Monday, 3 January 2011


Any mention of the Sarawak Rangers would not be complete without an account of their Filipino band. There had always been a Rangers’ band of sorts but the standard was not high. Since the second Rajah (Charles Brooke) was very fond of music and the Renee, under the maiden name of Lady de Windt, was recognized as the finest amateur pianist in the whole of France, it was not surprising that in 1888 the Rajah made a special visit to Manila for the sole purpose of engaging a Filipino band. Going about it in his usual thorough manner, the Rajah auditioned and selected the bandsmen himself. All went well until the bandmaster was enticed away by somebody who offered him better terms. Nevertheless, the band duly arrived in Kuching in May 1888, accompanied by the first bandmaster, Polycarpo. He was succeeded by Reyas, Labarinto, Julian de Vera and, finally Pedro Salosa, who was the bandmaster when the band was disbanded at the same time as the Rangers in 1932, after forty-four years in existence. Like the remainder of the Sarawak Rangers, the band had rigid but fair conditions of service. Agreement to serve, leave and pensions were all covered, together with rates of pay but these, of course, depended on the period in which the bandsmen served. In 1920 a comprehensive order was produced by the Rajah which covered all of the above points. The Rajah ruled that the original band should not exceed twelve but would be increased gradually to twenty. On arrival in Kuching, the bandsmen were ordered to be incorporated into the Military Force, but they were not required to do drill or to keep guard. They had to live in barracks and were under the same discipline as the Rangers. Later, the order was changed and they were expected to know their drill and keep guard when required. Their first uniform was the same as that of the Rangers except that they wore red caps, with belts and side arms. Later they were given a uniform of their own. According to the band regulations, the band was required to play for military purposes when needed, practise every morning and play at the Astana and, in addition, as the bandstand two days a week. The Rajah, the Rangers and the people of Kuching were exceedingly proud of their band, which at that time was considered to be very good indeed but, of course, the standard could not really be compared with that of the present band. The Rajah took a great personal interest in the band. He insisted that programmes should be carefully selected and if the playing was not up to standard, the bandmaster would receive a stern rebuke. It is recorded that after one public performance, the Rajah called the Commandant, told him that the band was getting worse and worse, that he could not stand it any longer and that, as the bandmaster de Vera seemed to be getting too old, to retire him the next day with a pension of $6 per month. The band, after a time, did not remain wholly Filipino, since drummers and buglers were often recruited locally and in 1807 the Rajah enlarged the band by engaging seven bandsmen from Perak, West Malaysia. They had formerly been in the Malay States Guides, The public band performances used to be given two evenings a week and the Rajah again, in his usual thorough manner, ruled that should it rain, the performance would be given the following day. They were given at a bandstand in what was then known as the Esplanade (now called Central Padang). It was then an ornamental garden. These band days used to be greatly enjoyed by the old Rajah but were not entirely popular with others. It was said that, as he grew older, the Rajah became more deaf and sometime hardly knew what music was being played. He used to like to surround himself with the prettiest ladies of all communities and, once the band had started, nobody dared to whisper a word without receiving his icy stare. For his government officers, attendance at the band was a “must” since, in those days, there was no such thing as annual increment in salaries and the Rajah only gave his officers a rise when he remembered them. So, unless he saw them, he forgot all about them. In other words, no band attendance, no rise in salary. The crowning glory of the Filipino band came in 1922, when the Borneo-Malaya Exhibition, attended by the Prince of Wales, was held in Singapore. In competition with the Army and Police bands throughout Singapore and Malaya, they gained the second prize – second only to a British Army band. It was a silver medal, three inches in diameter, bearing the head of the Prince of Wales on one side and suitably inscribed on the other. This medal was always displayed in the office of the Commandant, Sarawak Rangers, and after the Rangers had been disbanded, in the office of the Commissioner of Constabulary until the Japanese occupation when, like so many other things, it disappeared. The Filipino band was disbanded for reasons of economy, together with the Rangers, during the disastrous trade slump of 1932. Several of its members returned to their native land but some remained and joined the newly formed Sarawak Constabulary and helped to form the nucleus of a part-time band under the direction of the last bandmaster, Pedro Salosa’s son Gregory, who had become an Inspector in the Sarawak Constabulary. They carried on until the war broke out with Japan in December 1941. When the Sarawak Rangers were reformed in 1953 it would appear that only a token effort was made to reform the band. In any case, it seemed that the only effort made did not take place until 1962 when three persons were sent to the Queens Own Highlanders (in either Singapore or Malaya) for Pipe and Drums training. The Pipes and Drums did not materialize because of the Brunei Revolt of 8 December 1962. One of the three persons involved was Warrant-Officer Class II Gasar, who later left the service and joined the Border Scout. On 15 September 1963, a day before the formation of Malaysia, Sarawak Rangers which had became a part of the British Army, was disbanded. On 16 September 1963, it became the 1st Battalion The Malaysian Rangers. All, except for 100 who chose to remain and form the nucleus of the new unit, returned to their long houses in Sarawak.


  1. Keep up the good work of writing about your past experiences. I have just managed to accidentally found your blog when I was looking for info about Sarawak Rangers.

  2. Uchutedung,

    Thank you for visiting. I wish more Sarawakians would access my blog, if they want to know more about the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers. My researches now is more centralised around Sarawak Rangers. Indeed, my suggestion which I made to the CM of Sarawak in 2008 to bring back the remains of the 21 Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers killed and buried in Malaya and Singapore during the First Emergency 1948 - 1960 is now underway.