1902 Encyclopedia > Borneo > History of Borneo

(Part 8)

History of Borneo

Borneo has never, as far as we have information, formed a political unity; and even its physical unity as an island is so little known or considered by its native inhabitants that it possesses in their languages no general designation. As a natural consequence Borneo has no proper history.

The island was first discovered by European navigators in the beginning of the 16th century, according to one account by Lorenzo de Gomez, a Portuguese, in 1518, and according to another by Don Jorge de Menezes in 1526. Before long commercial relations were formed with the natives by the Portuguese traders, at first in the city of Bruni [Brunei] itself, and then in various other maritime states.

In 1573 their Spanish rivals tried to open a connection with Bruni [Brunei], but their attempts were without success till the sultan being dethroned appealed to them for assistance, and was restored in 1580. From that time they kept up intercourse with the country, but it was not unfrequently interrupted by war. In 1645 an expedition was sent to punish the inhabitants of the capital for their piratical excursions. The real influence exerted by the Portuguese and Spaniards on the condition of the country was very slight; and the only effort at proselytizing of which we have record came to an untimely end in the death of the Theatine monk, Antonio Ventimiglia, who had been its originator.

Meanwhile the Dutch and English had been gaining a footing in the island. In 1604 Waerwijck began to trade on the west coast, and in 1608 Samuel Blommaert was appointed Dutch resident in Landak and Sukkedana.

The English appeared for the first time about 1609, and by 1698 had an important settlement at Banjermassin, from which, however, they were expelled by the influence of the Dutch, who about 1733 obtained from the sultan a monopoly of the trade. The Dutch, in fact, became paramount all round the west and south coasts, and the king of Bantam ceded his rights of suzerainty to the company.

The attention of the English was meantime turned to the north of the island, which was subject to the sultan of Sulu, from whom, in 1756, Alexander Dalrymple obtained possession of the island of Balangbangan, and all the north-eastern promontory. A military post was established, but in 1775 it was surprised and destroyed by the natives under the dutus or subordinate chiefs, who were dissatisfied with the cession of their territory. This disaster rendered a treaty, which had just been concluded (in 1774) with the sultan of Bruni [Brunei], in great measure a dead letter, and before the end of the century English influence in Borneo was practically at an end.

The Dutch, too, were overtaken, in spite of apparent success, with a succession of misfortunes, through their own mismanagement; and in 1809 their settlements were all abandoned by order of Marshal Daendels. The natives along the coast, assisted and stimulated by immigrants from the neighbouring islands to the north gave themselves more and more to piracy, and rendered the trade of civilized nations almost an impossibility.

In 1811, however, an embassy was sent to the British Government in Java by the sultan of Banjermassin to crave their assistance, and in reply Alexander Hare was despatched as commissioner and resident. He not only formed an advantageous treaty with the sultan, but got for himself a grant of a district of country which lie proceeded to colonize and cultivate. An expedition was also sent against Sambas, and a post established at Pontianak.

On the restoration of the Dutch possessions in 1818 all these arrangements were cancelled, and a free field was left to the enterprise of the Dutch Government. A succession of active commissioner -- Boekholtz, Tobias, Halewijn, &c. -- soon laid the foundations of an extensive supremacy. About half of the kingdom of Banjermassin was surrendered by the sultan in 1823, and further concessions were granted by his son in 1825.

Meanwhile, George Muller was exploring the east coast, and obtained from the sultan of Kuti an acknowledgment of the Dutch authority -- a concession which seems to have been immediately regretted, as the enterprising traveller was shortly afterwards killed.

The outbreak of a war in Java turned the attention of the Dutch in some measure from Borneo, and nothing was done by them to check the piracy which was growing more and more unendurable. On the rise of Singapore direct trade had been opened with Sarawak and Bruni [Brunei], and it was a matter of moment to the English merchants that their traffic should be safe. In 1838 Sir James Brooke, an Englishman, whose attention had been turned to the state of affairs in the Eastern Archipelago, set out for Borneo, determined, if possible, to remedy the evil. By 1841 he had obtained from the sultan of Bruni [Brunei] the highest authority in Sarawak, and before many years were over he succeeded in restoring order and peace to the district, and, with the assistance of the English Government, in repressing piracy. (See BROOKE and SARAWAK.) In 1847 the sultan of Bruni agreed to make no cession of territory to any nation or individual without the consent of Her British Majesty.

The Dutch hopes of gradually incorporating the whole island were thus frustrated, but this served only to increase their activity in other directions. In 1844 the sultan of Kuti had acknowledged their protectorate, and about the same time a treaty of similar character was formed with Passir. Since 1834, when Gunong-Tebur, Tanjong, and Bulungan are said to have made a nominal submission, the boundaries of their authority have undergone no change to the north; and in general their political power has been rather rising in level, so to speak, over the southern part of the island than seeking to spread over a wider area,

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