June 30, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights : Sago Palm Hearts

The Sago Palm is a gift from God. Growing wild and in abundance, it a palm highly valued by almost all the indigenous people of Sarawak.

The Melanaus's economy is based on the Sago Palm since time immemorial. An Iban family with five or six sago palm tree is considered rich. Bisayas who have sago palms can beam with pride because they can trade with sago fruits,flour and create food out of the palm. Weddings, funerals and any celebration call for a tree or two to be felled and turn into food for the community.

Today sago palm hearts are also sold in the wet markets. One stem of 3 feet in length is enough to feed 100 people.





During the untimely passing of a very young man recently relatives from Ulu Limbang came together bringing six palm hearts and that provided enough side dishes for three days for about 200 people. Other dishes like chicken with bean curd sheets, pork in soy sauce, fried tapioca leaves, bamboo shoots, all longhouse recipes, were prepared in the small kitchen and its little extension at the back, of course. This is a very economical gotong royong practised by the Ibans. Catering would have cost a bomb!!


The sweetness of the sago palm eased the pain of mourning momentarily. The generosity of relatives reminded every one how communal cooperation is still the jell that binds them together.

June 23, 2016

Sibu Tales : The Old Style Blow Torch



In the olden days blow torches like these would have been imported from the UK and made of brass.

The "fire" from the torch would make a nice comforting sound when the blacksmith  fired it up. Considered quite light in his hand the blow torch would help him carry out his work every day.

I remember seeing the rattan basket and chair maker in Blacksmith Road having one and would hang around watching him make his creations. The blow torch is something which I can always remember well.

Another sight created by the blow torch was at a neighbour's blacksmith workshop. He had rented a room in Kong Ping Road or Brooke Drive. He was a Cantonese man, who looked very stern but I believed he was really a good blacksmith because so many people would leave their equipment with him. Because I was still fairly young at that time, today I can only remember that he was quite taciturn and very slow in his movements.

He worked slowly at his workshop and Malays and Chinese came around at certain times to collect their repaired equipment, he would make some items like small propellers or weld some metal sheets together.

However his loud blow torch always frightened me because I thought he could use it to burn down the house!! And furthermore, he was one of the most sun burnt men I had ever seen. Coming from a family which had very fair skinned men, I was quite scared of the blacksmith. And any way, we were all told not to go to his workshop for no reason at all, even to look!!

But I am sure he looked after his family who lived next door, in those days very well.  However tragically he died fairly young due to over work.

The children, especially the girls,went to school and one of them went overseas to study.

I wonder why until today, whenever I see a man with a blow torch be it old fashion one, or a modern one, I would always see an unsmiling face. Perhaps when you carry a blow torch you have to be very serious.

June 19, 2016

Sibu Tales : Cangkok Manis and Mee Sua



After about 115 years of settling down in Sibu, the Foochows have started to use many of the local vegetables and fruits as part of their food.Image may contain: food

According to my grandfather who came in 1903 to settle down in Sg Merah, he saw many Ibans and Malays having cangkok manis in their backyard garden and he also saw them harvesting the vegetables. He told us that he first learnt to cook cangkok manis as a soup. He later learnt also from the Malays and the Ibans how to forage for paku and meedin.

Today these three vegetables are restaurant dishes in the Foochow dominated town of Sibu. One of the best dishes created from cangkok manis is the hand made and sun dried Mee Sua fried with changkok manis, garlic and ikan bilis.

We often order this dish in the restaurants instead of the chicken soup mee sua.

It is also a dish that most Foochow women have learnt to cook at home.

June 15, 2016

Sibu Tales : Syn Choon Liau in Jawi too



A study of signboards in Sibu is always very rewarding and mind opening.

Syn Choon Liau here is long gone. It used to be a popular restaurant in the 1940's - 60's,

Some people still remember going there for weddings and birthdays. In the olden days, wrote Irene J Yong, "Most wedding banquets were held in the noon time so that relatives who lived down river could attend the luncheon. and they would have to leave Sibu by the last boat, which was usually 2 p.m."

