GROWING up in England, Jason Brooke couldn’t help but develop an interest in Sarawak from hearing stories about the state and his family’s role in its history.
After all, his grandfather Anthony Brooke was the last Rajah Muda of Sarawak and his great, great grandfather was no less than Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah who ruled from 1868 to 1917.
But it wasn’t until he came here in 2008 at the age of 23 that his interest deepened into a love for Sarawak and passion to preserve and share its unique heritage.
“I came as a young man just out of university, with an academic view of Sarawak’s history. I’ve been studying it since I was 12, inspired by others such as my grandfather and my father James Brooke, both of whom were born here and had a very close connection with Sarawak.
“Hearing their stories led me to be interested in Sarawak’s history from an early age but I hadn’t really known people in Sarawak. So I came in 2008 to explore this heritage for myself, and I was blown away by the enthusiasm and warmth of feeling of people here in appreciating this shared historical heritage,” he told Sarawak Metro during his latest visit here recently.
Moved by his experience here, he established the Brooke Heritage Trust in Britain five years ago to preserve the Brookes’ story and promote an appreciation of Sarawak’s history.
One of the trust’s current projects is the Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita, which it is developing together with relevant state authorities.
The gallery was mooted a couple of years ago and is now in the final stretch, according to Jason.
“We’re working closely with the Museum Department on the project to showcase the family’s collection and artefacts of Brooke history. The gallery is an opportunity to bring Brooke artefacts and history under one roof.
“It will not just be about the family but Sarawak at that time. We want to showcase that in Fort Margherita, a wonderful building on a hill overlooking the Sarawak River.
“We’re now looking at the logistics and installation of the gallery and we’re hoping it will open later this year.”
Jason said the gallery would provide impressions of Sarawak’s past rather than a history book account.
There will be themes which explain the allure of Borneo to ancient empires and European explorers up to James Brooke, the building of the state and life in Sarawak for people here.
The themes will be explored through images and about 60 key artefacts evocative of particular moments or events in Sarawak’s history, he said.
“I think it will be exciting for people to cross the river in the sampan and climb up the steps to the fort, much as was done during the Brookes’ time.
“On the roof terrace there will be signs showing where visitors can explore next. I hope it will give people a flavour of Sarawak and impel them to explore deeper.”
The trust has also digitised the family archives and is planning to rebuild the Royalist, James Brooke’s ship which he sailed to Sarawak in 1839.
“This was a ship of exploration and adventure and is iconic in history. We’re hoping to build it in Plymouth and sail it to Sarawak. We can bring on board groups of youths from different backgrounds to learn to work together aboard a ship,” Jason said, adding that the project could take four or five years.
Also in the pipeline is a Brooke Scholarship programme to facilitate inter-cultural exchanges for participants to experience and learn about Sarawak’s multi-cultural harmony.
Jason said the trust was still finetuning the criteria for the scholarship but it would be open to applicants from any background or age, as long as they were inspired by the principles of peace and unity upon which Sarawak was founded.
In addition, he said the trust welcomed ideas on preserving Sarawak’s heritage, especially from the younger generation.
“I always have my eyes and ears open to listen to ideas from people here on how we can help them embrace their heritage. What’s been inspiring is how much enthusiasm there has been from young Sarawakians who want to engage with history.
“We encourage people to approach the trust through our website (www.brooketrust.org) to volunteer their time and energy, or if they have ideas or oral history from their grandparents which they would like to contribute.”
Apart from his family connection, much of Jason’s passion for Sarawak comes from his personal experience of visiting the state and meeting people here.
“I feel if I were thinking of setting up the trust before coming here, I would do it in a traditional academic way. But coming to Sarawak and coming to know people here altered my approach to one that’s warmer and more human.
“It’s about appreciating what matters to people, what’s meaningful to people here. My interest comes from the family connection but my passion comes from the people,” he reflected.
“I was so moved by the warmth of feeling from people here and I feel there’s still a place for the Brookes to serve Sarawak in some way. The trust is almost all I think about – what can we do next, what’s our next project.
“It’s a passion and a huge part of my identity, and it’s a privilege to be able to do this.”
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