If I could go back in time, I would love to visit the island of  Borneo in say the late 19th century. The Brooke family from Great Britain had established their own kingdom of Sarawak, and the Dutch had incorporated some of the island into their colonial empire of the Netherlands East Indies. Meanwhile, thousand of Chinese came to work in these areas, and this disrupted the lives of the indigenous Dayaks, as well as the Malays who lived along the coasts.

I found this short article below in the February 1, 1895 edition of the Sarawak Gazette. Although brief, it provides an interesting view of some of the things that were going on.

“Near the end of November last a Boonan Dyak named Patun was murdered, it is said by Merjang Dyaks of S’kyam. Patun had gone alone, to get durians, to a point about two hours’ walk from his house. The body was found two days later, by deceased’s son, decapitated and covered with wounds from spears and gunshots, about 20 fathoms from the durian tree. One spear had been left, stuck through the abdomen of the victim.

The chief of the house in which deceased lived sent over into Dutch territory to make inquiries, and learned from the chief of Serang that some of the people had met seven Merjang (S’kyam) Dyaks carrying a fresh head which they admitted having taken near Boonan in Sarawak territory. It is said that these Merjang Dyaks recently had one of their men murdered whist guttaing [I assume this means “collecting gutta percha”] in Netherlands India territory and that they laid the blame on Sarawak Dyaks. The people of Boonan have been much disturbed by the occurrence and several had removed to Engklass; those remaining at home hardly venture to visit their padi farms.”

As Eric Tagliacozzo has shown in his book, Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States Along a Southeast Asian Frontier, the establishment of a border between British and Dutch territory on Borneo brought a new dynamic to the island as it created a division where none had previously existed.

Prior to the arrival of these two peoples the indigenous Dayaks had been divided into different groups who at times fought with each other. This was tribal warfare. In establishing a “state” border across the island, however, these conflicts took on a heightened significance, as “subjects” were now “transgressing borders.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into this short article, but I kind of get a sense that this is why a story like this was reported. It is showing the potential problems that might occur if people are not better controlled and the border is not effectively enforced. As Tagliacozzo shows in his book, that is exactly what the two colonial governments end up doing over time.