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Sandokan of Malludu. The Historical Background of a Novel Cycle set in Borneo by the Italian Author Emilio Salgari - article ; n°1 ; vol.55, pg 29-41

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Archipel - Année 1998 - Volume 55 - Numéro 1 - Pages 29-41
Bianca Maria Gerlich
It was the object of this article to discover possible historical traces of the basic structure of the novel-cycle Ciclo dei Pirati della Malesia by Emilio Salgari, in particular the historical existence of its chief protagonist Sandokan. Since historical facts corresponding to the setting of the cycle can in fact be found, it is clear that Salgari's novel should not be read as mere fictional literature but rather as literature with an historical background. Besides some rather general historical facts and circumstances, even some of the details turn out to be historical. The names of persons, places and constellations that were well-known in Europe such as James Brooke, Sarawak and Labuan figure, but so do Sandokan and the flag of the tiger which were known at the time to a rather small group of people in Sabah. Salgari's dates are correct, too : Le Tigri di Mompracem starts at the end of 1849, and the original version La Tigre della Malesia in 1847 ; the battle of Malludu in fact took place in 1845. In the Yanez-passage we are informed that Sandokan was resident on the north coast of Borneo for a few years before he settled down in Mompracem.
Perhaps the fundamental messages of the cycle correspond more to historical reality than some reports by European contemporaries or historians do. The Sandokan' s fight for freedom against the European colonizers reflects historical reality. Salgari portrayed history from the perspective of the losers and not from that of the winners, unlike what one finds in most European literature of the last century. His protagonist, who belongs to the weaker party, is positively valued, whereas in official British historiography Malludu is obviously viewed negatively.
However, it should be realized that only the basic structure of the novel coincides in part with historical events and persons, whereas vast parts - especially the immanent actions - belong to fiction. The cycle shows a form of virtual historical reality : Salgari worked his story out upon a historical frame, the polarity between Sandokan and the British. The tension between this poles is essentially determined through the efforts of the colonizers. A detailed examination of historical analogies in the immanent parts of the cycle, or concerning Salgari's descriptions on Bornean customs, social relations and other aspects could bring forth further interesting results. The introductory question concerning the place of historicity in Salgari's Ciclo dei Pirati della Malesia can however be answered positively even on the basis of our preliminary examination. The three symbols Mompracem, and the flag of the tiger and Sandokan did exist and were handed down orally and in writing. But more relevant perhaps is the connection between Sandokan and the flag of the tiger through Sandokan's native country Malludu. He lived there and was indeed very probably in a position of authority. The emblem of Malludu was the flag of the tiger. Malludu was mentioned by Salgari in what may be seen as a basically correct historical context. His fundamental historical message privileges the Malay and not the European side. Salgari's anti-colonial interpretation thus finds interesting echoes in the modern discussion of nineteenth-century colonial expansion in Southeast Asia.
13 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.

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Bianca Maria Gerlich
Sandokan of Malludu. The Historical Background of a Novel
Cycle set in Borneo by the Italian Author Emilio Salgari
In: Archipel. Volume 55, 1998. pp. 29-41.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Gerlich Bianca Maria. Sandokan of Malludu. The Historical Background of a Novel Cycle set in Borneo by the Italian Author
Emilio Salgari. In: Archipel. Volume 55, 1998. pp. 29-41.
doi : 10.3406/arch.1998.3440
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/arch_0044-8613_1998_num_55_1_3440Abstract
Bianca Maria Gerlich
It was the object of this article to discover possible historical traces of the basic structure of the novel-
cycle Ciclo dei Pirati della Malesia by Emilio Salgari, in particular the historical existence of its chief
protagonist Sandokan. Since historical facts corresponding to the setting of the cycle can in fact be
found, it is clear that Salgari's novel should not be read as mere fictional literature but rather as literature
with an historical background. Besides some rather general historical facts and circumstances, even
some of the details turn out to be historical. The names of persons, places and constellations that were
well-known in Europe such as "James Brooke", "Sarawak" and "Labuan" figure, but so do "Sandokan"
and the "flag of the tiger" which were known at the time to a rather small group of people in Sabah.
