What is Sarikei's differentiation versus other Sarawak towns that will attract the history buffs? When tourists stop by the Sarikei wharf on the Kuching express boat, they think that Sarikei is just another transit town for unloading and loading of goods. And oh, say "bye, bye" to that big pineapple statue and the tourists are gone.
Sarikei River (partly hidden) on top left.
Rejang River on the top right
Sarikei has a rich heritage that's well recorded back to the 1840s but not well promoted. Even Sarawakians don't know much about the importance of Sarikei's contribution to Sarawak's history.
What about opening a viewing platform cum restaurant at the top of Wisma Jubli Mutiara? The history of Sarikei around the three rivers can be explained to tourists from the viewing platform.
The Rejang River was a key source of wealth in Sarawak in the 1840s with products like rice, beeswax, jungle products, fine clothes and dried fish. The trade was controlled by the affluent Malays at Sarikei and the ruler was Datuk Patinggi Abdul Rahman (the most powerful man along the coast). His mother was a Kayan from upriver and he had the support of the Kayan chiefs. (Source: 1).
His village (above) at Sarikei River could be considered the cradle of Sarikei civilisation. When the Sarikei River esplanade is built in the near future, I hope they add a monument to commemorate this history. This will be a key tourist pit stop.
Rajah James Brooke wanted to use the Rejang River to fight against the Ibans of Skrang and Saribas who had migrated to Kanowit and other lower Rejang tributaries. By 1845, Abdul Rahman could not contain the Ibans. James Brooke sailed to Sarikei in 1846 in his British steamer, Phlegethon, and wanted Abdul Rahman to control the Dyaks of Kanowit so that they didn't make boats for the Ibans' raiding expeditions down the Rejang River. (Source:1)
Sarikei was part of the Brunei Sultanate until Sarikei became part of the Sarawak Territory after Sultan Abdul Mumin of Brunei ceded the Lower Rejang (Rajang) Basin to James Brooke in 1853.
Panglima Rentap, an Iban freedom fighter, was famous for his fearless battles against the colonial armies of James and Charles Brooke from 1849-1861. (Source: 2). He was buried at Lumbong Rentap (Rentap's tomb), an honorable Iban burial ground sheltered from the weather in a hut at the top of Bukit Sibau, Pakan, Sarikei. Rentap's Monument at Bukit Sadok is 44 km from Bukit Sibau.
The attractiveness of Sarikei's control over the lower Rejang River lured another man of big ambitions, Sherip Masahor of Igan River. He was an ally of the Ibans and used this relationship to attack Abdul Rahman from upriver Rejang and from the coastal Rejang. He gained control of Sarikei in 1849 and ruled till 1861.
Nyelong River on Right.
Rejang River on Top.
Jalan Kubu Lama is parallel to Rejang River.
On 4 January 1856, Sarikei was burnt by the Julau Dayaks.
In the same month, Rajah James Brooke travelled to Sarikei and constructed a new fort for his perabangan ("brotherhood") with Abang Ali and Abang Asop. An upset Sherip Masahor was excluded from Sarikei and he went on to build a force with his allies. Rajah Brooke could not ignore this and dropped the perabangan and reinstated Sherip Masahor in Sarikei in September 1857. (Source:1) In return, Brooke gained control of Mukah.
It appears that five years after it was built by James Brooke, the Sarikei Fort was burnt down by the Sarawak force sent by Charles Johnson Brooke to capture Masahor. This fort was at Jalan Kubu Lama (Old Fort Road) along the Rejang River. A replica of the fort should be built at that location as a historic monument or museum.
In 1864, Hokkien pioneers came from South Eastern China, Fujian 福建 province, Zhangzhou 漳州 prefecture level city, 海澄 HaiDeng county level city (previously known as 三都 SanDu). (Source: 3). 1864 was close to August 1861 when Sherip Masahor's rule ended in coastal Sarawak and power was handed over to the Brooke government by Sultan Abdul Mumin.
The Cantonese arrived in Sare, Sarikei, several years before 1885, the documented year of the kongsi house at Sare. (Source: 4). They came mainly from Xin Hui 新會 (county level city) of Jiangmen 江門 (prefecture city level) in the Guangdong 廣東 province of south eastern China.
In 1910, a few enterprising Foochows from Sibu including Wong Ching Poh, Wong Ching Chung, Lau Yen King rowed a boat to a Malay kampung in Petelit (across Sarikei River). They obtained permission from the kampung (village) head, Haji Omar, to clear land to plant vegetables, padi and fruit trees. (Source: 5)
History and architecture buffs will be interested at how the facades of the Chinese shop houses in Sarikei differ from the ones in the more affluent Straits Settlements of Penang (Georgetown), Malacca and Singapura. A typical shop house here has a less elaborate fascia board and fretwork that adorn the eaves of the roof.
A five-foot way in front of the shop on the ground floor is made by protruding the first floor to form a covered pedestrian corridor. An alfresco air well is common in the middle of the shop house.
Sarikei needs to provide incentives and guidelines to restore and conserve the facades of the historic shop houses instead of letting owners renovate haphazardly until the character of the buildings is lost. A walking guide of the historic development of the different blocks of shop houses will be great.
A narration of Sarikei's history can not miss out the impact of World War II, the 1946 cession to the British, the 1955 trade hartal, Sarawak's Independence in 1963 and the Indonesian Konfrontasi and the Communist era (1962-1973)
As they say, the rest is history.
1. Power and Prowess, JH Walker, 2002. p147-155. Submitted by Ikan Sembilang.
2. Men of Sarawak, A.M. Cooper, 1968
3. Interview with Sarikei Hokkien pioneer 林片登 in 1984. Submitted by Ikan Sembilang.
4. Sarikei Cantonese Association 122th Anniversary Issue, Dec 2007. p95
5. Chinese Pioneers, Sarawak Frontiers (1841-1941), Daniel Chew. p160-161