Rubber used to be the mainstay of the economy of the Baram and in fact the whole of Sarawak. But by 1970's the industry fell to chaotic times because of political upheavals in the East Malaysian states. Urban and suburban Sarawakians were put under curfew and the economy almost came to a standstill while the Communists (which probably numbered only 1500 according to conservative figures) exchanged intermitten cross fires with the Malaysian soldiers and Sarawak Rangers. While the Gurkhas and some British soldiers meanwhile maintained civilian security in the towns they too saw some real action during planned "operations". The rural population more or less abandoned their economically viable farms and rubber gardens and moved into squalid squatter areas or one room flats above shops. Many were resettled in New Villages planned by the Sarawak government.
30 years later see some revival in the age old but still important natural product. Today as rubber prices rise to unbelieveable highs many brave people have gone back to claim their farms and start tapping rubber again. Those who had not moved out are reaping a good harvest.
However "pranksters" as I call them are around have halted their endeavours and rightful earnings.
Rubber sheets have been known to be hijacked while being transported to the city for sale. Some rubber sheets left drying in the sun are literally stolen from the lines. Some trees are even tapped by strangers who claim their rights to the trees while the owners had to remain quiet - paralysed by fear! Some stories also tell of Indonesian tappers who have been "employed" by the "landowners" to tap the tress and they come face to face with the real landowners who are tapping the same trees.
One rubber tapper I know of would go to his trees - tap them and bring the latex to his town house to process as quickly as possible thus making a small living now that he has retired from gainful employment. He has been playing a cat and mouse game with the so called Ali Baba's thieves.
Can the honest rubber tapper remain the supreme owner of his own rubber trees and garden without fear and favour?
The scene in the photo was a familiar scene to many but in the near future it might be gone from sight and from our memory. My children and their children will not have the opportunity to smell the sweet smell of rubber smoking in the smoke house and the nice scent it leaves behind when loaded into ships bound for Singapore.
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