Monday, September 03, 2007

A Crafty Cruel Father

I had the opportunity to meet up with one very articulate and kind lady who came from rubber tapping days of the past. Because she was so generous with her story, I decided to write her story down.

Below is her story:

Being the eldest daughter of the family, I had to tap rubber for the whole family even though I was very very young, at an age Chinese people would consider "not yet dry from mother's milk". In modern times, I must say I was only about five at that time when I followed my mother to the rubber garden. My work partner was none other than my mother who was a woman totally abused by my father, a scholarly, fine boned and ne'er-to-do- well type from China.

It was perhaps natural that from a very young age, I often thought of escaping from the miserable life I had with my father.

First I will describe my life as a child in the family as well as my family in general. Then I will describe my life as a rubber-tapper, from the moment I was tall enough to put the rubber-tapping knife on the bark of the rubber trees.

As I was first born (eldest child), I had to be responsible for everything. I had to carry water from the stream for cooking, washing and cleaning. I washed clothes by the stream regardless of whether it was sunny or raining. I had six brothers and sisters who came very closely into this world as there was no family planning at that time. My mother never had a day of rest and had to suffer physical blows dealt out by my father who was lazy, greedy and nasty, even when she was pregnant. Very few people would believe me whenever I talk about my father in this way. My mother would never say anything bad about my father because to her, she was fated to marry such a man, and she had to remain married to him until death do them part. She had no other options.

The rubber trees that my family tapped were not ours. It was my father's intention to tap rubber as a means of making a living in Sarawak. He left China in the 1930's when he heard that Sibu was a thriving town. He married a strong and capable young woman and brought her to Sarawak. As the Rajah Brooke by then had stopped giving away free land to immigrants, my father had to rent a rubber garden from an Iban man. My mother had to do all rubber tapping while my father never had a proper job. He rested for far more days than he worked.

Each day, my mother and I would go to the rubber garden early in the morning. We used a simple kerosene lamp to light the way. My greatest fear was to step on a snake or a scorpion. But for my mum, she was only happy when she was away from the house for the few hours when she tapped rubber. It was during all those rubber-tapping mornings that we would talk to each other without fear of being overheard. It was also the time that my mother would not have to fear that a fist was about to land on her head. It was also during those hours that I learned from my mother on how to be a proper and decent human being. I called those days as learning from the roots of rubber trees. Those were really our good times and no sufferings could obliterate our appreciation of those moments.

My family managed to earned just enough for our daily needs and there was very little to spare at first. My father was in control of our lives and we dreaded his abusive ways. However, through my mother's pleadings my siblings and I went to school for a few years. Subsequently, the Japanese occupation interrupted our education.

After the Japanese occupation my mother and I continued to tap rubber and the price of rubber was fairly good then. Soon it was time for me to get married. A young man approached my father for my hand. But my father only agreed if he had a piece of land. My father claimed that his daughters were very valuable and in great demand as brides for the young able men in the village. The young man was very determined to marry me and in a few years he had earned enough money to buy a piece of land. He also borrowed some money to buy a little extra piece of land to impress my father.

Before we got married, my father suddenly added another condition to our marriage. The young man had to bring up my siblings as well. My future husband was so delighted that he said yes to the condition. Hence he gained a young and hardworking bride as well as a set of young in laws whom he had to feed as well.

After I got married, I moved away from my parents' home. I felt sad but at the same time, I felt happy. In a way, my marriage also ended my rubber tapping days. Today I can say that I had a very happy marriage and my husband had treated me very well throughout his life time.

Whenever I see a rubber tree today, I would have tears in my eyes. The tears are for my mother who loved me and who suffered so much as wife of a good for nothing man. The tears are also for my husband who "bought" me with a little rubber garden and for treating me very well.

(Postscript: I am glad :Mrs. X today is living a good life in Singapore where her son is remarkably successful in business. Her other children are also very successfu and are all over the world. I thank her for her confidence in me and I believe that her story must be told even if she remains anonymous in my writing.)

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