Saturday, November 10, 2012

History: Sarikei Night Soil Man - The boogeyman

As you traverse the back lane (lorong) between Wharf Road and Central Road, you will find the last 2 remaining rusty metal flaps over sealed rectangular holes at the back of the Central Road shops from the late 1950s. What were the function of these metal flaps ?  Were they pet doors or soy milk bottle delivery holes? The holes were small enough to deter burglars but then no burglar would want to go through these holes.

Sarikei bucket toilet - metal flap. 
Lorong between Wharf Road and Central Road 2012

In the 1930s-mid 1970s, Sarikei shop houses did not have flush toilets, individual septic disposal or sewage treatment facilities. The bucket toilet was the de facto mode of passing motion. The bucket toilet was next to the bathroom and had one side facing the back lane for the night soil man to open the metallic flap for collection of the human excrement.

Bucket toilet of Singapore.
Source: PChew

In Sarikei shophouses, the bucket toilet looked similar to the above picture except that the steps of the bucket toilet were inside the door. As you can imagine, it was not a pleasant experience to use these toilets, let alone collecting the waste but someone had to do the job. Enter the night soil man. Obviously he had to be paid way better than most manual labourers.

The night soil man is an euphemism for the manual collector of human waste in the dead of the night. He would balance 2 buckets over a pole on his slender shoulders. The waste was dumped into the Rejang River in the early days and sewage eating fish ("sai seng") would have a feeding frenzy. There's a story that a fisherman would come with his net and gunny sack to collect this easy catch and then sell them off to unsuspecting consumers in the fish market.

Night soil man, Singapore

You would seldom see him working overtime during the day. Kids would mock him and dogs would bark at him. Parents would point to him as a boogeyman to warn the kids to burn midnight oil - "to study hard or end up like him".

In Sarikei, the night soil man in the 1950s-1970s was a hard working illiterate man who walked with a limp. He lived in a wooden house on stilts near the current gate of St. Anne's School. His wife, his mute daughter and him could be seen relaxing on the porch in the evening before he started on his daily night shift. He didn't need to be rich to be happy.

Mr Night Soil Man, we salute you for your service to Sarikei.

1 comment:

Sarawakiana@2 said...

It is good to remember such an unsung hero!! thanks.

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