Salgari's dates are correct, too : Le Tigri di Mompracem starts at the end of 1849, and the original
version La Tigre della Malesia in 1847 ; the battle of Malludu in fact took place in 1845. In the Yanez-
passage we are informed that Sandokan was resident on the north coast of Borneo for a few years
before he settled down in Mompracem.
Perhaps the fundamental messages of the cycle correspond more to historical reality than some reports
by European contemporaries or historians do. The Sandokan' s fight for freedom against the European
colonizers reflects historical reality. Salgari portrayed history from the perspective of the "losers" and not
from that of the "winners", unlike what one finds in most European literature of the last century. His
protagonist, who belongs to the weaker party, is positively valued, whereas in official British
historiography Malludu is obviously viewed negatively.
However, it should be realized that only the basic structure of the novel coincides in part with historical
events and persons, whereas vast parts - especially the immanent actions - belong to fiction. The cycle
shows a form of virtual historical reality : Salgari worked his story out upon a historical frame, the
polarity between "Sandokan" and "the British". The tension between this poles is essentially determined
through the efforts of the colonizers. A detailed examination of historical analogies in the immanent
parts of the cycle, or concerning Salgari's descriptions on Bornean customs, social relations and other
aspects could bring forth further interesting results. The introductory question concerning the place of
historicity in Salgari's Ciclo dei Pirati della Malesia can however be answered positively even on the
basis of our preliminary examination. The three symbols "Mompracem", and the "flag of the tiger" and
"Sandokan" did exist and were handed down orally and in writing. But more relevant perhaps is the
connection between "Sandokan" and the "flag of the tiger" through Sandokan's native country Malludu.
He lived there and was indeed very probably in a position of authority. The emblem of Malludu was the
flag of the tiger. Malludu was mentioned by Salgari in what may be seen as a basically correct historical
context. His fundamental historical message privileges the "Malay" and not the "European" side.
Salgari's anti-colonial interpretation thus finds interesting echoes in the modern discussion of
nineteenth-century colonial expansion in Southeast Asia.NOTES
Bianca Maria GERLICH
Sandokan of Malludu
The Historical Background of a Novel Cycle set in
Borneo by the Italian Author Emilio Salgari
Verona, early in October, 1883 : Two bright tiger-eyes glare down from
dozens of big posters. W A few days later the daily La Nuova Arena^ makes
it known that a certain "Tiger of Malaysia" is on his way. The mystery is
resolved in 16 October 1883, when the first instalment of the novel La Tigre
della Malesia by the Italian author Emilio Salgari is published in the same
daily. This serialized novel is about the adventures of a certain Sandokan, who
lost his North Bornean home, his family and his position because of the
intrusion of the British, and who fought them as a pirate, with his base on the
island of Mompracem, which lies off the north-west coast of Borneo. Salgari's
novel proved a great success from the time of its publication.
Contrary to the common assumption in Italy that the author invented most
of the action, the characters and the places in this novel, I will show in this
article that the setting was in fact basically historical. The background story is
the conflict between "natives" and "foreigners" in mid-nineteenth century
colonial Borneo. Salgari chose a "native" for the hero of his story. This point
is of particular interest because Salgari was opposed to the Euro-centric
perspective that generally prevailed in his own imperialistic days. For me,
1. These posters were the beginning of an extraordinary campaign at that time. Cf. Arpino,
Giovanni/An tonetto, Roberto : Emilio Salgari, il padre degli eroi, Milano 1991, p. 19.
2. La Nuova Arena, 14.10.1883. A second notice on the so-called "Tiger of Malaysia" was
published on October 15th, 1883. A reprint of the respective newspaper articles can be found in
the foreword to Salgari, Emilio : La Tigre della Malesia. Versione originale de "Le Tigri di
Mompracem " , Torino 1 99 1 .
Archipel 55, Paris, 1998, pp. 29-41 30 Bianca Maria Gerlich
Salgari's consistent conception, especially in the first novel of the cycle
centering around the Bornean protagonist, was so convincing that after
analyzing the novel I searched - as it happens, successfully - for the historical
existence of Sandokan.
Emilio Salgari
Emilio Salgari (1862-1911), Italy's best-known novelist for young readers
at the end of the last century, managed with his extensive work to sell a
considerable numbers of copies, as well as being the object of constant re-
editions and many translations. Originally Salgari had aspired to a captain's
career, but then turned to journalism. In 1883, he was successful for the first
time as a novelist with the serialised work, La Tigre délia Malesia (3), which
was published as a book under the final title Le Tigri di Mompracem in 1900.
