar to unite and act by engaging an English lawyer, R. B. Turner, to act on their behalf to seek redress for their plight.

R. B. Turner was probably the first man to practice law privately in North Borneo. He had first joined the North Borneo Company as Judicial Commissioner in 1908. A graduate of Worcester College in Oxford, Turner was called to the English bar in 1906. While serving in North Borneo, he was alleged to have problems in adjudicating some cases which involved certain plantations. In 1910, on a matter of principle over the alleged intervention of certain parties in a judicial case presided over by him, Turner resigned from the service and went into private practice. At that time, he was the only lawyer in private practice. In that same year, he was approached by a delegation of Dusun from Papar, led by someone by the name of Simon, asking him to represent the Dusun in fighting for the return of their lands. From then, until the case was finally decided by the issuance of a Parliamentary Paper in 1920, Turner was closely associated with the Dusun of Papar, especially through their alleged leader, Simon. Who was this Simon? Why did Tregonning describe him as "a notorious trouble-maker"? (Tregonning 1965: 122). The next section will take a look at Simon through the eyes of the Chartered Company officials who had to deal with him.

Simon in Official Accounts

Simon's name first came to the government's notice after he put his name as the main petitioner on the petition sent to Sir John Anderson, High Commissioner for British Borneo, representing the Dusun of Papar. (11) He was introduced in the petition as "One of the principal headman of Dusun inhabitants of Papar, British North Borneo, has been deputed by his fellow countrymen of several villages in the said district to come to Labuan" to present the petition. In addition, Simon also claimed that "your petitioners' ancestors have from time immemorial settled down, owned and held possession of the lands at present in their occupation, and have in the past cultivated ...". In very simple words, with the help of R. B. Turner, the English lawyer, he laid down the background and identity of himself and his people and their association with the land.

The petition addressed six main points:

1. The Dusun community claimed to have been settled in the area since time immemorial and they understood their position as regards the transfer of sovereignty of the State from the Brunei Sultanate to the Chartered Company.

2. The rubber estate had acquired land in the area from the Chartered Company without the Dusun community's knowledge.

3. The rubber company had cut down fruit trees on their lands but failed to pay compensation. In cases where compensation had been made, the amounts were not commensurate with the actual value.

4. The rubber company had violated their customary rights by encroaching upon and clearing lands that were graveyards and, in the process, had damaged many burial jars.

5. The Chartered Company had unjustly allowed its policemen to abuse their power by deliberately encouraging native livestock to wander into the fenced areas of the rubber estates or public land, hence often resulting in the animals being impounded and heavy fines imposed upon the owners of the livestock for their release, while the policemen received a cut from the proceedings.

6. The Chartered Company, in failing to address the problems, had failed to protect the Dusuns' rights. (12)

The petition did manage to evince sympathy from the High Commissioner, who asked the Chartered Company to provide explanations and answers to the many issues raised in the petition. This eventually led to the Company being directed to allow the Dusun to take the case to a court in North Borneo for adjudication by the judicial commissioner (13)--hence the so-called Notorious Papar Land Case.

When directed by the Court of Directors to furnish information and replies to the issues raised in the petition, Governor E. P. Gueritz directed G. C. Woolley, who was Acting Commissioner of Lands, to carry out an investigation. In his report to Sir John, Gueritz said that he would not accept Simon as representative of the Dusun, as claimed by the latter. Gueritz was of the opinion that Simon "really represents the local Roman Catholic Mission from whom this emanates and by whom it is fostered." (14) In other words, Gueritz did not think too highly of Simon. Instead, he viewed Simon as nothing more than a messenger or stooge used or exploited by the Roman Catholic Mission, particularly the priest-in-charge at Papar, Father Aloysius Goossens. (15) The accusation against the Roman Catholic Church was maintained by the Company throughout the case. It would take the Catholic Church more than 50 years to lay this matter to rest. Father John Rooney, a priest who conducted research on the history of the Catholic Church in Sabah, came to the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Mission was not involved in the case. (16) However, a re-examination of the Catholic Church Archives shows that the church could very well have been involved in the case, at least personally through Father Goossens. In a letter from Turner, the lawyer to Goossens, Turner cried out to Goossens, "How is it that I cannot hear from you? Important matters are now in hand and I feel quite isolated, without a word from you or from our Dusun friends for whom I have gone through so much." (17) Judging from the tone of Turner's writing, it is likely that Father Goossens was involved.