Many match making took place in restaurants like this.

A special note must be taken, in those long ago days, Jawi was part of the signboard making.

I am always happy when I can read the Jawi script with the help of English words..I would go Sin,I Nun, Cha Wu Nun, and lamyainun...(am I correct?)

I was told in China , green signboards for restaurants would indicate that they are Halal ones..So red signboards would mean it is NON Halal here?? May be there is no special indication in Sibu yet.

June 11, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights : Home rolled cigars and guns



These two ladies are friends of my friend Sonia Lahung. They are cigar smoking and gun carrying.

In fact they are Iban women who are married into the Kayan coimmunity of Uma Bawang in Upper Baram. Here they are seen getting ready to walk 1 and 1.2 hours to a river side, from where they will drive their boat to their longhouse.

this is a temporary farm longhouse erected by their families from Uma Bawang, for their farming throughout the year.

These ladies are ready to shoot any game which come their way. As good if not better then their menfolks!!

Well done!!

June 10, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights : How Rice is dried traditionally in the Ulu


Here is an Iban word for you to learn before it becomes obsolete in the fast changing world.

Pantar - is the wooden or bamboo platform in the longhouse which is a substitute for the tanju Open deck of the longhouse, and a part of the old longhouse architecture. 

Here I am wearing a Tanggoi (Iban hat),using a wooden pemaut padi to spread the rice grains to dry evenly.

 It is scorching hot at about 10 in the morning. No wonder my sister in law Pantan gets all sun burnt throughout the year.

 If you wish to get a good sun tan, just do this job. Two in one ...You can contribute to the economy of the longhouse.

 Drying the rice is a tough job and you have to pay attention. The moment the rain clouds hoover overhead you have to put all the grains into baskets and carry them to the store house. 

June 7, 2016

Brushes from twigs



She is bent over with age and long term working on making of twig brushes...each strand, each hole, each pulling...is an act of concentration. Every day she will sit here..it has been her work since the Cultural Revolution.

There are stories which she cannot tell any one.

I was just a passing strtanger with a camera.

The Brush Maker. Shanghai. 2016.

June 6, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delight : Making Ketupat Casings

During the Fasting Month, nipah leaves are sold like this in the market or tamu. It is not easy to collect the leaves as the harvester has to walk into the swampy areas which might be infested with snakes. These nipah leaves are free from the swamps. So the collector could actually be making some money without any capital.
Nipah leaves are very useful and can be turned into any receptacle in the hands of a creative weaver. Here our local aunty from the Kedayan ethnic group is making the ketupat casing for rice cakes, during the fasting month.





This aunty is making her casings while waiting for business to come . What a good way of filling up tie.

Life in the tamu can be so creative and meaningful.

June 5, 2016

Sibu Tales : Pomelo - Pink and White



The pomelo was a fruit brought over to Sibu from Minqing, Fujian by Wong Nai siong and his fellow pioneers.

Ever since then, the Rajang Valley has been cultivated with pomelo trees, although not in a large scale. Similarly, the green tangerines, have also been cultivated but due to natural climatic conditions and the extra-ordinary pests which these two semi temperate fruits are susceptible to, their cultivation do not have the greatest success the Foochows would like to see. So, as if by choice, these two fruits are rather touch and go category, while are more stable fruits like pineapples,durians, coconuts, mangoes , mangosteens etc are the preferred fruits for cash cropping. The green tangerines seem to thrive in the Bintangor area and the pomelo in the Ensurai-Kwang Hua area.

However the pomelo remains a favoured fruit. Some are extremelyu juicy and sweet, while some are dry and fairly edible.

The most famous pomelo is the small, hand sized Moh Moh Pow, which has small hairs on its skin but some also attribute it to the second headman of the Sibu Foochow pioneers, my grand uncle, Lau Kah Tii, whose nick name was Moh Moh. How true it is, he is not here to tell us.

