May 15, 2017

Sibu Tales : Coolie


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Many Foochow migrants from Fujian started off as poor coolies in Sibu.

Coolie is a general term to mean unskilled worker, working for a towkay.  Work for the coolie could be anything from cutting of wood, to digging of soils, to carrying of water and any odd jobs.

Once a coolie has a skill over a period of years, he became a tukang, or craftsman. When he had earned enough, and had a group of coolie under him (or proteges, or students, or mentees), he became a sawu (teacher). After becoming a sawu, he would save enough to become a business owner. Then he would call himeslf a towkay or loh peng. This process would take years. Some people never moved upwards in the social ladder.

Personally I believe that in the olden days the social upward mobility was not that fluid. Prejudices abound and not many people were willing to lend a hand, or stretch out a hand to pick relatives from their rock bottom situations.

there were a few wealth and benovelent benefactors who helped the poor to succeed. But it also depended on a lot of determination on the part of the men who wanted to achieve something in their lives.

However there have been a lot of rags to riches stories in Sarawak especially among the Foochows.

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