Friday, May 16, 2008

History - Sarikei Road Names. Part 1

I was reading an old book with no pictures at Kuching Petra Jaya library (reference section) on the origins of the names of Kuching roads. This inspired the idea for this post. Surely Sarikei is not deplete of roads named for historic reasons. Old roads have meaningful associations with their history whereas new roads like those at Kampung Seberang across Sarikei River are merely named after fruits, birds and flowers. Ok, at least the main road, Rentap Road, is named after the Iban freedom figher, Panglima Rentap, but he didn't live around that area.

Sarikei Kubu Lama Road 2008
Former Sebor building on left
Sesco backup power station on right (not shown)

Jalan Kubu Lama means Old Fort Road in Malay. James Brooke built a fort at this road in 1856 against some of the indigenous people who had chosen the paths of pirates. The fort is now gone but we can speculate that it was at the confluence of Rejang River and Nyelong River for the best location to monitor river activities (the key means of commuting). More on this in a future post including a rare old pic of this road.

Sarikei Wharf Road 2008
View from No. 22 Wharf Road
Former Kwong Lee Bank location.

Sarikei downtown had 6-7 Cantonese and Hokkien shops in 1910 when the first Foochow went there to search for agricultrural land. (Source: 1 ). The earliest shophouses were in a row of attap (nipah palm) roofed shophouses with their front facing Wharf Road and the back of the shops facing the Rajang (Rejang) River. (Source: 2). The first commercial wharf in Sarikei was at Wharf Road, hence its name.

The stretch of road along the river bank after the Repok Road junction is Bank Road 銀行街. It's named after the former Kwong Lee Bank 廣利銀行 at No. 22 Wharf Road, the first bank in Sarikei. I don't have a picture because scrap metal thieves have robbed the bank ... I mean, the road sign.

Sarikei Market Road 2008
Customs building in background.
Police station on right (not shown)

The awkward literal translation of Market Road into Chinese characters (see picture) does not do justice to its historic significance. The first major wet market was situated next to an old Customs building at the location of the current Customs building. It was a single storey building made of bilian wood with a small extension on the side where an Indian sold pineapples (1-2 sen each), pumpkins, etc. This Indian chap continued operations after the market was relocated to Bank Road in the 1950s.

The market was then converted into a club house where the towkays (Chinese businessman) played mahjong. This club served western delights and Hainanese coffee. Boats and sampans (small boats in Malay) from upper Nyelong and Sarikei River would berth next to the building thus making the 3rd and 4th blocks of Wharf Rd the business hub then. (Source: 3)

Sarikei Repok Road 2008
Rejang River Terminal 1 in background
New hotel at former Eastern Cafe, No.1 Bank Rd.

The origin of the name, Repok Road, is not known. Repok Road took over from Wharf Road as the main road circa 1950s when concrete shops mushroomed. Repok Road was the secondary road before World War II with rustic wooden shops and Wharf Road was the primary road with its newer and more glamorous concrete shops. People travelled by river then and everything used Rejang River as the reference point.

Barn swallows swarmed the evening skies of Repok Road in the mid 1940s-early 2000s when overhead electricity cables provided a resting place for them to perch at night. After early 2000s, cables were buried underground and drove the birds to search for alternative homes. This road should probably be called Swallow Road for its iconic creatures.

Sarikei Central Road 2008
View from Market Road junction
Civic Centre in background

Central Road 中央街 cuts into Repok Road at Sarikei's first roundabout (now blocked by palm trees). This central area became the nucleus of Sarikei downtown in early 1950s. Imagine Central Road fronting the padang (field) where all major events happened. Ponder on the excitement of the Sarikei deninzens when the art deco Cathay cinema was completed in 1952 to add a new dimension of entertainment (beyond the first Bai Sheng cinema (now demolished) at the location of the current Oriental Hotel). After the show, drop by the Hung Kiew Kee 馮球記stall (Ah Kow and his dad) for its sumptuous fried noodle by the five-foot way of Central Road, next to No. 9 Repok Road (Kiew Lok Kopitiam 僑樂園茶室)

What's in name? Are you ready for Part 2 when we explore beyond the main arteries?

(1) Chinese Immigration and Society in Sarawak 1868-1917 (Craig A Lockard); Sarawak Gazette, 1 March, 1948.
(2) Reader Lidasar. Also confirmed by 80+ years old Mr Ling, ex-teacher of Kwang Chieng school.
(3) Reader Lidasar


Daniel Yiek said...

Sarikei is a cleaner and greener town compared to most West Malaysia towns. Just look at all the pics in this whole blog, not just this post.

Tuan Lokong said...

Oh Dear Daniel, you make me feel real homesick :)
Guess I could be home for Gawai...Yes in many ways if we look at Sarikei, can be compared with many wellknown township in Malaysia.
"Selamat Ari Gawai to you all"

Anonymous said...

I don't quite agree with Daniel that Sarikei is getting cleaner and greener. Each time I visit Sarikei, I saw no improvements in the drainage of storm sewage all around Sarikei.The stagnant and filthy water was hardly drained. This is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

tuanlokong said...

Suggest comparison 10 years ago, certainly have. Friend perhaps it was rainy season when you last visited the town. Drain? even in KL is filty. There was much more rain last year though.

I am still thinking about those crabs. :)

BurungHelang said...

If you compare the colour of water in the Rejang River at the old wharf, now and then (10 years ago), you would be mad to say that it is cleaner and greener. I used to be able to see fish swimming when waiting in the river taxi. In my childhood days, owls, lizards, fireflies could be spotted/heard almost every night from my old home at Nyelong Bypass. Now Sarikei is just a bit better than Singapore in terms of air/water/flora/fauna quality/quantity.

Daniel Yiek said...

We are comparing Sarikei vs other West Malaysian towns. We can not compare current Sarikei vs old Sarikei lah due to industrialisation and pollution.

In the old Sarikei, there are even fishes and snakes in the drain around the padang.

BurungHelang said...

Sarikei and Sarawak as a whole still has a relatively clean and green environment and I just hope that there are more voices especially from the current generation to conserve the environment instead of encouraging further mass agricultural/industrial exploitation.

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