Wednesday, July 19, 2006

History - Sarikei 1800's-1900's Chinese Migrants

Have you ever pondered over the origin of Sarikei's name? It has nothing to do with swallows or pineapples! Once upon a time, Sarikei was the centre for buying and selling chickens and hence it was called "Sa-rie-kei" ("Sa-rie" in most Chinese dialects means "centre" and "kei" means "chicken"). Later the spelling was changed to Sarikei. (Update: This story does not hold water. See latest post on the Sarikei name.) To the natives, it's known as Siriki.

In the early 1900's, Sarikei was put under the town of Binatang (now called Bintangor) and later under the 3rd Division of Sibu. Sarikei became the 6th Division on 2nd April 1973 to better control the security threats posed by the communist insurgency. In the early 1970's, there was curfew in the evening and you could hear occasional gun shots and police sirens. It was a good time to make babies since everyone had to stay home and hardly anyone could afford a black and white TV then.

Sarawak - old map

The first Chinese migrants to Sarikei should follow similar paths as Sibu's due to its close proximity along the Rejang River. In Sibu, the first batch in early 1800's were mainly Hokkiens with some Cantonese. Sarikei's first blocks of shophouses on Wharf Road facing Rejang River were owned by mostly Hokkien. Sarikei's first school, Kwang Chien was started by Cantonese ("Kwang Dong") and Hokkien ("Foo Chien") in 1927.

Foochow pioneer - Wong Nai Siong

In 1901, the Foochows arrived in Sibu thanks to Foochow trail blazer, Wong Nai Siong, who negotiated with the Brooke government to open up land for cultivation. If not for him, can you imagine life without your favourite Foochow noodle, kam pua? More Sarawak history here. History was your favourite subject in school, wasn't it?


Some readers have commented that the origin of the name "Sarikei" came from the settlement "Sa-ley" or "Sarie" along Rejang which later had a street ("kei" in Chinese dialects). Hence "Sari-kei". Hey, for the rest of the Sarikei readers, please ask your grandparents before history is lost!



Some readers have shed some light on the mysterious Pala Munsoh Falls. Blog updated here including a new picture from a reader.


fred said...

wo.. that's interesting... I think you better make some backup for your blog... we don't want this great Sarikei History to be lost....

lynnx01 said...

Interesting, ain't it?

G Wong said...

I was told the earliest Cantonese settle at Sa-ley (Wrong spelling) which is some distance from the Sarikei town. Cantonese prefer to toil the farm where as Hokkien prefer to work within the town. Sarikei use to have two team of "Kuli" carrying cargo between boats and shops, the Hokkien team and the Foochow team but never was there a Cantonese team. Hokkien are manily concentrated in the town where as Cantonese settle in far away places like "Sugai Rosak", "MeiNa", "Bulat" etc.

Anonymous said...

It is really an interesting story about our home town, Sarikei. I never heard about any past incidents like this be4. By the way, how old are u? How can't u know so much about the long long ago stories?

Zhang Zhu

Daniel Yiek said...

Zhang Zhu,
Welcome! Hmm, let me gaze into the crystal ball. You are from Sekolah Tinggi and I'm just a few years younger than you. Well, seriously, I knew the above becos you left comments in Yan's blog about your good old days in Sekolah Tinngi. The point which I'm tryng to put across is that data is all over the place. How to find & transform the data into useful information is a lot of effort. Each post takes an average of 1hr to compose but just 5mins to read & reminisce. I spent many, many hours researching thru several thousand of web pages, government sources and talking to friends, readers and older folks like our parents & grandparents. eg: in the 2 posts about Sarikei history, all my sources have links provided for you to click for more detailed info. Kwang Chien School's history's source will be revealed in the next post (part 2)to avoid "spoiling the movie by giving the ending". Pls read the older archives in the sidebar too. If you have any old pictures eg: Sekolah Tinggi, pls email me at Cheers!

Daniel Yiek said...

G Wong,
As usual, very good feedback! Hope more readers can dig out more history by asking your grandparents and post comments. By the way, I think you mean Sungei Rusa (deer), not Sungei Rosak.