K. G. Tregonning suggests that the Catholic Church had a hand in influencing the Dusun to act against the Government. According to him, "On the coast too the native land policy brought trouble. At Papar a notorious trouble maker, strongly influenced by the long established Roman Catholic mission there, found for the Christian Dusun imaginary faults in the change from traditional tenure. Their land claims were taken to court in 1911" (Tregonning 1965: 60). This claim was refuted by John Rooney, who said he had gone through the missionary's report which denied that the church had been implicated in inciting the Dusun to protest against the Government.

According to Rooney (1982:184),
   The Tregonning insinuation is that Father Goossens was the grey
   eminence in this case. The only reference to the case in the
   mission archives is a letter to Bishop Dunn from Mr. G. de la
   Mothe, requesting mission support to protest against the Chartered
   Company. Bishop Dunn's hand note to the letter states simply that
   he had ordered the Fathers not to become involved. Tregonning's
   justification for this insinuation is an extract from a Governor's
   dispatch of 1921. A perusal of the British Parliamentary papers on
   the case shows that the Catholic Mission is not once mentioned in
   the proceedings. The Governor's accusation can hardly be regarded
   as evidence and, while some may doubt that Father Goossens would
   have been deterred by orders from Kuching, his involvement may be
   discounted. The burden of the Governor's complaint in 1921 is that
   wherever Catholic missions had been established the natives tended
   to become politically conscious of their rights and that missionary
   influence should be controlled so that such a result might be
   avoided. The dispatch illustrates the bad feeling that existed
   between the government and the Catholic missions of the interior.

Rooney's misgivings about Tregonning's assertion, however, were based solely on the Mill Hill Missionary Society's reports and the parliamentary paper, which seem to absolve the Catholic Church from the accusations. (18) An investigation into the mood of the Chartered Company officials during the period of the protest between 1910 and 1911, however, makes it difficult not to allude to the Catholic Church being a party to inciting the Dusun to protest.

In the petition, Simon also states that apart from the six main issues, "there are many other grievances too lengthy to enumerate here not only in your petitioners' district but in nearly every place or village in British North Borneo not trivial or fancied but real bonafide hardships and injustice which the natives suffer and are afraid to complain of not knowing where to go for assistance and also for fear of the consequences of trying to represent matters elsewhere." The petition further called for the establishment of a Royal Commission to enquire "not only in your petitioners' particular case at Papar but of the whole existing condition of affairs generally in British North Borneo when much of the injustice, high handed proceedings and other mis-administration of government by the Chartered Company or their officials will be exposed and necessitate remedial ...". It is apparent that Simon would have no idea of what a Royal Commission is, and that the entire statement could be purely at the instigation of Turner, the lawyer. However, Turner was definitely a man who had an axe to grind as he felt that he had been forced to resign from the government service as a judicial commissioner on a matter of principle after witnessing some transactions which he felt were unfair. But for Simon, the statement in the petition, regardless of whether it was his opinion or not, actually highlighted the plight of the Dusun people in general, and was not confined to the district of Papar. In this way, it had inevitably resulted in Simon being perceived by government officials as a leader of many Dusun.

At the conclusion of the Papar Land Case, Simon and his friends were unhappy over the result and were advised by Turner to put forward an appeal. Reporting the matter to the Company Secretary, Acting Governor A. C. Pearson felt that Simon's document was "'couched in vague terms and was largely made up of alleged grievances of unnamed persons in various districts, after the manner of the former petition." (19) In trying to assist Simon to draft a new petition, Pearson had Simon brought to Jesselton, where he was interviewed. Pearson's impression of Simon was quite negative: "In due course Simon came to Jesselton and was interviewed by Messrs. Sawrey-Cookson (Judicial Commissioner) and G. C. Woolley (Commissioner of Lands) who, I am confident, did their best to frame some definite issues for trials but without success, as the man (a very small land owner) appeared to have nothing to say for himself, but a great deal to say on behalf of other people." (20)

Speaking up on behalf of other people seemed to be Simon's trademark. It further reinforced the image of him being a leader of the Dusun beyond the confines of Papar. Pearson added, "During January, I learnt that Simon with two or three others of similar kind, was visiting the villages along the railway, and collecting subscriptions to brief Mr. Turner on their behalf. This petition is divided into three parts, and purports to be the complaint of the inhabitants of Papar, Kimanis and Membakut." The latest petition was decided to contain at least some concrete instances of alleged grievances ..." (21) By the time the judgment was made on the Papar case, the feeling of discontent had spread beyond the Papar-Kimanis-Membakut area. In fact it spread over almost the entire stretch of the coastal region from Kimanis through Membakut, Benoni, Papar, Putatan to Tuaran. Immaterial of whether Simon was really the man behind the spreading of this sentiment, the Chartered Company liked to believe so. The new petition, also drafted by Turner, also saw the emergence of new Dusun individuals coming forward to fight for the rights of their people.

