MUKAH the name of this coastal town in central Sarawak sounds like the word ‘muka’ in Malay hence the myth that it was named after a mysterious lady with a beautiful face.
There are several versions of the origin of its name – some said the face appeared on the surface of the sea to fishermen while others said the town was named after a beautiful woman who came to the aid of three shipwreck merchants from Brunei.
However, none of the claims that the town was named after the face of a woman explained why a Melanau town has a Malay name as the Melanau word for face is ‘jawai’.
Myth or fact, Mukah does have a pretty face to it – an idyllic town by the sea.
From Dalat, our team reached Mukah after 50 km of pleasurable driving on a single lane coastal road.
BAT V was met by a quiet Mukah which sits sweetly at the mouth of the dark Mukah River amidst long unbroken stretches of nipah palms.
While cars are noticeably increasing, water transport such as speedboats and longboats still feature prominently in the life of the Melanaus.
Apart from its rivers, Mukah is distinctive in many ways – the Melanau culture that is signified by their traditional broad brimmed hat ‘terendak’ and the shy smile of the Melanau men and women whose quiet tolerance in religious matters, speaks louder than any political slogan. It’s not unusual for Melanau families comprising Muslims, Christians and ‘likou’ (pagans) living under one roof harmoniously.
To the Melanaus, that has been part of their life for centuries but to the outsider, they are admired for their amazing tolerance and acceptance as well as having an open mind.
A trip to the fish market in Mukah found it bustling and filled with all kinds of fish ranging from local species of red snappers to full grown sharks, a daily testimony to fishing as a vital industry to this coastal enclave.
There, we met 33-year-old Mohammad Zakaria a fishmonger for the past 17 years.
“We have so much fish because we celebrate Pesta Kaul every year.” said Mohd Zakaria.
According to him, Pesta Kaul is a major festival celebrated by the Melanaus in April to appease the spirits of the sea and attract people from Dalat, Kuching, Sibu and even Brunei to join in the celebration.
He said during the festival, a fisherman will take his handmade boat to sea and “feed the spirits” with ‘beras kunyit’.
“This festival held for three days will turn Mukah into a colourful and vibrant town where many activities are organised,” he explained.
Activities include dancing, karaoke competition, kite competitions and also the Melanau traditional game – the ‘Tibou’.
Mohd Zakaria told us that the Tibou is simply a giant swing where young unmarried men test their courage.
“Courageous men will take on the challenge and would not care if they fall down and break a bone or two,” he proudly exclaimed.
Around town, all the shophouses are vibrant with economic activities. In the town centre, businesses are flourishing, including in the outskirt areas, with many projects taking off.
Mukah is one of the fastest growing towns in the state as it aspires to be the ‘Smart City’ of Sarawak.
It is fast becoming an educational hub with the setting up of many institutions of higher learning such as Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM), Mukah Polyteknik and Mukah UiTM campus. And soon, the Laila Kolej main campus would be built here, so too a research and development campus of Unimas.
“As one of the economic growth nodes, Mukah’s emancipation to realize its potential will take some time. It’s like building a Lego, it cannot be built instantly. Now we are setting the foundation and soon, when everything is put in place, the people will understand what we mean by a Smart City,” said chief executive officer of Regional Corridor of Development Authority (Recoda) Tan Sri Wilson Baya Dandot.
He revealed that Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), which is under Recoda, will ensure that Mukah create the necessary critical mass.
“Then, with the good supply of quality human resource, the industries could easily take off. Currently, Press Metal has been operational here in Mukah and soon, more such heavy industries would be established here with ample raw materials such as coal and cheap energy supply from HEP dams located in the interior of the SCORE area such as Kapit, Belaga and Baram,” said Wilson.
He said the people’s income would be greatly expanded through oil palm smallholdings and plantations as well as their involvement in the sago industry.
“Mukah, as they said will be the capital of SCORE. So it will lead the way to greater industrialisation in the state. Through SCORE, all major towns such as Sibu, Tanjung Manis, Kapit and even Belaga and Baram will benefit from the spinoff projects.
“Thus it’s very important for all Sarawakians to look at the big picture of SCORE. It’s not just about Mukah alone. But Mukah is very important to trigger off the success of SCORE as a whole,” Wilson emphasised.