Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Agnes Keith – A Hidden Treasure in the Land Below the Wind


Land below the Wind is a well known expression here in Sabah, Borneo and a often mentioned. Where does the expression come from? How come its so famous and who made it a such a well known expression?

Malaysia has many treasures and one of them we found is Agnes Keith. She was an American author and journalist who lived in Sabah, Borneo from the end of 1934 to the beginning of 1952.

We got curious and wanted to know more about this exciting woman who lived under a longer period in Borneo and made such an impact on people that she still is famous today.

How did she end up in Borneo?

Agnes Keith was born in Illinois, USA in july 1901. After meeting Henry Keith an Englishman (later known as Harry) and marrying him she followed him back to Borneo in 1934. Harry was Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture for the government of British North Borneo (now days known as Sabah) under the Chartered Company and was also Honorary Curator of the State Museum.

Their home in Sabah was in Sandakan on the east coast of Sabah. While Harry were away on his many trips and adventures all over Sabah Agnes started to write about her new land. She always kept a diary and could easily collect her notes.

The title of Agnes’ first book about the North Borneo (now known as Sabah), LAND BELOW THE WIND (1939), has become the unofficial motto of Sabah. The phrase was used by sailors to describe all the lands south of the typhoon belt, but Agnes Keith popularized the special connection of the phrase with Sabah, by applying it exclusively to North Borneo in her book.

She makes a vivid picture of the land she came to love. People, culture, adventures and her daily life gives us a picture of how life was here in Sabah back then.

It was followed by THREE CAME HOME (1947), which focused on hardships suffered in the Second World War, and was subsequently made into a Hollywood movie, and the third book was WHITE MAN RETURNS (1951), which tells of her life in Sandakan after the war.

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