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Literature / Of Rajahs And Hornbills

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The Kingdom of Sarawak, just before it started to nom Borneo for breakfast.

What happens when you put a British adventurer on the farthest end of the world? And give that man a crown?

Of Rajahs and Hornbills is an Alternate History timeline on, written by forum member Al-numbers. Told in an epistolary fashion, it deals with the real-life case of the Kingdom of Sarawak, a historical state on the northern portion of Borneo island that existed for around 100 years.

However, the kingdom's rulers were anything but local.

In fact, Sarawak was governed from beginning to end by the most peculiar foreign dynasty in history: the Brooke family of Great Britain.

Despite the royals' foreign nature, and with the land housing a majority population of Malays and indigenous Dayaks, the adventurer-state managed to actually run itself decently (albeit not peacefully) under the 'White Rajahs' for a while before eventually succumbing to stagnation, finally blowing out by the Japanese invasion of the Pacific in World War II.


Here, a subtle Point of Divergence results in a Sarawak that is more active, confident, and dynamic on the world stage, thereby altering local, regional, and world history as they know it.

The timeline can be read here.

Tropes appearing in Of Rajahs and Hornbills include:

  • Alternate History
  • Defiant to the End: A naval example; despite being outclassed in every way, the Rajah of Sarawak (19th-century sail barque) continued blasting shells at the attacking Italian cruiser Victor Emmanuel (a modern 20th-century battleship) during the Great War in Borneo. The latter's response was brutal.
  • Evil Colonialist: Zigzagged with the central family. While the Brookes do proclaim themselves to be the protectors of Sarawak and her inhabitants, the ways in which they do are really questionable at best. Brunei especially won't be singing their praises, as the Brookes expanded their domain by repeatedly screwing the sultanate over and over across the decades.
  • Foreign Ruling Class: Besides the obvious family, colonial Southeast Asia is much more overseen by their respective colonial empires ITTL, with the ruling Europeans dictating domestic and international policy, with consequential results.
    • The concept is also explored across Southeast Asia and Africa in respect to their colonial overlords.
  • Gayngst: Clayton Brooke, oh Clayton Brooke. His proclivities for men was discovered by his elder twin brother and forced a rift between the two, just before the Great War. Then his father and brother dies during the conflict, rendering the fraternal rift permanent. Later on, his mother plans for an arranged marriage, making Clayton briefly fantasize of running away with his partner, Usop. The latter talks him out of it, though not without sadness.
    • Gayngst-Induced Suicide: Imperial Germany got hit by this hard. The empire went through a summer of homophobic hysteria during the first year of the Great War, resulting in many many soldiers, from conscripts to generals, regardless of sexuality, being suspected of homosexuality. After being abused and dragged through the mud, a fair number committed suicide as a result.
  • Generational Saga: The Brooke family in Sarawak, with some side glances at the Temenggong family of Johor.
  • Going Native: Given the timeline's central family, is it any wonder?
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople): Or rather, Kostantiniyye.
    • Some other places also got renamed, such as Jesselton/Kota Kinabalu = Bandar Charles.
  • Jungle Warfare: The Brooke family and Sarawak as a whole excelled in this, as did the Acehnese against the Dutch and the Johoreans during a neighbor's succession crisis. The Italian colonists at Sabah, not so much.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Surprisingly averted with Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor when he married a Chinese woman, though the neighbouring Acehnese looked down on such Malay-Chinese marriages. In a twist, the latter highly preferred intermarriages with Ottoman citizens.
  • Mighty Whitey: Explored at length in regards to the ruling Brookes. On one hand, they were complete foreigners to the land. On the other, they learned the local language and understood local cultures enough to the point that many Sarawakian Malays and Dayaks became supportive (or at least indifferent) to their rule.
  • One-Shot Character: Some narratives feature characters whom only appear in that narrative alone.
  • Richard Nixon, the Used Car Salesman: A few people from our world lived very different lives in this timeline, such as Theodore Roosevelt, who became an adventurer instead of being President.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Brooke family would give many 19th-century monarchs a run for their money, with the main Brooke men/monarchs leading war expeditions deep into the Bornean jungle to pacify the interior and expand Sarawakian power.
  • Scrapbook Story: with viewpoints and perspectives coming from TL-books, newspapers, and even student exam questions!
  • Stalker with a Crush: One Anglo-Indian man tried to court Dowager Ranee Margaret to the point of breaking and entering into the Astana. She was understandibly horrified.
  • Vestigial Empire: Brunei, oh so much. Once, it controlled or influenced most of Borneo and parts of the Philippines, and even when the Brookes arrived, it still held almost half of the island. Being chomped into a micro city-state by the White Rajahs was a bitter pill to swallow.
  • White Man's Burden: The Brooke family, especially the early Rajahs, saw their rulership of Sarawak as this. Rajahs' James and Charles in particular saw themselves as 'civilizers' and 'protectors' of Sarawak, especially from Western exploitation. To what extent did they facilitate this, as well as local reactions to such actions, drive the evolution of the kingdom throughout the timeline.

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