Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Pig Tale from Tanjong Kunyit

Tanjong Kunyit is a lovely river bend along the Rejang River where several foochow families started their lives in Sarawak. In due time, they cleared the forest and planted rubber treees. Tanjong Kunyit grew into a very nice riverine settlement where everyone worked hard to develop their land, planting lots of fruit trees, vegetables, and oranges.

This is a tale of a brave, spirited ,illiterate woman, who against all odds raised a large family while her husband was away earning a cash income for the family. That was the norm of those days. Many Foochow women had hard lives as they had to make ends meet and often they really had to depend on their own wits to survive.

In order to have a steady cash income herself, Aunty Wong had a household pig sty in her backyard. She would normally have two mother pigs and a stud. Each year she would have two or three litters of piglets. But what was very lucrative for her was the raising of studs which fetched an enormous sum. One year, she sold one stud and that was enough to buy her a food safe which is still in very good condition in her kitchen today after more than 30 years!! When she gave me the account of herself, she kept pointing to the food safe(hang diu in Foochow), trying to make a point about her past. She had "eaten all the bitterness" in life.

From one litter of pigs she could have enough cash for the family for a few months. Her rubber sheets would earn the family a good income for education, travelling expenses, and extra food and medicine in those days. Again she em;hasized that she would get up as early as two a.m. in the morning to tap rubber. Her chores would not complete until about two when she and her older children had completed rolling the rubbers sheets and had them up to dry in the sun.

She also remembered that it was very safe at that time and no one would dare to steal their rubber sheets drying in the sun. They had neighbours but they were far apart from each other, unlike today. People live in terraced houses, in close proximity on 0.4 acres of land. In those days, the rubber tappers' houses were on 6 to 7 acres of land and were scattered all over.

While there was daylight left, she would continue to boil the pig feed, using weeds, wild yam leaves and left overs for the pigs. If she had about 20 pigs in the sty she would be extremely happy and proud. It was lovely to look at the snorting pigs. Seeing them grow very rapidly was a great comfort.

Life was not easy for her to say the least. She had to carry water on her shoulders, wash the sty clean a few times a day. And in a rough way, the little backyard farm was well managed without outside and professional consultation.

To her home pig rearing was a very lucrative profession . Almost everyone according to her had a little backyard pig farm which helped the families to be very self sufficient. In many ways, she was indeed a woman with two professions!! A pig farmer as well as rubber tapper.

What she was most afraid of was swine fever. And luckily, the fever was few and far in between. She never had any help from the government vetrinarian department.

After the decline of the rubber industry and the communist insurgency, her husband decided to move the family elsewhere. Her husband had by then worked in timber camps, in construction sites and had even cleared a sizeable tract of land in Simanggang, now Sri Aman. This land, fairly valuable now, has been inherited by her sons.

By then the family was already a large one and the older children were of marriageable age. It was not too difficult to migrate to another place. The family thus left Tanjong Kunyit, the pig sty and the rubber trees.

She said that the family was like a pupa ready to break out of a cocoon.

Today her butterflies are enjoying a good life and she should be also sitting back and watching her grandchildren grow. But she continues to work very very hard every day. She is used to multi tasking.

According to a reliable source of information,today there are approximately 700 farms operating throughout Malaysia with a standing pig population of over 1.5 million. However,there are only eight slaughterhouses with veterinary inspections. In total they conduct slaughtering of approximately 1.6 million heads a year.

Nevertheless, our country is self-sufficient in production of pork. Prior to the JE outbreak, our country was 133% self-sufficient in pork production with the excess exported to Singapore. Today the self-sufficiency is about 100%.

Thus,we cannot thank Foochow women like Aunty Wong enough for helping the economy of Sarawak grow slowly in the old days through their sheer hardwork and frugal lifestyle. They were the ones who supplied the pork in the market in the olden days. Today more than 50 years later,some changes have been made in the pig rearing sector, but definitely more must be done in order to provide for better quality of pork meat.

Perhaps one must consider the importance of free range pigs and smaller organic farms in the future for better lives and better health. Aunty Wong would be a wise person to consult.

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