Thursday, 18 July 2013

A review of two books

Philately should be more than just collecting coloured bits of paper, putting them in one's album and then totally forgetting about them. One would get more pleasure and satisfaction by getting to know the background and details of the stamp and country that one is collecting.
It had lead onto my interest in local history. The following 2 books give a good account of life in those days from a colonialist point of view. One must also take into account that their lives and perspectives were very different from that of the natives.

I had wanted to read this for a long time. Having read a chapter in the Sandakan Library a few months back I manage to get it in UK. Oscar Cook by his account was a remarkable fellow in the service of BNBC in the years straddling the first world war. He worked his way up to District Officer. He cared for his charges and was generally very well regarded. In this respect, he reminds me of William Pryer. They were both somewhat at odds with the hierarchy of company which was more profit driven.
The book gives good insight into life and the sociopolitical situation in the various areas that he worked in including the Interior Residency, Labuk & Sugut, Tuaran/Kota Belud and Semporna. He was very much into local folklore and beliefs and the book mentions some examples.
However, there was considerable controversy as to how he handled the Labuk revolt at the tobacco estate which resulted in him not having his job renewed subsequently. In his short story, The Door of Opportunity, Somerset Maugham based the main character on the unfortunate Oscar Cook. In writing this book, Oscar Cook was, I feel, was trying to tell his side of the events.

A wholesome story of life in postwar Jesselton. After reading it, one has the impression of "paradise lost" from a colonialist's perspective. Most of the locals were probably still having a hard time. But there was peace and optimism in the air and despite the poverty there were a lot of happy people.
As expected, there was limited social interaction between the expats and the locals. Even among the European community, there was a sort of social hierarchy in which people of different ages or professional levels moved in different circles.
I have enjoyed reading it. It should be available in the library or one could buy it second hand as I did.

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