Syarif Osman of Marudu

Syarif (= Sharif) Osman ruled Marudu, a Thalassocratic state in the north of Borneo, from the early 1830s at the latest. The area included Marudu Bay, neighboring river systems and offshore islands. His influence extended to the borders of the sultanates of Brunei and Sulu. It can be said that Osman's area roughly encompassed today's Sabah (Malaysia), but protruded a little beyond it, e.g. B. Palawan. Under Syarif Osman, Marudu flourished into an independent empire that lived from trade and offered security.

In the Bay of Marudu Osman owned a fortress on the Langkon River. It was well armed and could be well defended. There was a large barrier made of tree trunks and iron chains in the river, preventing attackers going further on. Its flag was red and showed a tiger's head.

Syarif Osman traded with neighboring states, he was also in contact with the British and Spanish, who were neighboring colonial rulers. He was also friends with high-ranking nobles from Sulu and Brunei, so he was on friendly terms with the Prime Minister Pengiran Usop of Brunei. Osman was even married to a daughter of the Sultan of Sulu and was friends with her brother, the designated heir to the throne. He had built a network of good connections. This became his undoing, because James Brooke, who was officially allowed to administer Sarawak for the Sultan of Brunei in 1842, could not tolerate any competitor. Brooke was working on total control of Brunei at the time, removing Pengiran Usop and installing a devoted (to him!) relative of the Sultan instead of Usop as prime minister. Since Syarif Osman was not a subject of Brunei, Brooke could not get hold of him. He resorted to a rather vile means of accusing Osman of being a pirate in order that the British Navy would fight him. As evidence, he assessed accidents that he attributed to Osman as an act of piracy. In letters to officers and officials, he repeated his allegations until Admiral Cochrane felt compelled to regard Marudu as a pirate's nest and destroy it. That happened on August 19, 1845. On that day, after an hour-long siege, the British shot Marudu to the ground, then plundered it and shot the last of the refugees down.

In British history, Syarif Osman was portrayed as a pirate and Marudu as a pirate's nest. But even British contemporaries, and even Brooke's friends, had doubts and believed that Brooke's alleged evidence of piracy was completely unfounded upon closer examination.

Syarif Osman's image has changed in modern historiography. In the Malaysian confrontation with its own history, he is seen as someone who has bravely but fiercely defended himself against the overpowering British. There are many legends about him in Marudu.

I studied the history of Marudu and Syarif Osman and wrote a doctoral thesis on it: "Marudu 1845 - The Destruction and Reconstruction of a Coastal State in Borneo" (Hamburg 2003), it has been published in English. I will place some of my results on this page.