The Mouse that Roared and the Sultan of Sulu – Part 2
Kuching, Malaysian, Borneo – The soldiers from the Malaysian Army were “securing the perimeter” around a kampung where about 80-100 villagers from the Philippines had decided to reside after coming ashore on February 12. Somebody said they called themselves the “Army of the Sultan of Sulu.”
Shots were fired, by whom, nobody is certain. Two Malaysian soldiers and 12 Filipinos were killed and more injured. The standoff continues.
Jamalul Kiram III is one of five people who claim to be the current Sultan of Sulu, a country that has not existed for over 110 years. Living in a two story home in a rundown section of Manila, he has taken credit for directing his “followers” to “attack” Malaysia and demand the entire resource rich region be returned to him.
The 74 year old angry, dialysis dependent pretender to the throne has not lived or visited what’s left of his “kingdom” since the 1960s. He said he does (or did) own large tracts of rice and coconut plantations in the area. He also says he has a wide following.
Historically, groups from royal families around the archipelago moved from their traditional homelands and established very small kingdoms at the mouth of rivers. They were led by a person who could claim some connection with the royal house they left. They traded with the inland peoples, buying jungle goods and then selling them onward to merchants.
Apparently, one such group arrived around 1600 and formed the Sultanate of Brunei (another minor Sultanate until oil was discovered) and claimed the entire state. In 1685, the sultan gifted the land to the Sultan of Sulu for help in putting down a rebellion.
However, claiming and controlling are two different matters. The British colonized, and eager to appease the locals, acknowledged the leaders and probably said “You are the Sultan of Sulu, so we will lease your territory for perpetuity." The colonizers agreed to lease the land from the Sultan for $1,700 for the state, which the government of Malaysia has continued to pay. Happy with that designation and the money, life went on as usual with the British ruling in parallel with the locals.
The British, Spanish and Dutch governed the area drawing up borders which mattered little to the locals They had always traded, fished and moved back and forth between the islands regardless of which colonial powers were in charge. They did not really care if this island belonged to Spain or that one was ruled by the British. The attitude continued until very recently.
The area began to develop according the philosophy of the colonial powers. The British built an infrastructure of roads, schools, hospitals, electrical plants and trade. The Spanish built Catholic churches while the Dutch farmed plantations for spices. Hence, the British colonies developed much more rapidly and were able to quickly enter modernity, while the Dutch (now Indonesia) and Spanish, later the Americans (Philippines) colonies lagged far, far behind.
The Sulu Islands are poverty stricken, insurgent infested dredge water under the control of the Philippine government. They are marveled for their beaches and diving areas where separatists have kidnapped and held for ransom tourists who have visited there.
What probably happened was that a group of people from neighboring Tawi-Tawi province, also part of Sulu, picked up their village and decided to move to the better living conditions of Borneo, Malaysia, escaping the abject poverty.
As most do in this part of the world, they carried rifles to protect themselves from the snakes, crocodiles and other local critters. The rifles are also used for hunting the game-rich jungles for deer and other wild animals.
They wandered ashore moved to the kampung where, in all probably, their relatives had lived undetected for years. Somebody then complained to the police that a group of armed intruders had entered their kampung.
The news media reported the story that an armed invasion had occurred. The “Sultan” Jamalul then got into the act proclaiming it was his force called the “Royal Sulu Army,” hoping to get some cash out of the event. He said he wanted only 50% of the wealth of Sabah, which amounts to several billion dollars, if not more, when you figure in the oil. The Malaysian armed forces had to act and surrounded the village hoping everything would settle down. The prime minister of Malaysia and the president of the Philippines worked together to find a peaceful settlement.
Meanwhile, “Sultan” Jamalul broadcast over the radio to the occupying villagers that the land was really theirs and they should stand and fight for it. Naturally confused, they stood their ground wondering what to do. The Malaysians distributed leaflets asking them return to the Philippines.
The Philippine president arranged for a boat to carry the trespassers back and urged them over the radio to leave the area. Safe passage was guaranteed, and, hopefully, that would be the end of it.
Then shots were fired.
. . . . .Life is good. . .