Rice is the staple of the Chinese. When Wong Nai Siong negotiated for a group of Foochow settlers to start agricultural development in Sibu in 1901, he and the Rajah Brooke were thinking of planting rice for the newly proposed agricultural Foochow -Sarawak joint venture. Another group of Foochows settled in Sitiawan, Perak with an initial cultivation of rice. Both projects however failed. This could be due to divine intervention. As a result to recoup the losses, the Foochows embarked on an ambitious plan to plant commercial rubber, quite a newly discovered crop, the seeds coming fresh from Kew Gardens, London. This was both an enterprising and a risky scheme. However, their fears were unfounded for the following years when the rubber trees were ready to be tapped, they made a fortune.
During the Japanese Occupation, personal anecdotes of growing rice were plentiful and available in many Chinese documents and books. Apart from personal oral stories from my own uncles and aunts, I would like to share a page from Rev. Ling Kai Cheng's book. According to Rev Ling Kai Cheng, the rubber prices during the time reached rock bottom. All communication with the outside world was cut off. He and his wife and four children were blessed enough to be able to "rent 8 acres of land in the 6th Preccinct (Luk Kuh, now Jalan Lucky, Sibu) to grow rice. The family happily grew rice, cut grass, planted plenty of peanuts, soy beans and vegetables. Instead of falling sick, they grew healthy and strong. Every day they sweated and slept well. When they did not have enough rice, they ate sago. He felt that even though it was a time of great trials and tribulations, they were brought to safety in the end through God's grace. (Rev Ling Kai Cheng, 50 years of Reminiscence,page 36)
However, until today, the Foochows have never abandoned their desire to grow their own rice. Rice therefore was planted whenever the Foochows had the time to plant. Very often a family would have both rice fields and rubber gardens. In Sg. Maaw where my grandparents and uncles and aunts used to live, rice was grown near the banks of the rivers and share cropping was practiswed in the 50's and 60's. The rubber trees were tapped by themselves.
In this way, my maternal grandmother and uncles and aunties were very self sufficient. They lived a very relaxed life until the Communist Insurgency which interrupted the economic and social life of the Foochow Riverine villages. This resulted in the abandoning of the villages in favour of a more secured life in the towns like Sibu, Miri and even Limbang.
With this drastic political change in Sarawak, the Foochows in a way abandoned rice growing and entered into the industrial and commercial enterprises. Rice growing reverted to Iban, Melanau and other indigenous groups who live in Paloh, Kanowit, Kapit, and rural Sarikei, Igan and Sibu.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Memoir by I Am Sarawakiana at 12:26 PM