An insight into Ranee Margaret’s life and legacy

Picture of Ranee Margaret with local people on display at the museum.

Picture of Ranee Margaret with local people on display at the museum.

KUCHING: Mention Ranee Margaret and many people would probably not know much about her beyond the fact that she was the wife of Charles Brooke, Sarawak’s second Rajah.

A new museum aims to change that by exploring Ranee Margaret’s life and legacy in Sarawak through a display of personal artefacts.

Located in the Old Courthouse here, the Ranee Museum is a counterpart to the Brooke Gallery in Fort Margherita on the north bank of the Sarawak River.

One of the museum’s highlights is a purple kebarung with decorative metal plates down the front which once belonged to the Ranee.

In fact, it was this piece that sparked the idea for the museum.

“I was looking at a portrait of Ranee Margaret in full Malay attire, comprising a kebarung and keringkam shawl, which was displayed in the Brooke Gallery.

“I have a personal interest in keringkam, the traditional handsewn embroidery of the Sarawak Malays, and had been doing my own research on it prior to joining the gallery,” Brooke Gallery manager Liza Sideni said.

When Liza saw Ranee Margaret’s keringkam, she started asking the Ranee’s great-great-grandson and Brooke Trust director Jason Brooke what had happened to her clothes.

Her query prompted a discovery of the Ranee’s clothes and textiles in the home of one of the Brooke family members in England in December 2017.

Among the items was the purple kebarung.

“This is the one Ranee Margaret is wearing in the portrait. It’s made from Chinese silk in purple, the colour of European royalty.

“The metal plates on the front are in Javanese Malay style but are also reminiscent of an Iban maiden’s headdress,” Liza said.

“Her clothing shows her appreciation, love and respect for the people of Sarawak and their attire, as well as the local craft of keringkam and songket.”

The Ranee’s exquisite keringkam and songket pieces are also displayed in the museum, along with her photographs and sketches of local life and people.

“She took photography lessons from Italian naturalist Odoardo Beccari. This allowed her to document Sarawak life for us.

“For instance, she took photos of visitors to the Astana and of the people and scenes on her travels to Sri Aman and Batang Lupar.

“Her passion for photography has contributed to our knowledge of Sarawak’s past,” Liza said, adding that the museum’s purpose was to preserve and share Sarawak’s heritage.

“It’s a sort of homecoming for the items on display, which were made here. This paves the way for a deeper appreciation of our heritage, such as keringkam.”

Response to the museum has been good, with over 2,000 visitors since it opened last September.

For some, Liza said, it provided a personal link to Sarawak’s past.

“I spoke to a visitor in her 80s who remembered that Ranee Margaret used to invite local women to the Astana for tea.

“Another visitor from Miri recognised her great-great-grandmother in one of the photos on display.”

The Ranee Museum is open daily from 9am to 4.45pm. Admission fees are RM10 for Malaysians and RM20 for international visitors.

An explorer pass for entry into both the Ranee Museum and Brooke Gallery is priced at RM15 for locals and RM30 for non-Malaysians.