If you drive from Kuching it will take you about 8 hours as the distance is approximately 870.6 kilometres .
The town has a few rows of shophouses(some wooden and more concrete ones now) a fish market, several places to eat, and a pleasant esplanade which lies beside the small river named Sibuti. The town square faces the river, and on the opposite bank are a few Chinese homes and a large Malay kampong.
Many of the wooden shophouses date from the 1930s. Although some were built in 1950's. Even the present( and still in great use )godown is old and run down dating from the 1930's.
The most serious recent flood in Bekenu was in 1962 when shops were flooded up to the first floor and people had to be rescued by fishermen in rowing boats.
People from Miri and as far as Brunei would drive to Bekenu during the weekends to buy fresh fish and vegetables. A few local Chinese restaurants serve jungle fare and exotic meat. In fact some people actually drive for 40 minutes or less just to have a good lunch in Bekenu.
The reason why Bekenu is fairly thriving is because there are many villages around this area. There are also many primary schools in the Sibuti district of which Bekenu is the major bazaar.
Interestingly the locals are of Kedayan descent a special group of bumiputras only found in Sarawak. They are good agriculturalists and fishermen. The women are also known for their innovative basketry skills and food gathering. Their home made belacan sell well and so are the vegetables they gather from the jungle. They are experts in the gathering of nipah shoots and making of nipah sugar (gula apong). You should not be surprised by the sago worms they sell in the tamu. Besides many of the Kedayan women also make some of the best kuihs (cakes) by using gula apong and coconut milk. Most of their cakes are hygienically wrapped in organic leaves in different shapes and sizes.
They are also well versed with jungle herbs and cures. If you need a head ache cure they will promote their jungle leaves and you might even be introduced to their rattan shoots e.g. laris which may help you lower your blood sugar!!
These are the kampongs you may come across:-
Kampung Kuala Satap 1.9 kilometres (1.2 mi) north
Kampung Lusong 1.9 kilometres (1.2 mi) north
Kampung Jangalas 2.6 kilometres (1.6 mi) northwest
Kampung Ajau 2.6 kilometres (1.6 mi) northeast
Kampung Tengah 3.7 kilometres (2.3 mi) west
Kampung Sinop 3.7 kilometres (2.3 mi) east
Kampung Padang 3.7 kilometres (2.3 mi) north
Kampung Sungi Tiris 3.7 kilometres (2.3 mi) south
However what is very intriguing is the social milieu of the bazaar and the people who gather there. Bekenu originated because the Brooke Government established a small administrative district office on top of a hill overlooking the "kuala" or mouth of the Bekenu river to keep the "peace" and to collect some customs and excise. In those early days there were already many fishing villages along the \coast and the river banks.
The first shops must have thus been established in the 1930's when Miri and Marudi were already flourishing.
Later a rural district council was established to provide some social services.
In the 1990's Bekenu became a thriving palm oil growth point. Today the little township is packed with 4x4 Hilux and other brand names and planters discuss crop prices and government policies in the few Malay and Chinese owned Kopitiam which still have the essence of old time kedai. The lingua franca here has been a mixture of Iban and Malay. Almost all the Chinese shopkeepers and their children speak great Iban and Malay. Cultural mix is the order of the day .
Last week when I took a few friends to Bekenu I was pleasantly surprised that a transformation was being initiated. The first row of wooden shop houses from the District Office has been earmarked for demolition and I was told that the new block of concrete and modern shop houses would be completed within ten months probably in term for the National Day celebration in 2012!!!
|First shop from the landward side. Note the wooden wall on the first floor.|
|One of the oldest shops in Bekenu.|
|the ubiquitous Singer signboard. Water level reached the signboards on the first floor in 1962 flood.|