The Ranee (Queen) Exhibition by Brooke Gallery — Kuching Old Courthouse
Ranee comes from a sanskrit word, Rani, which means wife of a Rajah. In our case, it is the wife of the White Rajah. Sarawak have had a couple of Queens before the Brooke Era came to an end with the cessation to Britain.
This particular exhibition is focused on one particular Ranee: Margaret which Fort Margherita is named after. She was the wife of our second White Rajah, Charles Anthony Johnson Brooke. She was our very first Ranee or Queen of Sarawak as Sir James Brooke remained single throughout his life.
In the exhibition, you get to follow Margaret on her journey to become the Ranee of Sarawak. How Charles Brooke courted her and how she had lived her life in the Kingdom of Sarawak. She remained the only significant Ranee that has lasting impact in Sarawak.
The Ranee was born in Paris during French Revolution as Marguerite which translate to Margherita. This name was became Margaret when she moved with her family to England. When she was 14, her father died from an accident. Thus, she and her family had a difficult time, traveling endlessly throughout Europe.
When Charles Brooke inherited Kingdom of Sarawak from Sir James Brooke, he called upon to marry Margaret. Their marriage was protested from both sides of the family. Margaret’s mother even went as far as saying that by marrying Charles Brooke, Margaret would have to live in the jungle in the midst of savages and head hunters. This statement was quite true during those days as we are known as the land of the head hunters. To imagine that she would be brave enough to come live in Sarawak, it must be some strong resolve she had. Her decision was influenced by her reading of the book by Charles Brooke: Ten years in Sarawak.
As seen above, the trip would have taken a few weeks just to arrive in Kuching. During those days, all travels are on board ships.
Before she arrived, Charles has built the Astana as a wedding present for her, later the Fort of Margherita. The Astana is our Taj Mahal. She can be seen sitting in her favourite spot on the verandah in the picture below, indicated by the arrow.
There are many other items of interest on display in the exhibition. Many of her items are displayed, her sketches, drawings, personal notes to her families can be found in this exhibition.
The Ranee is also a avid sketcher. Seen below is one of her work of a chinese pepper farmhouse. This was one of the effect of the policy by the first White Rajah to encourage plantations of pepper so that we can export them. It was how many Chineses have ended up staying in Sarawak until this day.
Ranee Margaret had many children but only a few survived. She was legendary in her lifetime. She encouraged education as the way forward for women in a time that even basic necessity were not available. She was known to adopt the way of life in Sarawak as seen through her many items on display.
The exhibition is an eye opener for anyone who wishes to know the history of Kingdom of Sarawak. How one person can make a difference for the whole Kingdom. She wanted to be of some use in the world and she got her wish when she became the Ranee Margaret of Sarawak.
The exhibition is currently held in the Kuching Old Courthouse. Entrance fee is RM10. Children under 7 is free.