August 17, 2010

Bekenu : Where traditions remain

Many of you would not be able to recognise some of these farm implements/tools. They are the traditional farm implements used by local indigenous farmers in Sarawak. Bekenu is about half a hour's drive from Miri and is a very old farming town with a town square facing the Bekenu river. It probably started as a Kedayan fishing village.

Most of the shop houses in Bekenu are still the original 1930's wooden shops. However the newer shops are two storey concrete buildings added in the 1970's when the Sibu-Miri road was completed and more farm land was opened up. I am glad the Bekenu District Council maintains the two storey building rule. I am not for high rise buildings. May be that is why Bekenu is so attractive to me.

Perhaps not even the Chinese who have been living here for three or four generations  buy these tools or make use of them today. Many of them have left their farms and have gone on to other businesses. Besides there is a belief that the Chinese use the cangkul mainly and even when they migrate to USA or Australia they would bring their cangkul with them. They have their own version of the parang too.

My neighbour who is a Melanau has her own traditional parang crafted specifically for her personal use. And she can use  it very well even though she is now more than 70 years old. I use a pair of gardening scissors to do what she can do very well!! One of my gardening scissors became old and rusty and even broke into two. Her parang is good for life!


This shop caters mainly to the needs of the local indigenous farmers for the last 60 or so years. The young towkay was not even born when the last big flood in Bekenu took place in 1962. The flood was as high as the first floor of the shops. And lots of articles were written about the flood.One aerial photo I saw was of rowing boats trying to get people out of the shophouses from the first floor. Bekenu was truly inundated. that was the time when fishermen who had rowing boats came to save their towkays and their families.

Do you know what these are?(i)



That's a very sharp knife...(ii)

Ready made parang bengkok and normal parang for farmers to buy. All they need is make their own handles. Note the neat wooden box with good compartments.






Old fashion hand coconut scrapper


Home made parangs for sale. I often wonder why parangs are always hung up and not placed on shelves like scouts' knives etc.

Young Bekenu Chinese towkay who was patient in answering inquisitive questions.


These parangs have ready made handles. Note the wooden box. This amongst others were made by the towkay's father many years ago.

It is always a wonderful experience to go into a very old traditional shop and get to know the owner. To me this was a very special trip into the past...I was actually looking at farm implements my uncles and aunts would have bought for their farm and rubber small holding. And I thought it might have been difficult to find a straight hoe like this one below....

However you might just discover something new too.......and that's really another joy.
 This is a new implement - for collecting palm oil fruits.

However at the end of the visit I just wish I could see an old traditional blacksmith making all those lovely banging noises in his shop........


 (i) tin plate to insert into rubber trees to help latex flow into the latex bowls.

(ii) rubber tapping knife. The more expensive they are the more long lasting they will be. Most of these are made in Thailand today.



10 comments:

  1. i love it when u write posts like this... it is like an interview with the towkay n v interesting with the help of pics

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  2. Bengbeng
    Actually I have wanted to take photos of this shop for sometime. This visit allowed me to meet this nice young man who was very willing to show us his goods. I bought some stuff from him in gratitude...a scrapping knife for plucking oil palm!!
    thanks...

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  3. My Ah Kung used to have small rubber holding, I helped. So can I claim a prize for knowing the answer?

    In fact, where I lived in NTU, there were some rubber trees left over from the past. I did a make shift rubber plate, took my son to the trees and tap some rubber trees. Alas, the rain poured and washed what little latex I was going to earn some money from.

    Later, the editor of the NTU mas wanted to know where these trees were. You see I was not only the gardener, but the jaga of NTU. LOL

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  4. Bekenu where is this place?

    We in the Race course road, flood was an annual thing. Every year around Christmas, we get a week of flood.

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  5. Hi Ann
    that's wonderful...I will cook you a meal when I come to Auckland.
    It must have been a wonderful experience to teach your son how to tap rubber. I must do that too sometime in the future. One must not forget one's roots.

    But my toes cannot grip the rubber roots now....bones have become quite feeble. kekekeke

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  6. Ann
    Bekenu is half an hour from Miri. Sometimes when we have visitors we bring them to have a good bertutu (fish) meal in Bekenu and a lovely drive.

    Swiftlets fly around and live in the first floor of the shop houses....

    The Bekenu flood is very famous...old people remember it. I remember it because I have read many articles and saw many photos...

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  7. Nice post and great pics too. The coconut scrapper, takes a lot of time and energy jut to get that coconut for the santan. Now one can easily get it instantly at the market.
    Surprise people still produce this type of tools nowadays. The rubber holding, brings back memory. Nice to know that it is still in use

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  8. Thanks Jason.
    Nice of you to visit. Yes it is nice to see all these tools once again in a little place like Bekenu. They bring back a lot of good memories. And to meet a friendly shopkeeper was a bonus too.
    I think many people in the rural areas in Sarawak are still lagging behind...or they prefer the simple and good life!!

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  9. Hi Sarawakania, HOLY SMOKE! The first picture I saw really surprised me....used for collecting latex from rubber trees.
    My grandfather, uncles and my father were all rubber estate planters during the Emergency, and all the pics your posted brought back memories to me.
    Ad I used to play with them too. These were our toys then.

    Especially those parangs in their wooden sheaths....I have a 3 inch souvenir with me! Right side of my forehead.....a scar.
    I was 5 years old and my father was cutting down some branches, I happened to run behind him.....my first visit to a hospital....and stitches. The scar still visible, ha ha.

    Oh ya, love fooling around with rubber seeds, making a hole in then, out a string thru, can make sounds. As well rub it hard, touch it, its HOT!
    And for football, it was collecting those dried latex stuck to the trees, roll them up, and thats it...our ball.

    Thank you for the memories, Sarawakania. Love the pics! Have a nice day, Lee.

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  10. Hi Uncle Lee
    Nice of you to write a comment. I am glad you like the pics. My goodness the cut must have been really painful. I have a long scar on my right forehead...naughty me rode on a nice Honda down the Third College hill and went straight into a drain!! Luckily I did not kill myself.

    We did try to rub the rubber seeds and make friends scream with pain...naughty pranks. But we did not play with the scraps because they had to be sold!!

    Have a nice day too....

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