THE discovery of an old dam, believed to be built more than 80 years ago, has sparked great interest and excitement among Mirians.
Located about a 40-minute descent from the peak of Canada Hill or less than a five-minute hike on the alternative route – from a petrol station at Jalan Tun Hussien Onn – the historical site has attracted many local hikers eager to have a closer look at one of the antiquities of Miri.
While the site is commonly known as the Japanese Dam, there is evidence it was built much earlier – shortly after the discovery of crude oil in Canada Hill.
Research on the dam by thesundaypost found a link to a YouTube group – Paracrypt Research and Study Group – which posted several videos on their channel, showing details of the site they visited in February.
The team formed in 2000, comprises Iskandar Mohd Rosni, Amri, Reduan Talip, Musa Musbah, and a slew of enthusiasts with a similar interest in history, myths, legends, and paranormal study.
Iskandar said they had been trekking around the site for several years and were excited by a tip-off on the long-forgotten dam from a local who lived in the area during the 1980s.
“Over the past 20 years, we have been researching extensively on the dam and other historical sites in Miri.
“Originally, there was very limited information on the dam, known as the Japanese Water Dam by the locals, because Japanese soldiers frequently used it during the Occupation.
“From our observation of the structure, the Japanese soldiers used the dam for many purposes – as a water source and also as ‘onsen’ (hot spring in Japanese),” he added.
It is believed that due to the tropical weather, the Japanese used a pond linked to the dam to reduce the heat, and to adapt to the change of weather, they used the dam as onsen.
Their videos uploaded on the YouTube channel in March caught the attention of netizens.
Five months later in August, Miri Oil Town Hash House Harriers uncovered the path to the dam and shared it with the local population, resulting in the soaring popularity of the site.
Opening of pathway
Member Chin Khiok Voo said they opened the pathway and cleaned up the dam to preserve the historical site.
“As Hashers, we consider ourselves part of nature. So we contributed by cleaning up the area.”
Paracrypt RSG did a detailed study of the dam and its structural layout, sketched by Iskandar, detailing every part – the upper reservoir, collecting water from creeks, flowing down the curved wall to the downstream reservoir.
The curved contour consists of a large wall of bricks, arching upwards up to about 80 degrees.
“The sketches are based on my observations on site. It may not be much but I think it could at least explain how the whole structure looks when empty,” Iskandar explained.
According to him, his team contacted the Australian War Memorial (AWM), hoping to get documents to shed light about the nature of the dam on D-Day in 1945. They are still waiting for a reply.
“It’s crucial to understand the history of the site so that people will appreciate its historical significance and preserve it more aggressively.
“The dam itself has been a huge attraction but we cannot overlook the fact that there is more to it than meets the eye.
“When was it built and the real purpose? A detailed study would be needed to unravel the puzzle,” said Iskandar, who works in Kuala Lumpur.
Red brick found
Making the rediscovery more interesting, hikers recently found a red brick (with an ABW engraving), believed to be the material used to construct the dam.
According to a search, ABW is the abbreviation of Annapoorneshwari Brick Works Groups based in India.
For generations, folklore surrounded the dam, yet to understand Miri’s history, one must look as far back in history as the rule of the Brookes.
On Dec 22, 1910, an oil well, spudded about five months earlier on Aug 10, on the peak of Canada Hill, struck light crude at a depth 130 metres. As the well was drilled by a Canadian engineer, the hill has been historically called the Canada Hill.
The Sarawak Oilfield Ltd, a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch Shell Group, was set up to run the drilling operations in Miri and is now called Sarawak Shell Berhad.
In 1941, the Brooke administration obtained military help from Britain and over 1,000 soldiers were stationed in Miri to protect the oil field.
On Dec 19, 1941, 10,000 members of the Japanese army occupied Sarawak. Within two months of the occupation, a new Japanese company, Nenryo Haikyu-sho (Oil Supplying Services) took over the oil operations in Miri and produced nearly 750,000 barrels for the Japanese army until the war ended in September 1945.
Over 60 years since it first struck crude oil until its closure on Oct 31, 1972, the rig, also known as Oil Well No.1, had produced 650,000 barrels of oil.
Iskandar noted that the discovery of the red bricks could reveal the real builder of the dam which could be older than initially thought.
“We cannot deny the Japanese made good use of the dam. As for proper information on the dam since there is no original design, the only written record, mentioning Seritan Dam and Selom Dam, may lead to something interesting.”
Another historical site
Another historical site on Canada Hill is claimed to be a WWII bomb shelter or tunnel.
According to Iskandar, it might not a bunker but an underground ammunition store and the holes on the hillside could have been machinegun posts facing a road used by the Japanese army.
During that period (1941 to 1945), the now Jalan Tun Hussein Onn was the only earth road connecting Miri and Lutong. The holes likely acted as defence positions rather than for a bunker.
“The speculations have started a treasure hunt for so-called Japanese treasures in these shelters – which could be very misleading. Those involved should do some reading since there are no such treasures or a Japanese goldmine in Miri. If not careful, they could end up damaging the historical site,” he said.
The team urged the relevant agencies such as the Sarawak Museum to investigate the historical value of the site rather than leaving it idle.
Iskandar said his team has contacted the Department of National Heritage in Kuala Lumpur and one of its officers had expressed interest.
One of the team supporters, Musa, who heads the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Miri branch, had brought the matter up to Miri City Council, urging it to preserve the site.
Musa also stressed the importance of highlighting the historical and cultural values of these places in Miri rather than just displaying them without any explanation.
“Miri is rich with history but some its history is slowly being forgotten. The true values of these historical sites should be the representation of Miri – like what’s happening in Melaka and Penang,” Musa said, urging the government to take a more aggressive approach to protect the historical site.
Assistant Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Sebastian Ting, who also visited the site, said he had informed the Sarawak Museum in the hopes a study could be carried to determine its identity and origin.
On Sept 14, Sarawak Museum acting director Tazudin Mohtar disclosed a special team would be appointed to investigate the site.
“Initial observation, however, shows the materials used for the structure could have been imported. The bricks found on site were very different from local bricks. Not only were they much smaller in size, but the quality was also of a higher standard. We can’t determine the age of the structure based on the bricks but the dam could possibly have been built before the Second World War.”
Meanwhile, the public wishing to visit the site, are reminded not to cause any damage to it.