Friday, February 03, 2012

A colonial officer's earliest memories of Sabah on show at Sabah Museum

Kota Kinabalu: A colonial officer's earliest memories of Sabah, which he captured on film, are now again on display at the Sabah Museum.

Besides a varied collection of black and white stills, also for public viewing are the personal diaries and artifacts of George Cathcart Woolley who arrived at the shores of Sabah, then North Borneo, in 1901.

During his years of service here, Woolley, who is credited with being the basis for the formation of the Sabah Museum in the 60s, shot thousands of photographs especially of the natives and their customs in his travels.

Before he died in 1947, he bequeathed 2,843 photographs to the Sabah Government, through the Sabah Society, but only a portion survived World War II.

His photographs portray the different tribes of North Borneo, town scenes and some European officials whereas his diaries cover the period from his arrival in Sabah in 1901 to 1920.

The son of a clergyman was educated at Merchant Taylors School and Queen's College, Oxford and graduated in 1899 before the England North Borneo Chartered Company assigned him to North Borneo.

Woolley then joined the Land Office of the company at Labuan in 1901, and he served in this office in various locations here for many years, where he had to travel extensively within the State to carry out land surveys and to solve land disputes.

His tenure as District Officer for Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu), Beaufort, and later on as Resident of the Interior Division deepened his knowledge of local customs and traditions.

In the 1930s, he was employed by the Government to investigate causes for the decreasing birth rate among indigenous people, especially among Muruts and Kadazandusuns, to determine what could be done to reverse the trend.

After retiring in 1932, he went back to England but decided after two years that he missed North Borneo too much and came back and readily "gave his services" to work in the interests of the State.

He was awarded the North Borneo General Service Medal in 1940.

In the pre-war period of his retirement, he wrote many articles on local traditional customs, or adat.

His writings and research were particularly important as they were the first time these adat had been formalised in writing and thereafter served as standard references for the tribes.

Continue reading at: A colonial officer's earliest memories of Sabah on show at Sabah Museum

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