Tuesday, August 11

Diversion from quarantine blues — Part 2


What Natives were living along the Sarawak River before the arrival of James Brooke on Aug 15, 1839? — Bernama photo

LAST week, in this column, I referred to a letter sent by the Lundu-based Anglican priest to his boss in London, chairman of the Committee of the Borneo Church Mission Institution. In it there is this paragraph about the “Padungan Dyaks who live in one of the creeks of the Sarawak river and have formed a kind of school amongst them, Mr Fox having kindly promised to keep it up in our absence.”

We haven’t finished yet with that letter from the priest from Ceylon. All doubting Thomases should read the rest of his epistle. There is more in it than the Padungan Dyaks and the Gresik Dyaks.

According to Revd William H Gomes, another group of natives were living along the same Sarawak river, Mallanous. From several secondary sources that I’ve managed to read, there was no mention of this other group living along the same river at the time. A gap in the history of Kuching? I have no access yet to information obtained from papers left by a German missionary, Johann Michael Carl Hupe, who was working for his Halle Church in Sarawak (Kuching) at the material time.

Could he have contacted and preached to the Mallanous or the Land Dyaks (now that the other Dyaks had been contacted by the Anglicans?)

With you still at home, as you jolly well should be – MCO says you must – let’s see what else did Fr Gomes wrote about on Dec 24, 1859:

“My dear Sir … The Committee will perceive that our plans can only be carried out by an addition to our number, and that it is next to impossible Mr Horsburgh & Fox, in our absence, with their present duties, to devote to this object that time and attention necessary to insure success. Indeed, these with the Gresik Dyaks up another creek equally near, and the Mallanous scattered along the banks of the river demand the labours of a travelling missionary, who can visit them regularly for the purpose of instruction and thus communicate to them the saving truths of the Gospel …”

That’s a valuable piece of Kuching’s history as recorded by Rev Gomes, 161 years ago. Unless and until the history buffs get another written evidence in rebuttal of Gomes’ information or if there is another version of the same story, perhaps more accurate, as a result of a scholarly research, the current version from Gomes’ letter remains our reference for the time being, in terms of the presence of the Dayak Iban Sebuyau and the Melanaus in Kuching prior to the arrival of James Brooke.

Need for further research

The Gresik Dyaks

Some readers asked me what happened to these Dayaks. I wish I knew. May be the Sarawak Museum has some information on this. Could any of their descendants have moved to other rivers in the Samarahan or further afield – in Lundu?

The Mallanous 

This is Gomes’ spelling. Subject to correction, my theory is that these were Melanau as we know them today. I don’t know, however, which dialect group they were from. How many of them? Are there any of their descendants still around today? I do not know.

I hope that one of these days someone from some institution of higher learning would be able to trace the descendants of these Mallanous. Was there any intermarriage between them and the Padungan Dyaks or the Gresik Dyaks, for example? That I would like to know.

Padungan Dyaks and Tabuan Dayaks

My theory is that some of the Padungan Dyaks had moved out to Tabuan River. The longhouse at Padungan split. It’s the Iban way to move from river to river in search of fresh farming land. When an Iban community splits into two or three groups, they look for another river to live at. If the groups are not too far apart, they bury their dead at the same cemetery. They call this locality pendam lama (old cemetery).

Connect the dots. If it is true that the Dyaks from Padungan and from Tabuan were at one time the same people, then one can logically relate their migration from one locality to another. One plus one, you get it.

These Dayaks are Iban as we know them today. Clues are few and far between. Nevertheless, there are certain clues to go by while waiting for another version of this mini-migration. How’s that for a theory?

Another clue: Tabuan is an old Dayak village in Kuching, a stone’s throw from King’s Centre. The older generation of that village spoke both the Sebuyau and Balau dialects of the Dayaks. Could these be the descendants of the same people who, according to Gomes, “speak I believe the same language as the people of Linga and Lundu”? Refer to the same letter.

My own uncle, Tuai Rumah Ellen Nyuen, was a Balau and his wife was a Sebuyau. In 1953, he was still alive. At the  time, it never occurred to me to find out where his ancestors had come from or who the first, and how many settlers at Tabuan there were, besides the Nyuens and the Jelians.

I walked to school (St Thomas’) every day from the village from 1953 to 1955. The village of Tabuan Dayak had a few houses only. Only three doors of the original longhouse were left; one bilik belonged to my Auntie Temaga.

The villagers were all Dayaks – Balau and Sebuyau. When someone died he/she was buried at the old graveyard (pendam lama) at Tusor. Where’s that? A few miles downriver by boat from the present Tabuan Dayak village.

This is the only old graveyard in that area of Kuching; it’s at the end of Chawan Road.

The Padungan Dyaks could have buried their dead at this same cemetery. That’s why the Tabuan Dayaks as descendants of the migrants from Padungan call it pendam lama as well.

When the Dyaks of Padungan buried their dead, they took the remains for burial at the same cemetery. A long way by boat out of the Padungan Creek onto the Sarawak river, turn right into the Quop and then into its tributary, the Tabuan river. Repeat – one plus one, get it.


In his letter, Gomes mentions the name of Fox. Fox was supposed to supervise the running of the ‘school’ at Padungan while being trained for priesthood. But he was lured by Rajah James to join his civil service, to the chagrin of Bishop McDougall, no doubt. Fox was posted to Kanowit to help Steel.

If you are familiar with the history of Kanowit, you would know how Fox and his friend Steel were killed by the local natives (Kanowits) in 1859.

That’s part of the history of Kanowit. Fox belongs to Kuching’s history as well as Kanowit’s.

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