This novel represents the beginning of Salgari's largest and most popular
work, the Ciclo dei Pirati della Malesia, at times also called Ciclo della
Jungla Indiana. The different cycle-titles may have resulted from Salgari's
choice of different locations : Five books are set in Malaysia (4), six in India.
The unity of the cycle is formed by the connection of the three protagonists
Sandokan, Tremal-Naik and Yanez.
A number of Salgari's novels with settings all over the world have been
filmed. At present there are sixteen versions of the cycle mentioned above on
film. Thus today, Salgari's work with settings in Malaysia and India is still
well-known due to repeated re-editions and films, and in Italy especially the
figure of "Sandokan" provokes immediate associations with Malaysia.
Unfortunately, there are so far been hardly any studies on Salgari's most
popular work by authors writing on Oriental studies in Europe. However
3. La Tigre della Malesia was published in the daily La Nuova Arena at Verona between October
16th, 1883, and March 13th, 1884, in 150 instalments. In advance of the edition Le Tigri di
Mompracem (1900) from the publishing house Donath (Genua) there were published two further
newspaper- series : one in 1886 (// Telefonol\A\oxno, 21.3. - 31.8.1886) and one in 1890/91 (La
Gazetta di Treviso, 15/16.12.1890 - 21/22.9.1891), in each case under the original title. Salgari
continually worked the text over and shortened it for the edition which was not intended for adults
unlike the newspaper-series. Even if the text was altered the content remained the same. My article
is based upon the version of the book-edition, but also takes the original serialised version into
consideration.
4. The novels set in Malaysia are marked with an asterisk (*) in the following list of the eleven
novels of the cycle with their first dates of publication :
Le Tigri di Mompracem (serial 1883/84, edition 1900)*;
I Misteri della Jungla Nera (serial 1887, 1895) ;
I Pirati della Malesia (serial 1891/92, edition 1896)*;
Le Due Tigri (edition 1904) ;
// Re del Mare (serial 1904/05, edition 1906)*;
Alla Conquista di un Imper o (edition 1907) ;
Sandokan alia Riscossa (edition 1907)*;
La Riconquista del Mompracem (edition 1908)*;
// Bramino dell' Assam (edition 1911, posthumous) ;
La Caduta di un Imper o 1911, ;
La Rivincita di Yanez (edition 1913, posthumous).
Archipel 55, Paris, 1998 Sandokan of Malludu 31
Oriental studies have recently turned to comparable writers of the former
colonizing countries such as France, Great Britain or the Netherlands. (5) The
cycle is based on a historical setting and is about an epoch of South-East Asian
history, written from the perspective of the "natives". Salgari's anti-colonial
approach could enrich Oriental studies with an interesting perspective on the
still explosive topic of "colonialism" and could also encourage further
studies.
There are only a few studies on this author - in general Italian works of
literature - available at present, and they are mainly concerned with the life of
Salgari. In these, it is strongly emphasized that he had never travelled in the
countries where his novels are based, after the contrary had been claimed in
the forewords of his and in encyclopaedia-articles up to the 1980s. (6)
Salgari's novels have been classified in the genre of exotic adventure-literature
and have been considered as being fictional. Figures like Sandokan,
Ventimiglia (of the Ciclo dei Corsari), and Yanez have been regarded as
congruent to different stages in the life of Salgari himself, and as a kind of
self-projection. (7) Sandokan has been considered as a wholly invented figure
whose name Salgari could have taken from the North Bornean town Sandakan.
Of course, it may seem improbable that the cycle was completely based on
historical facts, actions, persons, places, and times. The purpose of this article
is not to prove that all the details found in Salgari's work are exactly
historical, but to have a look at the main subject of the cycle which, it shall be
argued, indeed corresponds with historical accounts in general. In Borneo
there were in fact insurrections against the British colonizers. Thus, Salgari
does indeed use Bornean history for his basic conceptual framework. He often
embeds his actions in well-known historical events, thus for example Le Due
Tigri is set against the backdrop of the Indian Mutiny against the British in
1857. However, the manner in which Salgari combined the weight of the past
and the actions of his main figure Sandokan, with such power and deftness,
drew me ineluctably to the question of the extent to which the Ciclo dei Pirati
delta Malesia was based on a certain historical incident and to what extent the
places, times, and the characters were in fact historical.
