Recounting the Memories of the Past

Illanun – the fiercest pirates in the Malay world?

As cited in the wikipedia, for centuries the Illanun was regarded as the fiercest pirates in the Malay world. It is thought that the Malay word for pirate, ‘lanun’, derives from the word ‘Illanun’. Originally from the area around Lake Lanao in Southern Mindanao, Illanun colonies spread from Sumatra through the Sulu Archipelago and the east coast of Borneo. Most Illanun are Muslim.

Illanun was probably the local pirates mentioned in the textbook who destroyed trading post of EIC in Balambangan. WH Treacher (first governor of North Borneo) also cited Borneo was full of pirates and headhunters – namely Illanun and Sea Dayaks. So it could be true Illanun or amongst others involved in the attack of Balambangan probably due to feeling of insecurity for the British success thus the British left to find a safer trading place (i.e. Labuan) offered by Brunei in exchange of protection against Sulu.

In addition, Illanun was also happened to be known as the Lords of the Eastern Seas. They were slave raiders who made a living by trading and capturing slaves whenever they were on seas. They would sell these slaves to cave owners to work in birds’ nest caves and to entrepreneurs to collect jungle produce in what is now known as Sabah and Sarawak.

An Illanun pirate


An Illanun warship. Upward to 100 feet long, it was paddled by more than 190 men. Illanuns were accomplished ship builders and sea mens.


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