August 20, 2009
Engkuang - an old species from the old pre-disturbance days
In many ways the Engkuang tree is considered an "Orang Asli" or "orginal" tree in Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah. Older generations of the indigenous and Malay people are very well versed with its growth/fruition/germination and significance.
According to a Malay friend who lives nearby ,Engkuang produces a sour to sweet fruit that his grandparents loved. Apparently the fruit is also a cure for backache and headaches. The leaves could also produce a poultice for wounds inflicted by axes and other sharp implements in the olden days before the arrival of iodine. But he said that he has not seen this tree since his youth in Miri.
There are plenty of Engkuang still standing in Limbang ,Temburong and Brunei. The tree is majestic in shape and foliage and is often standing tall and well preserved in Malay cemeteries (which would also indicate how old the Muslim cemeteries are).
In the olden times Iban children would stop by to eat the fruits when they were hungry on their long way home. A friend remembers very well that he would get out of the boat with his friends to climb one particular engkuang tree and pluck the fruits. They would thus fill their stomachs and have some frolicking time before reaching home. Paddling in a boat to school was the only means then to get an education. When he was in secondary school he was able to live with an uncle so that he could complete his education. Now he has a fairly good position in the government he is very proud of his achievement and his very memorable childhood. He had lived in an equatorial rainforest and lived on what was available as a poor student. The childhood he underwent made a sterner stuff out of him.
He has one of the best set of teeth I have ever seen! He is also a very strong man and a renown athlete. According to him his kampong mates are all like him - physically strong and tough. And they continue to live on a diet of wild vegetables and fruits and fish as often as possible and for as long as possible. According to his wife(who comes from Kanowit) he only likes to eat boiled food. There is not an inch of fat on his body (I am writing this with envy)! While I on the other hand grew up in the Rajang next to a huge animal farm and with an uncle who owned a fishing boat!
The Engkuang has very small white flowers which drop easily when a wind springs up.
The leaves are fairly large and easily recognisable.
The fruits are the size of langsat or grape and they grow in nice small bunches.
The trunk spreads out as a buttress and has a large root system. This is the gift of God according to my friend because the root system holds the soil together and prevents erosion. Because the tree is "rather clean" children used to hug and climb the trees. So an Engkuang tree is often a meeting point for ulu children. It was always a good place to picnic too for adults as the canopy is big and grass does not grow much under the tree.
Apart from the beauty of the tree the fruits help many to overcome hunger when lost in the jungle.