In reading issues of the Sarawak Gazette from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, I repeatedly come across references to Chinese either killing themselves or getting murdered. Life for Chinese laborers and merchants on Borneo at that time was clearly not easy, and many people’s lives were cut short for one reason or another.

1

Just looking at the year of 1900, for instance, we see that in January a Chinese shop owner in Sundar by the name of Ah Hai was murdered and his shop was burned to the ground.

2

In April an official reported the murder of another Chinese in Sibu. His report noted that “the dead body of a male Chinese was found in the river not half a mile below the station. It has since been identified as that of a Hokien of Sibu named Chan Ah Tong who was by profession a peripatetic trader. The body was covered with wounds inflicted without doubt by weapons.”

3

And then there was a notice offering a reward for the capture of eight Teochew men suspected of murdering pepper planter Liong Ten Chiow.

Sarawak and the rest of Borneo were like the “Wild West” in America had been not long before this point.

To capture that sense, I’ve created a soundscape called “Murder in 1900 Sarawak.”