January 26, 2012

Pirates and Slave Trading - North Borneo

I was reading A Decade in Borneo, written by Ada Pryer or Ada Blanche Locke. She is the wife of the first Resident of the British North Borneo Chartered Company (BNBCC) in Sandakan and in North Borneo, Mr William Burges Pryer. It was published in 1893; fourteen years after the founding of Elopura or Sandakan and about six year prior to the demise of William B. Pryer on 11 Januay 1899 at age 54 *1. Sandakan was founded by Mr Pryer on 21 June 1879 *2.

Pryer's monument in Sandakan. Souce : http://www.aboutsabah.com.my/?p=2549


It is an interesting book because it gives a glimpse to the past, North Borneo or Sabah of old. At the time of this writing, I do not know how long Mr Pryer stayed in North Borneo, perhaps 10 years as what the title of the book suggests and why he left North Borneo? Health issue? Politics? One thing is certain though, Mr Pryer brought law and order and medicine to North Borneo. In my opinion, if it were not for him, the present Sabah would be a much different place, not for the better I would imagine.  

The writing by his wife intrigued me. For example, who were the Buludupies? She said they lived in Labuk, Segama and Kinabatangan and was almost extinct because of piracy and slave trading. The Buludupies she said, had round eyes, Caucasion features and loathed violence. She also mentioned that the North Borneo Armed Constabulary (NBAC) was formerly formed in May 1882. Present Darvel Bay used to be known as Looc Sabahan [sic]. I think she meant Lok Sabahan. Lok is Bajau word for Bay.

She also mentioned Dato Kurunding, the pirate chief of the Illanuns who reside in Tuncu (Tungku). I googled Dato Kurunding and stumbled upon this gem! ; a news article,




                                                From the Daily Times, October 29th.

                                                            Piracy In Borneo

The following communication on the prevalence of piracy along the coast of Borneo, with which we have been favoured, is deserving of a careful perusal and consideration. The writer is one who is entitled to speak with authority, and we believe he has been prompted to take up the pen by reason of remarks that lately appeared in our columns concerning the cruise of Her Majesty's ship Kestrel along the shores of Borneo :-

For many generations past the Illanuns have been known as a tribe almost entirely devoted to piracy. In the year 1845 their villages on the North West Coast of Borneo were attacked and destroyed by Sir Thomas Cockrane. On this account, which, according to M. St. John, they broke up their communities and most of them who are addicted to piracy retired to the North East Coast to Tungku and the neighbouring rivers; those that remained in Tampassak long bore an ill name but now under the able management of the Resident, they are rapidly being reformed, and show considerable promise of some day taking high rank amongst the inhabitants of this important land. Those that went to Tungku however still retained their old propensities, and have continued their raids down to the present time, their Chief Dato Kurunding, boasts that with one cruise he has murdered 120 people on piratical expeditions; for the last year or two nothing has been heard against this man and it was hoped that the Tungku people were giving up their former evil ways. The Illanun expeditions have usually been amongst the Philippine island and down the Straits of Celebes. In the year 1872, I myself was in a village, not above a hundred or fifty miles South of Manali, that had just before been burnt by them, several of the people and much more valuable property carried off, and in another village there were 2 men who had escaped from them and returned home, their tongues had been cut out so that they should not give any information as to the pirates haunts; on one occasion not so very many years ago the Spaniards were challenged to meet them at a certain place but did not go, and the seas were virtually in their possession for some time. The following extract from Professor Bickmori's travels in the East Indian Archipelago will give on account of the proceedings of the Illanuns to the South East :-

Piracy is described in the earliest Malay romances, and spoken by these natives not as a failing of their ancestors but as an occasion for glorifying in their brave deeds. They continue to infest the Sulu sea and the Southern part of the Philippines; they came down here in the middle of the Western monsoon so as to have fair wind both ways. The Illanuns are now the most daring pirates in these seas. Last year the man-of-war on this station had the good fortune to surprise five boats, one of them carrying as many as sixty men. At first they attempted to escape by means of their oars, but her shot and shell soon began to tear them to pieces, they then pulled in towards the shore and jumped overboard, but by this time they had come near a village and the natives at once all turned out with their spears, the only weapons they had, and scoured the woods for these murderers until not one of them was left alive. They seldom attack European vessel, but when they do and succeed, they take revenge for the severe punishment their countrymen receive from the Dutch warships, and not one white men is left to tell the tale of capture and massacre. They prey chiefly on the small schooners commanded and manned by Mestizoes by which most of the trade between the Dutch ports in these parts is carried on. One of these vessels was taken last year. While I was at Kema two Malays appeared; while they were fishing they had been captured by a fleet of pirates but escaped by jumping overboard and swimming. They applied for food and as such cases are specially provided for by the Dutch Government their request was immediately granted. A few years ago these pirates sent a challenge to the Dutch fleet at Batavia to come and meet them in the Straits of Macassar and several officers assured me that five ships were sent. To the Dutch almost exclusively belong the honor of having rendered the navigation of these sea so comparatively safe as it now is.”

Large parties of Illanuns such as are spoken of here usually came from the Southern Coast of Magindanao.

