Monday, September 24, 2007


SARAWAK has always been well known for its REGATTA and Sibu has been one of the centres of such an event for several occasions.

In many of the written records, "Sarawak Regatta has been a premier event with a distinct historical and cultural significant". The first regatta was held even before 1872 and was organized as an annual event taking place during the New Year. Sarawak Gazette had recorded in 1872, that the annual Regatta that year was held, on 29th February 1872 at the Sarawak River infront of the Astana. The European community in Sarawak and in the neighboring countries were invited to the Astana - for breakfast - before the race. Keen competition were also recorded for the Rajah Cup.

The boat 'Sri Matu' built and manned by the Melanaus, was reported as the winning boat. The Gazette records provided the indication that Regatta had been an important social event organized annually for social integration and goodwill for the people of Sarawak. Prominent Political figure, the late Tan Sri Datuk Amar Ong Kee Hui, recorded that Raja Charles Brooke used to send his yacht "Maimunah1 to outstation to bring in the various "Tuan Residents" to join in the social event.

The tradition of holding the annual Regatta in the Sarawak River continued through the Colonial period and into the post-Malaysia period. During these periods the Regatta was organized by Resident and District Office with funds from the Government while the rest of the fund was raised through public donations.

The day programme included races for traditional longboats, dragon boats and other activities, like the running of totolizers, climbing greasing poles, catching ducks and "pillow fights". Racing boats from outstations made it a grand affair and also a great occasion for families from outside the State Capital to visit Kuching town.

What about the Sibu regatta then?Like the Sarawak Regatta,the Resident of Sibu or Third Division was the chair person of the event and important head men were invited to send in their boats for the competition.

Sibu would be well decorated with all the bantings and yellow, black and red flags. Also, a lot of Ibans and Melanaus and Malays would be flooding the streets. What I remembered was the presence of so many beautiful Iban maidens and their very heavy costumes. A few older ladies would be walking behind them and all the men would be oggling at them from the five foot way. Many men would get very excited and they would start shouting at each other to be noticed!! I disliked men who became coarse and loud in the presence of unsuspecting ladies. But most people would not pay any attention to this kind of chauvinistic behaviour. Live and let live I suppose.

However, regatta to the Chinese would have a different meaning even though in Sarawak a regatta was to help integration of different races.

To the Chinese a regatta if held by the Chinese associations would mean commemorating the death of Chu Yuan,a famous thinker who committed suicide on the 5th Day of the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

Chu Yuan was an advisor to the Emperor of the Warring States, about 2000 years ago in China. However because he was so valued by the Emperor other ministers and officials were jealous of him. As a result they plotted against him and managed to banish him from the palace. Later the Emperor realised his mistake when his kingdom was conquered by the enemies. But it was too late.

When Chu Yuan heard about the fall of his state and the death of the Emperor he considered everything had come to an end and that his life was no longer useful. So he tied a rock to himself and jumped into the River Lo.

When his faithful country men heard about his death, they quickly rallied around in their small fishing boats to look for him but it was too late. In order tohonour him, these fishermen and fellow country men, made offerings of glutinous dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and threw them into the river.

So to this day, regatta would be held on the 5th Day of the Fifth Month and dumplings would be throne into the river to remember Chu Yuan and his good deeds.

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