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Serembu settlements from 1839

Serembu settlements from 1839

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Published by Martin Laverty
Gunong Serembu - Bung Muan - was the site of three villages in 1839. Then James Brooke and the Anglican Mission built houses on the mountain. By early in the 20th century, all had gone: the people dispersed into villages all around the mountain instead.
Gunong Serembu - Bung Muan - was the site of three villages in 1839. Then James Brooke and the Anglican Mission built houses on the mountain. By early in the 20th century, all had gone: the people dispersed into villages all around the mountain instead.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Martin Laverty on Dec 22, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/31/2014

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Spreading Down and Out
Serembu Settlements from 1839
1
 
Gunung Serembu is the current Malay name for a steep and rocky mountain of igneous originwhich is known in the local language
2
as Bung Muan – Mushroom Hill in English; it has beenreferred to and spelled in several other ways over the years as will be seen in the historic accountswhich follow. It is just south of Siniawan, east of Bau, and south-south-west of Kuching 
3
.
In 1839 there were three villages on the mountain, Bombok, Peninjau, and Serembau; within a
Serembu from Siniawan. Peninjau was on the lower ridge, just right of centre.Sarawak settlements in the 1840's
 
century, there were none.
4
 James Brooke
5
must have seen Serembu when he first arrived in Sarawak in 1839: it is visiblefrom the sea around the entrances to the Sarawak River, and from parts of Kuching. Its inhabitantswere then in rebellion against Muda Hassim, the provincial governor from Brunei. Brooke returnedin 1840 and put down the revolt, thus starting his Raj. In April 1842 Brooke had passed it on theway to visit 'the Chinese settlements'
6
. At the end of the year he wrote:
"We ascended theSarambo mountain. The height of Panonjow
7
Elliot
8
 made 1193 feet, and giving 600above, will make the mountain 1793.
9
From Panonjow is a view which well repays therough walk – mountain, and vale, and hillock, rivers and sea,- such a prospect, and sucha country! Sarambo is grantitic, in the midst of the mountains of primitive limestone.Three Dyak tribes are located here, viz., Sarambo, Bimbok, and Panonjow"
.
On 23
rd
May, 1843,
, Brooke was with his friend Captain Keppel
on a visit from H.M.S.Dido
"and at Sarambo [we] were fortunate enough to witness a grand festival. On thisoccasion the women danced with the men ... relics .. Hindu .."
 
Returning from a visit to the nearby antimony and gold mines on 15
th
July 1843, Frank Marryat,a young midshipman from H.M.S. Samarang, under Captain Edward Belcher, gives his view of anonshore break from preparing sea charts:
"A short distance inland is a mountain, calledSarambo, which it was proposed to ascend, as, by our telescopes, we could perceivehouses near to its summit and were told it was the residence of some of the mountainDyaks under Mr Brooke's sway. From the village this mountain wore the appearance of a huge sugar-loaf, and its sides appeared inaccessible. Mr Brooke, with his usualkindness, gave his consent, and despatched a messenger to the Dyak village,requesting the chief to send a party down by daylight the next morning, to convey our luggage up the mountain. At day-dawn we were awakened by a confused noise outsideof the house, and, looking out, we perceived that more than a score of these mountainDyaks had arrived. Most of them had nothing on but the usual strip of cotton; some fewhad on red baize jackets. They all wore a peculiar kind of kris, and many had spears,sampitans, and shields. They were fine-limbed men, with muscles strongly developed.Their hair fell down their backs, and nearly reached their middle: it was prevented fromfalling over the face by a fillet of grass, which was ornamented with mountain flowers.After a hurried breakfast we set off for the foot of the mountain, our party amountingto about eighty people. The guides led the way, followed by the Europeans; and theDyaks, with the luggage, brought up the rear. In this order we commenced the ascent.Each person was provided with a bamboo, which was found indispensable; and thus,like a party of pilgrims, we proceeded on our way; and before we had gone very far, wediscovered that we were subjected to severe penance. The mountain was nearlyperpendicular. In some places we had to ascend by a single piece of wood, with roughnotches for the feet, resting against a rock twenty or thirty feet above our heads; andon either side was a precipice, so that a false step must have been certain death. Inother places a single piece of bamboo was thrown over a frightful chasm, by way of bridge. This, with a slight bamboo rail for the hand, was all that we had to trust to. Thecareful manner in which we passed these dangers was a source of great laughter andamusement to the Dyaks who followed us. Accustomed from infancy to tread thesedangerous paths, although heavily laden, they scorned to support themselves. Some of our party were nearly exhausted, and a long way in the rear before we came to thevillage. We had to wait for their coming up, and threw ourselves under the shade of some huge trees, that we might contemplate the bird's-eye view beneath. It was a sight
 
which must be seen to be appreciated. Almost as far as the eye could reach was oneimmense wooded plain, bounded by lofty mountains in the far distance, whose topspierced the clouds. The rivers appeared like silver threads, running through the jungles;now breaking off, and then regained. At our feet lay the village we had started from, thehouses of which appeared like mere points. ... and while we gazed, suddenly a cloudbelow us would pass between us and the view, and all would be hidden from the sight.Thus we were far above the clouds, and then the clouds would break, and open, andpass and repass over each other, until, like the dissolving views, all was clear again,although the land-scape was not changed. It was towards noon before we saw the firstmountain village, which we did not immediately enter, as we waited the arrival of thelaggards: we stopped, therefore, at a spring of cold water, and enjoyed a refreshingwash. Here we fell in with some pretty Dyak girls, very scantily clothed, who werethrowing water at each other in sport. We soon came in for a plentiful share, which wereturned with interest; and in this amusing combat we passed half an hour, until all had joined the party. We then entered the village, which was situated in a grove of trees.The houses were built upon posts, as those down by the river side. They wereimmensely large, with a bamboo platform running the whole length of the building, anddivided into many compartments, in each of which a Dyak family resides. We wereescorted, through a crowd of wondering Dyaks, to a house in the centre of the village,which was very different in construction from the others. It was perfectly round, andwell ventilated by numerous port-holes in the roof, which was pointed. We ascended tothe room above by means of a rough ladder, and when we entered we were rather taken aback at finding that we were in the Head House, as it is termed, and that thebeams were lined with humanheads, all hanging by a smallline passed through the top of the skull. They were painted inthe most fantastic and hideousmanner; pieces of wood,painted to imitate the eyes,were inserted into thesockets, and added not a littleto their ghastly grinningappearance. The strangestpart of the story, and whichadded very much to the effectof the scene, was, that theseskulls were perpetuallymoving to and fro, andknocking against, each other.This, I presume, wasoccasioned by the different currents of air blowing in at the port-holes cut in the roof;but what with their continual motion, their nodding their chins when they hit eachother, and their grinning teeth, they really appeared to be endowed with new life, andwere a very merry set of fellows. However, whatever might be the first impressionoccasioned by this very unusual sight, it very soon wore off, and we amused ourselveswith those motions which were "not life," as Byron says; and, in the course of the day,succeeded in making a very excellent dinner in company with these gentlemen,although we were none of us sufficiently Don Giovannis to invite our friends above tosupper.
 Dyak Head House, Serambo(Browne, in Belcher)

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