It's a pity that the really old folks dont use the internet or else we will have very good stories dating back to the early 1800-early 1900's

Zhangzhu said...

I know the way u got those interesting stories. It is true to say that there are information about those past history everywhere, not only fr the eldest or by our own experience!


G Wong said...

Oh yes, you are Sungei Rusa. The majority of the Cantonese in Sarikei are originated from Xinhui Guangdong province
Where as the Hokkien are probably from Xiaman Fujian Province, someone got to confirm this. I might be wrong.

G Wong said...

I have a dispute with your version of the origin of Sarikei name. Firstly chicken could not be a commonly traded items in those old days, can you imagine people from Kuching or Miri coming to Sarikei to buy chicken? Where does the supply comes from and where does the demand went. I suppose the early Catonese settle in Sa-ley (Sari) and the place was popular until a new street (Kei) at the jetty along Rajang became more popular and populated, eventually that new place they gave it the name Sarikei.

Daniel Yiek said...

If you have any old photos of the Kwang Hwa cinema & Sekolah Tinggi, pls use your digital camera to take pictures (close range mode)of the old pictures and email me and send some anecdotes & stories too.

G Wong,
Yes, most Sarikei Cantonese are from XinHui like my grandparents. I know some of my Hokkien friends' ancestors came from Xiamen (which is a neat garden city - I hv been there once).

For the origins of Sarikei's name, I'm surprised too when I found the government article (see the link in B.Malaysia). I think the real answer could be found in old archives of Chinese newspapers which is probably in See Hua Daily News' microfilms.

By the way, what does the 1st Chinese character "Shi" of Sarikei mean? Shi=?; Li = inside; Jie = Street. The "shi" is not the "shi" as in "town".

Anonymous said...

The Cinema I mentioned wa Rex,now becomes a supermarket, just opposite to Oriental Restaurant now. Where was Kwong Hua Cinema? I had not heard it be4.
I am sorry I can't help. I still don't know how to put photoes in blog and pc. I am a stupid housewife ,haha! At present I have a digital camera.


Anonymous said...

I told my youngest bro, who is now working in Arabia,about ur blog. He is happy to read those interesting stories about Sarikei.But for the name, he has doubt also.I think most of us don't know much about the name. I meant how it came fr and why they named it like that etc. I thought it means "4 miles there, got a town". Of course it is not true!
Pl check once, as what g wong said, it will be not correct to say that "kei" means "chicken".What is ur opinion?


G Wong said...

Just imagine how could Sarikei be a centre for chicken trading say in 1885? Was there any restaurant then? Was the population rich enough to demand chicken then?Today we might take 3.5hrs from Kuching to Sarikei but in 1885 it could be taking 3 days by foot, so the suggestion that it was a centre for chicken trading does not hold water.

One important source of old photos is probably the few early photo studio in town (Peking, Meina, HongKong??) that is what I learn fron the book entitle "SINGAPORE a pictorial history 1819 - 2000". Is really a wounderful book.

Anonymous said...

I asked a history teacher about name of Sarieki. Well, she told me that once there was a river namely "Sarey".There were many Ibans staying there. When asking about the name of the place, they said it was "Sari". Slowly they named it as Sarikei while "Kei" means "town".


Daniel Yiek said...

G Wong & Zhang Zhu,
Nothing beats a passionate topic like our town's history as there's a surge in new readers according to the 2 counters on the sidebar. Even a well documented city like Kuching is not sure about the origins of its name. "cat", "Mata Kuching", etc. Zhang Zhu's history teacher has similar feedback as G Wong's on Sari-kei. Let me update the post.

G Wong,
I was reading the S'pore History pictorial book you mentioned 2 days ago (!) at S'pore airport on my way to Phuket. Awesome old pics in there. You are right to say that the old studios hold the negatives for old town pictures. I'm not sure whether they still keep them though. MeiNa has closed. I was with one of the sons (the land surveyor) at a kopitiam during CNY 2006.

G Wong said...

