RECENTLY, my friend who used to live in Kapit, remarked that the stretch of the Rejang at Pelagus, a little upstream from the town, is now more treacherous to navigate than before.
I was taken aback as I thought the river is now safer after the notorious Pelagus rapids had been tamed by the blasting of seven huge boulders there.
I must admit I took that statement with a pinch of salt because the Pelagus rapids had been a bane to travellers in the upper reaches of the mighty Rejang.
Many lives were lost throughout history when boats capsized in the whirpools of the rapids.
Some years ago, I travelled upriver from Kapit to Belaga which entailed passing the rapids, and I must say it was a heart-stopping experience.
However, I am now having second thoughts about what my friend said after a senior journalist told me a politician in Kapit had railed against the removal of the boulders as the water is now rushing downstream without any buffers, making the river even more turbulent.
If it is true the Rejang is flowing faster than before, then there are other consequences that will arise from the blasting of the seven boulders.
Erosion downstream would increase, the ecosystem of the river might be affected and there could also be a host of other unforeseen fallouts.
The jury is still out on the wisdom of removing the boulders but this tinkering with nature reminds me of an Indian folktale about a wise man and the nut tree.
One hot afternoon, this wise man was sitting under a nut tree, taking shelter from the scorching sun.
As he sat there, he saw a vegetable patch nearby with the vines laden with pumpkins on the ground.
Then he said to himself: “God is not very wise after all for he created such a big tree to bear tiny nuts and weak vines to be laden by such big fruits.
“If I were God, I would make the huge pumpkins grow on the strong branches of the nut tree and the small nuts on the vines of the pumpkins.”
Just then, a strong wind blew, shaking the nut tree and one of the nuts fell on the wise man’s head.
He jumped up and prostrating to the ground, sought forgiveness from the Creator saying: “God, you are wise indeed for making the nuts to grow on the tree for had it been a pumpkin that fell on my head just now, I would have died.”
The moral of the story is obvious – there is a reason behind every creation.
The seven boulders at Pelagus were there for a reason although the rapids they created were a great stumbling block to navigation.
Removing them has led to uncharted waters (no pun intended!) and ramifications we cannot foresee.
However, that does not mean everytime we do something to our environment, we are heading for trouble.
Humans are the masters of the earth, endowed with the wisdom and freedom to alter and develop the environment for our benefit.
We clear the forests to plant crops and raise animals, harness the power of water to generate energy and cut through mountains to link cities and towns.
But there is a heavy responsibility that comes with this power – we may make use of nature’s resources but not abuse it.
Was the blasting of the seven boulders an abuse of nature? Is there a price to pay for this exercise?
To me, the most important thing is the intention behind the decision to remove the rocks from the river.
It was done to make the river safer for navigation and I believe God stands by decisions made with noble intentions.
There is a time and place for everything and the time for the seven boulders in the Rejang has passed.
I look forward to an upriver trip from Kapit.