According to my mother, the Foochows of the Rajang Valley during the Japanese Occupation lived through the hard times, surviving on a little rice,some sweet potatoes, tapioca (cassava) and some Sago.
My mother's brother and sister-in-law cultivated sweet potatoes while she herself planted rice for the family. My mother was only 17 years old and her rice output was hardly enough for a family of 10, even though the rice field was quite productive. It was good that the farm was far away from the radar of the Japanese who were mainly around Sibu.
|Sago palms growing in swampy lower reaches of Sarawak rivers - it is a mark of wealth for Melanaus and the Bisayas.|
Those who did not have enough rice and other staples, had to cut down the naturally growing wild sago. They had learned from the Melanaus how to process sago.
My mother said that each stump of sago was brought by river to the homes after the sago palms were chopped down. And both men and women had to "scrape" the sago pith with a tin plate which had holes made in them. The scrapping took a long time and then the pulp was added to water. The white sediments were filtered and the flour dried in the sun.
When it the sago flour was well dried, the flour was used to make flour cakes just like Bah Kuih. This was cooked .
|A friend's photo of a modern sago raft in Tanjong Mani.|
My mother also added that those who ate a lot of sago flour suffered from swollen legs or beri beri. It was a sickness Foochows were most afraid of because it was a debilitating sickness as a result of which they could not walk, and work in the farms.
|Medical photo of beri beri cases from Christian Eijkman's files who discovered the causes of beri beri (lack of Vitamines) these are Chinese/Indonesians from Dutch East Indies.|
Today my mother would be very reluctant to eat anything made from sago flour because she does not want to get "swollen legs" or "big thighs". Those were the days when adults would starve to allow children eat white rice. Adults to eat the worst of food available, while the old and young would get by with some of the better food.
My love for photography takes me all over Sarawak and my photos of sago palms would make her shake her head and say, "Those were terribly difficult days...hard to talk about those days...I am so scared of getting swollen legs. Sago is not easy to eat. "
However I would think that our pioneering elders were very resilient and even though life was hard, they indeed responded to nature and managed to carve out a good existence for themselves during those hard times. Today they have come out of the Japanese Occupation although traumatised, but triumphant.
The Foochows of Sibu are very resilient and strong. And they value education as their greatest asset.
History books will continue to tell of tales of Sibu Foochow bravery, resilience,humility and frugal culture.