'Brits asked Mat Salleh to become Sultan in Tambunan'
Published on: Monday, December 30, 2019
By: David Thien
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PENAMPANG: The “wow” factor at a recent North Borneo Historical Society presentation at Kivatu Plaza, here was that, “…the British asked Mat Salleh to go to Tambunan and become the sultan there…”

This was narrated by banker and amateur historian Shari Jeffri, the second presenter, on 180 years of treaties between the Sultan of Brunei and the colonial powers.

He went through 200 years of North Borneo’s treaties as a researcher on many documents available locally and overseas.

Shari said he is prepared to share his newly acquired manuscripts or documents from overseas depositories with the Sabah authorities concerned like the Sabah Museum and Sabah Archives.

From his birthplace in Inanam, Mat Salleh razed the British North Borneo Chartered Company’s principal trading station on Gaya Island to the ground on July 9, 1897.

Following the sack of Gaya, Mat Salleh moved to a fort on the Labuk River and then to Paranchangan on the Sugut River.

In Nov 1897, Mat Salleh burnt the Government Residency at Ambong, before leaving for a new fort at Ranau. On January 9, 1898 Mat Salleh and his men escaped to Tambunan.

The Managing Director of the British North Borneo Chartered Company, William Clarke Cowie, decided to come over from London to make peace with Mat Salleh.

William Clarke Cowie was a Scotsman from Glasgow who established the first European settlement on the north-east coast of Sabah known as “Kampung German” in 1872.

When Kampung German was accidentally destroyed in a fire on 15th June 1879, it was decided not to rebuild the village but to move to Buli Sim Sim.

The new settlement was renamed “Elopura” which means “The Beautiful City”. A few years later, the name was changed to “Sandakan”.

In his attempt to bring Mat Salleh over to the British North Borneo Chartered Company’s side, Cowie made use of his long-standing friendship with the Sulu royal household.

Upon Cowie’s request, the Sultan of Sulu wrote a letter dated Jan 17, 1898, urging for a peaceful settlement with Cowie. This culminated in the historic April 19 meeting between Cowie and Mat Salleh at Palatan in Ulu Menggatal.

During the talks, Cowie appealed to Mat Salleh to submit to the government. Mat Salleh and his followers would accept the offer on two conditions: that his men who were in jail were released, and that he be allowed to stay in Inanam.

Cowie turned down both these terms and instead offered to allow him to stay in Tambunan or any part of the interior, except Ulu Sugut and Ulu Labuk.

On April 22, 1898 Mat Salleh took an oath on the Quran that, “from this time on he was on the side of the government.”

On April 23, 1898, a peace pact treaty with Mat Salleh was drawn up with principal terms that:

l Mat Salleh and his men were pardoned except those still in prison, or those who had escaped from gaol.

l Mat Salleh was to be allowed to stay in Tambunan or elsewhere in the interior, except the Sugut and Labuk rivers.

l In Tambunan, Mat Salleh had the support of the Tagas Dusun, but another community, the Tiawan Dusun opposed him.

When the Tagas were thrown into a state of warfare with the Tiawan, the Chartered Company exploited the situation as an excuse to bring Mat Salleh to book.

Shari believes that Mat Salleh survived the last stand at Tambunan in January 1900, like his many escapades before 1900.

According to Shari Jeffri, after the Tiawan tribe asked the Chartered Company to help them fight against the atrocities committed by Mat Salleh and allies, the British took the chance to eliminate Mat Salleh in Tambunan.

There was always then a struggle between the Brunei Sultanate and the Sulu Sultanate for domination of North Borneo with the co-opting of colonial powers with whom they signed many treaties to advance their territorial interests with hopes to use colonial military means to weaken or destroy their rivals.

Shari opined that for 200 out of 400 years, outside powers had determined the fate of the people of North Borneo (now Sabah). He hoped the media will help to write about this.

“Sabahans had been watching movie for 200 years. Now after Merdeka to 2019, it’s watching another movie, unlike Brunei (which did not join Malaysia), the Federal authorities determining Sabahans’ destiny,” Shaari said.


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