One hundred years of Brooke rule in Sarawak seem to present a stark contrast to the political and social foment in Burma, Indonesia and Vietnam. Cognizant of the ill effects of European domination in the archipelago, the Brookes established a paternalistic rule whose policies were designed to curtail European economic investment in the area and to protect the indigenous inhabitants from internal and external exploitation. However, despite the fact that Brooke rule was structured for maintaining traditional order, not development, the European interlude in north Bornean history may have been more of a deviation than is apparent. The suppression of “piracy” in the area and the political domination of the Brookes over most of the northeastern part of the island had several important results. First, the area trade patterns—if piracy can be seen as a form of luxury trade—were altered to the ultimate economic advantage of the Chinese who came to dominate retail trade. Second, the natural northeastern expansion of the Iban people was halted to the chief benefit of the indigenous Malays who gained significant political advantage under die Brookes. Finally, an inevitable depersonalization of rule occurred as the administration of the state became increasingly complex. If, in a “modern” world, a rule of law, not economic development per se, is the essential ingredient for political stability, Brooke rule made a significant contribution to the political viability of northern Borneo by fostering a White, civilized way of settling disputes.

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