Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wild Pigs and Loose Logs in the River

Wild pigs or wild boars were plentiful in those days.

Foochow families could buy wild boar meat in several ways: from the corner stalls near the poultry market along Channel Road in Sibu, from Iban friends who would peddle the meat from the back of the hills (au san) to the river front,from long boats driven by the Ibans themselves,or from their own hunting. The last was rather rare because not many Foochows had guns of their own, partly because of government control and the unnecessary purchase of a gun anyway.

Eating wildboar meat was not really a common every day practice. My grandmother had this principle : if there is wild boar meat, eat, if not, then we won't eat. So having it on the table was really far in between. We had free prawns and fish from the river, chickens and ducks from the farm, pigs if we had the occasion to slaughter and the occasional fresh beef whenever grandmother or uncle went to Sibu. So protein was plentiful indeed.

My uncles and grandmother operated a smoke house to cure rubber sheets. And it was a great event to have rubber tappers coming and camping outside our huge house by the riverside in Sg. Maaw. Each year, we would have two or three sessions of smoking of the rubber sheets and it was like festival time.

Below the smoke house were pieces of wood cut from logs already very well dried. If we were short of wood, the nearby Lee Hua Sawmill would be able to supply the "broken pieces of ramin", free in fact for our use, and we only had to collect them, using a boat, again free of charge.

It was a remarkable cooperative movement whenever it was time for us to smoke the rubber sheets. My grandmother's stove would be burning and the tables would be full of food for all the rubber tappers. Of course they would have brought their presents, to contribute to the meals, like one or two chickens, salted vegetables, salted eggs, ducks, and the ubiquitous condensed milk and eggs.

One remarkable practice that we had at that time was the making of lard just before a large group of people came to our house. My uncle would put all the slices of pig fat into his huge kuali and we would wait patiently for the crispy, crunchy and marvellous Yew Char, or oily or fat crunchies, our version of potate crisps of the day. At each making of lard, my uncle could have about three kilos or four kilos. that would last for sometime. Hence we seldom had to buy cooking oil which we needed only for deep frying purposes.

Our cousins would scan the river for any black mark in the distance and be on the ready to "capture" the loose logs in the river. Our small sampan was always tied to the jetty (or douh tou). High tide was an exciting time because there would certainly be a few logs floating down from upriver. These logs or marang (batang) would have been fallen trees from upstream Rejang. Some would have the loose logs from the sawmills' rafts.

We had a common rule that whoever reached the log first, they would be the rightful owner of the log. But occasionally quarrels would ensued. So pedalling a small little prahu or sampan was a great determined skill. Our smoke house and daily needs depended so much on that skill. sometimes two or three boats would race towards the logs from all directions. Only the most determined rower would get the log. Getting one was like getting the lottery. Today, one of the best rowers amongst my cousins is a well known entrepreneur - an honest, intelligent and hardworking road construction leader in Sibu who practises good corporate ethics and management principles.

On capturing a log, a hook would be nailed at one end of it and a rope would be tied on it. And slowly the triumphant party would head for our own jetty with the log in tow. The log, if fairly big is quite adequate for a day's fire for smoking. Very often we have a huge stack of seven or eight logs left near the yard of the smoke house for drying in the sun. We had to make sure that they were all above the tide level. It could have been so easy for the high tide to take the logs away again!!

One day we saw several dots in the distance and we got on to the prahu and peddled as fast as possible towards them. We were shocked that it was a huge party of wildboars swimming across the river!!

My oldest cousin made a quick decision only to hit the head of the pig nearest to him,using his paddle. Unfortunately we did not have a parang with us. As the pigs were focussed on swimming towards the shore, the dazed pig was very quickly roped and soon we managed to strangle the animal a little. It was quite an ardous task for a bunch of uninitiated children in the art of jungle living. Days later we realised how dangerous it was for us to make a kill like that.

The pig was fairly big and we had meat to share with the rubber tappers and nearby relatives.

That was the only time in my life that I saw a family of pigs swimming. With all the logging, economic development and other forays into the rainforest, this kind of scenario would probably in the recesses of one's mind, or a scene in a Disney film.

But I truly treasure those days of capturing logs in the Rejang river for our smoke house. And like a bonus, we got a pig for our kuali.

5 memories:

FrancisN said...

Exciting and adventrous events indeed.

Growing up in Sibu town as a younster, my after school activities include playing basketball, bike riding, playing marbles, kite flying and kid's games. We were very carefree and innocent back then with not a care in the world.

Not very exciting as compared to your childhood days.

Unknown said...

I missed the mighty Rejang! But when you look at its water today, it was unlike in years gone by. I remember in the 1970's, the water was not exactly crystal clear but I could see fish swimming. I remember there were fishingmen from the Malay Kampong who would set up traps using net on the bank of river and my mother bought the fish from them and we ate the delicous fish for dinner. Sadly after the start of large scale logging, especially with the advent of chainsaw, the river started to deteriorate. Today, sadly, most species of fish would have been blinded in such turbid water!!

I Am Sarawakiana said...

School days were normal hardworking days, inclusive of household chores, homework and daily routine errands. But holidays were exceptionally great days!! Without fear, we kids could play anywhere. No one was raped, no one was victimized. An uncle was an uncle, a father's friend was a friend. It was an ideal childhood.

Today, we have too many predators, too many snatch thieves and too many con men. As a result, so many children have their childhood stolen.

Unknown said...

I think you are lucky to have seen wildboars crossing river. Infact, it still happens today in Sarawak but in the upper reaches of river, including the Rejang. It is actually an annual affair for this wild boar migration. There are studies done on such migration in Sarawak and you can fnd it in the book "National parks of Sarawak".

I Am Sarawakiana said...

It must be very interesting to study about animal migration. May be more effort should be done on this in Sarawak.

Research and documentaries should be priority before every disappears before our eyes!!!


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