Sunday, August 9

Jatti Miriek fishermen of Kuala Bakam

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The new jetty with concrete steps.

THE Jatti Miriek fishermen are closely guarding their pukat (nets), outboard engines, and boats moored at the upgraded Kuala Bakam Fishermen’s Jetty.

They are stepping up security to prevent theft of their property and equipment – a major problem at the jetty.

“I’ll be keeping watch tonight. We don’t want to lose any more of our outboard engines. They cost more than RM10,000 and the price is going up and up,” one of the fisherman, Rahman, told thesundaypost.

The concrete embankment and the new jetty are a big upgrade from the old layouts used over the past 30 years.

Rahman

The new jetty is situated on the bank of Bakam River while the other landing platforms, belonging to the Melanaus and the Chinese, are found along Sungai Raan, which drains into the bigger Bakam River near Kuala Bakam.

The Jatti Miriek fisherman from Kampung Bakam in Miri Division have been casting their nets in this area for more than 100 years.

Rahman, in his late 40s, and his fellow Mirieks are thankful for the government’s continual support.

They are aware their fibreglass boats (costing around RM10,000 each on average) can be easily damaged and even stolen.

As both boats and engines are very expensive, and the fishermen have paid for them with their salaries and savings, they know they have to stay alert and look after their investments. Most are part-time fishermen with a few full-timers.

 

Fishermen boat-owners

There are around 28 fishermen boat-owners at the jetty.

Rahman himself is a non-academic staff member with the Teacher Education Institute Sarawak Campus.

The fishermen belong to the Jatti Miriek ethnic group from the surrounding villages such as Kampung Bakam, Kampung Siwak Jaya, and Kampung Beraya.

Fishing boats berthed at Jatti Miriek in Kuala Bakam.

When fuel prices were high, they were grateful for the government’s diesel subsidy. Most operate two to one boat, either spending the whole night fishing at sea or a few hours near the coast to maximise returns.

Many like Rahman go out at four in the morning and return before eight to get ready for their full-time jobs with the government. Usually, they bring home some catch, but on good days, they can get bigger hauls.

If the fishing is good, most will get good value for their catches such as five large tenggiri, a few threadfin cod (senangin), or even one or two black pomfret.

Tenggiri is now about RM25 per kg (sliced). The fishermen sell the catch straightaway at the Kuala Bakam new market place.

Fishermen repair their nets at the jetty.

New tamu and building

The new tamu at Kuala Bakam was opened last year, housing a community hall, a women’s activity centre, and a new restaurant.

This was followed by the opening of the Bakam Point early this year. The RM5 million building is sited on the south bank of the Bakam River delta, adjacent to the Kuala Bakam Jetty.

“The embankment and concretisation of this part of the river to upgrade our jetty have been very meaningful and given us a lot of confidence and pride,” Rahman said.

“We used to walk on the muddy banks barefoot to tie our boats but now we can do this safely. But theft remains our major problem.

“In the past, a few outboard engines had been stolen. So we lost something like RM20,000. If a boat and two engines were stolen, we would be in debt. Now, we all take turns to stay here at night and act as security guards.”

The shed for the men on night watch has a makeshift kitchen and some equipment. In the vicinity are a community hall, an activity centre, and a new market.

The area has good roads now and many local tourists and friends stop by to enjoy fishing and the lovely sunsets.

There is no police station at the moment. Maybe a security post can be put up. With a primary school nearby and so many villages around, this place can become a satellite town of Miri like Bekenu town.

A fisherman mends his nets before going out to sea.

Long-time home

Kampung Bakam has long been home to over 100 Jatti Miriek families. It has a long stretch of village road following the shape of Sungai Bakam. At the end of the road is a waterfall, which has attracted many visitors over the last few years.

The Jatti Miriek folk grow local fruits and vegetables and forage for wild fruits and jungle vegetables to sell at tamus.

The children attend SK Bakam, while the older ones are in boarding schools – some in Peninsular Malaysia.

In the past, the fishermen had their jetties further inland. Now, the kampung folk have cars in their front yard and occasionally, a fishing boat in their backyard or by the riverside.

Most ride motorcycles to the jetty, park there and go fishing. Now, they don’t have to walk for an hour to reach Kuala Bakam.

An old aunty living near the Pui’s shop by the beach said, “In the 1950s and 60s, we kampung folk depended on the Pui family’s Land Rover for transport.

“The late Mrs Pui was the first woman in Miri to have a driving licence. She always helped to drive the kampung folk to the town whenever someone was sick.

“The road, at that time, was just sand and mud. Many of us remember the Chinese towkay, who was always forthcoming with donations.

“In the past, we just stayed at home, grew vegetables, reared some chickens and goats. We were a close-knit community and it was very peaceful.

“Occasionally I would hear planes flying overhead. But it was nothing to us. Now, with my grandson owning a car, I can go to Miri any time. But I don’t have the habit of going to town. Just stay home,” she said.

Her son is a fisherman but all her grandchildren are working with the civil service.

“We now have three generations of family living together. They can speak Melanau and Malay.

“Further down the sandy coast is the famous Hawaii Beach of Miri, which was run by Mr Goh, the kapitan back then. His son now runs the canteen, which is popular among the locals.

“Mr Goh helped us with government forms – like making birth certificates.”

Jatti Miriek children fish at the new jetty.

Close fellowship

Generally, the people living around Kampung Bakam and Kuala Bakam enjoy close fellowship and self-reliance. They have a community committee and a village hall near the beach.

There is a good primary school nearby.

The old wooden primary school built during the colonial days was demolished due to termite infestation. A municipal council building now stands on the site.

The primary school has been providing education to the Jatti Miriek as well as the new immigrant fishermen of the Kuala People, such as the Melanaus, Chinese, and some Kayans for one or two generations.

Rahman and his friends said fishing is part of their traditional lifestyle.

“We love going out to the sea whether we catch any fish or not. We’re not afraid of storms as we have faith in God. Our boats are all fibreglass now and we have more powerful engines than those of our fathers and grandfathers.”

They hope their lifestyle and the security of the land in their kampung and the new jetty will continue to improve.

“We also hope the sea will continue to provide us with fish for generations to come. That is our prayer.”