Document Type



This article delineates a hitherto eclipsed labor history of the Northwest Borneo oilfields. In 2018, Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) in an unprecedented move, released to Brunei’s national archive two labor registers of the British Malayan Petroleum Company (BMPC-renamed BSP in 1958), with entries dating between the 1940s and 1950s. These registers provided a rare glimpse of the workers who were recruited to the Brunei oilfields as labor, a category distinct from staff. As BMPC labor they worked to rehabilitate the company town and the oilfields that were destroyed during the Second World War by the Japanese army and allied bombing in the British protectorate of Brunei. Like colonial records that amassed information for the control and rule of colonized subjects, each entry in BMPC’s ledger meticulously noted the date of engagement, place of employment, wages, work history, as well as some biographical information about its workers. Inadvertently, these entries also revealed modes of worker resistance and assertions of agency, thus providing a glimpse of the hidden transcripts of a labor history shaped by the policies of BMPC in this colonial outpost. My article draws on these two BMPC labor registers to trace a micro-spatial history of “Dayak” labor in the emergent Borneo oilfields. Often obscured in historical records, the registers made visible the ways in which Indigenous workers negotiated and resisted the company’s control of its labor force. I explore Dayak labor recruitment within the context of the 1880s-1941 when state borders irrevocably shifted and regional economies were increasingly drawn into a global market. In doing so, I chart migrant labor routes across varied regional economies in Northwest Borneo, BMPC’s management of a multiethnic labor force, and company workers’ agency.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Publication Date


Publication Title

International Labor and Working-Class History


Cambridge University Press




Start Page No.


End Page No.