February 5, 2010

The First Foochow Cemetery of Sibu in Ensurai

This hand drawn map is from Wong Meng Lei's blog "Rajang Basin" http://mengleiwong.blogspot.com.

To everything there is a season: a time for sowing, a time for growing, a time for reaping -- then rest and regeneration -- winter will blossom into the spring of a new beginning. Each rite of passage is in effect the death of the "old" and a birth of the "new.

When the Foochows first arrived in Sibu in 1901 they were settled first in Sg. Merah and then in Ensurai. The beginnings were not comfortable days at all. There were three original batches of pioneers led by Wong Nai Siong under contract with the then Rajah Charles Brooke.

Death came with a vengeance in 1901 when the second batch arrived with 500 Foochows (200 Kutiens and 300 Ming Ching). A sort of plague came upon them just like in the days of Moses. One would die every few days and then suddenly about 8  would die on the same day so there was a lot of pain and grief!! The dead were  hurriedly buried in a fairly high rise area next to the river. It is hard to ascertain the causes of these deaths. Perhaps it was due to the water supply or the wild animals they ate. But most certainly they did not have adequate medical help. About 100 died in a very short time.

Fear was in the heart of every Foochow at that time. There was a saying related to this tragic event:  "I may be carrying my relative for burial today. It might be my turn to be carried tomorrow."

This is the new "TING" OR gateway built not too long ago for this cemetery.

An old signpost to mark the cemetery.

This must be one of the oldest graves here.

This is a new one or a "refurbished" grave .

This is the original entrance from the riverside. The Chinese characters are "Sibu Joy Charitable Trust Cemetery" written in old style or traditional Chinese.

As I stood at the main entrance with the jetty long gone from the scene I saw a barge carrying sand going "up" the river towards Sibu. To the right is "down the river" to Bawang Assan  and Bukit Lan. Opposite is Li Hua area and slightly below is Chung Cheng School Jetty.

This is a photo which shows soil erosion just next to the old entrance. The jetty of this cemetery has long been washed away. Time and Tide wait for no man. Erosion has no mercy on the living and the dead.

Here is a picture to show the old stumps of the foundation of the jetty. Mud and old decaying wood pieces are found on the bank.

Visiting this cemetery brought back a lot of memories of my maternal grandmother who had experienced the good and the bad of different periods of political changes. (My maternal grandfather came with his brother Lau Kah Tii in this second batch of 500.)  I remember my uncles who supported the economy by working hard in planting more and more rubber trees. I remember my aunts who planted padi alongside Iban women to put rice on the table.  And I remember the huge 10 foot in diameter and 10 foot in height wooden barrels of unmilled rice on the first floor of my grandmother's big house. I used to jump into the rice and play until Third Aunt would come and reprimand me. And I remember my cousins who swam in the river and washed clothes on the jetties with me as I grew up. It was wonderful to know that I was embraced by the whole loving riverine community.

As the vivid scenes from the past flashed before me I think of the Mighty Rejang and its future. What will it be like in another 50 years' time?

I just cannot help by echo Hilary Clinton's message from her book "It takes a village to raise a child". Many children brought up in these villages have indeed been "good people" and have contributed in many ways not only  to their own people and community but but to different parts of the world.

And a final thought : like their pioneering grandfathers the third generation has moved out to Australia and New Zealand and  other continents to continue the Foochow diaspora. They have their Red Sea to cross and they have their Canaan to find. As from the first sermon preached by Bishop Warne in Sg Merah in  1901 "Be ye the salt of the earth"...many are still living up to this cry.....

I truly believe our forefathers have not died in vain.

(Source : Wong Nai Siong and New Foochow by Lau Tze Cheng p.22)


Ann said...

where is Ensurai Is it another name that has been changed?

Jay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay said...

Some people call it Tanjong Ensurai right? I miss Sibu.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann
Ensurai is a little below Kwong Hua School. No it is not a name that has been changed. The Foochows called it Wong Su Lai...If you had been to Bawang Assan it will be to the right of you as you sail down the river.
There was a large population in this area.


Sarawakiana@2 said...


I think many would refer to the whole place as Rantau Panjang. It has always been known as Ensurai by both Ibans and Chinese. There used to be the biggest Foochow Mansion in this area in the 60's. Now swept away by the river. Pity.

Have you been transferred to Kuching?

Ah Ngao said...

wow! i find this post very good.when i read them,a lot of imaginations and memories crossed my mind.i didnt actually read any books about the pioneering Chinese in Sarawak.is it the Cantonese came later? And where do they congregates mostly?the plague that kills so many of the pioneering Foochows then could be the JE virus(its a possibilities),anyway just my guess.my mum told me the Foochows can managed the timber industry so well becoz they're not funny with food.the other dialets works hard also but more fussy with their food,is it?

Jay said...

Right, I am transferred to Kuching. Actually change profession, resign from my previous post.

歡唱 said...

好文章給人的感覺就是很好,謝謝您~~ ..................................................

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ah Ngao
thanks for your interest in Sarawak history.
the Sibu Foochows congregated mainly on the two or three meanders of the Rajang after Sibu. They started in 1901 with the coming of about 1600 . The miracle rubber helped enriched the settlement as they were hardworking agriculturalists who were frugal and future oriented. Then later came pepper and timber.

The Cantonese actually came earlier and they were settled in Kanowit and upper Sibu where the land was actually more fertile. But they were not as well organised (pardon me) and also they were fewer in number.

the Foochows also took over the shophouse expansion in Sibu after 1928 and one business led to another which led them to control the financial power of Sibu. By the 1960's the Foochows also have their grips on political power aka SUPP.

It is true that basically the Foochows have been Spartan in their outlook and also very aggressive in their savings. I believe we are quite simple in our taste ...kampua and kompia will do...

Hope you will visit the blog again!!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Jay

Enjoy your new job and new future!!

All the best and write some more....You still have to post photos of langsat and rambai trees!!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Fang Chang

Thank you for your encouragement. I am glad you like the article.

Please give as many tips as you for my future writing.
Xie Xie

Ann said...

Hi CY and Ngao,

My Great Grand dad was the second batch of the Cantonese, he came in 1907. I got statistics of the first batch.

I starting writing my book in 2006, and have sort of left it, getting my daughter to edit it. I probably will have to self publish it.



Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann

That is really nice to know!! I will certainly look forward to reading it...

Ah Ngao said...

hi Sarawakiana,
...thanks!for the stories.yep,i heard from many,the Foochows are spartan in their lifestyles especially food.a simple no fuss meal and off to work.the Cantonese are more "fussy" with their food/meals becoz somehow they possess more culinary skills or more artistic with food.i never have a glimpse of my grandfather(Wong Tien is his name) becoz he "gone back" to tong san when i was still a baby.my father ever told me ,my grand father even ventured to Kuching and set up a shoe repair/shop at India Street.the name of the shop was called "Sum Hing".

btw,Ann...,im eager to read your history book too! when you got a publisher,let me know and i like to purchase 1 copy - with your autograph,of coz.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ah Ngao

You have lots of stories too! You should write too.

I like your grandfather's story/stories.

The Cantonese are really good cooks and I have been told they can really roast whole pigs for Chinese New Year just in their back yard!! Traditionally they are indeed good cooks. Cantonese cuisine is famous all over the world.

Foochow cooking is paled by comparison. But they are catching up too. Hehehehe

Keep well.

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