February 22, 2012

Stories from Nang Chong - Jelutong trees

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 )


Anonymous said...

Dry jelutong from sumatra indonesia
without any chemical ingredient.. is good for your buble gum or chewing gum product,
all product is natural from jelutung tree in sumatra forest in indonesia.
we can supply your manufacture of gum about it.
let's try in small order in 50 or 100 kg of natural jelutong gum in usd 10/kg

thank's a lot
pekanbaru - riau
sumatra indonesia

Anonymous said...

Uses Vary

The list of uses for jelutong is fairly long. It is an excellent choice for sculpting and carving. It is also used to make architectural models, drawing boards, picture frames, wooden shoes (clogs), furniture parts, doorknobs, dowels and pencils.

Jelutong is rotary cut for corestock for flush doors, plywood and laminated boards. It is used to make toys, dowels, blackboards, brush handles, matchsticks and packing crates.

Extracting Latex

Jelutong is one of many trees tapped for material that is used as a base for chewing gum. The latex in the wood is extracted by a process known as tapping--cutting v-shaped grooves into the standing, live tree with knives. The latex is collected, usually in containers made from bark, and goes through further processing to make gum. The latex is also used in paints and for sizing paper. Tapping begins when a tree is young. As a tree matures, additional cuts or taps will be made. Tapped trees may be stained from a fungus.

Kiln Drying

The wood dries easily with few problems. Patton says his company kiln dries its boards to less than 12 percent moisture, then stores them in heated warehouses to maintain moisture content and overall quality.

Suggested kiln schedule for drying is T10-D4S for 4/4 stock and TS-D3S for 8/4 stock. Experts recommend proper air circulation when the material is air-dried. Thick stock can be hard to dry without the material staining. Movement in service is rated "small."

Editors of Encyclopedia of Wood say jelutong wood is "very lustrous, but contains slit-like radial latex passages on tangential surfaces, in clusters or rows about 3 feet apart. These passages, or canals, which appear lens-shaped on flat-sawn surfaces, about 1/4 in. wide and 1/2 in. long, rule out the possibility of using jelutong where sizable pieces are required or where appearance is important." The defects can be eliminated in conversion.


Dyera costulata of the family Apocynaceae


Jelutong, jelutong bukit, jelutong paya


Trees grow to 200 ft or higher with diameters of 5 to 6 ft and holes clear and straight for 90 ft. Average weight is 29 lbs per cubic ft. with a specific gravity of 0.46.


Wood has medium density, low stifness and bending and crushing strengths. It dries easily, usually without problems. although staining can occur. The wood has a poor steam bending rating. It works well with hand or machine tools, although gum can pose problems on cutting surfaces. Wood glues, screws and nails well. It stains, paints and varnishes very well. The wood has a slight sour odor is non-durable and subject to attack by powder post beetles However, it can be treated with preservatives.

Editor's note: 106 Wood of the Month articles are now online, with more coming soon. Visit the Wood of the Month archive at www.iswonline.com.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
ref:The Free Library

Anonymous said...

There is an old tall jelutong tree purposely preserved next to the famous KL Tower or Menara KL

Ann said...

Hi CY,

I paste my post of the jelutong tree from your Facebook.

have you posted the jelutong tree yet? Now which History/ Geography teacher told us, they made chewing gum from the jelutong tree latex. When the Iban goes to the jungle to harvest them, guess what he uses to coagulate the latex. I haven't read your post because I can't see it. so I didn't cheat if you also wrote the same story. After all, we went to the same school and were taught by the same teachers.

We were young and impressionable. We listened to our teachers and trusted what they told as as gospel truth. Today, I would most likely doubt it. The substance the collector used came from himself, he did have to lug a big drum of agent in the muddy swamp. He used what God gave to him. His pee!!!!

Now, I have sabotaged the Malaysia economy. Everyone will be boycotting the chewing gum.

Ann said...

he did NOT have to lug a big drum . ommited from last comment.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Anonymous 1
Thanks for the info...hope my readers will respond too.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous2
Thanks for the details provided. Really appreciate it.
God bless.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous3
Thanks for the info..Hope one day I get to see the tree in KL!!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

\Sometimes teachers can be tempted to spread their prejudices...and tell tall tales...
Well meaning I am sure..but we students have to find out the real facts by thorough investigation without fear and favour.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann...hahahaha of course I got your meaning!! LOL

Anonymous said...


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thank you...very eye opening.

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