Tuesday, January 15, 2008


In my opinion, of course, it seemed so fated that the fall in the prices of rubber should dovetail into the rise of the timber industry. I have often asked this question,could the economic luck of an industrious people like the Foochows be always so blessed?

If I say that the earliest days of the Foochow Settlement and Japanese Occupation could be the only time when the Foochows in Sarawak felt some pangs of hunger and anxiety, I am not entirely boasting. When the rubber prices went up, life was good for the hardworking people. And then following this wave of rubber supremacy, was another wave of timber expansion.

The whole world went crazy about Ramin, a beautiful tropical hardwood. "Gonystylus, also known as Ramin, is a genus of about 30 species of hardwood trees native to southeast Asia, in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea, with the highest species diversity on Borneo.

Ramin is a medium-sized tree, attaining a height of about 24 m with a straight, clear, unbuttressed bole about 18 m long and 60 cm in diameter. It is slow-growing, and occurs mainly in swamp forests.

The white wood is often used in children's furniture and window blinds. It is used because it is harder and lighter colour than many other hardwoods. However, over-exploitation has led to all species of ramin being listed as endangered species, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. An estimated 90% of ramin in recent international trade is illegally logged. Other names include melawis (Malaysia) and ramin telur (Sarawak)." (Wikipaedia)

And because many of my school going aged cousins went to work part time or full time with the Lee Hua Sawmill near New Southern Village, I learned at an early age the importance of this product.

How should one look at ramin? Perhaps just at the advantages? or perhaps the human lives which were affected by it? or the impact it has on the life in general in Sarawak? or the destruction of the ecological balance as a result of its overlogging?

Ramin is fairly exceptional and beautiful as a wood. It is smooth, and extremely fair. Perhaps one can call it the porcelain of tropical wood.

Ramin is also a wood which helped made many Foochows extremely rich and perhaps elevated them to a higher social class.

Sibu became a very wealthy town because of ramin. Many people were blessed with good jobs, both locally and overseas. Sibu became such a bustling town in those days that almost every one was smiling. And the bubble never seemed to burst.

Sawmills and many timber camps sprouted up everywhere. People of power and wealth played great roles in determining social mores and values. Families were broken by distances created by real distances and differences in income.

There were many spinoffs from the trade : nightclubs,pubs,brothels,mahjong dens , spare part companies, export companies,car salesrooms, etc. which obviously spouted every where in Sibu.

And the social scene was no longer that of a simple, united Foochow cultural setting. The social divide, the economic divide and even the political divide came into being. I was just a very idealist secondary school student when I chanced a remark to a rich timber tycoon's wife , a sort of distant relative ( it is remarkably common to find rich people who tend to be very "distant" to relaives who happen to come from the poor side of the track) to this effect - if only ramin trees were like chickens or any other animals which took only six months to breed, how wonderful it would be for every one. She retorted, "Fortunately for me though, ramin is exclusive ".

7 memories:

Unknown said...

It used to be rubber, then ramin and now oil palm. What next? I guess the Foochows are lucky that they settle on wetlands, the peat swamp forest where ramin together with alan is one of the dominant tree species. Westerner likes ramin because of its fair colour. But unfortunately for ramin, today it is listed under the Conventional of International Trades in Endangered species (CITES) as endangered.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

I am worried that we may just grow too much oil palm and destroy our land too fast. Care must always be taken to ensure that our Mother Earth remains our most treasured life giver. This morning the tap gave me brownish water. Will we soon have to buy imported water from France? What a nasty thought.

It did not take us long to put ramin on the endangered species list. Our children and perhaps even our grandchildren will never enjoy owning a nice desk made from ramin now.

I saw a conference room in Selangor during my student days. It was entirely outfitted with ramin. Exquisite.

Unknown said...

The same goes for animals and plants like orang utan!! The oil palm plantation may drive them extinct!! I guess when people firt setled down in Sarawak and Rejang, they have no idea that their work will have detrimental effect on the environment, very much that Foochow women were ignorance about goitre! Knowledge is great! Thanks to so many selfless educator, doctors, researchers, environmentalists.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Honesty, humility, intelligent work ethics,good balance of Yin and Yang, good management and sincerity are all very important elements. I have a basic principle to live by : live simply so that others can simply live!!

FrancisN said...

Deforestation is a world wide issue and indigenous people, animal species, plants and the environment, all suffered because of it.

Destroying the "lungs of the earth", as the equatorial & tropical forests are referred to, has ultimately led to unseasonal climate change and global warming.

With the world oil prices on the increase due to the enormous demand and finite resource of petroleum, some car manufacturers have shifted their technology towards biodiesel and ethanol.

Maybe the next big plantations will be for sugar canes for ethanol and crops producing vegetable oils for biodiesel.

Let's hope that the world does not clear more forests for these crops.

Unknown said...

There are a lot of ramin species in Southeast asia. The ramin species you mentioned in the timber trade is Gonystylus bancanus. This secies is found only in Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

I didn't know that there could be so many species of ramin. It is unfortunate that our local people did not go into furniture manufacturing like the Indonesians. Wood furniture is always a welcome fixture in any good home.

Nowadays there are just so fashionable. Practical in fact.


web statistics