Tuesday, August 11

When this is all over

0

Wondering how she looks like after the renovation. — File photo

LIKE everybody else, I’m looking forward to seeing the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. It must end sooner rather than later. We wish that the ‘Stay at Home’ order will be lifted soon.

When this is all over, I will have a holiday in Simanggang and Merindun.

Why these two destinations?

Simanggang

While in Simanggang, I would like to make a day trip to Banting. I miss the delicious prawns of the Strap and the challenge of walking up the hill to the school and St Paul’s Church (consecrated in 1859). Meeting old friends again in the longhouses would be wonderful.

The Christians there have a long connection with those of the Church in my village, Stunggang. Hence this we-feeling.

When Kuching was under attack by the Chinese rebels in February 1857, Banting offered a refuge for Mrs McDougall, the Bishop’s wife, and other Europeans who fled the scene of insurrection. Mrs Crookshank, badly wounded in the attack, was taken there to be looked at the Mission.

Lingga

On the way back from Banting, I must stop for a bowl of mee at the bazaar at Lingga. If available, I will buy a couple of Terubok (fish) and other souvenirs.

Fort Alice 

I must visit Alice again. Nine years ago, I wrote about this crumbling fort-cum-government office, appealing to the authorities to do something about the old fort: not to pull it down or alienate the land on which it has stood to anyone else. Not long after that article, repairs were being made to the building, not because of my writing, but it was the right thing to do for the government to preserve such a building of great historical interest. Not specially for the enjoyment of foreign tourists but for the Malaysians themselves.

I must visit it in its present condition and see what changes have been made to the building after the massive renovation and its use as a museum. The building that I saw and photographed in 2011 was in a really bad shape.

I would like to see if the blunderbuss that Charles Brooke is supposed to have carried with him whenever he went, including on a government-sponsored anti-headhunting expedition up river, is actually on display in that museum. Will I be allowed to take pictures of it?

Memo to civil servants 

In the good old days, the administration was rather different from today. A newly-recruited civil servant had to memorise a catechism-like ‘Hints to Young Officers of the Rajah’.

“He should never give an order for anything to be done except he sees that his order is properly carried into effect. He should devote a certain amount of time to social and friendly intercourse with those he has to govern, and this is necessary in order to obtain some knowledge of the character of the people. The best manner in the long run with natives is to be thoroughly natural and in no way patronising. A mixture of kindness and freedom with severity when required without harshness or bullying. Joking to be limited to the comprehension of the people. Never put natives on a familiar footing. They hold their position in society and you yours. They are not inferior, but they are different.”

And so forth and so on, it gave the new recruits something to read in the long evenings (no TV in those days).

This was the code of conduct used by the government officers of the day in dealing with the rakyat at the time. All offices were sited in one place – one-stop counter. Officials were accessible to any member of the public without prior appointment, in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening until 8pm. From then on until the next morning, Fort Alice was out of bounds to the public.

Sharp on the hour, someone would call out loudly:

Jam pukul lapan udah bebunyi

Tangga udah di tarit

Pintu udah di tambit

Orang ari ulu orang ari ili

Enda ulih niki agi!

(Now the clock has struck eight, the ladder has been drawn up, the door has been fastened, people from up and down river can no longer enter.)

How’s that for social distancing in a lockdown!

Simanggang is also famous for bores – no, I’m not referring to local politicians and bigwigs. I mean the tidal bore, in the river. Getting bored after a couple of days of the same thing? Then it will be time to move on. I will proceed to Merindun, my place of predilection. Another good reason to visit Simanggang, and beyond!

This is where the first oil palm scheme was started by me in 1976 on behalf of the Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra) in the Second Division. It would be fun to talk to the scheme participants to find out if there is any improvement to their livelihood at all after 40-over years of living off the plantation. Before the scheme was implemented, a socio-economic survey had been carried out by Dr Peter Kedit of the Sarawak Museum. It would be interesting to compare a household income before and after the implementation of that plantation.

Almost all the Tuai Rumah who supported the development scheme have sadly gone to be with their Maker, but memories linger with me and the other pioneers of the scheme. I shall name these pioneers because the local chiefs and the first batch of staff of Salcra made a perfect team for development. HQ – Cynthia Nyombui, Hamsiah Ojet, Tan Kim Hong, Megeh, Mahawi, Major Wilfred Busu, Major Walter Ted Wong, Michael George and Naing. Scheme management – Edwin Lau, James Jingan, Dennis Ch’ng, Awing, Christopher Kiding, Jenta, Dimah, Robin, Jackson Baggat, James Bada, Inchang, and a couple more whose names have eluded me at the time of writing. The local chiefs, led by TR Rambo of Tanjong Empaling, were TR Ingol of Sepelu, TR Gembar of Semueh, TR Ila of Bara, TR Melintang of Merindun, not forgetting Penghulu Ancheh and TR Bareng of Sebeliau, Councillor Bauk and TR Karak of Stengin.

I may have missed some more names. My apology; blame my age. Without these good people there would have been no oil palm scheme in that part of Lubok Antu. My team would have found it impossible to implement the scheme without the consent and support of the local chiefs and their people. Without them and Salcra working together there would have been no oil palm plantation in the Second Division. Merindum paved the way for all other schemes in Sarawak. Lest we forget.

Some people may not realise how hard we fought for the approval of the development scheme when many people, even among government officials, were skeptical about a rural-based economic project; some were supportive and others adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude. Despite the initial constraints and teething troubles, we overcame most hurdles when we had the full support of the state government after SNAP had joined the government.

Salcra Day

As things were looking up, we declared the First of May as Salcra Day. I don’t know whether this occasion has been observed every year by those who came after us. While it lasted, it was great fun, a great celebration full of sports and games and music; a time for all scheme participants and the scheme staff to continue working hand-in-glove to make sure that an in-situ development of Native Customary Rights  (NCR) land could be a success, without having to dispossess the owners of the native rights over the land. And for good measure, each owner of such land developed under Salcra would be granted an indefeasible title free of premium and in perpetuity under Section 18 of the Sarawak Land Code 1958.

I wish to find out if the NCR land owners who participated in the scheme or their successors have now got the Certificate of Title. So stand by, all my friends in Simanggang! We’re coming your way … when the lockdown is over at last.

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]