The Baligninis are another tribe of freebooters. Formerly their expeditions were carried down as far as the vicinity of Singapore itself, and there is now in Campong German (Sandakan) a Singapore Lingeabo, and a man named Armie of Meimbong. Proceeding with the utmost treachery, the division under Otto made a complete haul of a lot of Bajaus collecting trepang off the Paitan river, murdering most of the adult males, and bearing the females and children into captivity. Tuan Imaum, one of the Chiefs of the Bajaus here, supplied the names of 27 people, his immediate friends and relations, who were thus dealt with. By proceeding almost alone, and pretending friendship, he being known to most of them, and then bringing the pirates up quietly at night, Otto managed to get nearly every Bajau in those parts. But the following is an illustration of the usual mode of proceeding of these pirates. 4 men, 2 Bajaus and 2 Lingeabo people were asleep in a boat, a pirate depong stole up and her men suddenly jumping on board, killed two of them before they could stir, the other two managed to escape into the mangrove, and the pirates then carried off the boat and all its contents.

Several times pirates have been reported as being off the coast and more particularly I was informed by a man named Hiranee, one of the three in company had been taken by them, (5 sail strong) under Armie, 2 men who escaped were slightly wounded by gun shots and 3 others, in the depong that was captured, were carried off. Armie called out that he was coming in another month with forty depongs to raid this Bay, and also he is the man that fired his gun which wounded one of the men.

On leaving immediately after this occurrence the “Far East” came across two depongs at the entrance of the harbour, one of which was identified as the identical boat captured by the pirates, and now turned into a cruiser by them. She was full of men, who had 7 rifles amongst them; the other a larger one, with a fort in it, made of ironwood, was said to be under charge of the Capitan Laout himself. The “Far East” retook the first with a loss to the pirates, it was said, of 2 men killed and 1 wounded, the remainder escaping into the bush in Balhalla. On the next morning one or two Balignini shields were found, and a parang besides one of the original men of the depong who had escaped from the pirates during the previous night. The sail of the depong had been changed for a Balignini one with a private signal in the centre of it.

After finishing at Paitan the pirates are said to have crossed to Pongutaran, capturing on the way a Labuan bound prahu belonging to Cagayan Shefiff, murdering him and all the Crew, and at Pongutaran they are said to have captured or murdered another lot of some people. Since then they have made their appearance in many places capturing and murdering whenever they could find an opportunity. The original lot of captures are all said to have been taken to Tungku in the early part of June and from there were sent down South for sale. I think it not unlikely some of them may be found at Seeganan but doubtless the major part were taken to Booloongan.

The last information I have about the pirates is that having disposed of their captives and bought fresh supplies of arms, ammunition with the proceeds, they are busy making preparations for operations on a larger scale and challenge any one that may come saying that, whether English of Spanish, they will not seek protection of their walls and forts, but come to sea and “mine mine” there (have a dance). This is probably merely an idle boast, as it is quite at variance with their character, as far as I have been able to learn, for from what I gather I should consider them a set of sneaking, cowardly rascals, who take the greatest care to avoid the slightest chance of endangering their own skins. It would be bad enough if the slaves sold there were acquired even in accordance with the very bad laws of these parts, by being bought amongst the islands or simply sent there for sale by their masters; but the matter is far worse, as , it present stands. Encouragement is given to piracy, murder and kidnapping, on a scale it is almost incredible should in exist the latter part of the nineteenth century in any part of the world moreover by the slave being bartered for arms and ammunition, the pirates are fitted out for the committal of further atrocities. It is also said as if all these horrors were not enough, that a good many of the slaves, sold in Booloongan, are bought by the headhunters (Sagais) for the purpose of being butchered in the most cold blooded manner that their murderers, may have possession of a head, without the possession of one of which, it is, I am informed almost impossible for any man to find favour in the eyes of the females of those parts.

I have read somewhere that oral tradition of the Rungus suggest that Dato Kurunding was actually Aki Kulindod. Kulindod was a Rungus warrior that opposed the BNBCC and to prevent his family being targeted as retribution for his aggression, he asked his people to tell the British that he was not one of them and that he passed by the village (his village) for business. It was said that Kulindod was mistaken to be an Illanun because during the time of his capture or execution (cannot be certain at this juncture), he was pictured wearing an Illanun clothing.

However, until documentary proof could be produced to back this claim, I am inclined to think that this was perhaps a case of mis-identity. Nothing in Mrs Pryer's writing suggested that Dato Kurunding was captured by the British. In page 53 of the book, she mentioned that the old Dato Kurunding had died and that his son, Dato Baginda Putih  had taken up his position.

As mentioned in the above news article, Dato Kurunding had boasted that he had murdered 120 people on piratical expeditions. From what I have read about all the Rungus oral tradition, they were traditionally an enemy to all pirates. They had protected the northern part of North Borneo's coastal areas against pirates. Simpang Mengayau is said to be their "watch tower".

Photo : Sabah Tourism Board

For a community that loathed pirates, I hardly think that Kulindod would associate himself with such murderous bunch. But then again, the book was written by the wife of the Resident. Hence, she might be biased in her information.

A Decade in Borneo is available for download, legally and for free. Just google the word. Happy reading.  

*1 Source : Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser
*2 Source : British North Borneo - An Account of its History, Resources and Native Tribes by Owen Rutter
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