M U Z I U M A L A M
She told me she thought it was the beginning of some kind of structure, a jetty, a pier, something like that. Something to do with tourists. Some dispute, something didn’t get finished. Some-thing.
But then others who knew better said it was a barge pole. A place to tie barges. A place to tie barges that carried the bulldozers and excavators - by the back door so to speak, to bypass the wildlife ranger stations - to come to take the logs away. I don’t know when. Maybe 10 years? Maybe more? This area was coastal forest with trees with a circumference as big as a toilet block. So big you couldn’t put your arms around them
Ok so that’s the thing that struck me the first time were these barge poles. Because whenever these barge poles are found that’s a sign of large-scale logging,
Then I started asking those questions - what are those two barge poles doing here? Standing on the beach you can’t see - its beautiful. But then the loggers came in, they went straight across to where the houses are now, they went over the hills and into the national park and they brought the logs. The logs were brought out not from here but from the river and also from the beach midway through the reserve. So the original entry point was from here, and that’s why the 5 barge poles - many of them are not there now, they all rotted and were beaten down by the sea
A rocky coastline with prominent headlands and bays fringed by raised beaches backed by cliffs
A high raised beach covered with transported boulders and pebbles of bauxite, actinolite quartzite and slate, fringed to the west by a magnificent cliff face banked up by screes.
A sandy beach three inches deep with
, leaf mould and humus, upriver detritus. With plastic bottles and ripped fishing nets, after the landas monsoon season.
The coastline stretches away and pulls in, returns but differently
Ok, just to begin with - we walked along the beach, alright? We didn’t walk through the areas that were being logged. Though by the beach there were also a lot of areas that had been logged also. At that time, you would still get the shadows at sundown there of the big trees on the beach at a certain time of the day. Over the years… from what I’ve gleaned… it’s a very rich forest. The thousand logs they are talking about are just the hardwood - that is, the belian, the selangan batu, and the kapur. Kapur is the one that’s named after Beccari. Of course there is also meranti, the other of the medium and not-so-dense woods. But they counted one thousand, almost a thousand, of belian, selangan batu, and kapur.
A thousand logs. This according to their count, as it happened practically in front of them. Selangan batu, belian and kapur.
The sky is pink because the forests behind the mountains are burning.
The haze sits heavy. A partial opacity. Smoke lingers in the nostrils.
A week later Pak Uning Laut, the third brother of the sea, told me the road to town was littered with the carcasses of tiny birds, lungs full of the ashy residues of forests.
It just struck me that, if you want to - did we ever go to Tj Datu national park? Ok, if you’re walking through Tj Datu national park along the main trail, then walking to the headquarters with all those majestic trees standing - that’s exactly. That’s exactly how it was. Exactly. To the last detail. If you can remember? Walking in Tj Datu… were you ever in Tj Datu with me, I just can’t remember.
That time we took a walk from the last village, we were talking about how intact the jungle was - and suddenly - we see a log. Remember that?
Did you walk from the back? From the back, the small little bay at the back and walk on a plank walk with all those towering trees a few feet away from you, maybe a ten minute walk?
After the sea, Nakoda Hitam’s coconut trees
After the coconut trees, mangrove forest,
After the mangroves, obliterated secondary forest.
Single dipterocarp trees and patches of palm oil
A signboard declares a wildlife reserve.
If you can try to understand the significance of what I’m telling you. These three types I mentioned - You can imagine the meranti, the other very majestic trees but you know. They don’t make as much money as the three I mentioned just now. Just imagine how pristine the forest was.
That was the beginning. That logging was responsible for the way the totally razed areas by the road looks like today.
That moonscape was not due to the road. The cutting started long before the road. The road is only 3 years old. Look at the size of the oil palm, the palm trees are 20 years old.
So why they said the national park was to be protected and blahblahblah, so people could still draw things from there and then a few months later the loggers came in and took everything away. So the people felt cheated. And that’s when all hell broke loose -
Three coconuts were found floating in the sea. They were taken and planted on Talang Talang island successfully.
every morning we’d do patrol at 5 o’clock in the morning, 4 o clock in the morning when the tide turns. We walk along the beach looking for terrapin nests. And you can see all the different tracks on the ground - all the different types of cats you can get, the monkeys, the monitors, of course the dogs and of course humans, along the beach. Of course there are not many big trees left but the wildlife that’s competing for the eggs of the terrapins and the turtles, its fantastic. It’s still there.
The old nakoda riverine and coastal trade
Damar, beeswax, birds nests, getah perca,
Sweet potatoes, cash crops
Coconuts for copra, kebun kelapa,
Pepper and gambir
Pigs uproot plantations
Jelutong, engkabang, meranti, kelapa sawit
Kapur, selangan batu, belian
And the sea between…
A shift from trading in forest products to trading the forest itself
As we edge closer the sky is mustard haze
The sun is a perfect red circle
It was away from - slightly off to the side of the highway. Some of them are still standing there. Just imagine. Right there, next to the river, less than a kilometre away from the sea, there’s these huge old kapur trees standing there. Just imagine. Just imagine.