The new petition from the Dusun at Papar, Bongawan, and Membakut was respectively dated 19 July 1911, and signed by Batindam, Yangar and Sogara of Bongawan, 5 August by Bokupas, Gombang and Massu of Membakut and Maratam and Tagap of Papar, and finally, 8 August by Simon of Kapinpinan, Papar. (22) The Colonial Office was certainly not happy with the Company's stand on the issue, and strongly sympathized with the plight of the Dusun. Writing to the Chartered Company in London, Lewis Harcourt, the Under Secretary of State, remarked: "I do not like this at all. I cannot think it is consistent with public policy to dispossess natives of their fruit gardens and even of their graveyards to make room for a rubber plantation, and I should tell the C.O. (Colonial Office) so straight." (23) After some debate with the Chartered Company, the Colonial Office asked the Company to instruct its officers in Sabah to take utmost care not to allow the alienation of land on which native graves were known or believed to exist. (24)

Though this episode ended in 1912, other similar petitions were submitted to seek the British Government's intervention, including one from six locations on the west coast of Sabah in 1913. Sir Arthur Young, the Secretary of State, expressed surprise at the latest development as the petitions also involved Dusun from Putatan, Kinarut and Kimanis. (25) The petition from Putatan was signed by Mamidal, Kinarut by Masagal, Madkar and Majarit, and Kimanis by Pambahan and Bangon. Thus far, it had been confined to the Papar-Bongawan-Membakut area.

The seriousness of the protest, however, varied from place to place. While the Dusun along the railway line were more vocal and daring by challenging the Chartered Company's position, it was not the case for the Dusun from Tuaran. According to Rutter, "At one time the agitator movement threatened to spread to Tuaran, but the good people of the district did not appreciate squandering in legal charges the comfortable sum they had extracted from Tuaran Rubber Estate for their fruit trees and the Papar envoys went home empty handed" (Rutter 1922: 60). The tact that a delegation was sent from Papar to Tuaran suggests close affinity among the people who identified themselves as Dusun, though from different districts. It also suggests the existence of identity consciousness of the people in the need of a cohesive response against what they believed to be injustices committed against them. In this sense, Simon could very well be one of the earliest defenders of Dusun rights, albeit having drawn this conclusion from the negative comments by Chartered Company officials.

From the many portrayals on the part of the Government, Simon was definitely not seen too positively. He was portrayed as a notorious instigator, perhaps used by "unscrupulous" quarters. The official records also seem to suggest that Simon was behind the ill will and feelings of discontent by Dusun from other districts towards the government. This official view of Simon (through his third-person nomenclature of "notorious instigator") has been the view adopted in subsequent writings on the event. However, when probing further and looking through other sources, this was hardly the sole image of the man, Simon. In the next section, Simon will be viewed through the eyes of G. C. Woolley, the very Commissioner of Lands (cum Collector of Land Revenue) whose position was being named as the principal defendant in the land case.

Simon as Recalled by Woolley

Much of what we can obtain that Woolley wrote about Simon came from his meticulously kept diary. (26) Woolley's first encounter with Simon was around September 1910. In his diary entry for 14 September 1910, Woolley records that "Simon's complaints have gone on to the High Commissioner, who has asked for a report." (27)

Based on Woolley's account, it is most likely that Simon was truly the leader of the Dusun of Papar in so far as the land case is concerned. Woolley, who was the Commissioner of Lands, was tasked with the responsibility of adjudicating the various claims put forward by the Dusun in Papar. In the case brought by the Dusun petitioning for the return of their lands, the Commissioner of Lands (Woolley) was named as first respondent. To his annoyance, he found that many of the Dusun refused to appear to discuss their claims "unless Simon was present." (28) In fact, during the trial, Woolley confessed that in most of the visits he made to Papar to determine cases of land encroachments and to give out compensation, he was assisted by Simon and Banjar. (29) Woolley's testimony supports the notion claimed by Simon that he was leader of the Dusun in Papar.

