Land Below The Wind – Agnes Keith


This is a well known expression here in Sabah, Borneo and a often mentioned.
Where does the expression com from? How come its so famous and Who made it a such a well known expression?

Malaysia has many treasures and one of them we found is Agnes Keith. She was an american author and journalist who lived in Sabah, Borneo from the end of 1934 to the beginning of 1952.

Agnes Keith
Agnes Keith

We got curious and wanted to know more about this exciting woman who lived under a longer period in Borneo and made such an impact on people that she still is famous today.
How did she end up in Borneo?

Agnes Keith was born in Illinois, USA in july 1901. After meeting Henry Keith an englishman (later known as Harry) and marrying him she followed him back to Borneo in 1934. Harry was Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture for the government of British North Borneo (nowdays known as Sabah) under the Chartered Company and was also Honorary Curator of the State Museum.

Their home in Sabah was Sandakan on the east coast of Sabah. While Harry was away on his many trips and adventures all over Sabah Agnes chosed to write about her new land. She always kept a diary and could easily collect her notes. The title of Agnes’ first book about the North Borneo (now known as Sabah), LAND BELOW THE WIND (1939), has become the unofficial motto of Sabah. The phrase was used by sailors to describe all the lands south of the typhoon belt, but Agnes Keith popularized the special connection of the phrase with Sabah, by applying it exclusively to North Borneo in her book.

She makes a vivid picture of the land she came to love. People, culture, adventures and her daily life gives us a picture of how life was here in Sabah back then. It was followed by THREE CAME HOME (1947), which focused on hardships suffered in the Second World War, and was subsequently made into a Hollywood movie, and the third book was WHITE MAN RETURNS (1951), which tells of her life in Sandakan after the war.

All throughout her books Agnes Keith used her own drawings to make a more vivid picture of her adventures. Here is some of them:

View from Hilltop – Sandakan
Hilltop - Sandakan

Native boats

Native Boats

Agnes Keith house was destroyed by Japanese (during 2nd world war). It was rebuilt 1946/47. The Department of Sabah Museum under the supervision of MS Stella Moo-Tan taking care of it now.

Agnes Keith house as it looks today
Agnes Keith house

You must admire this woman – at least we do. She came from convenience to a small tropical place on the other side of the earth. No aircondition – or the facilities we’re so used to today. Many times she suffered from Malaria and other tropical diseases. One thing is for sure – Her coming to Borneo was not as convienant as our trip was. In her time you traveled by boat for weeks!

Still her love for this country and the people really shine through when she writes. She came to love Sabah and Borneo just as we have too!
In 1952 Agnes Keith left Borneo – she died at age 80 in British Columbia, Canada

This is written by my wife Catarina Berg. She is a Marketer & co owner of Together with her husband Stefan Berg. She inspire, educate and help people to progress in their Online Business. Since early spring she lives in exotic Borneo, Malaysia.

Another project of hers is Borneobloggen where she share what happens on Borneo. Adventures around the Island and daily life in Kota Kinabalu – capital of Sabah, Borneo.
See how it is possible to be Living in Malaysia and travel in this wonderful country

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