Why were Sarikei's buildings built the way they were? What tales lie beneath the facades?
Siriki village at Sarikei River. 1840
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 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
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 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
Source: Ikan Sembilang
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.
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 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 ...