National Geographic : 1963 Nov
After the war, North Borneo began all over again by becoming a British Crown colony. Before that it had been administered by a British-based chartered company. The capital of this 29,388-square-mile ter ritory, about the size of Ireland, is Jesselton, beside the South China Sea. While Japanese forces occupied the town during World War II, it was hit hard by Allied bombers, and Australian troops found it a complete ruin when they arrived in 1945. Today Jesselton, double its prewar size with more than 20,000 population, is a bright, clean, modern town. Many reminders of war remain. At a Mu rut village in the Borneo interior, I was in trigued by the local school bell-the shell of a 500-pound bomb. I asked headman John Tingkalor about it. "An American plane dropped it across the river," he said. "It didn't explode." "But how did you get it?" I persisted. "Who 772 defused the bomb?" "I did," he said proudly. "I knocked the fuse off with my ax." He slapped the grotesque school bell affectionately. "I took out the ex plosive with my hands and used it for fishing. I caught a lot of fish." Agriculturally prosperous, economically secure, North Borneo was ready for bigger things. The territory's new political parties unanimously backed the Malaysian ideal. At a Jesselton sports meeting, I met the plump, vigorous leader of the pro-Malaysian Sabah Alliance Party, Donald Stephens, a Dusun despite his English name. "There's no alternative to Malaysia for us," he said. "With understanding on all sides, among all races, we can make Malaysia work." North Borneo is already a model of racial harmony. There has never been hostility toward the immigrant Chinese who make up a quarter of the population. Rather, Chinese immigration has been encouraged-with controls, of course-making North Borneo unusual among the world's lands. Through fertile valleys we traveled up the west coast from Jesselton. In early morning light we glimpsed 13,455-foot Mount Kina balu, sacred to the pagan Dusuns of North Borneo (page 783). Until recent times no one scaled Kinabalu without the assistance of a pagan priest. I heard chilling stories about European climb ers who had met disaster after failing to pro pitiate the spirits who dwell on the mountain by making the proper offering-seven slain chickens and seven eggs. Following the tortuous road to Kota Belud, we passed many Dusun and Bajau women bearing baskets of produce on their heads. Children rode plodding water buffaloes. Like us, they were bound for Kota Belud's famous Sunday tamu, or market (pages 778-9). Snake Charming Boosts Sales Under shady trees by the Tempasuk River the tamu was already well under way. I was quickly lost, dazed by color. An Indian medi cine man charmed cobras and hawked his products on the side. Traditionally dressed Dusun girls, with wide, melancholy eyes, watched him with awe. The black cap of Islam spotted the crowd, for the Moslem Bajaus, onetime pirates, pre dominate on this part of the Borneo coast. Legend says they're originally from Malaya, descendants of sailors who were to have car ried a princess to wed a Sulu sultan in the Philippines. Somehow they lost the princess en route, and wisely decided it was safer not to return home to Malaya.