Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Some Sarawak Curiosities in the British Library

Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Some Sarawak Curiosities in the British Library

Article excerpt

A recent expedition to London turned up some interesting finds in the British Library printed books and other collections which I think are worth putting on record.

One rare item which I have never seen mentioned before is Mrs. Harriette McDougall's The Sarawak Mission: A Service of Song, London: Church of England Sunday School Institute, n.d. [1878]. 34pp. As far as I know, there is no copy in the Sarawak Museum Library or in the Bishop's House in Kuching. The little pamphlet is in fact a kind of oratorio consisting of text (presumably to be read aloud) and accompanying hymns. I shall pass over the hymns, other than to quote something highly appropriate from the prolific hymn writer I. D. Sankey, "Here Am I, Send Me":

   If you cannot cross the ocean,
   And the heathen land explore,
   You can find the heathen nearer,
   You can help them at your door.
   If you cannot give them thousands,
   You can give the widow's mite,
   And the least you give for Jesus,
   Will be precious in his sight.

There is more than a little irony in this, as it was Harriette herself who had persuaded her husband, Francis Thomas McDougall, to undertake the responsibility of establishing the SPG (Anglican) mission in Sarawak in 1848 and who, after returning to England in broken health in 1864, may well have reflected at times on the relative ease of assisting "the heathen nearer." If Frank McDougall had had his way, he would no doubt have become a successful London surgeon and Harriette a society matron famous for her charitable work, her musical soirees and landscape paintings and her large brood of children--rather than the two hardy survivors of almost a dozen pregnancies.

The text is by way of being a brief but comprehensive history of the Borneo Mission. The most detailed section is devoted to Lundu, where the part-Singhalese priest, Edward Gomes, was posted in early 1853 and whose Dayak Sebuyau responded enthusiastically to the Christian view of the world. Harriette's account is notable for its identification by name of the early Lundu converts and its description of how their musical ability was used by Gomes and McDougall in bringing them together with other Dayak converts at places like Banting, so that they might "learn to know and love each other." Given the ancient antagonism between the Dayak Sebuyau and the Dayak Balau, this was no mean challenge.

From his letters to the SPG and from other sources, it is clear that McDougall privately despised Gomes, referring to him as "that halfcaste" and suspecting him both of embezzlement and of being in league with the Rajah. However, Harriette's warm and homely description of Gomes's relationship with the Dayak boys at his Lundu school suggests that she, for one, had formed an appreciation of his good qualities. Gomes' conversion of the local manang, Bulang, must have been a vital step in the creation of a Christian community at Lundu. And it was the coming of Christianity which she saw as enhancing their skills and dedication as agriculturalists. They literally reaped the rewards of abandoning heathenism:

   At the foot of the blue hills of Lundu live a tribe of Dyaks, who
   were formerly the most determined enemies of the pirates of
   Sakarran and Sarebas. The chief of this tribe was a devoted admirer
   of Sir James Brooke, and one of his earliest friends, long before
   he became rajah of the country. The man was enlightened enough to
   follow the counsels of the English Resident, and the missionary
   stationed at Lundu. His two eldest sons were killed in the pirate
   fight of 1849, by Lingi, the Sakarran chief, and only Callon, the
   youngest, remained as heir to the Orang Kaya Pemancha. The next
   year Lingi paid a visit to Sarawak, with many followers, apparently
   to pay his rice tax, really to see if he could not take the heads
   of Sir James Brooke and his officers. In this he was foiled by the
   watchfulness of the Malays. … 
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