November 28, 2009

Rubber Seeds

My two grandfathers came with the Pioneering Foochows and experienced the first harsh and uncertain years of rice cultivation and jelutong harvesting. Those were dismal years but yet they were determined to struggle on. Later they  again struggled with land opening under the Rajahs with all the others. Land was acquired for the miracle plant called rubber and children born. Rubber trees were planted and soon ready to be tapped to the happiness of the Sibu Settlement in the 1910's and 1920's. They saw the rise and fall of rubber prices and the effects of the First World War. They saw the changes of the governments in China while living in the feudalistic regime of the White Brookes but very practical social welfare system of Rev James Hoover. Rev Hoover wrote in his report that the Foochows were trying their best and would see success.

These seeds I picked up recently are the new rubber seeds which burst from their seed pods .  It was fun for me to go looking for them on the wet grounds.  Fifty years later I was to renew my acquaintance with them. How wonderfully they have provided for the first Foochows of Sibu and created the first seed money for prosperity which continues to grow and put Sibu on the world map.

When we childen went to the rubber gardens to collect the latex most of the times we were barefooted. The Japanese rubber slippers were not in the market then. Nor were the Sarawak Adidas which became the common wear of rubber tappers and farmers later. (watch out for another post on this) . Our bare feet were often pricked by sharp ends of these seed pods.

I was lucky to collect this whole pod of rubber seeds.

Today rubber seeds have become tourist souvenirs packed in clean plastic bags in Kuching and Miri airports and many other tourist shops. They are also available as necklaces and bracelets.

100 wonderful growing years have passed since the time the first thousand seeds were brought to Sibu. I am proud that my grandparents were part of
this history. It was the right crop at the right time. We had the rubber barons who spear headed the economic development of a small little community called New Foochow.

Some how I will always get that special aromatic scent of rubber sheets smoking in the Smoke House. And I can still remember all the happy smiles and laughter of my relatives when they loaded their smoked brown translucent rubber sheets into the wooden motor launches like Sing Hai Huong.

Whenever I stand by the banks of the Rajang in the early morning I can still imagine the old ways of life. I can still hear the fog horn of the motor launches piercing through the misty morning air of the Rajang telling us that a boatful of rubber sheets was on its way to Sibu. The rubber sheets were usually sold to Hock Chiong (Datuk Lau Hieng Ing)along Bank Road and my grandmother's account would be recorded on her page for reference. The Foochow accounts clerk some how kept diligent accounts in those long ledger books. They were good at writing down the records and using the Sempua (abacus) clicking away the numbers adding or multiplying. Somehow their honesty was absolute.

After collecting a handsome profit my grandmother would buy adequate groceries for the family and returned by the afternoon boat. All of us kids would rush out to the jetty to welcome her home and helped unload what she bought.  When there was wonderful food on the table we forgot the pain we suffered when we stepped on the sharp rubber pods.

As I end this posting I would like to raise my wine glass to the hardworking and suffering grandparents and relatives of the Foochows of Sibu. A toast...


Ketam said...

I missed the cracking noise of rubber seeds at home!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ketam
How are you doing?

Yes when the rubber pods crack up we have such a nice is the sound of home....

Ann said...

Hi CY,

I guess you also, drill three holes in the seedm dig out the seed pulp and make helicopters?

Ann said...

now that we have common grounds of our ancestry, we are not 6 degrees but 5 degrees of separation?

Except your grand dad were at the Foochow ba, and my were at Kwong tung Ba. LOL

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann

Oh yes I will photograph the toys we can make out of the rubber seed pods...and how we crack the seeds and burn them to make poor man's fish bait for the bubu to catch keli!!

How innovative we were then...out of necessity.

we also pinned our naughty younger ones' ears with the seed pods...very painful

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ann
I think Kwong Dung Pa was well developed by the hardworking Cantonese and they also tried their best to grow more rubber than the Foochows.

But in the end the Foochows had Hoover who was driven by a Great Spirit...

Can you send me a family photo with your parents? May be I can post family photos of CCC and HWH and mine and yours.....and say how these English speaking parents brought about children like us.....hahahahaha.
God bless.

wenn said...


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Wenn.

The rubber seeds are the actual seed money which helped the then Malaya prosper like Sarawak and later Sabah.

I am sure you must be enjoying your holidays.

Take care.

Sibu Tales : Liver in the Noodles and other stories

I grew up in Sibu where the butchers' corner was the most significant "part" of the old market. It was where many people wo...