More information on Simon was found in Woolley's diaries. These entries were Woolley's recollection of the Papar Land Case trial. First, Simon was reported to have gone around collecting money, and also having gotten some of the locals to do it. In his diary entry for 25 July 1911, Woolley recalls that the last witness for the respondent in the trial, Dulahim, was a shock to Turner, and he could not break him down: Dulahim told the court that Simon had told him to collect money from his people and to threaten them if they would not pay. Both Simon and Banjar, recalled by permission, denied the story in toto, but coming out from the trial, Sawrey-Cookson, the Judicial Commissioner, told Woolley that he believed Dulahim. (30) Cookson's action in confiding in Woolley was clearly a breach of judicial procedure, and a likely act of perjury, considering that Woolley was the first respondent in the case! However, North Borneo society was very small and contact between members of the European society was hardly avoidable. The bottom line of the matter was that Dulahim's statement was very damaging to Simon's reputation, especially when it helped to confirm the Company's view that Simon and his friends were up to no good and that Simon was the chief instigator in getting the Dusun to rise against the government.

Second, the entry for 22 July 1911 shows that some quarters in the government were under the impression that Simon was in the process of instigating the Dusun people to rise up against the Government over the loss of their lands. (31) During the court proceedings, Turner, the lawyer engaged by the Dusun, "urged that the story of Simon's intended rising was all a myth, and started from a conversation of his (Turner's) own with Simon, he saying that to start the case without preparation and papers was like a man going to battle without his spear and parang--this was overheard and exaggerated into a threatened rising." The explanation, however, was not accepted by many government officials, especially Barraut, who was directly implicated in the case. Father Aloysius Goossens, the Catholic Priest in charge of the Limbahau mission who was considered the advisor and main supporter to Simon and his friends, was also being asked to be a witness. When asked about the "rising," Goossens denied that he had ever instigated the people at all, and his explanation of the matter was similar to Turner's explanation mentioned earlier. (32) Regardless of the truth behind this allegation and despite the denials of Turner and Father Goossens, it is clear that Simon had by then acquired a certain level of notoriety in the eyes of the Chartered Company officials. Along with several of his colleagues, including Banjar, they had been portrayed as nuisances, notorious and perhaps, even dangerous. The idea of an uprising also reinforced the notion that Simon was indeed a leader of the Dusun who was championing his people's rights.

In his diary entry for 18 August 1911, Woolley records that a telegram had arrived in his office to say that the Government had won the Papar case. Five days later, Woolley wrote that Banjar had been sentenced to one month's rigorous imprisonment for perjury for his accusation against Barraut. (33) However, when the written judgement of the case finally reached him on 26 August, Woolley was of the opinion that "all legal points against Gov't and not at all clear as to what Gov't has to pay for." (34) The victory that was claimed by the government was not complete. The case was too complex, and too many issues were at stake. Woolley's admission in his diary shows that despite the government's claim of victory, people like Woolley expressed doubt. These doubts inevitably show that Simon's effort was perhaps a just one, but it was just that the government was not willing to accept it, and went on to deny people like Simon the justice they demanded. In the end, even though the Dusun had won on all legal points, no appropriate redress was ever carried out. In fact, it was upon this point that the Dusun continued to harp until 1920. However, by then, Simon was already fading from the scene.

Woolley's recollection of Simon shows some consistency with the official views expressed in official documents as demonstrated in the previous section. The two sources agree to some extent that Simon was indeed a main character and leader in instigating the Papar Dusun to act against the government; and that he was suspected to have been instigated or used by others, possibly the Catholic Mission at Papar, to express grievances against the government. However, Woolley's diary, being more personal in nature, also shows a human side of Simon, which could even be forceful, as in the case of asking others to collect subscriptions. The diary also shows views that are very different from that of the official one, as demonstrated by Woolley's personal reading of the written judgement, which differs from the government's claim of victory. In the next section, Simon is viewed through yet another type of source, church records.

Sindurang Became Simon

While Simon's existence and his efforts in championing the land rights of the Kadazan people of Papar are known to us through the official correspondence and reports, our knowledge of the more personal history of Simon comes from a rather different source--the Roman Catholic Church. (35) Simon's association with the Roman Catholic Church was well-known to the Chartered Company officials. In his petition and correspondence, Simon normally gave his address as care of (C/O) the Roman Catholic Mission in Jesselton or Papar (Limbahau). In searching for Simon, two sets of Roman Catholic Church archival materials were consulted. The first is the personal correspondence of Father Bernard Kurz, the first Roman Catholic missionary who was in Papar from 1889 to 1895. The second source was the records of the churches at Limbahau and St. Joseph Church in Papar town.

