Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rice Fields, Pigs and A Gold Chain

"I have eaten more bitterness than anyone of you here,"exclaimed my elderly cousin, as we swapped stories of our past.

"Planting of rice, opening up rubber land, growing potatoes, hiding from thieves and others? I have done it all and more," she continued with a gentle shake of her head, with some sighs of regret but some element of achievement.

She had grown rice from the moment she could handle a changkul in China and when she came to Sarawak to marry her late husband, at the age of 16, just after the war, she had already suffered a life time of hardwork, so to speak.

In Sarawak life was not much easier compared to that in China because she had to start from scatch as her husband later proved to be quite a playboy in the old generation style. "Never stay at home, liked to sit in coffee shop, and chased after a few skirts (at that time, samfoo), but I managed to bring up a fairly good batch of children...."

She said that she was very focussed in her objectives in life and that was how she managed to keep her soul, family,property together. An illiterate young lady, with no other relatives and alone in this wide, and foreign land of Sarawak, she had no choice but to plod on.

She started with just two acres of rented padi land which she cultivated well and later bought and as her children grew, she managed single handedly to grow rice seedlings, replant them, spray pesticides and weed the fields, harvest and hull the rice. It was a struggle for her with just her changkul, motor bike and her brains.

Although illiterate, she could count very well and no shop keeper could cheat her by a cent of her money. Her late husband respected her for that and in a way trusted her to do everything for the family but unfortunately he was very tightfisted.

With the money she earned herself from her rice growing, she saved to buy hersecond piece of land, a piece of rubber land, a little inland from the river bank.

But what she remembered was how she saved money to buy herself her first gold chain. Everyone else was wearing a great gold chain and she also desired to have one then. Naturally her husband did not have any gold to give to her.

She decided to rear some pigs in her backyard. It was quite an achievement according to her that her pigs just grew to be so fat and nice. She must have raised more than a hundred pigs in a few years. She bought and sold them and to her great satisfaction she had a bit of money stashed away.

Besides, she stint, she scratched every bit of produce for sale and even to the extent of not buying herself new clothes for several Chinese New Year. Finally she got enough Malaysian dollars (at that time) to buy herself her own first gold chain at the value of 28 dollars per gram/chien. She wore her gold chain very proudly for about two years.

When she heard that her brother-in-law in China was very sick, she and her husband decided to sell the gold chain and send the money back.

It took her another twenty years to buy one more gold chain for herself because there were other priorities.

Life has been a struggle but she said that her land has given her enough. Life to her is made up of changkul, parang bengkok, a motor bike and two strong hands.

Asked if she would grow rice again, she said that if her hands and arms are strong enough, she would. But she must have her own land. Unfortunately she had sold her padi land to educate her children and to buy a small terrace house, as her husband had died not too long ago,distributed his property to their sons and had left very little to her. Typical of a chauvinistic old fashioned Foochow man.

She still has a small piece of land of her own but it is to be sold for her own final journey if her children are not filial to her at the end. Her small cash savings are just enough for her bills and a little food and the occasional angpows.

Amazing story? But she said, that was the way most Foochow women lived in the 50's and 60's or even until the 90's. She reminded the next generation/s women to save money and work hard for their old age. "Have your own money. Don't trust 100% your husband. And perhaps not even your sons.....Daughters don't count."

11 memories:

Unknown said...


I like your story. It reminds me of the novel "The Joy Luck Club". In the prologue, there was a passage..."In America, I will have a daughter just like me. She will grow up speaking only English and will be too full to swallow any sorrow". "The woman is now old and she has a daughter who grew up speaking only English and drinking more Coca Cola then sorrow."

In a way, your cousin story is like any typical Chinese mother (very confucianist) in those long gone days. Swallowing sorrow and ensuring a better life for her children and in the end want to ensure her children are filial!!

Unknown said...

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan is among the two novels (later made into a movie) that i like very much. The other is "To kill a mocking bird" by Harper Lee.

Both stories are of ethnic minorities in the Unitd States. Below is the Prologue from the book "Joy Luck Club" which is very similar to oversea Chinese everywhere they go and the prologue has been used for english lesson in the United States. It si poetic, beautiful and yet written in simple english.

