Tag Archives: Sabah

Blood Has Been Spilt

In the post “The Landlord Wants Us Out“,  I reported on the invasion and occupation of a small village in eastern part of the Malaysian state of Sabah by a group of armed men pressing a land claim from the 19th century on behalf of the Sultanate of Sulu.

Sadly, as feared, the three week old confrontation has turned tragic and fatal.  As of Monday the 4th of March, 8 policemen and 19 insurgents had died in exchange of fire.  Then yesterday, the Malaysian police and security forces launched an attack on the group supported by jet planes on bombing strafes and artillery shells.  There were thankfully no more casualties on the Malaysian side but more insurgents have probably been killed.  However there is concern that many of the insurgents managed to escape the attack and the security cordon and are hiding in the surrounding area masquerading as local villagers.  Security forces are carrying out door- to – door searches and “mopping up” operations to try to contain any remaining threat.

Our national anthem has a line in it that translates as “this is the land that I would dare to shed my blood for…..” and for those 8 policemen, they have made that ultimate sacrifice and their blood has been spilt so that others may continue to live in safety and peace.  There are no words that can bring comfort to their loved ones and families but nevertheless the country honors them for their sacrifices.  It just seems that all the death and sorrow was so unnecessary.   The price of this insanely, mad adventure of those armed intruders have been paid – a heavy price in blood and tears for both sides.

The Landlord Wants Us Out

Wow. It’s been another two weeks since I last posted. Yeah, I know that with such irregular postings, I will soon have no one dropping by this blog. But I do have a good excuse! Even better than the dog ate all my draft post excuse I was going to use earlier. No, this squirrel has been to busy defending his country to be writing mere posts or the excuse that I call ….. “Invasion or Eviction” (cue dramatic music chords for effect – da da da dum).

Yes, faithful readers, my country has been invaded. About three weeks ago, some 100 – 200 (depending on which news source you read) terrorists, patriots, rightful heirs (depending on which news source you read) showed up on the beautiful sandy beaches of Sabah (a Malaysian state on the rainforest island of Borneo). Well, anyway they were heavily armed tourists at the very least. They entered a small village near the coast and made themselves at home. Apparently, most of the villagers fled but a few stayed behind. Those that stayed behind were either innocent by-standers, hostages, sympathizers or accomplices (depending on which news source you read).

To understand what is going on, one has to go back a few centuries to learn the roots of the matter. In the 17th and 18th century, there were two regional powers that vied for control of Borneo and the islands of what is today, southern Philippines. These were the Sultanates of Brunei and Sulu. They were big players in the geopolitical scene of that time and European colonial powers like England, Portugal and Netherlands as well as the Asian Superpower, China, all established diplomatic relations with these two kingdoms.

In 1658, the Sultan of Brunei ceded over part of Sabah to the Sultan of Sulu as appreciation for his help in putting down an armed rebellion. So it would seem that part of Sabah was now legally part of the Sultanate of Sulu except that there were some local tribes who never really accepted that they belonged to Brunei and hence they were not for the Sultan of Brunei to give away but that’s another story. Now in the 19th century, both kingdoms were under a lot of pressure – Brunei faced internal unrest and pressure from “friendly” British powers who were willing to help the Sultan out for a price and Sulu who were at war with imperialistic Spanish forces.

Brunei again ceded parts of Sabah, this time to the British North Borneo Company in exchange for military and administrative assistance. The British then effectively took control of Sabah. The British then signed an agreement with the Sultan of Sulu for their part of Sabah on the 22nd of January 1878. Now however, there is a legal dispute as to what was actually agreed to. The British version is that the Sultan of Sulu agreed to “grant and cede” the land in exchange for an annual payment which in recent years amounted to about RM5,000 or USD 1,630. The descendents of the Sultan of Sulu say that the agreement was to “lease” or rent the land for that amount.

However, just six months later, on the 22nd of July 1878, the Sultan of Sulu was forced to sign an agreement with Spain in which he relinquished all his territories in what is now the Philippines to the Spanish Empire. Some like the British looked upon that as the effective end of the Sultanate of Sulu as an entity. Nevertheless, the payment of the annual fee for Sabah territories continued to the heirs of the Sultan – even until recently, the Malaysian Government made such payments. Later on, when the British gave independence to Malaysia, Sabah would become part of the new country with no one really giving any thought to the SUltanate of Sulu.

But despite not actually having any territory or real political power, there is still a lot of respect and support amongst the Sulu people for the heirs of the Sultan. To make the story even more convoluted, there are at least two serious contenders for the title of Sultan of Sulu and a few other claimants too. The current “Sultans” of Sulu have continued to claim that they hold the rights of the old Sultanate. In the past, they have given “Datukships” -honorary titles to Malaysians which are similar to being conferred a knighthood. In Malaysia, there are certain privileges to having a “Datukship” and it garners that person a fair bit of respect from the community. However, such titles are supposed to be given only by recognised Malaysian Sultans and as such the Sulu Datukships are not recognised by the government but this does not stop many Malaysians from seeking the title from the “Sultans” of Sulu.

