Friday, January 18, 2008

Scenes - Sarikei Nipah Palm Products

Nipah Palms at Sarikei Kampung Seberang, 2007

These are not exactly swaying coconut palms by a pristine beach. These are the ubiquitous nipah (attap) palms that thrive along the salty and muddy rivers of Sarawak. These were the palms that you see along the Rejang, the Sarikei and the Nyelong Rivers since you were born. You have always wondered what the heck is inside the dense jungles of nipah palms across the rivers. Well, the nipah palm produces plenty of food and natural materials for the resourceful locals.

Nipah Palm's immature fruits.

Sarikei Nipah Palm's Attap Chee, 2007

It's a no brainer that the thatched attap houses of the old days use attap leaves. Attap leaves are used for basketry too. They were also tied to pillars of buildings as a unique Sarawakian decor to welcome VIPs in the old days till the late 70s but are seldom used nowadays.

Then there's the attap chee (nipah palm seeds in Hokkien) that are found in many desserts like chendol, ABC, etc. They are translucent, sweet, chewy and gelatinous. They come from the immature fruits of the nipah palm.

Nipah Palm leaves.

The nipah palm has a horizontal trunk that grows beneath the ground and only the leaves and its flower stalk grow upwards above the earth. Hmm, did you know this? In Burma, people use the trunk as a float in swimming lessons.

Sarikei Nipah Palm shoots, 2007

I took an educational visit to a stall in the row next to the Sarikei downtown bus terminal. The Cantonese husband and Foochow wife patiently explained some of the nipah palm products at their stall. The nipah plam's young shoot is actually edible. What does it taste like?

Nipah Palm flower cluster.

Sarikei Nipah Palm's Attap sugar, 2007

The popular attap thng (nipah palm sugar in Hokkien) is made from the sap of the nipah flower cluster before it blooms. In the Philippines, this sap is used to make an alcoholic beverage and vinegar. The petals can used to make herbal tea. On the islands of Roti and Savu, the sap is fed to pigs to impart a sweet taste to the pork. The fermented sap also has good potential as a biofuel.

Sarikei Nipah Palm's attap salt, 2007

The nipah palm can also be used to make salt rich in iodine. The salt is wrapped in leaves and grilled. I can not recall how the nipah palm produces the salt. Any idea?

Sarikei Nipah Palm and Coconut palm brooms, 2007

And now for the trick question. Which of the above brooms are made from nipah and coconut palm leaves? The bottom two are the raw and dry stems of the nipah palm leaves. Nipah palms have longer fronds of leaves though they may be shorter than typical coconut trees.

Sarikei Nipah Palm cigarettes, 2007
Raw leaves on left. Dried leaves & tobacco on right.

Holy smoke! The rolled cigarettes that some people smoke around town actually use the dried nipah palm leaves for rolling the tobacco.

The next time you hold something in your palm (pun not intended), bear in mind that it may be one of the products of the humble nipah palms.

Watch this video (towards the last 15minutes)


Daniel Yiek said...

The smoke from the nipah plam cigarettes smells terrible but that's all some people can afford to have their nicotine fix.

kanga said...

Good article on attap, Daniel. I recall one Indian teacher in St. Anthony's said he thought the nipah palms were coconut palms; 'with that much coconut palms, this place must be very rich!' he said.

Lidasar said...

During the Japanese occupation all regular supplies of commodities were disrupted and salt being an important item must be urgently addressed otherwise your grandfather could have make a fortune selling salt in the black market. Luckily the process of making salt from Nipah Palm was known to the locals. The process is to burn up the Nipah Palm, the ashes goes through a cooking and filtering process and the residue is what you called the Nipah salt.

There was this guy whose nick name called 大炮 making soap at one of the behind wooden shop during the Japanese occupation, I guess a lot of Ah Kong & Ah Ma won't have soap to bath for 4 years if not for 大炮.

Can anyone find out more about the Japanese shop called "Na Hor" that sale Japanese products during the Japanese occupation? I am not going to give away today in the hope that readers will start asking their elders so that when the block is feature we will have more resources.

stlau said...

I was in Holiday Inn Damai Beach last June (2007) and they had nipah for decoration - 2 leaves tied to every column (outside the conference hall).

Tuan Lokong said...

Fuiyoo! Daniel you make me homesick about this Nipah. The shoot is fantastic. Just get the young parts and boil them later when about soft either you fry it with sambal udang or sambal ikan pusu cap "Yeo's" nyam nyam.

The brown packets "Sugar" or Gula Apong as local called. Best in making the new "Tea See" and also great for some "Kueh" the Malays made. Then for me I love it for rice powder mixed and boiled. Iban usually called it "Bubur tepong Asi" Much more not forgetting the famous "Penganan" isk isk need to stop here...more homesick lah..

Borneo Breezes said...

Great post. Your info and pictures should be added to Wikipedia.

Daniel Yiek said...

Borneo Breeze,
Didn't realise you are still reading this blog after leaving Sarawak.

Someone has removed The Sarikei Time Capsule as a reference from the wikipedia entry on Sarikei. I think this is to make that entry on Sarikei more formal as blogs are probably viewed as unofficial. Incidentally, Singapore Gov is archiving many blogs to preserve alternative views for future generations.

BurungHelang said...

Never knew the humble attap plants have so many uses. Also could never get how when my late uncle (well geared up) could spend an entire afternoon prowling among the swampy thorn ridden mangroves and failed to find any well ripen attap chee but when an Iban man (unclothed) could find a bunch in a few minutes. It is like their attap garden.

Gillian Perrett said...

Congratulations on an excellent post. I was googling for 'nipah' and you answered all my questions, plus some I didn't know I had.

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