Before commencing a detailed analysis of the historical traces in the Ciclo dei
Pirati della Malesia, a brief introduction to the content of the cycle might be helpful.
5. See L. Santa Maria's book-review of Denys Lombard : Rêver l'Asie - Exotisme et littérature
coloniale aux Indes, en Indochine et en Insulinde, Paris, 1993, in Asia 3, 1994, pp. 75-76.
6. Thus the following passage may be found in the Abenteuerlexikon by Heinrich Pleticha
(Wiirzburg 1978): " Auf diese Weise segelte er [Salgari] fast um die ganze Welt und brachte es
bis zum Offizier. Er hielt sich jedoch nicht wie seine Kameraden nur in den Hafenstàdten auf,
sondern unternahm Ausfliige in das Landesinnere, die ihm zahlreiche Abenteuer brachten.
Angeregt durch das Erlebnis seiner Reisen, erwachte in ihm die Schriftstellerleidenschaft
wieder... " (p. 152). In the Ullstein-editions of the German Salgari-translations of the 1980s, it is
claimed that Salgari visited the East Asian colonies as an officer for years (for example Salgari,
Emilio : Die Geheimnisse des schwarzen Dschungels, Frankfurt/M. and Berlin 1986). In the well-
known German encyclopaedia Der grojie Brockhaus one reads that Salgari fought with the natives
in Borneo against the British. Such statements could possibly be traced back to the dubious,
posthumous autobiography Le mie memorie (Milano 1928) and the book of Salgari's youngest son
Omar Salgari : Mio Padre Emilio Salgari 1940).
7. See Arpino, Giovanno/Antonetto, Roberto : op. cit.
Archipel 55, Paris, 1998 32 Bianca Maria Gerlich
Ciclo dei Pirati délia M alesia
From the island of Mompracem, Sandokan with hundreds of
Malays, " Dayaks"(8) and a few other Asian people, leads a fight for freedom
against the British colonizers, especially against those from the adjacent island
of Labuan and from Sarawak. Mompracem is often threatened by military
operations of the colonial power. Sandokan' s Portuguese friend, Yanez, stands
by his side through many daring adventures in Borneo, Assam, India and of
course on sea. The third leading character, the Bengali, Tremal-Naik joins the
party at the subsequent stage. Acting together, they have to solve one central
problem in each book, which concerns usually only one of them.
Le Tigri di Mompracem constitutes not only a general introduction on
Mompracem, Sandokan and his fight for freedom, but also recounts the
romance between and the Italo-English lady Marianna Guillonk.
Tremal-Naik's story, still distinct from those of Sandokan's and Yanez' forms
the core of / Misteri delta Jungla Nera. In / Pirati della Malesia, the three
protagonists meet because of the relationship between Tremal Nail's wife and
Marianna, who meanwhile has died of cholera. In this book as well as in the
two following ones (Le Due Tigri, II Re del Mare), Tremal Naik's family
matters come to the fore. The frame story of // Re del Mare however consists of
the renewed conflict between Mompracem and the Malays on the one hand, and
Sarawak-Labuan and the British on the other. The later novels Sandokan alia
Riscossa and Le Riconquista del Mompracem, are also set in Borneo and
concern the same problem. Yet here, Sandokan's hostile relations with a
decadent Brunei are placed in the foreground as on the one hand Mompracem is
delivered by the victorious British to the allied Brunei-Malays after the defeat
in // Re del Mare ; on the other hand, Brunei is clearly considered to be a
hostile neighbour, when Sandokan is about to re-conquer his native land in
Sandokan alia Riscossa. The other four books Alla Conquista di un Imper o, II
Bramino dell' Assam, La Caduta di un Imper o and La Rivincita di Yanez, deal
with Yanez' struggle for justice with his prospective Assamese wife Surama in
her native country. Tremal-Naik and Sandokan, needless to say, assist him in
this struggle. But in the last two books, which were published posthumously,
the trio rather recedes into the background.