That time here was jungle, big jungle. Then 15 years ago they came and cut all the trees. To make a house, a farm, a pepper farm, start to plant padi. It’s normal, the way people open the land year by year.
The simultaneous construction and deconstruction of state boundaries.
These boundaries between forest, tree and sea
The stories bend and fold, the way the biotite quartzite in these rocks have gently folded over centuries, easing into the sea
a ghost of a tree
the haze lingers in the throat, bitter on the tongue
He told me.. when he was… before the loggers came, you walk in there, it’s a whole different world. You got everything. You can just choose a little spot, cut down a tree and make a house. Or you can just do some hunting, do some fishing. The mangroves. The deer. The fish that you can get, the crabs. Of course crocodiles also. But it was pristine. It was not that long ago.
You could say that the Brookes carried out a kind of social engineering in this part of the country / a deliberate manipulation of land and communities.
A matrix that twists some bodies this way, others another, some land like this, some land like that.
The sea returns… but differently
I was amazed by the number of primates. People rave about Bako national park. Bako national park only has macaques, proboscis monkeys and silver leaf monkeys. There are 5 different primates here. You have the 3 that are in Bako but then you also have pig tail macaques, 4, then you also have langurs - you have the two different types of langurs with two different colourings. So you have 5 different primates. And the langurs are so rare. And then there are gibbons. So you have 6 different primates, 6 different monkeys. Right here. Even I the last time I went there, you can still hear the monkeys! Even with the roads. You can still hear the gibbons - and its…
A troop of langurs trapped a patch of forest on one side of the highway
Borders and monopolies make some pirates, others smugglers, some squatters, others poachers
People have been living there for so long. And people cut trees down, to make their boat, make their house and everything - but it grows back. Look at it today, compared to what it looks like just inside the national park along the highway.
An archipelago that ebbs and flows - from here to Pulau Natuna Besar to Sambas, to Singapore, Riau, Manila, Sulu, Mempawa, Pontianak, Brunei, Mindanao, Java, Sumatra…
…pouring in from across the uncharted sea, out of the wide river mouths of Thailand, Indo-China and the China coast, eastward to Luzon, southward to Brunei Bay and Santubong, westward towards Indian Asia.
As far as logs radiate: Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong…
Same story everywhere. Everywhere. Either somebody comes to do the logging. The oil palm. In the old days it was logging and now it’s oil palm. Now it’s logging. Now it’s damming. Then logging once the dam is filled up. Then you know, it takes away people’s livelihoods. Even here, I remember the time my father-in-law - not a care in the world. Of course he needs some cash, send the children to school. But food was ok, fish and prawns and you had the wood. Stuff like that. Now it’s nothing, except oil palm.
An archipelago of african palm technologies: Gambia, Angola, Liberia, Congo, New Guinea, Guyana, Brazil, Peru, Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia
1. Allen, A. W. (1951) The geology of the Lundu-Sematon-Tanjong Datu area of the First division of Sarawak, Durham theses, Durham University.
Belian, selangan batu, kapur
this opacity, is it the same as hesitation?
4. We stopped somewhere and spoke to a woman who pointed beyond her small patch of land to what had been mangrove forest and now was full of tractors churning a sea of mud to develop coconut plantations. Nothing is very clear. She was digging her land to start farming crabs. The mangroves and the little stream that separated her land from the mangroves had been a natural habitat for mudcrabs, ketam kalok. And now they were digging up the ancestral land from the mountain behind her house to bring soil rich with volcanic ash to fertilise the saline mangroves and prepare for coconut trees.
5. The culture of meta-archipelagoes is an eternal return, a detour without destination or milepost, a roundabout that leads nowhere but back home; it is a feed-back machine, as is the sea, the wind, the Milky Way, the novel, the natural world, the food chain, the sonata.
The Repeating Island
, 1996, p.439)
6. The Brookes - the White Rajahs - were a British family who ruled Sarawak as a dynastic monarchy between 1841 to 1946. The Japanese Occupation took control of the country between 1941-1945. Sarawak became a British Crown Colony in 1946 until it joined the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.
"But did Sir James Brooke ever attack the real pirates?"
(Contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v3.0.,
9. see: Tom Harrisson, "Changing Contexts of SE Asia", Sarawak Museum Journal Vol X, 1962. p. 453
See also: Ishikawa, Noboru,
Between Frontiers: Nation and Identity in a Southeast Asian Borderland
, Ohio University Press, 2009
Belian, selangan batu, kapur images from