Collecting for the Sarawak Museum

Heritage Snippets of Sarawak

This is an article that was written by an administrative officer’s wife, K.S, for the February 2, 1948 edition of The Sarawak Gazette—which is a great little illustration of how the public helped to build the Sarawak Museum Collection, a reminder of miscommunication past and present and also a reminder of what technology was like in 1948—“rather exhausted our phone which refused to work further”—and she was not talking about running out of battery power!

Tuan Harrisson (Tom Harrisson) was the Curator of the Sarawak Museum in 1948. The photographs have been included for illustration purposes for this Heritage Snippets Article.


The Sarawak Museum circa 2021.

HELPING THE MUSEUM—The Sarawak Gazette, February 2, 1948
By K.S

It was unfortunate that it should have happened the morning after I had been to a very successful party. My husband says if you are feeling pale the best remedy is hard work in the garden: so into the garden I went bravely and began to cut off the dead flowers. Presently I decided to arrange a vase for the dining room; “Honolulu” seem to be in good supply so I gathered a large bunch and took it into the house.

“Honolulu” creeper.

To my very great surprise, a pink blossom sprang lightly from the rest of the flowers onto the table. I was keeping my eyes half shut that morning but now I opened them wide! What had jumped onto the table was not—as you might have supposed, a dainty fairy, but a Pink Praying Mantis. And when I say pink, I don’t mean a pale washed out colour, for this handsome insect was as deep a shade of blush rose as you could hope to find. Devout too; it immediately set about its devotions in the most praiseworthy manner.

Pink Praying Mantis

I wondered if I could possibly be dreaming, so I called the young man helper, and when he came I said:

“Do you see this?”

“Yes Mem. I can see.”

Good,” I thought. “He sees it. At least it is THERE.

“What is it?” I asked him.

“This one very nice I think,” was his next helpful answer.

“Yes,” I said, “I know it’s very nice but did you ever see one like it before? What colour would you say it was?”

“Yes I not see this kind before. Colour best called red.”

“Best called pink,” I said. “Well bring me a box for I think Tuan Harrisson might like it for the Museum.”

A box was found. We made holes in it and lined it like a maiden’s bower with pink blossoms. Then with a polite “Sir or Madam as the case may be” we persuaded the doomed insect to enter its fragrant prison.

It was only then that I remembered that Mr Harrisson has departed to talk to admiring Kelabits and I had no idea who was now in charge of the Museum. Our telephone was rather under the weather that day, but after long and involved inquiries, someone was kind enough to tell me that the Resident was keeping an eye on things.

I rang up the Law Courts and a clerk informed me politely that the Hon. Resident was conducting a case.

“May I give him a message, Madam?” he asked.

“I’ve been told,” I said, “that the Resident was now in charge of the Museum, and I can supply him with a Pink Praying Mantis if you think he would like to have one?”

“Very sorry, really cannot say, but will inform the Hon Resident of your message. A pink what did you say, Madam?”

“A Mantis,” I said, “And please tell him that it is an extremely nice one. Apart from its very unusual colour it really prays beautifully.”

Perhaps my message was wrongly delivered, for later in the day I received word that if I had any Pink Elephants, nice or otherwise, I was to send them to Mr Archer, who was now kindly looking after the Museum in the absence of the Curator.

This message rather exhausted our telephone which refused to work further!

Never mind,” I thought. “I will just take it down quietly tomorrow morning and see if anyone is interested.

So next day, I went down with my box, but the Museum grounds were by no means a quiet spot that day. Hundreds of school children had met there for some special occasion and there were loud speakers and a band and much cheering.

With great difficulty I made my way to the Library where I found Mr Rozario, who was most courteous and appreciative. He said, “No, he had never seen a pink mantis before.”

Gingerly we lifted the lid, and eagerly we peered into the box. I was afraid that my captive might have faded during the night, but oh joy! Here it was just as pink as ever and Mr Rozario said he would be pleased to have it for the Museum.

So there is a happy ending to this story: except of course for the praying mantis.

We are not sure if that Pink Mantis is actually still in the Museum collection, and there is certainly no Pink elephants in the Museum Collection—but the Pink Praying Mantis or the Orchid mantis can be found in gardens and the National Parks here in Sarawak.

Praying Mantis

“Heritage Snippets of Sarawak” is a fortnightly column.

— DayakDaily