Father Bernard Kurz was a Tyrolese who belonged to the St. Joseph's Mission in Mill Hill, London. When he was first sent to work among the Dusun of Papar in 1889, Father Kurz chose his mission site at the little village of Limbahau. (36) It was on this site that the church of St. Mary's (later renamed Holy Rosary) was established. Father Kurz was a very keen letter writer. It was his habit to write frequently to his superior, Monsignor Westernond, at the mission's headquarters in London. One of Kurz's letters reveals some information on Simon. Writing with a tone of exasperation over the slow progress achieved in his new parish, Kurz describes a man whom he called his first convert:
   Among the catechismen [sic], I had in the very beginning, one came
   from three English miles distance walking much in water and mud
   under pretext for instructions. His intention of coming was to get
   some money out from me, whence of he told one many lies. His
   manners were mild and so that I don't expect him to become a
   Christian. But once, I spoke (again) about justice and the last
   judgement of God, he seemed to be in great earnestness and weeping
   he cried out: Ja (ya), Tuan sakarang sahya perchaia (Sir, I do
   believe now) ... still others were quiet..... A few days after he
   called in the night on me begging for the baptism of one of his
   children who fell dangerously ill, this (child) I baptised in his
   house on Secregisma Sunday. But on Easter Sunday I baptised his
   father together with three other boys (living in my house) in my
   chapel....Their names are as follows: Joseph, Simon ... before
   their baptism they were called Banaik, Sendolang,... (37)

From Kurz's letter, it was known that Simon was originally known as Sendolang (or Sindurang, as written in all subsequent church information). Both Simon and his son Banaik (or Benaik and later, Joseph) were formally baptised on 24 April 1889. In the baptismal of Holy Rosary Church, Banaik (Joseph) was listed as the first convert, followed by Simon, who was Sindurang. Joseph was five at that time, while Simon was 29. From the church records, it is also learned that at the time he became a Christian Simon was a widower who already had several children.

It is quite obvious that after his own baptism, Simon slowly gained the confidence of Father Kurz. He was the first native to have sponsored someone for baptism (Jacobus Berangun on 1 November 1889). As Kurz's assistant, Simon was responsible for carrying out some religious duties such as death-bed baptism for those who wished to convert to Christianity before their deaths. Many of these people were either terminally ill or elderly folks who were on their death bed. There were also records of young children who were baptised prior to their deaths. The church baptismal registry of St. Joseph in Papar town and that of the Holy Rosary Church in Limbahau (the two churches are only about two miles apart) contain many entries showing instances where Simon was responsible in baptising a large number. It was from the same records that we learned that Simon was not alone after 1891; he was assisted by one Agnes Ampok, who was his new wife.

The Marriage Registry of the Holy Rosary Church shows that Simon was remarried on 16 September 1891. He was the second person to be married there. Simon's occupation was given as farmer, and that he was then 31 years old, and a widower. From Joseph's marriage entry in 1902 (when Joseph was 20), his mother's name (Simon's first wife) is given as Moita. (38) The date of Moita's death is not known.

Agnes, who was 25 at the time she married Simon, was the daughter of Law and Barong from Tomui Village. Very little is known of her earlier life, but the husband and wife team of Simon and Agnes made an outstanding couple in carrying out some of the church responsibilities entrusted to them. Apart from carrying out baptisms, the couple also occasionally acted as witnesses to marriages conducted in the church. While there is no further record of Simon in Kurz's letters, the church records both baptism and marriage registries--show that the couple were very committed and probably acted as the de facto local church leaders of the community. It may be interesting to ask how much time he was able to devote to his lands. It is likely that Simon's land-holdings were sizeable, and that he employed farmhands, hence freeing himself from most of the farmwork and making him able to concentrate on his church work. in other words, Simon was probably a well-to-do Kadazan. (39)

Father Bernard Kurz passed away in 1895 after being taken ill. In his place came Father Aloysius Goossens, who was the man the Chartered Company believed to be the main instigator behind the Papar land case, with Simon acting at his behest. As mentioned earlier, it is impossible to determine the truth behind this. However, as the two men were indeed very close, it is very difficult to completely absolve the church from involvement in the Dusun land case.