The cycle's immanent span is at least 25 years. In Le Tigri di Mompracem
Sandokan is approximately 30 years old, in La Rivincita di Yanez his age is
about 55 years. The first novel starts on 20 December 1849. (9) Here,
Sandokan's people in Mompracem are termed as "pirates" by Salgari, but he
makes it quite plain that in fact, they struggle as freedom-fighters against the
British.
For an investigation of the possible historical background of these novels,
an analysis of the details of the adventures may not be particularly fruitful.
8. The common European collective term "Dayak" for all those people of Borneo who mainly
lived in the interior regions and did not belong to the Malay coastal people, is also used by Salgari
in a vague fashion.
9. The original version La Tigre della Malesia starts with the date April 20th, 1847.
Archipel 55, Paris, 1998 Sandokan ofMalludu 33
Rather, the fundamental structure and the basic underlying elements
concerning time, place, action, and personages, as well as the relations
between these persons should be the primary focus. In the fundamental
structure of the cycle, especially of the parts in which Sandokan and
Mompracem are well to the fore (that is, the first, third and fifth book),
Sandokan's opposition to the British in particular, and the Europeans in
general, must of necessity lie at the core of any meaningful interpretation.
Hence the thematic centre of the Ciclo dei Pirati della Malesia runs as
follows : Sandokan with a large band of adherents, resists British colonial
domination in the middle of the 19th century in Borneo.
The following analysis is chiefly based on Le Tigri di Mompracem. Its
original version {La Tigre della Malesia) is the first written novel of the cycle,
hence it produces the basic elements and clarifies the local historical situation.
Moreover, the other novels, albeit interesting and even occasionally
illuminating are merely sequels which try to float on the tide of the success of
the first novel. Furthermore, the interval between the first novel and the next,
which resumes the " Malay" narrative, is as much as 8 years.
Three symbols in the fight for freedom
Three represents the subject " freedom " or " fight for freedom "
respectively :
Mompracem - the flag of the tiger - Sandokan.
Sandokan is the chief of all people living on Mompracem and he is
absolutely adored by them. The emblem of his chiefdom is the flag of the
tiger, which is hoisted on the island and on the ships. Salgari introduces these
three symbols at the beginning of his first novel. Thus the first chapter starts
with a description of Mompracem and Sandokan's hut :
"[...] una vasta e solida capanna si innalzava, adorna sulla cima di una grande
bandiera rossa, che aveva nel mezzo una testa di tigre A10^ "
An extensive portrayal of Sandokan follows. Only after the introduction of
these three closely linked symbols at the opening of the cycle, can the actual
plot begin. Any possibility of notionally distancing Sandokan and Mompracem
needs to be dispelled. For example, in the first novel, Marianna would like to
move with Sandokan to a more peaceful place, but Sandokan's adherents
persuade her to stay on in Mompracem. The defence and the reconquest of the
island often determine the action. When Sandokan has succeeded in
reconquering some lands that used to belong to him in Sandokan alia Riscossa
while, Mompracem is still occupied by foreigners, he is willing to abandon all
the regained land in favour of Mompracem, declaring :
" 'La mia Mompracem! '... disse con accento intraducibile . ' Vi ho lasciato il cuore
su quell' isola /OO
10. Salgari, Emilio : Le Tigri di Mompracem, Milano 1981, pp. 5-6.
11.: Sandokan alia Riscossa, 1982, p. 282.
Archipel 55, Paris, 1998 34 Bianca Maria Gerlich
When at the end of the next novel Sandokan has succeeded in reconquering
the island, he makes his men hoist the flag of the tiger and says defiantly to his
friend Yanez, who has offered him support in the case of a renewed threat
(" in difesa del nostro glorioso isolotto ") :
"La bandiera de lia Tigre non si calera che colla mia morte . (12) "
This novel concludes the last part of the cycle set in Borneo. Thus the close
unity of the three symbols portrayed at the beginning has equally been retained
in the end.
Sandokan, Mompracem, and the flag of the tiger are allegories in the fight
for freedom. They can also symbolize one another, in a reciprocal manner, for
example, the flag of the tiger as a symbol for Sandokan. This reflection
illustrates the close ties between these three symbols and at the same time
points to the fact that if one of these symbols turns out to be historical, perhaps
theoretically the two other symbols might be historical as well. If Salgari
accidentally had discovered one of these symbols and invented the other two,
then he would have composed his story merely out of a single historical detail.
