Tun Abang Salahuddin turns 100 today

History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.

— John Dalberg-Acton, English historian

Even as Kuching continues to transpose into a mega city, we seem to have forgotten the core values of Old Sarawak.

Infrastructure such as the old government offices along the Kuching waterfront, Sarawak steamship building, marine police godown and wet market are all long gone.  

Replacing the old is the new — the iconic State Legislative Assembly building, impressive “S” bridge that snakes across the Sarawak River from the old courthouse to the Astana.

As much as old school Kuching residents lament the loss of a part of their heritage, all of this is in keeping with Sarawak’s quest to keep abreast with the rest of the developing world.

But not all is lost because we have a new RM300 million Sarawak museum, and across the road is the world-famous historic old museum which was built in 1891.

I have not attempted to visit the new museum, which I presume was open to the public in early 2020.

I’m sure it would be better than its predecessor Dewan Tun Razak. It should have historical artifacts from the 15th century when Sarawak was part of the Brunei Sultanate, 100 years of Brooke rule and 20 years as a crown colony.

It must certainly have a section for our chief ministers who brought us through a historical journey starting with the 1963 Confrontation, 27-year communist insurgency through the present process of modernisation under Tun Taib Mahmud.

But I wonder whether our museum has a public gallery to remember Sarawak’s own six governors?

Our governors include two Malay aristocrats, two descendant of the infamous rebel Sharif Masahor and an uncle and nephew pair who were the progenitors of modern Sarawak over the last 50 years.

I write in praise of these forgotten statesmen and “fathers” of Independent Sarawak whose stories and exploits appear to have disappeared in the mists of time.

Top on the list is Sarawak’s longest-serving governor Tun Abang Muhammad Salahuddin Barieng who is 100 years old today.

Salahuddin’s ancestor was Sawing, the first “revolutionary” who assassinated two of Brooke’s officers, Charles Fox and Henry Steel, in Kanowit on June 7, 1859 in a plot to topple Brooke by the Arab-Melanau governor Sharif Masahor.   

Sawing’s brazen action led to the Great Kayan Expedition in 1863 where 12,000 “Sea Dayaks” paddled up the Rajang River and massacred hundreds of upriver natives.

Coincidentally, Sarawak’s fifth governor Tun Ahmad Zaidi’s foster father Wan Adruce is a descendant of Sharif Masahor who was deported to Singapore after the failed plot.

After World War II, Zaidi became a revolutionary himself and joined Indonesia in their 1946 Independence against the Dutch.

In the meantime, his Sibu colleague Salahuddin initiated Barisan Pemuda Sarawak, Sarawak’s first political organisation.

Zaidi continued his studies overseas and after becoming the first Sarawakian to earn a Master’s degree, returned to Kuching and became the leader of BPS.

Two years after Malaya’s Aug 31, 1957 Independence, Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and foreign secretary Ghazali Shafie brought up the suggestion of a coalition of between Malayan states and Sarawak.

Zaidi, who said discussions were made on a boat berthed on the Rajang, added: “I was caught up with the move to free its people from British colonialism and hoped that BPS would be a vehicle to this.

“BPS then launched a campaign throughout Sarawak to win over the people.”

But this was all in vain because the British were more interested in disposing their colonies rather than cater for Sarawakians who were lagging far behind Malaya in terms of infrastructure and education.

In the meantime, two politically-inclined pro-British native officers, Tun Abang Openg from Kuching and Tun Tuanku Bujang, formed separate political organisations.

On April 9, 1960, a cousin of Sarawak’s first governor Tun Abang Openg, Datuk Bandar Abang Mustapha Abang Moasli formed Party Negara Sarawak while Sibu’s Tun Tuanku Bujang established Barisan Rakyat Jati Sarawak (Barjasa) on Dec 29, 1961.

Sarawak’s fourth governor Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub who became Barjasa’s legal advisor, incorporated his 27-year-old nephew Abdul Taib Mahmud as vice-chairman of the party.

On July 22, 1963, Taib became the youngest member of Sarawak’s first Cabinet as he went through trials and tribulations in the April 16, 1987 state elections.

What I put down on paper is just part of the behind-the-scenes story of the roles of our governors.

There is more to the history of Sarawak’s pioneers than meets the eye.

And the younger generations may not be aware of it! If we don’t tell our story now, when will we?

The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.