Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Scenes - Sarikei Rubber 1947-48

Sarikei rubber tapping 1947-48
Click to enlarge. Click back arrow to come back.
Source: Hedda Morrison's 1957 book "Sarawak"
Submitted by reader Ikan Sembilang

edda Morrsion captured these images of rubber tapping and processing while she lived in Sarikei in 1947-48. Her husband was the assistant District Officer and his office near Jalan Getah (the road to Kwang Chien School) had rubber tapping at the fringe of downtown. This probably evoked her interest to travel to the countryside's rubber scene. For more rubber tapping and other info, click rubber label below.

Sarikei rubber rolling 1947-48.

This is not an ice shaving machine for chendol!
Click to enlarge. Click back arrow to come back.
Source: Hedda Morrison's 1957 book "Sarawak"
Submitted by reader Ikan Sembilang

The latex collected from tapping the rubber trees is mixed with formic acid (a coagulant) in flat pans. After a few hours, the wet sheets of rubber are wrung by putting them through a rubber mangle or press. They are then vulcanized.

Vulcanization is the curing process of rubber involving high heat and the addition of sulfur. It is a chemical process in which polymer molecules are linked to other polymer molecules by atomic bridges composed of sulfur atoms. This makes the cured material more durable and more resistant to chemical attack. Uncured rubber will deteriorate within a few days into a wet crumbly mess.

Sarikei rubber drying 1947-48
Click to enlarge. Click back arrow to come back.
Source: Hedda Morrison's 1957 book "Sarawak"
Submitted by reader Ikan Sembilang

In the old days, rubber sheets were dried by hanging above wood fired stoves. You had to get used to the rubbery smell. Find the rubber sheets in the picture above. This type of attap (nipah palm) thatch roof was common in Sarikei suburbs till the early 1970s before people could afford zinc or tiled roof.
Spot the big wooden cover (at the wall) for the wok and the pots used for cooking rice (no auto off rice cooker then, let alone non-stick pots). The stove reminds one of the modern island stove concept you see in design magazines. The humble open concept wall of sticks would be suitable for stir fry cooking. Finally, note the style of dressing then which are still worn by some older Chinese women in Sarikei. Lovely.

These pictures should get your rubber stamp of approval for its nolstalgia.


Daniel Yiek said...

Sincere thanks to Ikan Sembilang for unearthing these 4 Hedda Morrsion pictures and taking the trouble to snap them and sending them in for all to enjoy the history.

Kanga said...

Yes Daniel,
Nolstalgia is the word! all the memories come back after seeing these pictures! I was involved in all the rubber planting and processing when I was young. In the 60's high yield rubber seedings and grafting were introduced.
Just a few minor details : water needs to be added to the latex,formic accid needs to be diluted; all in accurate portions/proportions or else it would be a mess and spoil the day!
In the first picture; see that under growth; that's where you can harvest the fern(biling)jungle vegetable. The second picture shows the flat rolling process. The last stage was going through a corrugated roller. (Nowadays only one rolling satge is used). In the third picture, the placing of the rubber sheets is at an optimised height (not getting burnt by the cooking flame yet getting the most heat and smoke).
Just been to Sarikei and learnt that raw rubber can fetch around RM$5 per kilo. Good for the rubber farmers.

ront said...

hedda morrison's pictures in cornell's archive?

let's see if we can get someone to unearth more treasure

Fredy said...

wow.. that is something nice.. hey man.. can I take pic number 2 to use in my blog. will credit you and Ikan Sembilang..

plz email me..


Daniel Yiek said...

There may be more old photos on Box 18 of negatives in Cornell University. Box 18 has amongst other things: "Small towns"

ront said...


dont hold your breathe...i am no where near cornell..... but let's see what can be done....

i am keeping my fingers crossed...


ikan semilang said...

When they were in Sarikei, the Morrisons lived at Mile 1 Repok Road where the Sesco and R&DO office now stand. In his book ‘Fair Land, Sarawak’, Alastair Morrison gave some interesting recollections of the rural life in Sarikei and the Foochow gardener they befriended. To the Morrisons in 1947/1948, the area after the town was regarded as very rural! I can imagine that the St Anthony’s school then must be surrounded by a jungle of rubber trees.

Alex Allied said...

that "chan" the lady was holding in her hand, what do they call it in English? That was damn old school man. =.= I still remember the days when my mom used it.

Never seen it nowadays though.

Daniel Yiek said...

Extract from John Pike (former District officer in Sarikei)

From British military intelligence to financial secretary of Sarawak: John Pike 1945-1967

The war in Korea (1950-1953) created a boom market in rubber and pepper, two of Sarawak's staple exports at that time. (45) Income from rubber exports more than trebled between 1949 and 1950, and by another 40 per cent in 1951. (46) Similarly pepper exports doubled between 1949 and 1950 and quadrupled again in 1951. (47) But both rubber and pepper were long-term crops and there had been little rubber replanting since World War Two. Most Chinese farmers benefitted from the boom, but some missed out due to their rubber trees and pepper plants no longer being productive or new plantings not being ready for tapping or pepper collection. An "astonishing number of Chinese" who failed in this way committed suicide. Pike's most poignant memory when at Binatang "was the frequency of calls to him as a newly appointed Third Class Magistrate to view the bodies."

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