Kalimantaan

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This article is about the novel. For the Indonesian part of Borneo, see Kalimantan.
Kalimantaan
First edition cover
Author C. S. Godshalk
Country United States
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Henry Holt & Company
Publication date
April 1998
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 480 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-8050-5533-9 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 38024322
813/.54 21
LC Class PS3557.O3145 .K35 1998

Kalimantaan is a novel by C. S. Godshalk offering a fictionalized account of the exploits of James Brooke in Sarawak in Borneo.

Plot introduction[edit]

The novel uses of a variety of writing forms, including diary entries, letters, and straight narrative to tell its story. The author intentionally makes it difficult to determine what "really" happens in the story from dreams and fantasies of the characters.

Plot summary[edit]

In 1839, an English adventurer arrived on the northwest coast of Borneo, commissioned to deliver a letter of gratitude to the Sultan of Brunei for having safely returned the crew of a British merchantman, lost on his coast. It was a region full of headhunters, pirate tribes, and slave traders. Most Europeans with the temerity to enter the region had never been heard from again. This particular adventurer, however, seems to know how to play one power against another and manages to keep his balance in the midst of chaos. After performing a service for the Sultan (resolving a local tribal conflict through the use of his schooner's guns and leading an organized assault on a small native river fort), he is named governor of Sarawak, subject to the Sultan of Brunei. Within a few years, he has become the Rajah of Sarawak, an independent state, and established a dynasty that will last one hundred years.

Godshalk has changed names and details while evoking a sense of the time, place, and atmosphere of the real events. The real adventurer was James Brooke; Ms. Godshalk's is named Gideon Barr. James Brooke's schooner was named the Royalist; Gideon Barr's is the Carolina (named after his mother). James Brooke was succeeded by his nephew, Charles Johnson, who took the last name Brooke. Gideon Barr is succeeded by his nephew Richard Hogg (Ms. Godshalk does not deal with the change of last name since her story focuses on Gideon's life and ends with his death).

Although many of the events described actually took place, one cannot simply change the names and read the novel as history. James Brooke's mother died in 1844, two years after he became Rajah. Gideon's mother dies in Borneo much earlier while he is in grade school in England, providing him an emotional link to Borneo James Brooke did not have. James Brooke never married a European, although there is evidence that he was married to a Malay woman. Gideon Barr marries an Englishwoman to provide himself an "air of permanence" as Rajah and we see much of the later portion of the story through Amelia Barr's eyes. Amelia Barr is fictional, but largely based on Margaret Brooke, wife of the second Rajah, and her book "My Life in Sarawak". Gideon also maintains a Malayan mistress who provides a note of tragedy in the way her presence poisons Gideon and Amelia's relationship.

On the other hand, the 30,000 pounds that Brooke/Barr inherited at his father's death which enabled him to acquire his schooner, the massacre of the sons of the Sultan of Brunei, the Chinese insurrection of 1857, and the commission of inquiry in Singapore all took place as described. The inquiry in Singapore was concerned with the battle of Labuan in which Brooke/Barr led British warships in a pre-emptive strike against a pirate fleet, breaking the power of the Bugis for the next twenty years. Brooke/Barr's enemies attempted to use this against him by claiming he had used British naval power to slaughter innocent natives.

Godshalk uses Malay words extensively in the book. While she provides a brief Malay glossary as an appendix, it does not cover all the words she uses. Enjoyment of Kalimantaan will be enhanced if one knows the following Malay words which are not in the glossary provided by the author:

Malay English
abang elder brother
adat tradition, custom
ajar to teach
berani, brani brave, bold
besar big, great
bulan moon, month
bujang bachelor
buaya crocodile
bulbul nightingale
datin wife of a datu
datu minister in traditional Malay government
dayang woman of high rank
hantu, antu ghost, spirit
hati liver (as the seat of emotion, typically translated "heart")
ikan fish
ikat tie, knot
jaga guard
jalan street, road
kain cloth (in the story, it describes a cloth belt)
kaya wealthy, rich
kongsi association, partnership
kris stabbing dagger with flaming, or wavy, blade
kuli unskilled laborer
lalang a variety of long-bladed grass
lida tongue
kecelakaan misfortune, accident
merah red
mudah young, junior
orang person
padang field
padi ricefield
pagi morning
parang cutlass, machete
payung (payong) umbrella, parasol
pikul (picul) 1) a unit of weight of 133 lb (60 kg); 2) to carry on one's shoulder
puasa fast, to abstain from eating
rajput princeling, diminutive of rajah
sakit sick
selamat hari literally, "good day". Typically, the expression selamat siang (good mid-day) is used
selamat pagi good morning
seluar trousers, pants
si generic honorific, e.g. Si Tundo
stengah half
sudah already, denotes past tense
tahun year
tanah earth, soil
tiba to arrive
tuah old, elder, senior
tuak toddy, palm-wine
tuan lord, used as an honorific, as in Tuan Barr
tunku overlord, governor

Kampilan, actually a Filipino word, designates a long native sword.

Release details[edit]