Prologue from "Joy Luck Club"

Feathers From A Thousand Li Away

The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum. This bird, boasted the market vendor, was once a duck that stretched its neck in hopes of becoming a goose, and now look!--it is too beautiful to eat. Then the woman and the swam sailed across an ocean many thousands of li wide, stretching their necks towards America. On her journey she cooed to the swan: "In America i will have a daughter just like me. But over there nobody will say her worth is measured by the loudness of her husband's belch. Over there nobody will look down on her, because i will make her speak only perfect American English. And over there she will always be too full to swallow any sorrow! She will know my meaning, because i will give her this swan--a creature that became more than what was hoped for." But when she arrived in the new country, the immigration officals pulled her swan away from her, leaving the woman fluttering her arms and with only one swan feather for a memory. And then she had to fill out so many forms she forgot why she had come and what she had left behind. Now the woman was old. And she had a daughter who grew up speaking only English and swallowing more Coca-Cola than sorrow. For a long time now the woman had wanted to give her daughter the single swan feather and tell her, "This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions." And she waited, year after year, for the day she could tell her daughter this in perfect American English.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

thank you for putting so much of your time to write such beautiful comments. I am so flattered.

I like Amy Tan too and I am sure she has inspired many women to write world wide.

Are you thinking of a novel to write?

Unknown said...

I wish I have the time to.

Mumble jumble said...

Amy Tan has written so many books, and they are very inspiring. She mixes western culture and Chinese values well. And my mother has introduced to us one of best Asian writers in the world. :D All her(Amy Tan)books are more valuable to me than 1000 fashion magazines. Adeline Yen Ma and Ha Jin too.

I can't imagine that a gold chain before was worth so much compared to gold chains now.

A single woman working a rice field is comparable to a woman heading a company now. The amount of work and the stress is surely as much as a foochow woman can handle.

Its still very hard to trust a man now.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Thank you for such nice comments. I like your comparison of a woman rice farmer with a modern CEO. Yes, well said!!

Gold has always been valuable, as a form of saving. It is only recently that the value of gold has really gone up by a big percentage. So people are wearing smaller pieces...and not all those heavy ones like before. RM 1000 gold chain is a very small one now compared with a RM1000 gold chain of 2o years ago. What was only 200 Straits Dollars gold chain is a little fortune today, and it would be kept in a vault!!!!

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Thank you for such nice comments. I like your comparison of a woman rice farmer with a modern CEO. Yes, well said!!

Gold has always been valuable, as a form of saving. It is only recently that the value of gold has really gone up by a big percentage. So people are wearing smaller pieces...and not all those heavy ones like before. RM 1000 gold chain is a very small one now compared with a RM1000 gold chain of 2o years ago. What was only 200 Straits Dollars gold chain is a little fortune today, and it would be kept in a vault!!!!

Unknown said...

Prosperous rubber plantations in Brunei

Tyring work: Brunei rubber plantations. With world demand for modern cars, the British introduced rubber planting into their tropical colonies and administrations including Brunei in the 1890s. Pictures: Rozan Yunos collectionRozan Yunos

Sunday, April 27, 2008

IN 1906, when the first British Resident instituted a new modern government in Brunei, he found that the government had very little revenues coming its way. In his bid to earn revenues to meet the expenditure of the new government, the Resident's first act was to take control of all unclaimed lands as State lands.

It was seen as a necessity since the Resident intended to redistribute state land to be parcelled out among prospective bidders, including the European concerns willing to invest in Brunei in large-scale plantations like rubber estates. In 1906, four European companies applied for huge tracts of land. However it took almost two years before the government was able to settle land ownership issues.

Prior to 1906, Brunei's property rights were closely linked to the feudal system and the Brunei adat or customs. The historian Hussainmiya has stated: "The incoming colonial administration decided to sweep them aside — perhaps for understandable reasons — because they were determined to reform Brunei Government which had become so weak on the eve of the British intervention. . . The British did not bother to understand or acknowledge the complexities of customary land laws in Brunei. They had one clear and an overriding policy."

From the very outset the new British administration moved towards the institution of property as they understood it; which meant rights of unqualified possession or freehold rights, permitting the holders to freely transfer and manipulate their properties and to use them according to the European ideology of land as an "estate to be managed".

