Imagine 1905 in Sibu and a young man from China who had the determination of Dick Whittington and the pioneering spirit of Johnny Appleseed!! He was faced with this thick jungle of huge trees and lots and lots of creepers. And underneath him was this swamp land and his feet had disappeared into the soft black marshy and peaty soil. He looked around and he could not find his north!!
He was lost and the mosquitoes were eating him alive!! But he grit his teeth and clamped his lips real tight and moved on. Inch by inch - one foot pulled out of the sluggish mud after another until he could find that jelutong tree which would bleed white liquid for him to sell to the traders for just a few cents. And the few cents he would collect until they became a dollar!! He had met with Melanaus and Ibans in Sungei Merah and Sibu and found out from them the important jungle products he could harvest from the forests. He was young and strong and he had nothing to lose. If only he could some some jelutong trees!!
His sweat streamed down his face - something he had not gotten used to yet. The sweat was salty and his eyes smarted. Was he lost? He must pressed on and find one jelutong tree before he could turn back to his wooden coolie house. He moved on as if his life depended on it. He must not give up after travelling so many thousand miles from Fuzhou to set up a new home in Sibu. He must carry on!!
|And God must have shown him the silhouette of the jelutong tree like he did to me that day at Sg. Liang Forest...the lovely leaves and the straight trunks!|
For years I have been looking for jelutong trees to photograph. And I am so glad that I have finally found a few in the Sg. Liang Forest Recreation Park recently. I believe my grandfather must have felt exhilarated when he found his first jelutong tree in Sibu and started to tap it.
Indeed when I looked up at the rustling leaves of the jelutong tree the sounds they made were like the clinks of small pieces of thin silver hitting each other.
Jelutong (Dyera costulata), a hardwood tree with an unbuttressed trunk grows to 60 -80 metre tall in the tropical rainforest. Its straight grain, low density and fine texture properties are popular with model makers. Its roots are used as a cork substitute .
In the early 1900's the jelutong was sold to traders in Singapore because Europe had a demand for it . It was an important source of chewing gum.
My grandfather according to our family stories was often lost looking for jelutong and fruits like an explorer. Through his sheer hardwork and expertise he was able to raise a large family and built a large personal fortune. He did indeed achieve his dreams of becoming someone significant in his society. The Fuzhou street fortune teller had told him when he was about 8 years old "Tieh Tieh (young brother) you must go by boat to a distant land far far away where you will find fame and fortune."
There are very few jeluitong trees left in the forests of Sarawak. However I do hope that some could be grown in some of the parks of Sarawak to remind the younger generation how hard the pioneers and the indigenous people had worked to earn a little bit of money to feed their families!!
Many a tree is found in the wood
And every tree for its use is good
Some for the strength of the gnarled root
Some for the sweetness of flowers or fruit
-Henry Van Dyke ( 'Salute The Trees')
The term Lok Dong Dai (aka chiew neng dai) in Foochow refer jelutong bands or rubber bands. I believe few people actually realise this connection with jelutong trees.
And indeed whenever our uncles and aunties talk about lok tong chiew (jelutong trees) they would shiver because of the difficulties of collecting the latex in the swamp.
There are two kinds of jelutong trees in Sarawak - swamp and hill jelutong trees. Brunei at the moment has many along the highway from KB to Bandar and Sg. Liang Forest park showcases many jelutong trees.
(Dedicated to the memory of my grandfather Tiong Kung Ping who arrived in Sibu on 16th March 1901 )