There’s more to discover downriver


LAST Sunday we were very concerned about the state of health of the Old Lady of Batang Lupar, suggesting that something ought to be done to nurse her back to normalcy as an important historical landmark doubling as a tourist attraction.

HISTORICAL: A water colour painting of the view from the hill at Banting by Harriette McDougall (1850).

The latest medical bulletin: the doctor is on the way. That’s a relief.

Besides Fort Alice, there is another destination worth exploring. It’s Banting up the Strap and the prominent landmark there is St Paul’s Church on the hill.

A smart tour operator would work out a package for his clients, by diversifying his destinations. While his competitors may continue leading their flocks from Kuching on the well-trodden routes to Skrang and Batang Ai, he would proceed straight to Simanggang instead of turning right at the Sri Aman/Sibu junction.


To mark the end of terrorism in Sarawak, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on Oct 20, 1973 at Simanggang between the then Chief Minister of Sarawak, Abdul Rahman Ya’kub, and Bong Kee Chok, director and commissar of the North Kalimantan Peoples’ Armed Forces. From then on, Bandar Sri Aman would be the name.

Pay a visit to ailing Fort Alice; then proceed to Lingga for lunch. If you are lucky, you may savour the local terubok, that bony but delicious fish, the craze of our friends from West Malaysia.


A government station was established there in 1852. During the piratical and headhunting days it was a busy port of call. But a more romantic story to tell during our present trip is that related by S Baring-Gould and Bampfylde in their book ‘A History of Sarawak Under Its Two White Rajahs, 1839-1908’, Oxford University Press, Singapore, 1989.

It’s about two powerful Malay women of rank, Dang Isa and her sister Dang Ajar. However, it’s Dang Ajar that we particularly wish to touch on briefly here.

She had been that girl with whom the celebrated Kayan leader, Akam Nipa from the Rajang, had fallen in love. He wanted to marry her at all cost. While he was planning to snatch her, the Malays at Ngemah had whisked her far away to Lingga.

Although their brother Lila Wangsa was the chief at Lingga, it was the dayangs who exerted much power, claiming land and regarding the other natives as their slaves. They called Rajah Muda, Charles Johnson, their ‘son’, but secretly planned to poison him.

It was estimated that there were some 4,000 Balaus in the area, plus many Skrang families in various longhouses who had come to the area after the murder of Alan Lee, a government servant, by Rentap’s men, in 1853.

Four years later, seeking refuge at Lingga were victims of the Chinese Insurrection in Sarawak (name of Kuching). They included the wounded Bertha, wife of Arthur Crookshank, a senior government official. Harriette McDougall, the wife of the Anglican Bishop, was nursing her. They were eventually evacuated to Banting and accommodated in the house of Fr Chambers, the resident priest there.


From Lingga bazaar, take a boat up the Strap, to the old settlement composed of more than half a dozen Dayak Iban longhouses. After a 30-minute ride on a slow boat, you would have come to a place full of history, especially about Christianity.

Banting was one of the first stations chosen by the early Christian missionaries of the Anglican Communion from which to spread the Gospel.

Of interest, particularly to the Anglicans from other districts including those from Sabah, Singapore, West Malaysia, Britain, Africa and America, would be the church on the hill.

If the Diocesan authorities would allow foreign visitors on a guided tour to the site, there is plenty to find out about the early years of the Mission.

The first seed: a flop

The Anglican Mission in the Second Division had its baptism of fire at Skrang in 1851. Pioneering missionaries produced not a single convert among the people there. In January 1853, Chambers, one of them, had to stop travelling around as Rentap’s men were on the warpath. Bereton, in charge of the government’s fort there, had summoned Alan Lee at Lingga, for help. During a battle on the river in front of a stockade, Lee was killed.

So the fort had to be moved to Simanggang and it became Fort Alice in 1864.

No longer a safe place, the Anglican Mission also had to move downriver, eventually to Banting, where the Seed began to sprout.

Of the converts at Banting, one Ingkul was the first to be baptised in 1855.

