Sunday, 29 June 2008

A Sarawak Sexameron

The rather interesting pen drawing at left is the fronticepiece for the first issue of a journal named "Waiting for the tide, or, Scraps and scrawls from Sarawak", published in 1875 in Kuching. The image speaks for itself, though exactly what it's trying to say I'll leave to others.

The magazine is a small affair, created by and for Brits on the island of Borneo (more particularly Sarawak). The publishers apologise for the amateurish drawing and the type, which was set by a "Chinese boy in Singapore". Whether or not there were any subsequent issues I don't know, though it was envisaged as an annual. This is the only edition at the British Library.

There are six short stories inside, and I've reproduced the first one below (Fraser's story). There is an introduction which sets up the stories as having been told around a camp while colonial functionaries and their attendants from remote areas are waiting for the tide to turn on the river so they can get to the governor's Christmas and New Year party in Kuching. The stories are told by the companions to help them stay awake so they don't miss it.

Sarawak was an interesting place. Kuching is the capital, and at the time was ruled by a the Brooke family. The dynasty lasted from 1841 until the Japanese took over in 1941. I don't know if the stories here are true or not; perhaps they are a little bit.

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