From the church records and also from Father Kurz' personal letters, a very human perspective of Simon emerges. The record shows that Simon was one of the earliest converts to Catholicism in Papar and eventually became closely associated with the church as a lay church leader and at times, performed the function of a catechist. It is very likely that this close link with the church, especially through his link with Father Goossens, brought him into contact with issues such as fighting for the rights of the community through the very ways acceptable by the Europeans, namely, through petition and legal means. However, it was also due to such links that he was viewed as a tool allegedly used by the Catholic Church against the government.

Simon continued his efforts to champion the rights of his people until around 1915. After that, his name was rarely mentioned in official documents. However, Simon lived a full life and passed away in Papar in 1937 at the age of 77.


This paper set out to look into the person of Simon Sindurang Bulakang, an early Dusun (Kadazan) leader of his community who was instrumental in fighting for the rights of the community over land issues. This paper essentially focuses on the issue of the reading of historical sources by focusing on three genres of them, namely, official, a diary and non-official documents (in this case, church records and personal letters). By focusing on how the character of Simon was portrayed through each of these sources, this paper is able to demonstrate that at least three perspectives may be arrived at by drawing on information from alternative sources. With the emergence of these new perspectives, it is clear that a review of some of the earlier narratives of Simon which were essentially drawn from official views will need to be re-examined. This paper also shows that a closer reading of official documents, in this case, Chartered Company documents, no matter how negative the expressed views, can still provide glimpses of characteristics that may not necessarily be consistent with the expressed official views. In the case of Simon, the Company's efforts to paint him as a notorious leader of the Dusun people beyond the confines of Papar district shows that the man was rather influential and was a pioneer Dusun leader championing the rights and interests of the community. The description by Acting Governor A.C. Pearson of Simon seems to suggest that Simon was hardly a selfish person, as he was more able to express the problems faced by the communities than his own personal problems.

The entries from the diaries of G.C. Woolley confirm Simon's role as the leader of the Dusuns in Papar, at least in as far as the case was concerned. It also shows that the man was indeed influential, to the extent of being able to mobilize others to take up the cause. Woolley's diary entries also show that Simon could be very single-minded in pursuing his goal, as an element of intimidation seems to have existed in getting other Dusuns to contribute to the cause. The diary entries also show how the government's claims on certain issues, including victory in the land case, may not necessarily be shared by government officials like Woolley.

Historical personalities were normally judged by their public performance, in Simon's case, his involvement as a leader in championing the land rights of his people. However, it is also important for any study to probe the human side of a personality so as to establish, wherever possible, the various factors that could have shaped the character of the person in question. In this study, the use of church records and personal letters provide some glimpses of Simon as an ordinary person who went through the usual vicissitudes of life like any other person. In the case of Simon, it may not be too much to suggest that many of his actions were influenced by his exposure to the Catholic Church. His role as a lay leader of the church could have allowed him to view the problem of land ownership that was faced by the community through a wider perspective--hence the ability to garner and mobilize Dusun communities in other localities to join forces in fighting for their rights.

Finally, what this paper does is simply to look at the character of Simon who was instrumental in the 1910 Papar Land Case from different sources thus far neglected by, or unknown to, historians (as in the case of earlier practitioners such as Rutter, Tregonning, Black and Ranjit). It shows that in approaching the history of Sabah or Borneo, there is a need to cast the net wider to investigate and interrogate non-conventional sources relating to the subject with a goal of obtaining a more accurate and complete perspective. This is especially true in the writing of local history where official sources are hardly adequate, let alone, available.

Selected Bibliography

Secondary Sources

Rooney, John 1982 Khabar Gembira: A History of the Catholic Church in East Malaysia and Brunei, 1880-1976, London: Burns and Oates and Kota Kinabalu: Mill Hill Missionaries.

Rutter, Owen 1922 British North Borneo: An Account of Its History, Resources and Native Tribes, London: Constable & Co.

1929 Pagans of North Borneo, London: Hutchinson & Co.

Tregonning, K.G. 1965 A History of Modern Sabah, Singapore: University of Malaya Press.

Wong Tze Ken, Danny 2002 The 1910 Papar Land Protest, paper presented at the 6th Borneo Research Council Conference, Kota Kinabalu, 2002.

Primary Sources

British North Borneo Company North Borneo Herald, 1907.

Colonial Office CO531/2/33213. North Borneo: Petition from the Dusun Inhabitants of Papar. CO531/4/39938. North Borneo: Petition from the Dusun Inhabitants of Papar. CO874/241: Service Lists.

St. Joseph Mission Archives London PER-1887-File 77 Book No. 1: Father Bernard Kurz.