June 4, 2016

Sarawakian Local Delights : Setinting

 I was fortunate to be able to visit Long Malim before it was inundated by the Murum Dam. Our trip took us 7 hours by 4 wheels from the junction of the road at Bakun Dam and the Pan Borneo Highway. It took two hours to travel from Miri to the Bakun Junction.
Image may contain: outdoor My friends an I went on a church trip to help the Penans to become aware of the importance of education, health and family life. We also witnessed to them in a Christian Service besides conducting some children's activities and health work. Our leaders and their leaders held counselling sessions with the youth.

We witnessed how they were unable to enjoy the most basic of health amenities. They actually depended on rainwater. The murky yellow river water provided water for washing. It was really sad to see kids bathing in the river water.

It was also my first time seeing the extended propellers of the outboard engines of the Penans  This improvisation enabled them..to safely navigate the shallow waters of Sg. Malim. Having been brought up in a riverine village I am very used to outboard engines, propellers and river transport. But this improvisation really surprised me. How resilient these Penans are.



According to Sonia Lahung, these new extended machines are called setinting. They are specifically modified to suit travelling in shallow water. Some are modified from brush cutter engines and some are even made from water pumps!! They are recent improvisations to meet the needs of the ulu people whose rivers have become shallow due to deforestation and siltation of of upper reaches of rivers.

May God bless all the people from Sg. Malim. They have moved to below the Murum and in time to come, they and their future generations would not remember Long Malim any more.

Crab and Glutinous Rice

What are your people's traditional way of announcing the birth of a child?

The Foochows in Sibu would call close relatives to come around for a bowl of noodles and chicken soup during the first month after the birth of a child. This period is a very important customary ritual for a new mother who must regain all the strength and health after having a 9 month pregancy and a childbirth, which was, in the olden days, a matter of life and death. So she needed a mandatory of "sitting of the month" with lots of chicken soup, noodles and nutritious and healthy food. She would have a long rest. Meals would be eaten in her bedroom and she was not allowed even into the garden.

 Friends and relatives would bring gifts to " send peace" or shurng ang when they come to offer their congratulations and to see the baby.

After a month, there can be a small feast to celebrate the baby's Full Month. If it is a boy and he is a first born, and first grandson, there will be more to do. The happy family can announce a big banquet in a restaurant. It really depends on the social and financial standing of the family. However a first born son is always a happy addition to a family amongst the Foochows.

The Holo people of Taiwan call glutinous rice “migao.” Traditionally, when a mother has given birth to a baby boy, the family will announce the joyful news by presenting their neighbors with glutinous rice and eggs dyed red. Neighbors receiving this dish will, in turn, present the family with uncooked rice and a small stone, a wish for the child to grow up healthy and strong.

The taste of freshness from the crab is absorbed into the glutinous rice, making the glutinous rice not as heavy as it usually is. Best eaten during winter because glutinous rice is said to be very warming for the body.

All three photos are from Google.

June 2, 2016

Sibu Tales : 3 kneels and 9 bows

The Foochows of Sibu continue to practise many of the wedding rituals of Fujian. Today 115 or so years later, (since 1901) , one can still say that the legacy of the Foochows lives on.



One of the wedding rituals is the 3 kneels and 9 bows which the bride and groom must give to their elders ,and especially the grandparents (if they had passed on) before the bride groom takes the bride away.

the best man (or one of the more capable elders) will do the honours of announcing the ceremony. A list of names would normally be written down.

The bowing and kneeling would also mean that the elders must have in the pockets or handbags a small token of cash, for some of the very close elders, the gifts can be in the form of gold items.

However many have discarded the bowing and kneeling and instead they "borrow" the tea ceremony from Hong Kong.

Traditions and rituals do change with time.


Sarawakian Local Delights : Tapioca (Ubi Kayu)

Ubi kayu or tapioca used to be one of the cheapest snacks Sarawakians could have. Tapioca is easily grown wherever farmers grow their p...