History of Sarikei

Datuk Patinggi Abdul Rahman's house and village
Sarikei River, 1840

Sarikei 泗里奎 has a rich heritage that's well recorded back to the 1840s.

The Rejang (Rajang) 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. His Siriki village at Sarikei River could be considered the cradle of Sarikei civilisation.

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. On 30th April 1845 James Brooke visited Saikei in his steamer H.E.I.C.S. Phlegethon.

Sarikei town
Rejang River, 1905

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.

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.

Sarikei Wharf Road at Rejang River, late 1930s
The first main road then.

Panglima Rentap, an Iban freedom fighter, was famous for his fearless battles against the colonial armies of James and Charles Brooke from 1849-1861. 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.

Sarikei Repok Road, 1948.
This was the back street then.

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 in exchange for Brooke's control of Mukah.

Sarikei Repok Road, 1958

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.

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). 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.

Sarikei was "a lonely looking place, 20 miles from the mouth, consisting of 4 or 5 tumble-down Malay houses on a mud bank" in 1880. Sarikei was then just a "small and exceedingly dirty Chinese bazaar and Malay kampung".

Sarikei Repok Road, 1970

The Cantonese arrived in Sare, Sarikei, several years before 1885, the documented year of the kongsi house at Sare. 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.

Sarikei view of Central Road, 1965

By 1914, Sarikei had become a popular Foochow settlement for growing rubber and pepper. Later Foochows became the major Chinese dialect group in Sarikei.

Sarikei downtown grew from 4 to 6 shops in 1905 and then 8 more wooden shops were added opposite these 6 along Wharf Road (total 14). The Brooke government thought that the wooden shops next to the Rejang River at Wharf Road were not safe and requested that new shops be moved inland for long term development. Hence 34 (20?) wooden shops along Repok Road were built. Repok Road was then known as the backstreet with Wharf Road known as the front (main) street.

Sarikei was developed up to Jakar in 1926 and up to Nyelong River in 1927. In 1936, Sarikei was a cluster of shophouses by the river and not much of a town yet. By 1943, Sarikei had ~ 40 concrete shops (22 on Wharf Road, 5 on Bank Road and 5 on Block 2L Repok Road). Another 5 shops were added in 1946 on Block 2R.

The wooden shops along Repok Road was demolished in 1948 to make way for concrete shops. Block 3R and Block 3L were completed circa 1951-1952. Central Road shops and Cathay cinema were newly completed by 1952. Block 4R, Block 4L, Block 5R and Block 5L were completed in 1953. Block 6R replaced the wooden Bai Sheng cinema in 1955.

Sarikei Repok Road, 2006

A narration of Sarikei's history can not miss out the impact of the 1941-45 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. That's why you are here.

(Note: Please do not copy photos from this blog. You will deprive Sarikei from having unique content for the upcoming charity book)


Sarikei Nyelong River Esplanade, 2007

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