Friday, September 29

A story about a Sarawak Governor and two fishermen


Photo of the Proboscis monkey, taken by Hedda Morrison.

READ on.

In October 1993, my wife and I were given an autographed copy of the book with the title ‘Fair Land Sarawak’. It was written by Alastair Morrison and published by South East Asia Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1993.

Alastair was a colonial officer in Sarawak for 19 years. His last post was the Director of Information Services.

His wife was Hedda Morrison. Mention Hedda Morrison and the local photography enthusiasts of my age would automatically associate her with the black-and-white photos.

Alastair had rich recollections of memories of events in Sarawak. One of his recollections is that of a rescue operation to save a Proboscis monkey.

I find this story interesting, having read in the social media, all this week, a similar incident.

An intelligent mammal, a Proboscis monkey, swimming across the river in Kuala Selalang, Sarikei in Sarawak. Two fishermen had sighted the monkey swimming and offered a ride on board their vessel.

Was the swimmer in difficulty?

The first time we saw it on the handphone was when the monkey had already sat on the edge of the boat. No photo was taken of how it got on board.

Never mind.

The two local fishermen, Lawrence Joe and Emrys Akup, had taken pity on it, asked about how the swim was going and assuring the Proboscis that they would deliver it safely on land.

But the monkey was impatient and off it jumped into the water, only to be rescued again.

We do not know whether or not the monkey had real problem. These monkeys are known to be strong simmers, but there might be dangers lurking in the waters – crocodiles or sharks.

It could have gotten into real trouble had it not been for the help from the humans.

Lawrence Joe and Emrys Akup should be duly accorded with some award by the Sarawak’s Wild Life Department for saving the life of an animal from an endangered species which are totally protected by the Sarawak law, the Wild Life Protection Act 1998, and by the Washington Convention 1975, or CITES.

On page 126 of Alastair’s book, you will see a photograph of the Proboscis monkey. His Excellency, the Governor of Sarawak, Sir Anthony Abell, named it ‘Carruthers’.

Imagine this was happening now. The story would have gone viral.

The photo was taken by Hedda more than 60 years ago; then handphones had not been invented. Had such a gadget been invented, this photo of Carruthers would have gone viral as that of our Proboscis which got on board the boat last week.

What is the name? Can we call it ‘Selalang’? Maybe the fishermen have named it.

How Hedda, the photographer got the chance to be in the company of the Governor, her husband wrote: “In Kuching, she was able to pay many visits to the coast. There was a generous arrangement designed to help both European and Asian officers to visit the coast for holidays whereby people hiring government launches were charged only half the cost of the fuel used.”

Alistair wrote: “A particularly memorable event took place when she once accompanied Sir Anthony Abell, who was taking some house guests on a visit to the seaside in the Governor’s yacht.”

Was it the MV Zahora?

Alastair continued “Well out at sea the Governor sighted a small head bobbing about in the water. On investigation this turned out to be the head of a large male Proboscis monkey swimming strongly in the direction of Singapore.

“The Governor ordered a boat to be lowered and sent his somewhat-reluctant Special Branch bodyguard to mount a rescue operation.

“The monkey climbed into the boat and sat in the stern sheets belching heartily at his rescuers.

“They rowed him, looking like some gouty old sailor, to within reach of land when, with a parting belch, he plunged overboard and swam ashore.”

Those readers who are interested in this species of monkeys should read the book entitled ‘A Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo’ written by Junaidi Payne and Charles M. Francis, illustrated by Karen Phillipps and published by The Sabah Society with WWF Malaysia 1985.

Has anyone else heard about or known of a similar story, please let me know. There may be more than two incidents of this kind where humans and animals can co-exist and be helpful to one another.