November 24, 2011

Life on the Rajang

The Mighty Rajang is 360 miles or 563 km long. It is the longest river in Malaysia.

And it is life giving as well as the best means of transport for the people living and working along its banks. It is not huge like the Huang He or the Ganges but it is equally important and well loved.

If you have heard of Borneo you would have heard of the Rajang - home of the Iban Headhunters or the Melanau people or the Chinese who created a town out of a swamp in 1901.

Kapit originated as fort or garrison town created by the Brooke Rule in 1880. The lovely  Fort Sylvia has attracted many tourists in recent years..

In the 1960's it was normal for a student to return home from Tanjong Lobang in Miri or Three Rivers in Mukah to catch a movie in Sibu (as a holiday treat)- after a two day boat journey- and then stay the night in the motor launch with blessings from the boat owner. Early the next day the motor launch would chug its way up the Rajang to Kanowit or Song or Kapit making a whole day and whole night trip. From Miri to Kapit then would take more than five days by water transport for a poor student. Friendly shop keepers in Kapit would offer free lodging in their store room.

Today a trip to Kapit from Sibu is roughly  3- 4 hours with the new special speed limit and also the power of the express boat.

What is life on the Rajang today ? View these photos...

A red clotton head piece which might be used as cloth belt is a clear indication that this man is a wharf labourer or Kak Koh. Kapit wharf still has many of these helpful and strong men. A wharf labourer is no longer the special job of a Chinese. He might be an Iban or a Malay and of course Chinese. This profession is a very ancient profession from the time there were ships plying from one place to another - especially in China.

A clock face is  very practical way of helping the illiterate to know what time the express boat will leave. This one leaves at 1.45 p.m. The small prints provide other information in English and Chinese. Usually from Kapit to Sibu in the morning..and from Sibu back to Kapit in the afternoon. You can always catch an "earlier express" or a "later express" to Kapit from Sibu. They seldom provide ETA so a traveller would have to ask more detail questions. The Jagaruan (boat captain) could tell you. If you ask just any other person do not be surprise when you get an answer like.."I am blur lah!" Please don't be offended by the answer because it only implies "I am sorry I don't really know." In Bahasa Malaysia "Kabur lah".
Well soon you will be picking up a bit of Manglish like this " Hope you don't go to Kapit and be blur blur." "Give the porter some kopi-o(tips) if he helps you carry your barang (luggage)."

30 years cars in Kapit. Today people  have the means to own some very luxurious cars and lots of Kancil of course. A man lifting a tyre from the express boat. Life styles have changed in many ways.
A  man lifting his own boxes and walk up the hundreds of steps from the express to  Kapit.
The ubiquitous plastic bag which can be seen even at Heathrow and here in Kapit.
A woman driving a longboat to welcome home a son or daughter. From the Express to the Long boat is a normal riverine activity every day!! An outboard engine with 40 horsepower is the dream of many Iban women. I too would like to own one.
Basket of Hard Boiled eggs ..for sale..Good whole some food for the journey
A lady hawker trying to make a few ringgit selling soft drinks and hard boiled eggs on board an express.
Gasoline!! In plastic jerry cans or drums....
Two express boats berthed side by side providing an alley way for boys to meet is a girl trying out her mobile...Signals are good!!

The Mighty Rajang will continue to be the lifeline of the people. We simply love the Rajang!!

This post is dedicated to all my travel companions :
Grace W
Lisa K
Jessie K
Daniel  T
Alicia C.
Aaron H
Lina K
Keith C
P. Jonathan

and in a way to all those who travel by boat on the Rajang......

May God be with you always.


sarawaklens said...

A group of friends are headed to kapit next month, but I'm not free to join them. Pity cos the last time I was in Kapit was probably about 20 or so years ago.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Sarawaklens...Kapit is now a bustling will miss this chance..but then in future you should try to go...I have a soft spot for all the towns along the Rajang...
20 years ago Kapit was different.
The first time I went there was 1968!! And it was a quite 2 road town....

roy said...

hi, how do i go to kapit from miri? i have no idea at all...

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