Practically all the priests and church workers had come from England; many struggled to survive under harsh tropical conditions. Despite the difficulties, several priests managed to spread the Gospel to other districts, for instance, to Sebetan and Kerian.

As the Church membership expanded, more workers were needed. For this, Banting was made a centre of training for the catechists, teachers and health workers.


Health promotion was one of the Mission’s objectives and every priest was expected to possess elementary knowledge of medicines and to act like a paramedic, setting broken bones. Francis McDougall, the first priest formally appointed to start the Mission in Sarawak by the Borneo Mission Association, was a medical doctor.

Around 1904, one Fr George D Allen had a bright idea: he brought along his wife, Mabel, who was a medical doctor to Banting. They started a small hospital and named it after St Barnabas.

At one stage there were 150 in-patients. Which manang would not have envied that?

Several local boys were sent to Singapore to be trained as dressers at the King George VII Medical College. When I first came to Kuching in 1953, I was told there was a Dr Mason who had been trained at the medical college; at Simanggang I was introduced to an old dresser Mr Sydney Sentu. In Singapore, on my way to New Zealand in 1960, I was invited to lunch by Mr Jubang, incidentally father-in-law of Dato Sri Daniel Tajem, one-time deputy chief minister of Sarawak.


Education was another component of the Mission’s work.

Over a period of a century and a half, the school at Banting must have produced hundreds of students who later became teachers, government servants, businessmen, and other professionals. Of recent interest is the fact that Penghulu Tawi Sli, second chief minister of Sarawak (1966-1969) was a teacher at Banting.

During the Japanese Occupation, John Blassan held services on Sundays. Noel Eddie told me he had worked for the Japanese, building launches at Banting. Except for the church, all other Mission buildings were burnt down.

Banting and Stunggang

One day when Tajem, Malaysian High Commissioner to New Zealand, was visiting Banting, I tagged along. While he and Chiba Abu, then secretary of the Batang Lupar District Council, were busy discussing ways and means of raising funds for the repair of the church and the steps up the hill, I was admiring the panoramic view down below — the rice fields and Bukit Lesong in the distance.

I was also thinking of an apparent competition, my guess, between two priests as to who could produce more converts. From Banting, Chambers had taken his converts — Linggi, Jelapiang, Ubong and Moramat — to be baptised in Sarawak (Kuching) on Christmas Day, 1854.

From Lundu to Kuching, Gomes would not be outdone; he showed off his brand new Christians the following year — Samuling, Bulang, Bugai, Sageng, Langi, Samuel, Puntang and Janggot. Bulang was the scoop, in the media’s terminology, because he was a manang, a traditional medicine man. Chambers did not catch a manang.

Another scoop would be the story that one Sta from Banting had risen from the dead in Stunggang! On his belian memorial is written ‘Sta Mati Dua Kali’. That, literally, is hard evidence. Apparently, before the funeral he had regained consciousness from a coma, so people there must have thought he had joined the Lord. For how long before he finally made it, no one remembers.

Proposals: Library/Museum

During the same trip ending   with a prawn-eating orgy organised by Chiba, I was also thinking of something mundane. I broached the idea of a museum/library to house the documents (preferably duplicates in permanent form) about the place. That would be a heritage centre from which sources of information for scholars may be obtained, while doubling as a tourist attraction.

There are scores of names of missionaries including the locally recruited priests serving and operating from Banting all these years; their contribution to the church work, health and education, must be memorialised for posterity.

All the names of the schoolteachers and those of Bantingians who have made good in life should be on the Roll of Honour there.

With the blessing of the Church authorities, this idea may be worth exploring for what it is worth. That is, if the Bantingians are also keen to collaborate.

Another idea is a homestay. If visitors are attracted to culture, there is plenty of it available at Banting; if they are interested in nature there is Bukit Lesong to ascend; if it is adventure they want, that can be arranged, observe the voracious saurian aka crocodiles. But be warned — they are not the friendly natives.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.