KalimantaanKalimantaan is the title of a novel by C. S. Godshalk offering a fictionalized account of the exploits of James Brooke in Sarawak.
Ms. Godshalk does a wonderful job of evoking the mysterious and sometimes oppressive atmosphere of tropical river jungless and the dreamlike, almost feverish quality that life can take on in the tropics. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish what "really" happens in the story from dreams and fantasies of the characters. She makes use of a variety of writing forms, including diary entries, letters, and straight narrative to tell a fascinating story.
In 1839, an English adventurer arrived on the northwest coast of Borneo, commissioned to deliver a letter of gratitude to the Sultan of Brunei for having safely returned the crew of a British merchantman, lost on his coast. It was a region full of head-hunters, pirate tribes, and slave traders. Most Europeans with the temerity to enter the region had never been heard from again. This particular adventurer, however, seems to know how to play one power against another and manages to keep his balance in the midst of chaos. After performing a service for the Sultan (resolving a local tribal conflict through the use of his schooner's guns and leading an organized assault on a small native river fort), he is named governor of Sarawak, subject to the Sultan of Brunei. Within a few years, he has become the Rajah of Sarawak, an independent state, and established a dynasty that will last one hundred years.
Ms. Godshalk has changed names and details while evoking a sense of the time, place, and atmosphere of the real events. The real adventurer was James Brooke; Ms. Godshalk's is named Gideon Barr. James Brooke's schooner was named the Royalist; Gideon Barr's is the Carolina (named after his mother). James Brooke was succeeded by his nephew, Charles Johnson, who took the last name Brooke. Gideon Barr is succeeded by his nephew Richard Hogg (Ms. Godshalk does not deal with the change of last name since her story focuses on Gideon's life and ends with his death).
Although many of the events described actually took place, one cannot simply change the names and read the novel as history. James Brooke's mother died in 1844, two years after he became Rajah. Gideon's mother dies in Borneo much earlier while he is in grade school in England, providing him an emotional link to Borneo James Brooke did not have. James Brooke never married a European, although there is evidence that he was married to a Malay woman. Gideon Barr marries an Englishwoman to provide himself an "air of permanence" as Rajah and we see much of the later portion of the story through Amelia Barr's eyes. Gideon also maintains a Malayan mistress who provides a note of tragedy in the way her presence poisons Gideon and Amelia's relationship.
On the other hand, the 30,000 pounds that Brooke/Barr inherited at his father's death which enabled him to acquire his schooner, the massacre of the sons of the Sultan of Brunei, the Chinese insurrection of 1857, and the commission of inquiry in Singapore all took place as described. The inquiry in Singapore was concerned with the battle of Labuan in which Brooke/Barr led British warships in a pre-emptive strike against a pirate fleet, breaking the power of the Bugis for the next twenty years. Brooke/Barr's enemies attempted to use this against him by claiming he had used British naval power to slaughter innocent natives.
Ms. Godshalk also make effective use of Malayan words to spice the dish she offers. While she provides a brief Malay glossary as an appendix, it does not cover all the words she uses. Enjoyment of Kalimantaan will be enhanced if one knows the following Malay words which are not in the glossary provided by the author:
|berani, brani||brave, bold|
|datin||wife of a datu|
|datu||minister in traditional Malay government|
|dayang||woman of high rank|
|hantu, antu||ghost, spirit|
|hati||liver (as the seat of emotion, typically translated "heart")|
|kain||cloth (in the story, it describes a cloth belt)|
|kris||stabbing dagger with flaming, or wavy, blade|
|lalang||a variety of long-bladed grass|
|payung (payong)||umbrella, parasol|
|pikul (picul)||1) a unit of weight (133 lbs); 2) to carry on one's shoulder|
|puasa||fast, to abstain from eating|
|rajput||princeling, diminutive of rajah|
|selamat hari||literally, "good day". Typically, the expression selamat siang (good mid-day) is used|
|selamat pagi||good morning|
|si||generic honorific, eg. Si Tundo|
|sudah||already, denotes past tense|
|tuah||old, elder, senior|
|tuan||lord, used as an honorific, as in Tuan Barr|
Kampilan, actually a Philipino word, designates a long native sword.
In summary, while it cannot be read as history, Kalimantaan effectively evokes the fascinating and compelling flavor of James Brooke's story.