Sandokan and the tiger flag

I was curious early on to see what the history of Sandokan would be like. In 1991, I came across the tiger flag in a text about historical Borneo, and the name "Mompracem" was soon discovered on old maps - the name no longer exists on newer maps. I started doing research and traveling to Southeast Asia and discovered the historical existence of Sandokan. All three - Sandokan & Mompracem & flag of the tiger - can symbolize the freedom struggle of Sandokan per se in Salgari's works. So I was of the opinion that if I came across at least two of them that were related, then Salgari's work would have to be based on historical backgrounds. This actually applies to "tiger flag" and "Sandokan", because the tiger flag is the flag of Marudu, Sandokan's homeland near Salgari, but also the place in the history of Borneo where Sandokan supported his friend Syarif Osman in the fight against the British. So the following is about the tiger flag and Sandokan. The story of Mompracem can also be found on this page, namely in the menu under "Mompracem".

The tiger flag

According to Salgari, the flag that Sandokan flies on Mompracem and his ships shows a tiger's head on a red background. This is how Sandokan's nickname “The Tiger of Malaysia” can be explained in Salgari's novels. The symbol of the tiger is not uncommon in Asia and the color red can also be easily interpreted for aggression and combat, so Salgari could very well have come up with this flag himself. But the flag with the tiger can be found in the local-historical context of the history of North Borneo, which Salgari used. This flag is mentioned several times in British literature dealing with Brooke's time in Borneo, namely in connection with the Battle of Marudu on August 19, 1845. Admiral Cochrane fought on the British side against Syarif Osman of Marudu, who had been defamed as a pirate by the British officers. This account, which is the source of all subsequent mentions of the tiger flag in British literature for the period, traces back to an eyewitness, Lieutenant Pascoe, who participated in the battle on the British side and who reported on it in "The British North Borneo Herald" in 1886. There he describes how this flag was first shot down by the British, fell and was heroically reattached to the flagpole by the opponents, which earned applause even from the British side.

But since Pascoe only published his report on Marudu in April 1886, Emilio Salgari could not have used it as a source for his story about Sandokan. He must have found out about the tiger flag and Marudu elsewhere, moreover: Marudu also appears in Emilio Salgari as the home of Sandokan. There is a longer passage in which Sandokan's friend Yanez tells the inquiring Marianna, Sandokan's bride, something about Sandokan's past. He begins his story with the fact that Sandokan ascended the throne of "Maludu" at the age of 20, which he describes as an empire on the northern coast of Borneo ("Aveva vent'anni appena quando salì sul trono di Maludu, un regno che trovasi vicino alle coste settentrionali del Borneo. ”- Salgari 1991: 248).

For me, it couldn't be a coincidence that Salgari named Marudu, who wore the tiger flag as the national flag, as Sandokan's home. So I went to Marudu myself. Here I learned that Sandokan had been a comrade in arms to Syarif Osman. Both are said to have defended the fortress in Marudu against the attacking British on August 19, 1845. I received further supportive statements about Sandokan's past at various locations in Marudu Bay. His name was given to me as "Sandokang" and "Sandokoñ" in the 1993 and 1995 interviews.

In 1994, Professor Dr. Luigi Santa-Maria, who previously worked in the field of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Naples, convinced me to publish my discovery. Several articles about the historical Sandokan as well as a dissertation on Syarif Osman von Marudu have been published, please see under publications.

Written tradition about Sandokan

But Sandokan is not only passed on orally and exclusively in Marudu. His name also appears in written reports and genealogies, always as the ancestor of Pengiran Sammah, either his grandfather or great-uncle. The earliest mention I have is from Charles Agar Bampfylde. He worked for the British North Borneo Company, which ruled north Borneo from 1881, and in 1883 he wrote to his superior, Governor Treacher, of his visit to Melapi, near the Kinabatangan River. The British North Borneo Company was interested in the bird nest caves there and had to deal with Pengiran Sammah, who owned them. The residents had told Bampfylde that the Gomantong Cave had been taken over by a certain Sandukur, an ancestor of Sammah. He had defended them against raids from Marudu and Sulu and had asked the Sultan of Sulu to see that these raids stop. The sultan had received one of the caves in gratitude. His sister settled on Kinabatangan and was given a cave, too, as did the sultan's son.

Harrison (1966) and Bhar (1980) also reported on Sandokan, who appears here as "Sandukong" and "Sindukung", respectively. Both had met a descendant of Sandokan, namely Senator Pengiran Digadong Galpam, who wanted to justify his family's claim to ownership of the caves after the rule of the British North Borneo Company and told them about Sandokan's acquisition of the caves. Bhar recorded the legend of Sandokan's mother and his two brothers. The mother, named Adoran, was considered a kind of saint ("orang keramat") because she predicted the war that would inevitably follow if the nests were removed from the caves. In fact, Pengiran Sammah was shot dead by the British in February 1884 while fighting for the caves. At the time the family lived in Melapi on Kinabatangan near the bird nest caves. All three, Bampfylde and Harrison and Bhar, identified Sandokan as the grandfather of Pengiran Sammah. In the reports of all three, Sandokan was the first in the family to claim the caves. In the area of the Kinabantangan, people still remember Sandukur and his mother Adora (without "n"), whose grave can be found in Old-Melapi. A very few remains of the houses of the family and residents are also there. The place was abandoned after the death of Pengiran Sammah, as the souls of the deceased reside there, it is considered as a holy place. New Melapi was built on the other side of the river. Sandokan is said to have found his final resting place high up on the cave he had discovered.

In 1997 I came into contact with the descendants of Pengiran Galpam and conducted an interview with many family members in Sandakan, where the family now lives in a villa. They created a family tree in which the founder of the family estate appears as "Sandukung". A later descendant also bears this name. I was also told that Sandokan's father was nicknamed the “Tiger of the Air” (“Taribong Mandog Awan”) and that other male members are said to have had such heroic names, but they are no longer remembered. Since Sandokan, the family members have held titles of nobility, namely "Pengiran Digadong"; the family is still very politically influential and wealthy today as the caves are still managed.

Name variants

Sandokan appears in writing under the following names:

Sandukur (Bampfylde 1883); Sandukong (Harrison 1966); Sindukung (Bhar 1980).

Orally it is mentioned as:

Sandokang / Sandokoñ (interviews 1993 and 1995, Marudu room) and Sandukung / Sandokong (interviews 1997, Sandakan).

The name variants may seem confusing, but vowel changes of the vowels a / u / o are not uncommon in Southeast Asian-speaking countries. With the final “ng”, the “g” does not sound, it is more of a “ñ” sound.

The name "Sandokan" itself is also mentioned in Sabah, namely in the traditions of Kota Marudu. The city "Sandakan" is also named under different variants, among other things as "Sondakan" (Hunt, in Moor 1837), "Sandukam" (von Brooke, 1843) and even as "Sandokan" in a German magazine (magazine for countries and Ethnology, 1873). All names go back to the same basic word: "sandok".

Incidentally, Salgari was not entirely sure of the naming of his main hero at the beginning. He calls it "Sandekao" twice, once at the very beginning of the first two series of novels in 1883 and 1884. This variant without the "n" / "ng" at the end recalls the tradition of the Kinabatangan river population: "Sandukur" .