Monday, January 21, 2008

Sago and Sago Worms

While growing up in Sibu in the 50's and 60's, one can't be too far off from sago and sago worms.

When my mother was growing up, times were hard, and sago provided food for the family, and the animals. Starch, sago flour and pellets, and ataps (or fronds of the sago palm for roofing) were bought from the Melanaus. More often than not, my grandmother was involved in barter trading. In exchange for attap, sago flour, the Foochows delivered sugar, cloth, and other products. Business between the Melanaus and the Foochows was quite a brisk one. Motor launches and small boats plied along the Rejang and the Igan and exchanges were made in very peaceful atmosphere. Many Foochows learned to speak Melanau, to ease trading and relationships.

One cousin did in fact marry a part Chinese, part Melanau lady.

The sago palm has an erect, sturdy trunk that are typically about one to two feet in diameter, sometimes wider. The leaves are a dark olive green and about three to four feet long when the plants are of a reproductive age.

To grow more sago palms, one just have to collect suckers from the older plants.

Starch is obtained from the pitch of t he trunk. It is used for making sago, a delightful starchy snack or just plain starch for starching clothes and making of cakes.

Upon reflection, my mother would remember with sadness how she and her siblings lived during the Japanese Occupation, feeding on sago flour and potatoes. Many relatives developed beri beri because they did not have a balanced diet.

But the most exciting product of the sago palm is the sago worm, a very important and sometimes over rated exotic food of the Melanaus and those who have acquired a taste for it, without the fear factor.

The sago worm is the larvae of the Capricorn Beetle. It lives and feeds on the strachy poulp of the trunk of the sago palm, which is common in the wetter fesh water swampy parts of southeast Asia, besides the water logged flood plains of the Rejang.

the Melanaus regard it as a special high-nutrient delicacy.

Sago worms have a plump, yellowy-creamy body with a soft-ridged texture and a hard-shelled head. On close examination the body can be seen to be covered by fine hair.

They actually taste like meat and are often smoked/roasted or fried. Most Melanaus I know consume them raw with sago or bananas.

Today one sago worm can fetch as much as l ringgit. You can find them easily in Bintulu Tamu.

6 memories:

Unknown said...

Does anyone remember the two great tragedy of Sarawak: The sinking of MV Pulau Kidjang and the plunging of bus with loadful of student into the Bau lake? Those were headline in the 1970's

Unknown said...

Does anyone remember the two great tragedy of Sarawak: The sinking of MV Pulau Kidjang and the plunging of bus with loadful of student into the Bau lake? Those were headline in the 1970's

I Am Sarawakiana said...

I have notes on the Pulau Kidjang tragedy but not onthe Bau Bus Tragedy.

I taught some of the orphans from the families involved in the Pulau Kidjang sinking. It was sad to see them wearing mourning bands on both arms for quite a number of years. I wonder what has happened to them.

I also have a very lucky escape story of a family who almost went on board the coastal ship.

It was indeed a tragedy caused by human error and probably lack of knowledge of safety.

Unknown said...

Pulau Kidjang is a great part of Sibu's history. I remember everyone was talking about it.There is actually a book on the tragedy but it is in Bahasa Malaysia.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

I would be most interested in getting a copy of the book. Do you think there could be some more available in the bookstores?

I have never seen one in Miri bookstores. But then, may be it is already out of print.

Thank you for letting me know.


There is a book on Pulau Kidjang tragedy. I read the book few days ago as a research for my project. The book was partly published by Utusan Sarawak and written by two Utusan writers. I don't know if the book is still on sale but may be you guys can find from Utusan about it. I myself borrowed it from a friend. Reading the book is quite interesting because the tragedy is almost like the Titanic tragedy. History does repeat itself.


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