Wednesday, February 27, 2008


"Great Penyamun Scare of 1894 was one of the most extraordinary features in Sarawak history, for it spread panic throughout the country and brought trade to a standstill in many parts."

According to history,around 220 B.C.E., Qin Shi Huang was the first Emperor of China to bring about the unification of China . The Great Wall of China, the only human construction visible from outer space was attributed to him .

In actual fact, Emperor Qin connected a series of earthworks forming a few smaller walls along the border, with the goal of keeping out the Mongol invaders. He reinforced these walls and conscripted peasants and others to build the start of the Great Wall. Later rulers continued to reinforce and add onto the wall, often with forced labor. Construction lasted for more than 2,000 years and when it was done, the wall stretched an astounding 4,000 miles (6,700 kilometers).

Emperor Qin is also known for his elaborate tomb filled with life-size terra-cotta warriors. Over 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots, and other artifacts were buried with Qin, and the mausoleum wasn't discovered until 1974. However, it was also rumoured that many "actual slaves were buried together with various emperors and empresses thoughout the whole history of China". Many others were probably "kidnapped victims" taken in to "keep the royal dead company".

In actual fact, prisoners of war, convicts, soldiers, civilians and farmers provided the labor to help the Qin Emperor construct the Great Wall. Millions died for this cause and many Chinese stories speak of parted lovers and men dying of starvation and disease. Their bodies were buried in the foundations of the wall or used to make up its thickness. Thus their stories became part of local traditional folklore to confirm that many were even buried alive in the construction of the Great Wall. The moving and touching story of Meng Nu crying for her husband at the Great Wall, became a well known tragic-story on both stage and film.

Today the beautiful Great wall crosses loess plateaus, mountains, deserts, rivers and valleys, passing through five provinces and two autonomous regions. It is about 20 feet wide and 26 feet high. Parts of the wall are so broad that 10 soldiers can walk abreast. Materials used were whatever could be found near by-clay, stone, willow branches, reeds and sand. Parts of this wall can still be seen in remote parts of China. What most visitors, perhaps numbering up to 25,000 a day, see of the Wall now was restored in the Ming dynasty, when stone slabs replaced clay bricks. It took 100 years to rebuild and it is said that the amount of material used in the present wall alone is enough to circle the world at the equator five times.

Closer home to Sibu, we often heard of penyamun when we were kids and we would hide in our bedrooms at night. It was a good reasons for mothers to keep their children at home for days, and even months, just at the whisper of "penyamum".

Penyamun was an ancient Sarawak indigenous practice of putting a skull into the foundation of a longhouse, or a bridge or a monument to ensure that the human spirit would support the structure. However various stories spread around for ages and today, a rumour of penyamun would mean "the taking of a boy" for the "construction of a structure like bridge, road, or a longhouse". Whoever is responsible for such a rumour was definitely not in his right mind because according to a longhouse elder penyamun is not practised nowadays. This practice went out when Christianity became the acceptable religion of the Ibans and Bidayuhs.

But if someone is naughtily practising penyamun just to scare some folks away, then an investigation must be mounted before greater damage is done to hurt the harmonious life of the local people.

2 memories:

Fat Humor said...

I used to be afraid of penyamun until I was 18..

I can't remember who, but someone used to tease me saying that she'll leave me outside and let the penyamun take me away with our dog Alfa when we were staying in the Green house.

sarawakiana said...

Interesting. That's how many people bring up their children. Inflicting fear on them. Calling the police to quiet them, calling the Ibans from next door (this is not PC), selling them even to the Indian man along the street!! Those were the old days when mothers did not study child psychology. Hope you have gotten over the childhood fears. Be happy. Be blessed.


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