Chinese migrants in Sarikei, the first migrants came to Saley which is some distance from the current Sarikei town and trade is increasingly necessary with the first harvest of pepper. The problem with Saley is the river is too small for bigger boats to load and unload cargo and so boats only stops at the current Sarikei jetty, with increasing trade the jetty area became popular with the starts of the early trades like "Kong Hup Heng" and Hakkas distinct for Kuching make their way to starts shops and business activities started to flourish. People in Saley will say I go "Kei" to sale my harvest, "Kei meaning "Street". The local just call it the new Saley with a "Kei" and hence was know as Saleykei. The Brooks' aministration took notice of an increasingly popular new settlement and officially noted it as Sarikei for the origin started with the early settlement at Saley. Later as more Cantonese migrants came they found that the land further up Sarikei has better access to the town and thus more and more migrant settle at places such as Sugei Rusa, KiSat, MeiNa, Bulat etc etc. There wasn't a Repok Rd then, people have to make their way using both river on the left and the right of the town or they just walk a few hours. With the success of pepper growing and also the good price from pepper many farmers accumulated enough money to starts business and thus the demand for shops houses in Sarikei. The early developer of shop houses which happen to be a Cantonese and is the father of the "Manager of CTC" (During my time ofcourse) build the old shop houses which we see today. A District Council was started by the Brook's administration, The Cantonese association were formed and know as "Kwang Hui Seow" as they came mainly from the three district in Guangdong, the traders formed a Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Schools were needed and thus the start of Kwang Chien. Some of the Foochow that came with Wong Nai Siong make their way to Sarikei to starts business and rubber farming but wasn't that many of them until much later where in the 1930s they came by the boat load as the advancing war in China.

Daniel Yiek said...

G Wong,
Absolutely awesome feeback!!! Any other readers with good info passed down from generations?

Kanga said...

G wong,
I read your feedback with great interest. It all mostly lined up with what I was told when I was young. To add two more areas where the Xinhui Cantonese operated in the early days were 'sa-la-ngan' and Sungai Anyit (these areas are next to each other.)I was told that just after WWII pepper prices reached a height of $1000 per pikul?(i.e. 100 katis; I forgot the conversion. 1 kati=16 units??, 1 lb = 12 same units??). Note that it was the old British or Malayan dollar! Has any one still got those coins or notes??? I heard the saying that people went to town (Sarikei) with less than half a flour bag (you know the flour you make gongpiang with) of pepper and could not carry back all the goods they bought and still have pocket full of money! Rubber was $500 per pikul then. All those Cantonese elders found the most fertile farm land for planting pepper in Sarikei! Mostly next to the rivers (the best means of transport then).My grandpa was one of those Cantonese farmers. I recalled he owned a 3-1/2 horsepower outboard engine to power the long boat. The engine needs to be started by wrapping a short length of rope around the top bit of the motor and pull! After many attempts, wah! It was very high tech then!

Anonymous said...

The earliest Chinese came to Sarikei are mostly the Cantonese. (Mostly surname is CHAN). They came to a place called Sare (or Sari), in early 19th Century. (1800 - 1900) ~Sari is 20KM from Sarikei. You can reach the place via Merudong road of Jakar.

From the Chinese cemetary of Sari, you can easily find out certain graveyards are backdated as early as 1850, much earlier than Wong Nai Siong or our Mighty White Rajah, Sir James Brookes -The Pirate of The Royalist.
I don't know what are they doing over that place, maybe
Running business, collecting commodity? Fishing? Barter trade with the Ibans? Pepper Gardening? No idea....
Later only some Foochow people from Sibu came down and settle down at Sungei Repok to search for new swamp land for planting rubber tree. They started to rent the land from C.V.Brooke or just directly bought over from the Cantonese. You can find this type of land titles in the Land Survey Department of Sarikei and mostly this type of land is 999 years considered as free hold lands lor...... Ha..ha...
Initially, Sungei Repok is a small canel with a few attaps shophouses and later it became a settlement and finally, Sungei Repok was reconstructed becoming an underground drainage and on top is our current Sarikei Town Main Road - THE REPOK ROAD.....
Now, you still can see the drainage outlet where the drain water flow out into Rejang River, the outlet is located besides Lian Hing Gas Station.

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