Ensuring the Brooke legacy lives on
When people think of Sarawak’s romantic era, many look to the time of the White Rajahs. The Brookes have always been the subject of nostalgia, which is probably why the frequent visits made by the grandson of the last ruling Rajah Muda, Anthony Walter Dayrell Brooke, has always caught the attention of the local communities here.
Jason Desmond Anthony Brooke’s two-week-long visit this time included a night spent at the Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat on Jan 31 where he was invited to sign the ‘Fort Alice Escapade’ brochure featuring one of the resort’s new activities where guests can visit Fort Alice to learn more about Sarawak’s history.
In the evening, The Borneo Post SEEDS got a chance to sit down with Brooke and interview him on his current updates, programmes and plans.
His last visit to Sarawak was early 2015 where he represented the Brooke Trust, a UK charity working to preserve and share Sarawak’s unique heritage and use it to inspire communities.
“My recent visits have focused on work for the Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita and the permanent museum exhibit will display a collection of my family’s artefacts sponsored by the Brooke Heritage Trust that tells the history of Sarawak for the first 100 years under the ruling of the Brookes.
“The exhibit aims at sharing the important items and artefacts that are related to the history of Sarawak with the Sarawakians and provide opportunities for them to engage with the items and learn more about their local culture and heritage and it is scheduled to open in April of May this year,” he said.
He described the Brooke Gallery as an exciting project by his trust, working together for a few years with the Sarawak Museum Department.
“Among the items that will be showcased include digitised records from the Brooke era,” he said.
The Brooke Heritage Trust is an organisation founded by Brooke together with his younger brother Laurence Nicholas Brooke and his father James Betram Lionel Brooke that works to share and preserve the 175-year-old heritage left by their family.
Besides the gallery, the trust has a number of other interesting projects also in the pipeline that include a biopic entitled ‘White Rajah’ which tells the story of James Brooke’s first 20 years in Sarawak. The feature film has captured the attention of many film enthusiasts especially Sarawakians.
While the film was not produced by him personally, ‘White Rajah’ has been supported by private investors in Malaysia, as well as the Sarawak Government. The Brooke Trust was a technical adviser to the producers, encouraging them to shoot the film in Sarawak and trying to make it as historically accurate as possible.
“It is a swashbuckling USD$16 million adventure film, the largest ever to be made in Sarawak,” said Brooke of the feature film.
The location of the film is yet to be confirmed but Brooke pointed out that he had spoken to the director to make Sarawak the destination of filming due to the authenticity and also having the right people like the Dayaks get involved in it. The original choice for filming had been Indonesia due to the availability of its infrastructure.
“The filming timing is still uncertain but it could be late this year or May next year,” he said.
On future projects under the Brooke Heritage Trust, Jason added that one of them was to rebuild James Brooke’s ship,‘The Royalist’.
“The Royalist project has completed its research, design and planning phases. We have selected our build location and are now looking at finalising our stakeholder groups before commencing with the build phase.
“In the long term, the ship will provide opportunities, while recreating James Brooke’s voyage to Sarawak, for young people from different walks of life to work together aboard ship. It will also serve as an important and visible ambassador for Sarawak around the world.
“We are actively seeking support for the project, in particular corporate and institutional sponsorships. Once commissioned, the build phase will take 36 months,” he explained.
The trust is also working together with the local communities in Siniawan and Kampung Pininjau Lama to rebuild James Brooke’s bungalow located on a hill at Bukit Serumbu.
“We’re trying to get the locals to be engaged through activities like gotong-royong, clearing up the areas and bringing up the materials for rebuilding.
“Just like Fort Margherita, we want the local community to get involved to ensure that it will encourage them to keep the projects on historical sites alive,” said Brooke.
Apart from Fort Margherita and the bungalow, Bung Bratak also has close connections with the Brooke family.
“Bung Bratak is a fascinating place and has a very rich history. In 1837, the Bidayuh inhabitants were attacked by
Skrang Iban, with most of them killed, and 1, 000 carried away as slaves.”
When James Brooke became Rajah in 1841, the surviving representative of the Bidayuh, Panglima Kulow, appealed to the Rajah to secure the release of his people from the Skrang. Kulow travelled with the Rajah aboard Royalist to Skrang and the Rajah secured the release of over 700 of the Bidayuh people, and returned them to Bung Bratak.
“Today there are over 35, 000 descendants of those rescued captives, who warmly cherish their connection with my family,” said Brooke, who managed to meet Datuk Peter Minos, chair of the local heritage committee and head of the heritage centre for Bung Bratak.
Brooke also visited Sri Aman, Betong and Engkelili during his two-week visit here that ended on Feb 6.
Brooke mentioned the Brooke Fellowship programme in honour of his father.
“It has been established as a tribute to the life and work of Rajah Muda Anthony Brooke. It will provide support to inspire people to look afresh at ways of building positive relationships within and between communities,” he said.
Brooke, 30, has been visiting Sarawak two or three times every year.
“It began after I graduated from university at the age of 23 and wanted to reconnect with my roots,” he explained.
“When I arrived here, I was warmly received and the locals here were more than willing to share information about Sarawak’s heritage with me,” he said, adding that after that he was encouraged to set up the Brooke Heritage Trust.
Based in London, Brooke works with the British Museum where he is also working on projects with the Sarawak State Museum.
“I’m staying in London, work with the British Museum, but I always have Sarawak in my life and heart,” he added.
He said that he makes it a point to revisit Sarawak at least twice a year and his next visit will be for the launching of the Brooke Gallery in April or May this year.