Tenom – Muzium Antanom Tenom

We were taking a stroll in Pekan Tenom when we noticed an unassuming white building with a unique facade, guarded by buah nona (sugar-apple) trees and fenced in by a very uniquely designed grille. Taking a closer look, we found a signboard that said, “Muzium Antanom Tenom. Dibuka setiap hari.” The museum seemed quiet and empty, but we were sufficiently welcomed by rows of exhibits that helped us get to know Tenom a little better.

In the days of the White Rajahs, Tenom was called Fort Birch. Named after EW Birch (son of British Resident JWW Birch who was assassinated in Perak), the fort stood at the foot of the majestic mountains of the Crocker Range to protect the newly-built railway terminus of Sabah’s interior from robbers and headhunters.

As Governor of the British North Borneo Company, some say that EW Birch brought peace to a lawless land. But he also introduced laws, taxes and land settlement reforms that gravely affected the lives and livelihoods of the nomadic Murut natives. Many say that the Muruts even became the target of forced labour. This was possibly the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to the Rundum uprising, championed by none other than the famous Murut warrior Ontoros Antanom.

According to folklore, Antanom had superpowers. We don’t know if that is true, but he certainly had the power of persuasion to unite almost a thousand Murut warriors from neighbouring villages. With an artillery of blowpipes, swords and spears, the Muruts attacked and totally shocked the British army. The battle lasted for 6 weeks.

Finally, the British offered a peace talk. But when Antanom showed up, he was surrounded, arrested and later, executed.

Although his life was taken at a tender age of 30, Antanom is still regarded as the most influential Murut warrior in North Borneo who caused the sub-groups to live together in harmony. If you’re in Tenom this April, you might even witness the unveiling of a brand new Antanom memorial. At least, now you’ll know who he was and what he stood for!


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