Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Disappearing Sarikei: Sarikei Architecture - Tale behind the facades

Why were Sarikei's buildings built the way they were? What tales lie beneath the facades?

 Siriki village at Sarikei River. 1840

Physical appearance:
Wooden house with 40-foot high stilts and ladders and nipah palm (attap) thatched roof.

The house was influenced by the Melanau tall house from the lower Rejang basin to protect against rampant pirates. 

The tale:
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.

 Sarikei "Wharf Road" at Rejang River 1905

Physical appearance:
6 wooden Hokkien shophouses on stilts with the back facing the Rejang River (which acted as a natural sewage system) and the front facing the current Wharf Road.

These houses were influenced by the Malay neighbours.

The tale:
The Hokkien pioneers arrived in 1864 and built 4 attap houses along Rejang River and had Malays as neighbours. They planted crops and raised chickens and ducks. The 4 pioneers were 林先慎, 林先海, 林峇峇 and 林朝陽 (nicknamed 峇峇). The 4 houses were later rebuilt as wooden houses and operated as shops with the family living at the back of the shops.

 Sarikei's first Chamber of Commerce, 1937
Established 1932.
Source: Ikan Sembilang
A "Chinese Hall" was in Sarikei in 1927 (Source: Kwang Chien's history)
This was likely Wharf Road (?), the centre of commerce then.

Physical appearance:
Steep belian (ironwood) tiled roof with an attic for goods storage. The second level for the family quarters featured high louvred windows with glass panels. When opened for ventilation, carved wooden bars acted as safety barriers.

 Sarikei Repok Road 1948

The shop on the ground floor was raised above the peat swamp to protect against floods. Access was via a wooden stepped platform. Removable wooden folding doors provided an open concept store front. The hardy wood is known locally as "Alan Batu" or "Melaka" and can last at least 80 years. A protruding awning offered shelter to the five-foot way in front of the shop.

These 1920s shophouses were influenced by the early Chinese shophouses of the Straits Settlement of Malaya especially Singapore which was the port of transit for Sarikeians. Five-foot way is an architectural influence harping back to Sir Stamford Raffles's Town (Singapore) Plan of 1822.

The tale:
The success of pepper as an export provided most of the capital to build these 1920s wooden shophouses. Rubber was only planted in the mid 1930s. Wharf Road was the busy main road facing the chief mode of transport - the river. Repok Road was nicknamed the back street with its 36 wooden shops. Who could have thought that Repok Road could be the main artery later?

To be continued ...


阿炳 (Ah Bing) said...

Nothing much have been written about the Hakka so far. Hakka came to Sarikei early as well and some families quickly established themselves as traders. My suspicious is that after 1884 when the Hakka fled from Western Kalimantan some came by foot and a few landed in Sarikei.

The earliest Chinese that came to Sarawak are the Hakka in the Bau area as gold miners but there were even more Hakka in the lower delta of Kapuas river Western Kalimantan similarly searching for gold and established into several mining Kongsi. One mining Kongsi under chieftain Low Lan Pak even went on to establish into a kingdom (Lan Fang Republic) in the Kun Tian area which is now Pontianak and ruled for 100 over years until the Dutch active expansion into Kun Tian and the Hakka have to fled the area in 1884. Lan Fang Republic was established in 1777 which is even earlier than when George Washington took to office as the 1st president of United States.

DOMINIC HII (許信惠) said...

When you consider over 4000 people registered reading Sarikean Facebook and like it thats a hell of a lot of followers from a small town like Sarikei.

Meantime Cheers to all and wishing a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to every Sarikean readers here and not the least to Daniel himself the author of this blog journal. May your good work continue on and on. Cheers!

Daniel Yiek said...

Thanks Dominic for the kind words.

This blog will end when it runs out of content (I'm not sure when yet).

I will let the admins of Sarikeians facebook group continue their good work with bite size pictorial commentaries. Blogging is a dying trend in the internet world.

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