The writer, Bianca Gerlich of “Thus Has Marudu Ceased to Exist: The Rise and Fall of a North Bornean Kerajaan” will be giving a talk on the history of Syarif Osman. Who was Syarif Osman? Was he the Pirate of Borneo or a hero?
TSS KK Talk: The Fall of Marudu: History of Syarif Osman
Date: 18 July 2019
Venue: The Secretariat, Sabah Society
Speakers: Dr. Bianca Gerlich
ame a typical Malay thalassocracy that included neighboring river systems and even more distant communities. Syarif Osman was friends with the powerful people in the area. He had married into the sultan’s family of Sulu. The Spaniards in the Philippines and the governor of Singapore recognized his position as Raja of Marudu. In addition, Syarif Osman controlled the very lucrative trade in the region. He had grown into a serious competitor for White Raja of Sarawak and also become a dangerous liability for him: all his political opponents were allies of Syarif Osman.
In August 1845 Marudu was destroyed by the British. Syarif Osman – the leader of the people of Marudu – was accused of piracy. Marudu itself was labeled a pirate’s nest. This narrative was reproduced by historians well into the 21st century. Today we know that none of this was true, and that the letters and reports by the British officers involved in the battle of Marudu contained untrue statements.
The origin of this defamation can be traced back to a single man: James Brooke, the White Raja. He had established himself in Sarawak in the early 1840s and was now seeking control over all of Brunei. In his efforts he overthrow the Bendahara in 1844 and even forced the Sultan to flee the region almost two years later. But Brooke was unable to gain control over the neighboring and independent Marudu, and he perceived Marudu’s growing influence in northwestern Borneo as a serious threat to his powers.
Marudu’s rise started in the early 1830s under Syarif Osman, the Raja of Marudu. Under him, Marudu had filled the power vacuum left by diminishing influence of Sulu and Brunei. It bec
Britain did not want to interfere in the internal affairs of the Southeast Asian states at the time. Only by the charge of piracy James Brooke was able force the British Navy to act against Marudu. As a result, it is wrongfully described as a pirate’s town in all historic literature until the late 20th century. Based on research done for my dissertation, I will explain how Brook managed to effectively and permanently defame the Raja of Marudu, work out Marudu’s true position under the leadership of Syarif Osman, and correct its place in history.
Speaker: Dr. Bianca M. Gerlich