Capitalising on full potential of Bakun Lake

A panoramic view of the Bakun reservoir.

BELAGA: The BAT 7 made it to the Saturday market at Bakun jetty early yesterday – a wonderful sight set before the picturesque Bakun Lake, of which size is about as big as Singapore.

The jetty turns into a vibrant marketplace every Wednesday and Saturday, full of local farmers, fishermen and vendors offering fresh produce, meats, catch from the rivers and other items.

The day starts early for the traders, who arrive at the jetty around 4am to 5am – or even the night before – to set up their sections and place their items before the arrival of customers.

Vehicles are parked everywhere and people throng the market to browse and inspect the offerings, bargain with the traders and then, leave with full shopping bags.

This place is indeed a bustling hub – full of noise, people as well as some surprises tucked here and there.

The Saturday market at Bakun jetty is filled with people marketing their goods and produce.

Interestingly, we came across an Orang Ulu woman with her arms covered in tattoos.

Maray Tening was selling the ‘kampung’ (village) cigarettes – loose strips of tobacco rolled in dried banana leaf, known locally as ‘jakok’.

We spotted many locals puffing these cigarettes at the wharf-cum-market.

Maray and her husband from Umah Lesong at Batu Keling, upstream of Bakun Dam, travelled by boat here to market their wide variety of produce such as vegetables and fish.

“It is a long journey here as our house is far away. We sell ‘macam-macam’ (all kinds of stuff) – fish, vegetables,” she spoke softly while rolling another ‘jakok’.

There was quite a number of fresh catch at the market including ‘semah’, ‘baung’, ‘tengadak’, ‘kaloi’ and even empurau, which was sold at a good price.

It is understood that many customers from Bintulu and Miri head down to this market to source for fresh local products.

Maray and many other villagers are trading at the current jetty, but this is very likely to be on temporary basis as there is a plan now to relocate the market to a new site.

Hulu Rajang MP Datuk Wilson Ugak Kumbong had disclosed that he and a team of elected representatives from the area including Murum assemblyman Kennedy Chukpai Ugon and Belaga assemblyman Liwan Lagang had come up with a design plan and proposal of the new marketplace.

“We will forward the proposal to Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg and Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Masing, who is also Ulu Rajang Development Authority (URDA) chairman – they both have agreed in principle with the proposal,” he said.

Ugak, who is the first-term parliamentarian for the area, stressed that the new site would provide a more visitor-friendly marketplace in that unlike at the present jetty, they would not have to pass through the security post.

The new site should be located at a strategic site that has its own jetty, stalls and a mini market, said Ugak, adding that the plan is aimed at creating a greater ability to capitalise on the full eco-tourism potential in Bakun Lake.

“We expect the new site to be completed in the next one to two year. It would provide all the basic necessities that should allow for greater economic activities, benefitting not only the locals but also the visitors,” he added.

The plan, Ugak pointed out, is part of URDA’s master plan to explore Bakun’s greater potential that would include homestays as well as culture, adventure and nature (CAN) tourism.

“The whole idea is to tap into these rich resources so that we can give back to the local community that has given so much to the greater development of the state.”

Ugak pointed out that those in Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme were actually uprooted from their original longhouses, which were submerged by Bakun Lake.

There is a floating café near the jetty for those quick coffee or tea stops.

“Their (Sungai Asap folk’s) willingness to sacrifice their homeland must not be taken for granted. We must have the heart to have pity on them because over the years, the jungles have been ripped of their natural resources like timber without them getting anything in return.

“And now, these big timber companies have planted oil palms in their concession areas which continuously and seemingly do not benefit the local populace in every aspect except for job opportunities.”

On a related issue, Ugak said the Sungai Asap resettlers are encouraged to form cooperatives to deal with the many ‘throat-cutting middlemen’ who have been taking advantage of them all this while.

“So we can expect that with the completion of the new jetty and new marketplace, the people will have their own cooperatives that will run their businesses with the help of Fama (Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority) in enabling them to earn higher incomes,” said the MP.

When contacted, Liwan said that there are so much things needed to be done towards improving the livelihood of those affected by the building of two mega hydroelectricity power dams (HEPs) – one in Murum and the other in Bakun.

“In the long run, let these people benefit from the things that they have sacrificed such as their homeland. In the future, there must be a proper master plan that would provide the opportunity to representatives of various ethnic groups like the Kayan, the Kenyah and the Penan to be appointed as members of URDA board, Sarawak Energy Bhd which has taken over Bakun dam, as well as other government agencies operating in the area,” he stressed.

Local traders enjoy a few sips of ‘tuak’ (local rice wine) while waiting for customers.

From our observation, there is indeed an imbalance of socio-economic development taking place in the area.

The Orang Ulus in Belaga are actually supportive of development, but their gentle and soft-spoken nature should never be taken advantage of. This is because the longer the deserving ‘rewards’ are denied from them, the more impatient they would get.

The government of the day must look into the needs of the Belaga folk and focus on how best to fulfil their fundamental needs for better communications, roads, healthcare, education, welfare, as well as electricity and water supply so as to ensure that their well-being and livelihood would be taken care of and on par with the urbanites.

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