All this required English legal forms of conveyancing and English laws which were needed to protect one's rights to land. Without that, the British reasoned that no one would be interested in investing in the development of land. Therefore the government considered that security of tenure was a prerequisite for capitalist enterprise. Under the new administration, all the traditional and customary Brunei rights were replaced by the Land Enacment of 1907.

Under that enactment, all personal income earned through payments on territories as well as revenues from farms or trading monopolies became state revenue. A system of land codes was introduced the following year where land was systematically transferred with proper land grants and titles. This allowed for the rubber estates to be formed with proper titles and ownership of the land.

But why rubber? In the 1890s, the world demand for modern cars increased the demand for rubber significantly. The British decided to introduce rubber planting into their tropical colonies and administrations including Brunei.

Throughout the region, especially in Malaya and Brunei, it was found that profits obtained from rubber were so lucrative that the locals ignore the cultivation of food crops such as fruit trees.

Rubber became Brunei's major agricultural crop and that rubber industry eventually overtook the cutch industry in employing the largest number of Brunei locals.

Rubber was grown in large estates of over 1,000 acres as well small holdings of about one acre. The largest were owned by European companies. These included the Brunei Estates Limited, the Liverpool (Brunei) Para Rubber Estates Limited which ran the Batu Apoi Estate in Temburong and the British (Borneo) Rubber and Land Company which ran the Labu Estate, also in Temburong.

There were other estates in Tutong, Gadong and Kumbang Pasang but the Tutong one was abandoned in 1908. Temburong was the major output before Brunei District became the major producer in 1919.

The government gave away 100-acre sites and 25 to 100- acre sites to Chinese with the local Malay owners mostly owning the tiny or small holdings. The total land areas allocated to the rubber plantations were about 4,000 acres by 1933. By 1938, it had reached about 5,000 acres.

The smallholders' interests in planting rubber led to a scramble for land applications. In 1938, it was the smallholders which owned the majority of the total areas planted for rubber.

The workers in the European estates were mostly Malays, Javanese and Chinese. Tamil workers were recruited in 1925 but by the time of the Depression in 1933, none was employed.

In 1918, the government also provided assistance to the local smallholders by appointing an Inspector of Agriculture to advise and to encourage varied cultivation.

Brunei first exported plantation rubber in 1914 to Great Britain and the United States. Brunei's export earnings rose during the rubber boom at the end of World War I, the mid-1920s and just before the outbreak of World War II.

Brunei also produced another type of latex from the wild Jelutong trees. However, it could not compare with the natural rubber. Wild Jelutong trees were mostly found in Belait and Tutong. Tapping these trees was mostly done by Iban tappers. Wild Jelutong was first exported in 1915, reaching a peak in 1925-1929.

To assist the development of rubber plantations, the government established an Agricultural Station in Kilanas in 1933. The station started a rubber nursery and distributed the rubber seedlings to small holders. In 1936, a Malaysian expatriate from Malaysia's Rubber Research Institute took charge of Brunei's Agriculture Department.

As plantations grew older, the government issued replanting permits in the 1940s. By 1941, there were more than 15,500 acres of which half were owned by the 12 large companies.

Just like any other commodity, rubber production had its ups and downs. In times of falling world rubber prices, to ensure that prices remained high, the government enacted laws controlling rubber output. One such law was the Export of Rubber (Restriction) in 1922, where the law allowed for fines to be imposed for tapping undersized trees or overtapping latex-producing trees. Controls were also imposed internationally. This included that of the 1934 International Rubber Regulations Agreement which fixed the amount to be produced by producing countries.

By the first quarter of the 20th century, Brunei's exports of rubber, cutch and coal had peaked to about two million dollars in 1925. The British Resident's report indicated that the trade was now "safely on a course of real prosperity".

But the discovery of commercial oil in 1929 and the subsequent growth of the oil industry meant that the other economic sectors — including rubber — could no longer compete.

What is left of the rubber industry are two wooden houses in Batu Apoi and in the Berakas area where the managers used to stay.

The writer runs a website on Brunei at

The Brunei Times

Unknown said...

UN peacekeepers temporarily barred from using rubber bullets

Saturday, July 14, 2007

THE United Nations said on Thursday it has imposed a moratorium on the use of rubber bullets by its peacekeepers around the world pending a review following two deaths linked to these ammunitions in Kosovo in February.

