February 11, 2011

The Special Tapang Tree of Serian

It is always a great challenge to take good pictures of this unique tapang tree in Serian.(Tapang is Koompassia excelsa- - -
see more images like this: South East Asia, Trees)

Here are some personal anecdotes of photographing the tapang tree in Serian over the years.

Once I was in a car and was ahead of a long convoy of cars going back to Sibu so the driver was worried about the cars behind. I took only the trunk as the car flashed by.

Another year the driver was driving too fast because he was in a hurry to go to a rest room.

And another year a huge car was ahead and blocking the remarkable scene.

I remember one year my camera was jammed at that significant moment.

Other years it rained. 

Some years I just forgot to photograph the great tapang tree.

And so  I really have been trying to photograph this tree for years. It has really been amusingly frustrating.

May be one day I just need to spend a day in Serian and do a round- the -clock -photography of this tree....This year however I got my camera ready half an hour before and the morning sun was good. The mist was still low - so it was a really blessing. I made three shots - from a fast car and through the windshield too.






The tapang tree is a revered tree for the indigenous people of Sarawak. There is a taboo in Sarawak against cutting down the tapang treee. Only naturally felled tapang trees (usually by an unusal storm or a  landside which might be natural or even unnatural) can be used. Furthermore Ibans do not cut their tapang tree in their temuda (farm) because it is a valueable source of honey and a home for the Great Kenyalang or Hornbill. Hornbills on the other hand control the snake population in Sarawak and Borneo. Without the hornbills our habitat may become dangerous actually..

The Ibans use the wood in a very discreet way as they continue to respect their traditional taboo against cutting  tapang trees. . A small piece may be cut off from the buttress root (this won't kill the tree) for the handle of a parang or axe. Another piece may be used as the pestle for their mortar to pound belacan or other ingredients. Tapang wood is hard to cut by an ordinary axe. A special axe called the Beliung is used. So we can dare say that it is not really a honest thing to accuse the Iban farmers of destroying the forest of Sarawak. Usually tapang trees are removed by bulldozers or chainsaws.

The tree starts to have branches only from 30 meters upwards. The silvery and slippery tree trunk is a remarkable natural protection for the tree. Only the best tree climbers can harvest the honey from the tapang trees.  Amazing isn't it? 


Most of the tapang trees which can grow up to 80 metres in Sarawak have been felled recklessly by the timber companies without kind regard to the spirituality of this particularly tree. According to local beliefs men who used chainsaw to fell the tapang would have their own retribution e.g. a son may die or the family fortune wiped out. Hence with this naturalistic belief tied to the environment the ancestors of the Dayaks were natural environmentalists who were at peace with Mother Nature.


The Serian Tapang Tree is the pride of the Ibans and Bidayuhs of the area. And I am glad that it is considered a natural treasure of the people in this locality.

Extra notes from FAO

Here's a list of what the tapang wood can be used for:
Agricultural implements, Boat building (general), Building construction, Building materials, Cabin construction, Cabinetmaking, Canoes, Chairs, Charcoal, Chests, Concealed parts (Furniture), Construction, Crossties, Desks, Factory construction, Factory flooring, Flooring, Flooring: commercial heavy traffic, Flooring: industrial heavy traffic, Fuelwood, Furniture , Furniture components, Furniture squares or stock, Furniture, Heavy construction, Mine timbers, Musical instruments, Musical instruments: strings, Paneling, Poles, Posts, Railroad ties, Rustic furniture, Shipbuilding, Sporting Goods, Stools, Structural work, Tables , Tables, Turnery, Utility furniture, Utility poles, Vehicle parts, Veneer: decorative, Walking sticks, Wardrobes


Distribution Overview
Southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, north-eastern Sumatra, Borneo and Palawan. Grows in primary tropical rainforest usually along rivers, in valleys and lower slopes of hills, locally abundant. A common but usually not very abundant species. Solitary trees standing alone in the open are encountered comparatively often because they are difficult to cut and because local people harvest honey from the tree crowns.





20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarawakiana,

That tapang tree is a landmark. as soon as you pass the tree, you know that you have pass Serian and far away from Kuching into the Second Division territory. Yes, Serian has many attractions such as the Rachang Pool. There is also a tribe related to the Ibans known as Ramuan (a not so well known tribe) as u enter ther road to Gedong from the junction not far after Serian. Also, Serian area is volcanic soil, quite dissimilar to the rest of the region like Kuching and Sri Aman. Perhaps due to the fertile soils, Sri Aman is famous for its durian.

Ann said...

The tree got andu. Your heart has been captured by it's beauty. You will continue to photograph it again and again.

May the heartless person who chops the tree down be captured by the andu and suffer a terrible fate.

Bengbeng said...

an informative post. there is so much to learn from u

Daniel Yiek said...

I love to marvel at this tree every time I pass by.

nelson said...

haha. i experienced almost the same thing too! i just feel like snapping some photos of the tree everytime i pass by, but each time, the car will be either travelling too fast or i
was the driver/.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous
Thanks for the Info. Really appreciate the new knowledge. It is a remarkable landmark isn't it. So must be preserved by all means.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann
Thanks. I think the Tree Spirit and I have Kam Cheng already...hahahahahaha and I will try to photograph it again and again...there have been lots of paintings of tapang trees in the rainforest...sold for quite a bit overseas.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

BB - hope you are resting well and reading some good books too...Cheers.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Daniel...Thanks for visiting. Yes it is a marvellous tree. Pride of Serian.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Nelson...thanks...it is good to know someone has the same frustration!! I don't mean to be mean...but it is really amusing desperation!!

Hort Log said...

I enjoy your posts and I like Sarawak - the spirit of the people and the wilderness. Its a world in transit - but there's so much treasure there it will take years to leach out.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Hort...I like your term :a world in transit...I hope our treasures last and there's more control in their taking....Do visit again!

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Unknown said...

The Serian Tapang tree stands majestically for as long I remember. Am a proud local from Serian. It is illegal to log or chop off a tapang tree. I hope it will remain there for a long time for all of us to admire.