Roman Catholic Church, Kota Kinabalu Archdiocese Archives C4.2 Box C: Correspondence of Monseignor Dunn and Father Aloysius, 1929-1939.

Roman Catholic Church, Holy Rosary Church, Limbahau, Papar Baptismal Registry of Holy Rosary Church, Limbahau, Papar. Marriage Registry of Holy Rosary Church, Limbahau, Papar.

Diary of G. C. Woolley, 1910 and 1911.

Judgement of Civil Suit 7/11: Simon, Si Banjar and Others vs Collector of Land Revenue and the British North Borneo Government, 8 June 1911.

Danny Wong Tze Ken

Department of History

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

University of Malaya


(1) This paper is a revised version of a paper presented at the Borneo Research Council 9th Biennial International Conference, Kota Kinabalu, 29-31 July 2008.

(2) The term "Dusun" is used in this text to reflect the usage of the term in Colonial Office official documents. However, the Dusun people of Papar, particularly those from around the Limbahau-Kopimpinan-Kinuta area, referred to themselves as "Kadazan" even as early as the late 19th century.

(3) An earlier paper, also presented at the Borneo Research Council Conference, provides a preliminary discussion of the case. See Danny Wong Tze Ken, "The 1910 Papar Land Protest," paper presented at the 6th Borneo Research Council Conference, Kota Kinabalu, 2002.

(4) Today, the village's name is spelled as Kopimpinan (Kampung Kopimpinan).

(5) A field trip taken in 2005 had initially drawn a blank. It was not until the church record was consulted that a great-granddaughter of Simon was located. Mrs. Helen Atang was the daughter of Michael Atang, who was married to Zita, a daughter of Joseph Raphael, who was the son of Simon. Mrs. Helen, who used to work for the church, knew of the existence of her great-grandfather, Simon, whose grave she was also able to point out to this writer. However, she knew nothing of Simon's crusade to champion the rights of his people.

(6) "Commissioner of Land's Inspection Report (West Coast) by Henry Walker." North Borneo Herald, 16 February 1907.

(7) G. C. Woolley joined the Chartered Company as a cadet in 1901 and rose through the ranks to become the Land Commissioner in 1911. See "'Service Record of G. C. Woolley." CO 874/201. G. C. Woolley was the elder brother of Sir Leonard Woolley, the famous archaeologist who discovered the City of Ur. He retired from the service in 1932 but returned to spend the remaining years of his life in Sabah. During the war, Woolley was interned and he died in 1947. A keen observer of native customs. Woolley is the author of several works on Native customs, including Dusun Adat: Some Customs of the Dusuns of Tambunan and Ranau. West Coast Residency, 1939: Kwijau Adat: Customs Regulating Inheritance amongst the Kwijau Tribe of the Interior, 1939: Murut Adat: Customs Regulating Inheritance amongst the Native Tribe of Keningau and the Timogun of Tenom. 1939.

(8) "Diary of G. C. Woolley." 19 April 1910.

(9) Owen Rutter was a cadet Assistant District Officer serving in Papar at that time. He was accused by the natives of shirking his responsibilities and duties by not taking action on their complaints. See Judgement of Civil Suit 7/11: Simon, Si Banjar and Others vs Collector of Land Revenue and the British North Borneo Government, 8 June 1911.

(10) The alleged drunkenness of Barraut was one of the accusations raised by the lawyer engaged by the Dusun in the subsequent trial. However, the accusation was not accepted by the Judicial Commissioner who had presided over the court.

(11) Petition from the Dusun Inhabitants of Papar to Sir John Anderson, 20 July 1910, CO531/2/33213.

(12) Ibid.

(13) Sir John Anderson, High Commissioner to Simon, Kampong Kapinpinan, Papar, 29 September 1910. CO53 1/2/33213.

(14) Governor Gueritz to Sir John Anderson. 13 September 1910. CO531/2/33213.

(15) Father Aloysius Goossens, d. 1935, was a Dutchman who was for a time professor of science and mathematics at St. Joseph's College (Mill Hill). He arrived in Sarawak in 1881, and was recalled to teach at St. Joseph's in 1883. After returning to Borneo in 1888, he served primarily with the Dusun at Papar-Limbawang, and was instrumental in compiling an extensive grammar and dictionary of the Limbahau Dusun language which was published in Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1924. tie was also known to be constantly in disagreement with the officials of the North Borneo Company, particularly over the issue of the Company's policy in appointing Muslim headmen to administer places like Putatan, Bundu and Papar. See John Rooney, Khabar Gembira, pp. 27-28, 140, 144 & 177-178.