Nick Birnback, a spokesman for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), said the temporary suspension was in effect in six UN missions pending a review of policies and procedures "to make sure there's not a systemic problem".

The six DPKO missions involved are in Kosovo, East Timor, Haiti, Liberia, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Birnback said the move did not amount to a policy change but was merely standard operating procedure. "Until such time as we can determine that all our peacekeepers in missions where we have this type of technology...are properly trained on that equipment and that the equipment is up to international norms and standards, we put a moratorium on its use," he said.

Last week the UN police commissioner in Kosovo, Richard Monk, said he had imposed a ban on the carriage and use of rubber bullets by international police in the UN-run province. His decision came after two ethnic Albanian protesters died of head wounds suffered from the ammunition during a February demonstration.

Monk said he had asked UN headquarters in New York to order any countries that had been supplying rubber bullets for police in Kosovo to stop doing so.

Unknown said...

Rubber seed flavour a secret of Jerantut folk

Try this: Aminah Manja and her husband Oseman Busu (above) show their yam dish made with fermented rubber seeds as a condiment. At right, Oseman shows how the dried seeds are pounded before the fermenting process. The condiment is a favourite of the people of Jerantut, Pahang. Pictures: BernamaTuan Sharifah Shahaini
Tuan Dagang

Saturday, October 13, 2007

BREAKING fast with delicacies made from rubber seeds? Sounds strange but fermented rubber seeds or asam rum are a favourite complement in the diet of those living in Jerantut in Malaysia's East Coast state of Pahang.

If you are planning a trip to Jerantut there is no reason why you shouldn't try this rubber seed condiment added in your curry and sambal.

"Feel free to taste, there is nothing to worry about, it doesn't make you feel intoxicated or under the weather," says Hamzah Abdul Hamid.

The 55-year-old National Park tour guide says people in Jerantut often stock up on asam rum for their daily use. "A similar-tasting condiment is also available in the Raub district but it uses buah perah (a type of wild fruit) instead of rubber seeds."

Many outside Jerantut may not be aware of this rubber seed condiment, even those who frequently visit the area might not know that the delicious curries or sambal they eat are actually added with asam rum. The dishes made from this condiment are easily available in many of the restaurants and food stalls around Jerantut and Ulu Tembeling, including at Ramadhan bazaars.

Normally the asam rum is used in the spicy relish sambal that is eaten along with various bitter raw herbs like the young shoots or fronds of papaya tree and the ara (ficus) fruit.

It is also used in making fish curries, especially when using freshwater fishes without scales like baung, toman and keli (catfish). Hamzah says these fish often emit a fetid odour and the taste of the asam rum helps reduce this odour and enhance the curry's taste.

On how to prepare the asam rum, Hamzah says the rubber seeds have to be dried beforehand to allow the kernel to shrink. "The drying process may take a day or two depending on the weather. Then the outer shell is discarded and the kernel is retrieved and dried for one more day."

After the process, the kernel is pounded and then kneaded to extricate the oil. It is then left to ferment in a bottle or earthen jar and placed in a dry area.

According to Hamzah, the fermented rubber tree seed can last up to five years with its taste and condition remaining intact throughout if stored properly.

"In Jerantut the asam rum is still sought after and even the younger generation is well aware of it.

"This simple recipe has been handed down the generations. Those days, the Jerantut and Ulu Tembeling areas were full of rubber plantations and the majority of the people there made a living by tapping rubber. Normally the rubber trees bore fruit from July to September and they collected the fruits to be made into asam rum."

He says anyone keen to try how rubber seeds taste can simply crush the dried kernels with a grinder and add it to the dishes.

The taste may not be the same as asam rum made using the traditional method but at least it can give you an idea of what you've been missing

I Am Sarawakiana said...

This is indeed excitingly new to me.
My late father used to b-b-q the rubber seeds and put them into a bubu to catch his catfish. A whole tin of cat fish probably about 8 kg would only bring him 5 dollars in those days. We had them steamed in claypot.

My first delicious taste of bbq catfish was in MU when a friend caught some and bbq-ed them in the college basketball court. Perhpas I was hungry. That meal was great.


web statistics