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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Bakau Piling for Housing Construction in Sibu



Luxuriant leaves of bakau trees.

A pretty bakau tree from a distance.


Air roots of the bakau tree can be seen more than a foot above from its mud base. Bakau trees are best found in what we know as mangrove swamps . Today it is popular to call these mangrove swamps wetlands. Bakau trees are found at the river mouths of most rivers in Malaysia.



A photo from Philip Hii which shows bakau being carried from a motor launch in Sibu by a "coolie" or labourer. At the time the crane had not appeared in our wharf yet. This is indeed a very valuable black and white historical photo. This kind of "open" motor launch which looks like a slipper,was made locally. They were very commonly seen in the Rejang in those days for ferrying of important goods like nipah,sago,etc from Mukah,Dalat,Igan or Baligian.




This picture is from Daniel Yiek's blog http://sarikei-time-capsule.blogspot.com


My first encounter with bakau was the day my mother had her shophouse built in Sibu. It was a widow's determined effort to "develop" her land. And it was the right time.

I was very happy when the first lorry load of bakau arrived at the site and what an elation it was, standing there with my mother, after all those years of suffering ,making ends meet, counting every single dollar and spending sleepless nights of not knowing if we had enough money.

But my mother's careful spending,careful housekeeping saw everything through. And we had our five storeyed building - almost cash! This was the first project of Soon Hup.

My mother did pay extra for more bakau piling. The building has very solid foundation indeed and a maternal uncle saw to that. Like in our life a solid foundation is very important. We cannot short change any one. WE have to remember that.

Bakau has a special smell of the sea. It is distinctive and carries piles of memories many of the children who grew up in the slowly expanding days of Sibu.

Many contractors had a bad reputation because they did not provide adequate bakau for piling. Some owners had to secretly or may be openly put in more bakau for a better foundation. Unscrupulous contractors often were cursed for generations. Whenever cracks appeared on buildings or homes, curses started flying. Some contractors even took off to Taiwan after collecting huge sums of money from the landowners. Those were the hazy,semi forgotten days of economic progress of Sibu in the sixties.

However, up till now , in my research, no one can really tell who was the man who started off the idea of bakau piling in Sibu. Bakau piling was not required in most parts in Miri where engineers deem the soil here (as I live in Miri) to be solid enough without bakau piling. However I did see some bakau in lorries a few days ago.

The bakau piling machine is unique too. Just a pulley system with a heavy pounder. Two men are needed to put the bakau trunk into place and one man can move the piling machine next to the bakau and down will come the pounder and the pile is smoothly done.Most of the bakau piling workers in Sibu in those days were Ibans, as were the other menial workers.

I used to watch these movements once in a while and wondered how long these bakau could stay strong as a foundation.

Today, so many years later, many shop houses in Sibu have no cracks and their foundation seem to be as strong as ever.

The answer is in the water table and the uniqueness of the bakau.

Change the water table in Sibu, all the shop houses may have no foundation. Bakau piles will dry up and become perhaps powder.

A few such cases in West Malaysia will provide evidence to my statements.

There is indeed more to bakau than meet the eye.

"Mangrove species are tolerant of salt water and known to produce high- resistance woods commonly used as piling poles in construction. The woods are also extracted for charcoal." (Borneo Post)

I am glad when I read about the following that “We now have 12,400 hectares of mangrove forests under totally protected areas and 16,622 hectares as permanent forest reserves and we are suggesting to add another 25,344 hectares as totally protected areas and 30,390 as permanent forest reserves.”

"....the mangrove projects would be monitored carefully to ensure their success."

“After the planting we will monitor the situation and make sure the mangroves flourish.

“And we have persuaded the local folks to help us. This way, we are also giving them jobs,” he said.



Source : 26/11/ 2007, Borneo Post

7 memories:

Gaharuman said...

Sarawakiana,

It is an interesting and thought-provoking article.

I guess after the fire of 1928 in Sibu, concrete buildings started to appear in Sibu. The material used in such construction is interesting. Bakau piles is one of them. The other is the bricks. Initially clay bricks were used but later in the 1980's concrete bricks were introduced (made of cement, gravel and steel wire).

Sarawakiana said...

Thank you for visiting.

Hope people will give more credit to Bakau piling everywhere. And mangrove swamps should be conserved for eternity.

Linda said...

Hi there, Interesting article. I would like to know where I can get more scientific information (referee reviewed papers, journals , books etc) on bakau piling as I am doing research on them. Thanks for your help :)

sarawakiana said...

Sorry Linda for not being aware of your note.
You can refer to Gahruman above.
However most Chinese contractors in Sibu will have good knowledge but perhaps no research documents on bakau.
The Forestry of Sarawak now has as bakau planting scheme.
I do not have their emails.
Good luck!!

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