The brave Sikhs of Borneo

Before the arrival of the Sikhs, Charles Brooke built a series of wooden forts at key locations such along the Sarawak R...

IN this two-part story, THE SARAWAK TRIBUNE brings the history of one of the smallest but bravest communities in Malaysia who served with courage and valour in the security forces, the Sikhs of Borneo. Since the first Sikhs arrived in Sarawak and Sabah in the second half of the 1800s, dozens of them have lost their lives while serving their colonial masters.

Before the arrival of the Sikhs, Charles Brooke built a series of wooden forts at key locations such along the Sarawak River at Kuching and Belidah, Lingga at the mouth of the Lupar River, at Skrang in Upper Batang Lupar and as far as Kanowit on the Rajang river to protect the people. The forts were manned by Brooke-friendly Dayaks who were called “Fortmen”. But they were not effective and in early 1853 the Sea Dayaks raided Fort Skrang and killed Brooke officer Alan Lee...

...Two years later in June 1859, another uprising by Melanau dissidents led to the killing of Charles Fox and Henry Steel at the Kanowit fort and there was a nation-wide alert. It was during the turbulent years that the Brookes invited Dewa Singh Akhara from the Ludhiana district in Punjab who arrived with the first group of 13 Sikhs to maintain law and order in Sarawak in the 1860s.

According to Amrat Kaur in “The Sikh Community in Sarawak” (SMJ Vol. XL No. 61, December 1989), Brooke had also authorised Dewa and three others — Pooman Singh, Arjan Sigh and Naranjan Singh — to bring more Sikhs to Sarawak and together, they recruited a total of 50 others from their village.

As the Sikh population in Kuching grew, the pioneers built the first Sikh “Gurdrawa” temple in 1912 and another in Miri in 1915. A third temple was built in Bau in the early 1929s for the policemen and security personnel guarding the mines. By this time the Sikh population had grown to about 500 Sikhs in Kuching and 240 in Miri...

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On December 13, 1941 a Japanese bomber attacked the 850 ton cargo Lipis with 300 2/15th Punjabi soldiers and Sikh policemen in Miri. Following behind was the Brooke government’s yacht with more Sikh policemen and 100 Sarawak Rangers and volunteers.

William Chater in “Sarawak Long Ago” states: “They (soldiers from the Sarawak Rangers and the Sarawak Constabulary) left Miri on the Rajah’s yacht the Maimuna and accompanied the Lipis, which carried the oilfield’s personnel and some Punjabi troops.

“About halfway to Kuching, the ships were attacked by a Japanese seaplane. The Rangers let it have all they had — rifles and even the four-inch gun on the stern. “They succeeded in driving off the plane but it then attacked the Lipis. Here the machine-gunner on the bridge was killed. Then the Commanding officer of the Punjabi troops of Sarawak took over and was in turn killed while trying to fix the jammed machine gun.”

All six victims were buried at sea and 26 wounded, including the ship’s captain, were taken off and sent to the General Hospital. The Japanese launched a full scale attack on Kuching in the early hours of Christmas Eve on December 24, 1941 when 90 Japanese marines arrived in barges at Santubong and Sibu Laut and then used inflatable dinghies to reach the town.

At 2 pm the Japanese captured the Kuching police station manned by a few Sikh policemen and by 4.30 pm the entire town was in their hands as the Punjabi Regiment at the 7th mile was forced to retreat.

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