December 22, 2011

River Boats in the Baram

Christmas carolling by river boats any one?

Yes...in the 1960's before the political upheavals in the Rajang areas the Methodists used to herald the birth of Christ by visiting friends and relatives using their family owned motor launches when footpaths could not reach the distant homes along the river...

This is one small memory I would like to write about. But I have no digital images of those days..and those carollers. and instead I bring you this article today as I think of the special Christmas time in Sibu with my grandmother and those lovely motor launch days.....I like to remember the late Rev. Lau Ngo Kee and the late Rev.Ho Siew Leong (a Henghua but spoke excellent Foochow) who provided pastoral care especially amongst others.


Travelling along the huge Baram River in Sarawak is always a great thrill for me. In the 1990's I had to supervise many English pre service teachers during their practicum. I would spend a week every month travelling up and down the Baram. My journey would start at Kuala Baram often in the very early morning. I would have to start at 5.30 in the morning so that I could reach the express boats pier or jetty by 6.45 and to take the 7 o'clock express boat. The boat men would recognise me and help me up the boat and greet warmly. It really was a nice feeling to be recognised by almost everyone.

I would travel to "Half River" or Pengkalayan where there was a school which seemed almost floating on water at high tide!! And then in the afternoon I would reach Marudi ready for the next day's work. On the third day I would travel again up to Benawa where there was a very good school which was nestled amongst mangrove swamps and it was not infrequent that I would meet monkeys on the trees and some snakes slithering amongst the roots of the trees while I carefully walked on the wooden plank walk.

From Benawa I would take the afternoon express boat to Long Lama where I would the night at a lodging house. If the Principal was around I would have some intellectual discussion and good company. Otherwise I would enjoy an evening with the students.se The next day I would start observing my students again. Immediately after the observations I would take the last express from Long Lama and reach Marudi just in time to catch the last flight from the town. If it rained I would have to stay the night again. Sometimes if I had students in Long Ikang it would mean that I have to observe two students in that school and stay longer on the Baram!!

It was not so difficult to plan the logistics after one year of itinerant work like this. And I was only involved in one express boat accident when it ran aground on a sand bank. No hijacking ever occurred in this peaceful valley.

This was my kind of life for about 10 years. But it only added to my already very enriched and culturally exciting life!!

Today it would be best if you could travel by the slow Chinese motor launches which are now rather rare. In the 1960's those were the only means of travelling from the river mouth of the Baram to as far as Long Lama.

Today land transport has taken over because of the rapid rate of progress in the state. Roads are now criss crossing the Baram valley and into the interior as far as Bario!! At one time Bario was considered even inaccessible by road. Now the story is different.

I would like to thank all the boat men who helped me in my journeys. And I am sure many others who have had the opportunities to travel by river would like to remember the boats and the boatmen with fondness.

Hence I have captured many photos of the life on the Baram..and here are some photos of the river boats before they are completely taken off our social scene!!

I am sure many people would have good memories (some bad ones of course) of their journeys up and down the Baram river....


A very special era of river boats is slowly being extinguished by modern technology and progress. And I do pray that the future of the Baram will be a brilliant one!!

8 comments:

Ann said...

Hi CY,

My paternal Grandp lived in upper lanang road, that was area designated to the Cantonese, but dun know why, there were Foochows, infront and to the left, and going into the back rubber garden.

My grand dad used to talk about the Foochows and their FOOK YINS, and on Easter, hunting for Easter eggs. It was the Methodist people.

My Grandpa was nominal RC, and RC were very quiet.

sarawakiana said...

Hi Ann
It isnice to hearabout the Kwanttung Pah...and some of its stories. We often read more about the Foochows than other dialect group..and often people mistake Sibu as a Foochow town..It is also a town in which many diatlectic groups live together in harmoney..Ibans..Hokkiens..Henghuas..and cantonese...Hailams too..Actually we Foochows are loud and happy to meet you kind of people...

Anonymous said...

Wanna the discipline Master Ho of CHMS Sibu is the generation of Pastor Ho who is a Henghua too?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous
The Rev Ho Siew Leong's family members are at the moment mainly overseas. If any one is still in Sibu he would be related to his son Ho Kah Moh who used to work in a bank and had an orchid garden opposite the Methodist Secondary school. Until now very few people know much ABOUT Rev Ho's family and descendants. May be Mr. Ho of Chms SIBU himself may shed some light on this matter. There was a Mrs. Ho teaching in Methodist Secondary School too...But she passed away.

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