June 13, 2012

Nang Chong Stories : Loy Ling Jing (tuba) or Barefoot Pest Controllers

Many people in Sarawak believe that the Japanese (garden) snails were brought into the land by the Japanese. But snails and pests were already very damaging to crops of the Foochows long before the Japanese arrived on our shores from the first few weeks of their arrival in 1901.

And ever since the "agriculturists" were brought to Sibu by the Brookes the land had given forth both  pests and food  and the farmers have been fighting battles against these creatures. And it was also very probable that the Foochows and the Reverend James Hoover had observed the Iban use of the poison roots.

How the Foochows learned to use loy ling jing  or tuba juices in Sibu was not documented but James Hoover having had an excellent education would have learned from all the reference books available in those days to help the farmers learn how to use those roots and even grow them. Tulai was a source of Foochow-planted tuba roots.
My mother remembered her first experiences with Loy Ling (roots) as a child when her father in his anger kicked two bundles of roots out of the door of their house in Nang Chong which they had built in 1938. My maternal grandfather had moved away from his brother's mansion in Ensurai in 1938 when my mother was 12 years old.

 It must have been 1939 or 1940 when a barefooted man from Tulai carried on a "bian dan" (carrying pole)  two huge bundles of the foul smelling and dirt covered roots . He had missed the boat and had to stay over night at Grandfather's house. the rough and tough foochow man did not have any idea of fine living and plonked his bundles in the living room of the big house. Grandfather Lau Kah Chui (Family Water)  was a hot tempered man and could stand no such nonsense. For once my mother saw him being rude to the "visitor". He kicked the two bundles of foul smelling  roots right through the front door and swore loudly!! (My grandfather was quite well known for his swear words!!) The man quietly picked up his bundles and placed them under the smoke house and made peace with my grandfather.

Following that incident no one dared to bring any of their  farm belongings to the living room if they needed over night board and lodging which came free!!

Loy ling is the Foochow term for tuba or derris elliptica and during the days before the government ban on tuba fishing the Foochows actually cultivated lots of loy ling in the Tulai area which was accessible by footpath from my grandfather's house/jetty. Our jetty was the "export" point for the farmers of Tulai which was almost  6 to 8 hours' walk. Most farmers would stay overnight at the Nang Chong house together with their ducks or chickens or even wild boar meat. From time to time vegetables and other crops like loy ling jing would be brought to the Smoke house next door.

the young tuba plant (West Malaysia)

Derris is a climbing leguminous plant of Southeast Asia and the southwest Pacific islands and Borneo. Its roots contain rotenone, a strong insecticide and fish poison.
Deriis powder due to studies revealing its extreme toxicity, as well as due to the concentration level of rotenone to which the powder is often refined, experts in ecological and organic growing no longer consider it ecologically sound. Rotenone is still sold in the U.S., however.(Wikipedia)

The Ibans have been using tuba since time immemorial. So indeed many of the old Iban men are the custodians of botanical knowledge which should be tapped by modern scientists and antropologists.

My cousin's school teacher Sibu Foochow husband re-confirmed the present day use of the Loy Ling Jing or tuba juices recently. He related that when he was teaching in the rural schools he saw both Chinese and Iban farmers using the crushed roots and juices to spray on the sides of their gardens to kill pests and snails. He confirmed that the roots were very smelly.  The juices from the roots are also used to stun fish in the river from time to time. 

Personally I have never been to a tuba-fishing occasion in the rural Iban areas. But the idea of Foochows growing derris elliptica only excites me. How hard life must have been for my forefathers who needed to study the local culture in order to adapt to the environment!! There was indeed a great demand for Loy Ling Jing in the past..and some farmers were astute enough to grow the plant!! It must have been a hard hard life..

They were really the barefoot "Pest Control" experts.

File:Starr 010425-0043 Derris elliptica.jpg

Today tuba fishing is no longer encouraged and tuba roots are not openly sold any where in the state.

If this story is not written I am afraid my children and other younger Foochows may not know it at all as Oral History can disappear as soon as memories fade.

(I am sure there are many wild loy ling or tuba in Tulai now and Tulai is accessible by road from nang Chong and Sibu. within minutes of driving. Gone are the days when Tulai people had to stay overnight in my Grandfather's house ...Those were the days of old free Foochow B and B!!)

Photo of Tuba Fishing in Long Jegan (Sarawak Museum)


Sarawak Museum




David Chin said...

There is another illegal way of fishing used in the ulu; electric shock from a portable Honda generator!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hahaha..David...I have not been able to capture that by camera yet...waiting for an opportunity...

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