Such a story would not coincide with a historical occurrence, because the
author would have adopted only a single term or name. Of course there could
be other theorical possibilities. For example, the author might have known of
one symbol in connection with a historical occurrence, and could then have
provided his story with the other two symbols that were mere inventions. But
if there were at least two of these in correspondence with each other
in Borneo's history, this could be an indication that Salgari deliberately used a
historical occurrence for his novel. With this hypothesis in mind, I set out in
search of the possible existence of these symbols a few years ago.
Mompracem
It is remarkable that Mompracem is not conceived as a common pirate's
hiding-place somewhere in the swampy coastal areas of Borneo, but is to be
found obviously and defiantly in the midst of the British controlled region. In
its immediate neighbourhood, there is the island of Labuan, in 1846 annexed
by Great Britain ; the opposite coast forms a part of Brunei, which was friendly
to the British; in the south lies James Brooke's Sarawak. Mompracem appears
to be an evident symbol of freedom and place of refuge for all who want to
escape from foreign rule.
The island of Mompracem does not exist on modern maps. Thus it was
assumed for a long time that Mompracem existed only in Salgari's
imagination (13), created out of literary necessity as a rocky stronghold,
inaccessible, almost impregnable, in a real sea where there was otherwise only
place for the agents of colonialism, European expansion and economic policy.
12. Salgari, Emilio : La Riconquista del Mompracem, Milano 1984, p. 254. Sandokan is also
named "Tiger of Malaysia".
13. See for example the foreword by Folco Quilici in Salgari, Emilio : I Misteri della Jungla Nera,
Milano 1985 : "Ogni volta chiudevo l'Atlante confortato e sconfortato; confortato perché d'isolé
Archipel 55, Paris, 1998 Sandokan ofMalludu 35
However, old maps and globes confirm the existence of an island called
Mompracem. Since the middle of the 16th century, it is continuously found on
maps and too in a prominent position. In an article on the cartography of
Borneo in the 16th century, Robert Nicholl identifies Mompracem with the
present island of Keraman. He writes :
"This latter presents something of a problem, for with variations of spelling, it is
henceforth found on nearly all maps, whereas Tigaon [= Labuan] appears only
occasionally. Obviously Mompracem was of importance, even though it was a
minute island lying close to the south-west point of Labuan. Its importance was
Bay.<14)" navigational ; it was the point at which vessels turned east to enter Brunei
Giulio Raiola, who met Robert Nicholl and Pengiran Shariffuddin in Brunei
1971, with a view to solving the mystery of the Salgarian island Mompracem,
suggests that this island was renamed in Keraman by the Malays in about
1870. (15) Raiola visited Keraman and came to know the meaning of the
present name :
" Vedevo nell'acqua limpida grossi pietroni sempre piii numerosi e il ragazzo
malese mi spiegb che l'isola, un tempo, era stata molto più grande, ma il mare
aveva portato via alberi e terra, soprattutto nella zona nord, verso il mare aperto,
la zona dei tifoni e délie trombe d'aria. Avrei poi valutato che la distruzione
compléta di Mompracem è forse questione di qualche decennio, sessanta,
settant'anni al massimo. Per questo l'hanno battezzata Keraman che in malese
significa "l'isola che scompare" . (16) "
This reflection on the present name may explain why Mompracem is much
larger on old maps than Keraman is on present maps. Salgari might have taken
the name of the island from maps of the late 19th century which then still bore
Mompracem as a name. He placed Mompracem in the vicinity of Labuan, Tiga
and Comades, and described it as a small rocky island with one steep coast
because of which the island is easily defensible. In Salgari's novel, this
strategic feature (easily defensible) goes hand in hand with the defiant sight of
Mompracem in the midst of the enemy's territory.
The flag of the tiger
The 19th century history of Borneo has predominantly been written by
British authors. I have searched intensively through their works for the three
symbols in question, for historical actions and other details corresponding to
senza nome, in quei mari, il mio "buon Atlante" ne segneva numerosissime... Ma sconfortato,
anche, perché il nome di Mompracem - comunque - non appariva mai in quei fogli ; né uno simile.
