THE Tua Pek Kong Temple along Main Bazaar Road in Bintulu is perhaps one of the most beautiful and historical Buddhist places of worship in Sarawak.
Believed to have been built in the 1890s, it has always been an important landmark in Bintulu and is closely associated with the life of the people, especially the Chinese community in the Division.
Kapitan Tan Ching Zxi from China was said to be the temple’s founder. The early Chinese immigrants often arrived poor and deprived. Back then, it was common practice for the early Chinese immigrants to do two things — set up a school and a temple.
In undeveloped land where the environment was hostile with hardly any medical facilities, the temple was built to venerate the local deity in the hope that it would protect the area from evil forces and various tropical ailments that often claimed the lives of the settlers.
The Tua Pek Kong Temple also ensured continuity and stability for a community in an unfamiliar land far from home. It gave the early Chinese immigrants great morale support which, in a way, enabled them to concentrate on whatever they were doing in a new and challenging environment.
Its significance to the Chinese community has persisted till today where it’s not uncommon for devotees to first consult the deity before embarking on a new business venture or starting an important project.
Bintulu’s Tua Pek Kong Temple itself has survived the ravages of history, including the bombing and fire that destroyed old Bintulu town during the Second World War.
It again escaped unscathed on Oct 21, 1975 when fire destroyed half of Bintulu town. It was the Temple that stood between the engulfing flames and the rest of the township.
It was after the fire that the Bintulu Chinese community had its first and most significant Tua Pek Kong procession on Jan 1, 1976.
The spiritual entities – Tua Pek Kong Himself, followed by Ma Chou, Kwan Yin Neo, Kueh Siang Wang Kong and Kwan Kong were paraded round the entire township with thousands of followers, including non-followers, coming together to celebrate the occasion.
At that time, it was generally believed Bintulu was ‘unclean’ and there was the need for the deity and His entourage to demonstrate their presence and powers to purge the town of evil spirits so that the people could live in peace and prosperity once again.
It was also the general belief that the Tua Pek Kong building at that time was too small and shabby and not in accord with the deities’ powers and dignity to protect Bintulu town and its people.
So the grand procession was followed by a unanimous decision to rebuild the temple which was then only a small, unsightly, wooden place of worship in the middle of a fast developing Bintulu town.
Since then, the procession has been held every two years, normally on the first day of New Year.
Rebuilding the temple was a very appropriate and timely move as the decision was followed by a few years of booming business and prosperity in Bintulu.
Multi-billion projects such as the Malaysia LNG, the Bintulu Deep Sea Harbour, the Bintulu Water Supply Scheme, the construction and development of housing estates and shopping centres and many other related projects both public and private began to take shape in Bintulu.
Today, the new temple, costing about RM1.3 million, and situated right in the middle of Bintulu town is a beautiful and proud landmark as well as a tourist attraction.
Tua Pek Kong Temple also has its own lion and dragon dance troupe led by Sim Kwang Liang and comprises over 500 members from, surprisingly, a diversity of backgrounds and races.
This year is particularly special because it is the Year of the Dragon, and unlike previous years, the troupe performed a dragon dance.
They practised every night prior to the New Year and many individuals and businessmen from the Chinese community started booking the troupe since December last year.
The generous response and support for the Temple’s fund-raising movement from all strata of the Chinese community in Bintulu shows the Chinese are united and can be united whenever they have a good cause to support.
The Temple’s management is under The Bintulu Chinese Charitable Trust Board, led by Kapitan Pau Chiong Tai.
The sixth Bintulu Tua Pek Kong Followers Society chairman is Ang Chap Phiaw.
The Temple now has 65 committee members and thousands of followers.