Well, anyway, back to what is happening now. A group of 100 to 200 (depending on which news source you read) Sulu patriots led by the brother of one of the Sultans” of Solo have returned to their “lands” to evict the Malaysian “squatters”.

There is a certain sense of romantic adventurism to the whole thing if it wasn’t for the reality of the guns and explosives and the potential for a tragic end. So far, the Malaysian authorities are trying to play the whole incident down and are carrying out negotiations while wearing them down as their food supplies begin to run out. It’s now been about three weeks. Let’s pray for a peaceful end to all this. But isn’t life stranger than fiction sometimes?Map of the Royal Sultanate of Sulu-715179


Final Post From Borneo?

Last year I posted about my visit to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley Conservation Forest in Sabah which is in North Borneo (Pygmies of Darkest Borneo and Nocturnal Perambulations in Borneo).  Well, last week I had the good fortune to be  there again on work assignment but as the project is coming to an end, this may possibly be my last visit.

As before, there was lots to see.  On the night walk and night drive, we saw the rare and enchanting Western Tarsier again.  This creature can look very cute and yet at other times with its large eyes can look quite evil.  Some remark that it may have been the inspiration for Gollum from The Lord of the Rings movie.

Also seen on the night drive were a few Sambar deer, Angle-headed Lizard (Gonocephalus borneensis), a Tarantula spider and the Thomas’s Flying Squirrel.  The latter was a highlight for me as I had never seen one before.

One morning, I went for a walk and fighting my fear of heights, went onto a canopy walkway  with suspension bridges and platforms which are about 30 m off the forest floor.  While I was struggling across one of the bridges, suddenly a small flock of Scarlet Minivets flew in and started dancing in the tree foliage around me.  Temporarily forgetting my fears, I struggled to take pictures of the birds while trying to remain steady on the swaying bridge.

During the walk there, there was another surprise.  A colugo came flying out of the forest with its skin stretched out between its limbs, very much looking like Batman with his cape and landed on a tall tree next to the trail.  I have seen colugos before and have indeed posted on them (We Are Family) but this sighting was special.  The colugo was flying almost directly at us and from that vantage point, we could see his “flying skin” perfectly.

It takes me 2 seconds to register the sight of the colugo, one more second for my brain to decide that I should try to take a photograph, 3 seconds to switch on my camera, another 3 seconds to aim the camera and focus and one second to press the shutter.  That makes a total of 10 seconds.  Unfortunately, the colugo’s flight lasted just 5 minutes which explains why I have no photo of it.  Ah, well.  You’ll just have to believe me.

In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy these photos.

Rough Ride into the Forest
Western Tarsier or evil Gollum: "Precious....."
Anglehead Lizard
Thomas's Flying Squirrel (a distant cousin)
Scarlet Minivet in the Tree Canopy
Beautiful Hoya Flowers

Old Man of the Forest

The Orang Utan is one of the four species of great ape and the only one that is exclusively Asian.  In fact, it can only be found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.  It’s name actually means “man of the forest” but it has often been romanticised in older writings as the “Old Man of the Forest”.

Risking severe injury from airline food, the Lone Grey Squirrel flew to the town of Sandakan, Sabah and took a 50 minute hair-raising limb endangering  taxi ride to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre.  This Centre which is run by the Wildlife Department receives Orang Utans which have been orphaned or displaced by forest clearing.  They also received animals which were kept as pets cause they are so cute as babies but were then abandoned by their owners when they grew up and became too much to handle.

The centre tries to re-train them to survive by themselves in the jungle.  More than 100 orang utans have gone through this rehabilitation program.  Many have been successfully returned to the jungle, appearing occasionally to visit and to free load on fruits made available twice a day at a feeding platform.  Some though, never graduate to freedom and remain dependent on human feeding for their entire lives.

Armed only with my new Canon EOS 60D camera (Birthday/Christmas gift from the wife.  Thanks dear) which was making its very first field debut,  this intrepid squirrel risked being mistaken for a banana to bring you (dear readers), the following picture report.

Informing Both Tourist and Apes About the Feeding Times
The Trail into the Dark Heart of Borneo
Ooi! Where's the Grub? Don't Keep an Old Lady waiting....
Mother & Baby & Feeder Makes Three
Platform A - Feeding Time
The Other Great Apes seen in Sepilok
Young Training Recruit Showing What He Thinks About Lessons
Learning the Ropes - Literally
"The One That Got Away Was This Big!"
Meet Baby "Chiquita" Wearing Diapers
Going Home With the Rehab-er in a Hand Basket
Little Chiquita Sticks Her Tongue Out
"Well, that was all rather interesting but you will please excuse me ....it's my nap time. Bye-bye"