29 May 2020

By Jeremy Chong, Bachelor of Science (Accounts & Finance)

 

I came from a place where most know little about. As a student of City University Malaysia that cherishes diversity and knowledge, sharing about it is my top priority.

 

A famous saying among the Malayan race has been engraved deep in their hearts, “tidak kenal maka tidak cinta” (you will never fall in love when you know none). But is it easy to know something that is completely distinct? Many would smirk and think of it as a tough task. However, a spark of curiosity of the unknown would drag any eye to take a peek. As the English say quite famously, curiosity kills the cat. No killing will prevail, well not anymore.

Source:  Wikipedia, Crown Colony Labuan

 

In 1800, a distinct cousin of the people of Malaya, Bruneians, once owned lands that floats above the Bay of Brunei. The kingdom that ruled over the islands is the Sultanate of Brunei. An Islamic empire in the island of Borneo. An empire that once held ownership of nearly half of the ancient rainforest island.

 

Source:  Labuan Corporation

Years passed, and the main island was given to the world's known conqueror of the time, Great Britain. As they were expanding their power and sheer might in the region, they needed a naval base that could both serve as a shipping settlement and also avoid the perils of piracy. A complete dominance of the Bay of Brunei.

 

This island, known to the Bruneians as Labuan, derived from the word “labuhan” or harbour. The name suits the main function of the island. However, the new owners of the island implemented an English name, Victoria. It was on behalf of their ruler at the time, Queen Victoria, who reigned over the vast empire of Great Britain. 

 

The island was not something was just added to the British Empire, but it played and still plays an important role. Alongside with other prize possessions of the British Empire, it was a British Crown Colony and this flag was waving in the salty air of Victoria.

 

Source: Wikipedia, Crown Colony Labuan

Victoria was filled with the natural resource and the black gold of the time, which was coal. That made the British exploit the treasures of the island until nothing was left. Taking what they needed, it was still enough was not in their minds. They wanted more but Victoria, once considered as the second lion (Singapore), had run out of it. This brought into another factor which was commercial trade. Other precious gifts of nature like bird nests, pearls, sago, coconut, and rubber were exploited by the Chinese workers brought by the conquerors.

 

Decades after decades this territory became a part of the known settlements in Malaysian history. In 1907, Labuan was part of the Chinese majority settlement situated in the end of the Malayan Peninsula, Singapore. Six years after, the British separated Labuan and made it the fourth settlement of the Strait Settlements. What is known today as, Malacca, Penang, and Singapore are the three Strait Settlements of Malaysia. But in reality, a sister settlement was forgotten. Only inscribed in the walls of the locals.

 

Source: Labuan Corporation

A rising power was beginning to take over the pacific region. Conquering the land that was once owned by European empires. The rising sun, Japan, began to invade every inch of the British territory in Malaya and Borneo including Labuan. The war destroyed the towns and many valuable traces of the British ruling. Labuan was renamed as Maeda or Maida. The purpose remained the same. However, in 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the Australian Allied Forces and the island was part of the North Borneo Crown Colony (Sabah) a year after.

 

Years later, the government of Sabah joined together with the Kingdom of Sarawak, Malaya Federation, and Singapore to form the great nation of Malaysia. Once again, the small island became an eye catcher. The Federal Government of Malaysia under the reign of Tun Dr. Mahathir in 1984, declared Labuan as the second federal territory of Malaysia. A special position that allows the federal government to maintain balance in East Malaysia and serve as an inspiration for both Sabah and Sarawak.

 

 

Source:  Socowo

Ever since that declaration, the island has become an International Offshore Financial Centre. Also, it received the Green Apple Award for build environment and architectural heritage. Oil and gas flourish the waters of Labuan and facing the South China Sea, a long sandy beach that stretches across the Pacific Ocean was awarded by the Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA) as the cleanest beach in 2008.

 

However, like the jewels of Havana in Cuba and the tomb of Nefertiti in Egypt, Labuan remained unknown to the world. What saddens us the most, is the people of the country it belongs to, know very less if not nothing about it. The name of Labuan has spread wide but the story and glory it owns, remains a secret, puzzling those who have never stepped foot on its uncharted waters and dazzled by its precious pearl of Borneo.