Piracy due to greed of European traders: Book
Published on: Saturday, October 10, 2020
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Water sports regatta in 1915.
JAN 16, 1931  

In various books, which give all the romantic atmosphere of the East, Mr Owen Rutter has done nothing better than this. Here are the very Malay pirates of our boyhood come to life in thrilling and duly authenticated tales of the sea robbers of Malaya. 

It is common knowledge of course, that less than a century ago piracy was rife in these waters. 

Indeed, the word does not carry quite the same thrill to people who live in this part of the world as to readers in Europe and America, for are there not pirates on the China Seas today and is not a trip to Hong Kong on a certain type of steamer something of an adventure?

But the methods of Chinese who go on board as passengers are prosaic in comparison to those of the ruthless Malay warriors who, arrayed in scarlet and coats of mail, came sweeping down upon their prey, brandishing their two-handed swords and yelling their war cries, so that the east wind which brought the war fleets from their strongholds came to be known as the Pirate Wind. 

Vividly written by an author with a knowledge of the East which is only gained in the course of years spent to good purpose, the book tells thrilling stories of those who suffered at the hands of pirates and those who helped to make the Archipelago safe for peaceful trade. 

There is the story of Mr Robert Burns, a grandson of the Bard, who was murdered by pirates in the schooner Dolphin; the story of the Susannah, whose crew was held to ransom by a Sultan. Rajah Brooke’s actions against the pirates of Sarawak are described in detail, as also the battle of Marudu when a pirate settlement was wiped out. 

Fair to the pirates 

But Mr Rutter is fair even to pirates, as when he says:-

“While it is clear that these Malays were pirates and as such a menace to European trade, it was largely European interest with the East which made them so. 

It is true that the old Malay romances contain references to piratical cruises, yet there seems no doubt that piracy was not practiced on a wholesale scale until the eighteenth century. 

Dampier, who in 1686-7 lived for six months among the Illanuns, in later years the most formidable of all the Malay pirates, subsequently wrote a detailed account of them and made no mention of piratical propensities. 

“What was it then that caused these people and their neighbours to revert from peace to piracy? The answer is: the greed of the European Powers who traded in the Eastern seas. 

Even time immemorial outside commerce with the Archipelago had been in the hands of the Chinese, whose junks would come down in the north-east monsoon and return in the south-west laden with precious cargoes of spices, rattans, edible birds’ nests, camphor, sharks’ fins and pearls. 

Then came the Portuguese and after them the Dutch who, bent on securing the trade for themselves alone, created a system of monopolies and by treaties with the Malay rulers were able to command the produce at their own rates and so undersell the Chinese. 

By planting “factories,” or “trading stations, in the Archipelago, they diverted to Malacca or Batavia the trade which for centuries had gone direct to China, so that in time the junks could complete no longer and came no more. 

Chinese traders 

“One result of this change was that the Chinese immigrants — the forebears of these settlers to whom modem Malays owe so much of its prosperity today — returned to their native shores and no others came to take their places. 

These Chinese had been a source of revenue to the rulers in whose territories they settled; nor were those revenues increased by the coming of the traders from the west who took all and gave in return as little as they could. 

A chapter which lingers in the memory is that which tells the story of the founding and raiding of the ill-starred settlement of Balambangan.  There is a fine account of the beginnings of Sarawak and the work of the first white Rajah. Read “The Pirate Wind”. It is better than any sensational novel. – The Straits Budget

- NB Owen Rutter is credited with also taking the earliest official census of North Borneo’s population in the 1920s

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