From a Hollywood movie to a brand-new museum in Kuching, these are busy times indeed for the Brooke Heritage Trust. The man behind it all, Jason Brooke, could not be more elated at the turn of events.
As the co-founder of Brooke Heritage Trust, Jason is the grandson of the last ruling Rajah Muda of Sarawak (Anthony Walter Dayrell Brooke, 1912-2011), and a prominent representative of the Brooke Dynasty in Sarawak.
In an e-mail interview with Star2, Jason, 33, spoke about the work he is doing to enrich and preserve the history of Sarawak during the era of the White Rajahs as well as an upcoming film on Sir James Brooke (1803-1868).
Titled White Rajah, the Hollywood-British production is produced by Rob Allyn and directed by Sergei Bodrov (best known for 1996’s Prisoner Of The Mountains and 2007’s Mongol).
“Yes, the James Brooke movie has commenced works, as of May this year, and is scheduled to shoot in spring 2019,” said London-born Jason, who splits his time between Britain and Sarawak.
“Some impressive sets have been designed and locations selected. No cast has yet been announced but I am sure we can expect to hear something in the coming months,” added the British Museum historian and current heir of the Brooke family, who serves as the movie’s technical adviser.
White Rajah will be filmed entirely in Sarawak and in a combination of Bahasa Malaysia, English, Iban, Bidayuh and other native Sarawak dialects.
Jason hints at a swashbuckling epic in the making. After all, it is based on his ancestor’s colourful life: a former British soldier who sailed to Borneo in 1839, where he helped the Sultan of Brunei put down a pirate rebellion and was bequeathed the land of Sarawak as his private kingdom.
Apart from the movie, Jason’s other passion project is the Ranee Museum, which features permanent exhibition Ranee – Margaret of Sarawak. It explores the extraordinary life of Margaret De Windt (1849-1936), the wife of the second Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Brooke. Courageous, intelligent and full of energy, Margaret became renowned as an advocate for women’s rights and universal education.
The first Ranee of Sarawak was a key figure in the early history of Sarawak, unafraid to press for progress and refusing to be confined by the gender roles of her time. She published her memoir My Life In Sarawak in 1913, which offered a rare glimpse of life in colonial Borneo.
“The new gallery is an opportunity to showcase a remarkable woman who played an important role in Sarawak’s history, to tell the story through her eyes and share with Sarawakians her love and appreciation of their culture,” explained Jason, who previewed some of the museum offerings at the Rainforest Fringe Festival in Kuching in July.
“The Ranee is someone I admire immensely, and who, with all the focus on the Rajahs over the years, has been somewhat overlooked. I hope with this new exhibition to give her a rightful place in history,” enthused Jason, who agrees that Margaret’s life could make for an equally engrossing movie. (Who knows, as a sequel/spin-off of White Rajah?)
According to Jason, the exhibition will feature a wide collection of Margaret’s personal items, jewellery and her Sarawakian Malay attire. Of particular interest is the keringkam (traditional embroidery) owned by Margaret and still in peak condition.
Jason hopes the exhibition – which opens to the public next month – provides a source of inspiration to the visitor.
“I think what resonates with all of us today is a sense that the Ranee was a person quite ahead of her time,” mused Jason.
“She was without any notions of distinction based on class or race, and this was unusual for a woman of her upbringing – it made it possible for her to fully immerse herself in Sarawak life, and to generate a great deal of affection amongst the local community. According to the older Malay keringkam weavers we have met, the Ranee is still referred to by the title ‘Mem Ranee’, a term of affection.”
Under his leadership, a number of projects have been successfully launched by the Brooke Heritage Trust.
It was Jason who championed for the Brooke Gallery, housed in an 1800s English-style fort with educational exhibits on Sarawak and its White Rajahs. It was opened in September 2016, the 175th anniversary of the founding of the state of Sarawak and housed in Kuching’s Fort Margherita, which was named after the Ranee.
“At a local level, we are working to develop heritage attractions for the benefit of local communities in Sarawak. On a larger scale, we have plans to build a full-size sailing replica of James Brooke’s yacht, Royalist, and sail her to Sarawak.
“The next two to three years are going to be very exciting indeed,” concluded Jason.