Sicché non sapevo decidermi se credere o non credere al mio narratore preferito : Mompracem era
veramente esistita o lui se l'era inventata?" (p. ii of the foreword).
14. Nicholl, Robert : The Sixteenth Century Cartography of Borneo, in : Brunei Museum Journal,
1976, p. 104.
15. See Raiola, Giulio : Sandokan - Mito e Realtà, Roma 1975, p. 193.
16. Raiola, Giulio, op. cit., p. 204. Raiola points out that the island of Mompracem was located by
Salgari in an inconsistent manner in his various novels.
Archipel 55, Paris, 1998 36 Bianca Maria Gerlich
Salgari's account. Besides a few revealing pieces of information, I found the
following passage in The White Rajahs of Sarawak by Robert Payne <17) :
" The pirates fought like tigers - their flag was a scarlet banner with a tiger painted
on it."
The context of this passage is a description of a battle in 1845 when the
British under the overall command of Admiral Thomas Cochrane destroyed the
town and the stronghold of Malludu, a north Bornean chiefdom under Syarif
Osman. Two similar passages concerning the flag of the tiger can equally be
found in Owen Rutter's books. (18) His information is based on Pascoe's article
in the North Borneo Herald, April 1886. Pascoe himself participated in the
battle of Malludu. But Salgari could not have taken his flag of the tiger out of
the works of Pascoe, Rutter and Payne because, in point of fact, he wrote his
La Tigre délia Malesia prior to them.
Hence, to sum up, the flag of the tiger was the emblem of Syarif Osman
and Malludu, the present Marudu (19\ located in Sabah, Malaysia. I travelled
to Kota Marudu in 1992 and there I showed some Borneans who were well
acquainted with their local history a tiger-flag made by myself after the
description of Salgari. That flag was clearly identified as Syarif Osman's flag.
The oldest inhabitant of the village near the ancient site of the stronghold of
Malludu was surprised that the flag was known to someone who was not from
Marudu. He guided me to the area where the battle had taken place. Today,
this abandoned area in the jungle is still venerated by people and is decorated
with brightly coloured cloth. It is chiefly the older who are familiar
with the history of Syarif Osman, because it has been orally handed down to
them. (20)
17. Payne, Robert : The White Rajahs of Sarawak, London 1960, p. 62
18. See Rutter, Owen : British North Borneo, London 1922, p. 103, and Rutter, Owen : The Pirate
Wind, London 1930, p. 196.
19. The sound shift of the vowels a, o, u and the formation from the consonant 1 to the consonant r
is not uncommon in the South-East Asian zone. The present Marudu appears under different names
in the 19th and 20th century. All these names are similar to Malludu resp. Marudu : "Malluder"
(letter of Captain Bethune, 1.4.1845, as enclosure to a letter of Admiral Cochrane to the Admiralty
in London, in : Admiralty I., 5548, Public Record Office in London, "Malluda" (letter of Admiral
Cochrane, 21.7.1845, to the Admiralty in London, in : Parliamentary Papers LXI, 1852-53, Public
Record Office, London, "Muludu" (Ariff, M. O. : The Philippines' Claim to Sabah, Oxford 1970,
p. "Maruda" 1), "Maludu" (Ingleson, (Marryat, J. E. : F. Britain's S. : Borneo Annexation and the of Indian Labuan Archipelago, in 1846 : The London Role of 1848, James p. Brooke 190),
and Local Influences, in : University Studies in History, Vol. 5, N° 4, 1970, p. 53).
20. The oral handing down of history is common in South-East Asia. Thus the history of Syarif
Osman was handed down in the last 150 years. He is portrayed in an ambivalent way : On the one
side he is the hero who fought against the British ; on the other side he is remembered for his rigid
methods while enforcing the " adat", the unwritten law. I am very much indebted to Jamrin Badin,
teacher at the "Pekan Sekolah Kota Marudu", who not only accompagnied me to the ancient
stronghold, but introduced me to many persons knew about the history of Malludu through
oral tradition. I am also very grateful to his wife Noraiwa Salim who is from Johore and who
translated the Marudu-dialect into Malay for me. J. Badin's family lived in Marudu in the 19th
century and they are connected personally with the history of Syarif Osman.
Archipel 55, Paris, 1998