Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Article About Bau From The Malay Mail

I wrote this article back in 2004 when I was in The Malay Mail.

It is about Bau, the Bidayuh capital, near Kuching in Sarawak.

Note: Gunung = Mountain, Sungai = River, Batang = River, Tasik = Lake.

Steeped In History.

THE name of Bau may not ring a bell in ears of West Malaysians.

Nevertheless, the small town - an hour's drive (35km) to the west of Kuching - has played an important role in the genesis of modern Sarawak.

It was here that the Sultan of Brunei's viceroys, the Datuk Patinggis (whose descendants bear the titles of Abang and Dayang), set up court before the coming of Sir James Brooke.

Bau is the urban centre of Bau District, which has more than 45,000 people, of whom 80 per cent are Bidayuhs, eight per cent Sarawak Malays (who trace their roots to the Brunei Sultanate), one per cent Ibans and 11 per cent Chinese (predominantly Hakkas).

Its winding roads and lush, green valleys are surrounded by rolling hills including pyramid-shaped Gunung Serambau and Gunung Singghi, a table-topped hill surrounded by Bidayuh hamlets.

The most popular hill, commonly called Mau San (Bau Hill) by the Chinese, and which resembles a dragon, is a mountain range that also has the Wind Cave and Fairy Cave, popular getaways for Kuchingites on weekends.

The shape of this hill has given Bau its Hakka dialect nickname Shak Lung Mung which means `the gate of the rock dragon'.

Bau is known as the `Gold Town of Sarawak' due to its rich gold ore deposits and gold-mining activities in the past centuries.

However, most gold mining operations ceased before the turn of this century as the remaining gold deposits deep underground are difficult and expensive to extract.

Bau was originally called Ulu Sarawak, meaning Upper Sarawak. Hilir Sarawak (Lower Sarawak) referred to Kuching.

In ancient times, Sarawak referred to the modern-day Kuching and Samarahan divisions.

The rest of modern-day Sarawak was part of Brunei proper. In the days of the Malacca Sultanate, Brunei was overlord of the whole of Borneo and the Philippines.

In the 1820s, Hakka Chinese settled in Bau to mine gold and antimony.

They entered Sarawak via Sambas, another vassal of the Brunei sultanate which is today part of Western Kalimantan province in Indonesia.

As early as the 1700s, the Hakkas had settled in Western Kalimantan to mine gold.

They organised themselves into several kongsis (cooperative villages), including the famous Republic of Lan Fang near Pontianak, the modern capital of Western Kalimantan.

Lan Fang was the world's only Hakka state, and did not survive Dutch colonial rule in what is now Indonesia. Just as the Sambas and Pontianak rulers, vassals of the Brunei Sultan, allowed the Chinese miners to establish kongsis in their territories, the Datuk Patinggis allowed the Chinese miners to do the same in Sarawak.

In the 1830s, the Sultan of Brunei appointed another Bruneian prince, Pengiran Indera Mahkota, to govern Sarawak and act as the Datuk Patinggi's superior.

The Datuk Patinggi resented his loss of power, and led a revolt against the Pengiran.

The Sultan of Brunei was unable to quell the rebellion of the Datuk Patinggi, which was also supported by the Sultan of Sambas, the Chinese kongsis of Bau (The 12 Kongsis) and the Bidayuhs who lived around Bau and Kuching.

Thus, he sought the assistance of a British businessman with an eye for a private colony, James Brooke.

Brooke visited Sarawak and Brunei in 1839, and was approached by Pengiran Bendahara Hashim, the uncle of the then Brunei Sultan, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II.

The Pengiran Bendahara promised that Brooke would be given Sarawak as his personal fiefdom if he quelled the revolt of the Datuk Patinggi.

The Datuk Patinggi was persuaded by Brooke to end his revolt, and was also promised the position of de facto Chief Minister to Brooke, once the Englishman was appointed Rajah of Sarawak.

Thus, Brooke pacified Sarawak, and was rewarded with the fiefdom by Sultan Omar. He became the first White Rajah of Sarawak in 1842.

Brooke and his successors, his nephew Rajah Charles Brooke and Charles son Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke, expanded Sarawak's territory at the expense of Brunei's, and shaped Sarawak's and Brunei's modern-day boundaries.

Rajah James Brooke's rule was not unchallenged. One of the most serious revolts against British rule occurred in Bau in 1857.

It was led by Kapitan Liu Shanbang, head of the 12 Kongsis of Bau.

The revolt occurred due to high taxes imposed on the kongsis by Brooke's government.

The Chinese miners were also unhappy with Brooke's monopolisation of the opium trade, which benefited the kongsis.

Brooke also tried to monopolise the production of gold and antimony in his fiefdom.

The rebellion began on February 18, 1857, and lasted about a week.

More than 600 Chinese rebels attacked Kuching and the Astana, Brooke's palace, on February 19.

Brooke escaped by swimming across the Sarawak River.

The Chinese rebels burnt down the Astana and killed five British assistants of Brooke.

Kapitan Liu's rule over Sarawak however did not last long.

He did not have the support of the native Bidayuhs, Ibans and Malays, who were mostly behind Brooke.

Brooke's nephew Charles enlisted help from the Ibans, and forced the Chinese rebels to retreat back to Bau on February 22.

Brooke's forces later attacked and killed more than 200 rebels including Liu himself.

The remaining rebels fled to Sambas, which was by now under Dutch rule.

In the 1860s, more Chinese Hakka migrants came to Bau, at the behest of the Brookes. While most of them came to mine gold, others set up shops and also became farmers.

While gold is hardly mined in Bau today, the town has made full use of its gold-mining past to attract visitors from Malaysia and abroad.

Tasik Biru, a former open-cast gold mine, is today a serene lake surrounded by lush, green hills. It is being developed as a resort.

The town's monument fountain, close to the wet market and food court, is dedicated to the industrious Hakka miners, and contains statues of three men hard at mining work.

It is topped with nine pitcher plant sculptures. The plants are abundant in the district and have become the district's emblem.

The number nine denotes Sarawak's nine original administrative divisions, which have since 2002 been increased to 11.

Bau's Bidayuh heritage is not sidelined, as the Bidayuh tribe, which is the fourth largest indigenous tribe in Sarawak after the Ibans, Melanaus and Malays, are the original inhabitants of Bau.

Bau's Civic Centre is a masterpiece of Bidayuh architecture, and has a meeting hall shaped like a Bidayuh Baruk, the tribes traditional meeting hall.

The building also incorporates the traditional designs of the Sarawak Malays and the Chinese.

The building won the Best Institutional Building Award in 1991, awarded by the Malaysian Institute of Architects.

Kapitan Liu, who is regarded as a freedom fighter who resisted British colonial rule, has a shrine dedicated to him in the suburb of Siniawan.

Siniawan, a predominantly Chinese town at the foothills of Gunung Serambau, also happens to be the Kampung of the Datuk Patinggis during their days as the viceroys of the Sultan of Brunei.

During British rule, Sir James Brooke used to take a break from his official duties here.

He had a wooden bungalow atop a nearby hill called Gunung Peninjau.

Siniawan's town centre comprises two rows of shophouses, 50 in all.

About 300 people live in the town.