National Geographic : 1963 Nov
Union with Malaysia is a must for Singa pore, according to the city's more farsighted citizens. One of these, an outstanding Chinese lawyer, explained it to me as we sat in a food stall, dipping our sticks of satay-Malaya's kebab-style national dish of skewered meat into hot peanut sauce. "One and three-quarter million people on one tiny island," he said, "and most of us Chinese. Malaya couldn't absorb us on her own without upsetting racial balances. Yet left to ourselves we might go Communist. So the only answer is Malaysia-a bigger frame work, politically and economically." Economically and geographically, Singa pore will become the natural hub of Malaysia. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew expressed high hopes when he welcomed me into his office high above the crowded port. "In the long run, all the towns and cities within Malaysia will probably lose their pre dominantly Chinese character," he said. "Singapore will be no exception. That's when the true Malaysian identity will arise." I asked Prime Minister Lee if his left-wing government had difficulty in making common cause with the right-wing government of the Federation of Malaya. His reply was blunt: "In a sense Malaysia is beyond ordinary party politics. The question isn't one of socialism or capitalism. No, in Asia today the question is one of survival. Together we can survive. Divided we can only perish." He looked out his window at the dark monsoon clouds drifting in from the South China Sea. Across that storied sea I went to Sarawak, land of the White Rajas, for this, too, was preparing to become Malaysia. First White Raja Comes to Sarawak In 1839 an adventurous young Englishman came ashore from a stormy sea near Cape Datu on the west coast of Borneo (map, pages 766-7). Thirty-six-year-old James Brooke was to change the entire map of Borneo-world's third largest island, after Greenland and New Guinea-before his lifetime was over. He was also to found one of history's most remark able personal dynasties. In return for services rendered the once mighty but declining Sultanate of Brunei, Brooke received an extraordinary gift--the province of Sarawak. Yet anyone might have been pardoned for looking this gift horse in the mouth. The region then known as Sarawak was as wild and primitive as anything the world has known. Inland there were savage head-hunt 758 ers. Offshore there were murderous pirates. But for James Brooke there was no hesita tion. He became the first of the three White Rajas-all Brookes-who, as enlightened despots, were to rule Sarawak for 100 years. In the Sarawak I saw, the White Rajas have gone forever. In 1946 Raja Sir Charles Vyner Brooke ceded the territory to the Brit ish Crown and retired to England, where he died May 9, 1963. Yet I found it impossible to escape the White Rajas, and the ghost of James Brooke, in modern Sarawak. Rivers Snake Through Borneo Jungle I had dozed on the early-morning flight across the South China Sea from Singapore, for the plane flew most of the way in dense monsoon cloud. I waked to find the Borneo coast magically beneath me. Rivers. And more rivers. And jungle, as far as I could see. The rivers, huge and mud colored and sluggish, were looped like fan tastic reptiles through swamp and jungle. Rivers are vital in Sarawak. In this largely roadless territory, they are often the only highways. Towns rise at their junctions. Now the glint of corrugated-iron rooftops drew my eye to Chinese farms and Land Dyak longhouses in jungle clearings. Buildings be gan to multiply. So did cultivation-stripped hillsides planted with dry rice. We lost height. Then Kuching, capital of Sarawak, appeared below. No one warned me I might find strange beauty in Kuching. People simply said I might find it quiet; too quiet. Yet no town or city in all Malaysia appealed to me more. Kuching is still an old river city of the East, something out of the pages of Joseph Conrad or Somerset Maugham; the 19th century is stamped heavily upon its character. Its 60,000 residents are mainly Chinese and Malay, with a sprinkling of urbanized tribesmen. Quiet? "People here go to bed at nine o'clock every night," growled an old-time English resident as he took his brandy nightcap in my hotel. "There aren't any nightclubs here." Dusk brings mystery to Kuching, a swift return to the past. Ferry lights twinkle on the slow, muddy water. A cannon booms every evening at eight, a tradition dating from the time of the White Rajas, to shatter the thick ening silence of the surrounding jungle. There Plucked pigeon hangs high, last in a Sing apore merchant's display. Chinese characters advertise raw fish with a flavorful paste of rice: a big portion, 17 cents (U. S.). HS EKTACHROME© N.G.S.