(16) ibid.

(17) "Turner to Goossens," 24 June 1914, C4.2 Box C, Kota Kinabalu Archdiocese Archives.

(18) British Parliamentary Papers, V. 33 (1920), pp. 681-705 as cited in Rooney, Khabar Gembira, p. 184. Fn. 35. According to Rooney, "The matter of the Putatan/Papar Land cases is dealt with in conjunction with other more serious accusations against the Chartered Company. The evidence against the Company is in three affidavits by G. de la Mothe, R. B. Turner and Dr. J. Pryce Williams. Lord Milner. on behalf of the British Government, states simply that the Company has met its accusers satisfactorily, but does not specifically exonerate it. The documents do not mention or allude to the Catholic mission or its personnel."

(19) Acting Governor A.C. Pearson to Company Secretary Forbes. 6 February 1911.

(20) ibid.

(21) ibid.

(22) See "Various Petitions by Dusun Inhabitants to the Colonial Office," 19 July 1911, CO 531/4/39938.

(23) "Sir John Anderson, Minutes," 9 November 1912, CO 531/4/34569. See also "Under Secretary of State, Colonial Office to Secretary, North Borneo Company," 12 December 1912, CO 531/4/39938.

(24) "Under Secretary of State, Colonial Office to Secretary, North Borneo Company," 12 December 1912, CO 531/4/39938.

(25) "Arthur Young to Lewis Harcourt, Under Secretary of State, Colonial Office," 20 November 1913, CO 531/4/39938.

(26) I am grateful to the late Mrs. Janet Gordon nee Combe, who was responsible for transcribing Woolley's diary when she was working in the State Secretariat, for providing me with a photocopy of the diary transcripts.

(27) "Diary of G.C. Woolley," 14 September 1910.

(28) "Diary of G.C. Woolley," 18 February 1911.

(29) Judgement of Civil Suit 7/11: Simon, Si Banjar and Others vs Collector of Land Revenue and the British North Borneo Government. 8 June 1911.

(30) "Diary of G. C. Woolley," 25 July 1911.

(31) "Diary of G. C. Woolley," 22 July 1911.

(32) "Diary of G. C. Woolley," 26 July 1911.

(33) "Diary of G. C. Woolley," 23 August 1911.

(34) "Diary of G. C. Woolley," 26 August 1911.

(35) I am grateful to the Roman Catholic Church. Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu. for access to its church archives, especially Father Cosmas Lee, Rector of St. Simon's Church. Likas, and also Father Tony Mojiwat then the Rector of St. Joseph Papar. I am also grateful to Father Hans Boerakker. Archivist of St. Joseph Mission at Mill Hill. London for the use of the archives in 2004.

(36) Father Bernard Kurz was a member of the Mill Hill Mission (St. Joseph Missionary Society at Mill Hill. northwest London). He was born on 20 July 1832 in Tyrol, Austria, and was ordained on 2 February 1887. He arrived in Borneo (Labuan) and was sent initially to work in St. Mary's Church in Sandakan. In 1888 he was sent to work among the Kadazan of Penampang; from there he was planning to move on to Papar. He died of illness on I September 1895. See PER-1887-File 77 Book No. 1: Father Bernard Kurz (St. Joseph Mission Archives).

(37) Kurz to Westernond, 15 June 1889.

(38) Entry No. 2 and Entry No. 19 of the Marriage Registry of Holy Rosary Church, Limbahau, Papar.

(39) According to Mrs. Helen Atang. Simon used to own 21 acres of land.
COPYRIGHT 2008 Borneo Research Council, Inc
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:RESEARCH NOTES
Author:Ken, Danny Wong Tze
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:90SOU
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Previous Article:Negara Brunei Darussalam: obituary 2008.
Next Article:Daniel Smith's last seven years: hardships in country trade in the East Indies in the early nineteenth century.

Related Articles
Traditional medicinal plants of the Dusun Tobilung of Kampong Toburon, Kudat, Sabah, Malaysia.
"I lost my head in Borneo": tourism and the refashioning of the headhunting narrative in Sabah, Malaysia.
Notes from the editor.
The strange case of the missing village rights to land: G.C. Woolley's compilation of customary law in the colony of North Borneo.
Wong, Danny Tze Ken, 2004, Historical Sabah: Community and Society.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters