Tuesday, March 19

Dalat waiting to be explored by culture, history buffs


RAIL CROSSING: In certain parts of rural Sarawak, railroad tracks are still used to transport goods around. This railroad track lies a few kilometres outside Dalat and is used to transport sago palm logs. When the railroad cart crosses the road, barriers are put into place to prevent collision between cars and the sago train.

DALAT: The district of Dalat is rich with culture and history waiting to be discovered by those who seek them out.

For example, Oya bazaar has been in existence since pre-Independence days. It was the main administrative centre and also an important transit point for people on the way to Mukah to Sibu.

Unsurprisingly, the fishing village of Oya was quite a big and important place during those days when river travel was the only way to get around.

But with the construction of the Pan Borneo trunk road and the growth of travel by road, the town was left behind.

The present Oya kapitan whom we happened to meet in Matu, Su Ho Tee, 74 years old, said Oya presently has 22 shophouses. The kapitan said there was a plan to build a new township there but he was unsure of the details of where and when.

TOWN ICON: One of the major landmarks along Dalat river front is the jerunei or kelidieng, a large carved belian post with a hollowed inside. According to a plaque at the site, citing Melanau legend, such a post would be used to house the urn containing bones of a Melanau king or nobleman who had died. The daughter of a female slave as well as a male slave would be sacrificed to serve the spirit of the dead king in the afterlife.

For now though, the town is in need of a fire station.

One of the peculiarities in Dalat is that the main roads that connect most of the older villages in the district actually run behind the village instead of in front.

This was because in the past, the river was the main form of transportation, so the front of the villages would face the river, Datuk Fatimah Abdullah, the Minister of Welfare, Women and Family Development, told the Borneo Post Adventure Team (BAT III) yesterday.

Despite having three functions to attend yesterday, Fatimah managed to spare us some time.

As a local from Kampung Teh, she has close ties to Dalat and is quite knowledgeable about local traditions and customs.

She spoke quite passionately about the need to remember and respect one’s heritage, using the sago palm and its significance to the local community for food and spiritual practices as an example.

In fact, the tagline for Dalat district is ‘Berakar rumbia, berinti budaya’, such is the importance bestowed on the sago palm.

UNIQUE SOLUTION: The temple dedicated to the deity Tua Pek Kong along Dalat riverfront uses CDs strung around the roof’s edge to discourage birds from nesting. The birds are left with little choice but to perch on the body and whiskers of the dragon statues on top of the roof instead.

While on the road, the BAT team never knows from which location we will be filing our stories from. Yesterday, we had the good fortune of filing our stories while enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of a beautiful river lined with wild nipah forest.

This was all thanks to the kindness and hospitality of a friend of one of our team, a businessman based in Sibu.

Many years ago, he had the foresight to acquire a large piece of riverfront property about 15km from Dalat. His intention was to build a vacation home in which he could seek refuge during weekends and eventually become his home when he retires.

Today, his land also has several fish ponds, a swiftlet house, as well as fruit and vegetable gardens. He has also keeps a menagerie of chickens, ducks and goats that range freely all over the property.

This led to a unique situation for the team as we hammer out stories on our laptops while shooing inquisitive chickens off the verandah and watching white egrets fish from the riverbank.

Yesterday was the mid-way point of our trip and a reminder that there is still much to discover and love about this wonderful state that many of us call home.