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January 7, 2015

Seeking and Finding Graves

Tom McLaughlin

Kampung Lidah Tanah, Malaysian Borneo – I am still trying to write the history of the Sarawak River. A best seller I am sure. I will probably end up placing it on the inside covers of my two comic books.


At least somebody will read it!


From Kuching, if you travel up the river, (well down as it flows south to north) one comes to the Kampung. Here, the river splits in two, The Sarawak Kiri (left) and the Sarawak Kana (right).


We travelled by auto from Kuching, so I am not sure how far it is. The British masters only described as "good row," meaning one had to row their boats against the current coming down.


Lidah Tanah claims to be the second capital of Sarawak. Santubong, at the other end of the river where it empties into the sea, is first. Kuching, mid-way between the two villages is now the capital. According to me, this was where the tide from the sea stopped. You had to row against the downstream current to get further up the river.


The kampung had fallen on hard times. There were a few houses under construction, made of stacked cinder block, all the way up to the roof. Very few people, it seemed, lived there. The magnificence of the area had long since faded. There were several nice homes.


I was looking for the grave of Pengirrian Ali. He was famous because he challenged James Brooke, the first white rajah, from taking over the area. We contacted the Ketua kampung (headman) and he knew exactly what we were looking for. Great, I thought.


We walked along a well-worn path that suddenly veered into high grass. I was wearing shorts and didn't have a parang (machete) with me, so I had to grin and bear the cut on my legs. It was also misting and the ground was wet from the monsoon rains.


We tromped our way through the high blades, over two small hills and into the bush. There, nestled in a small corner, were the graves. It was far from what I expected, given that Pengirrian Ali was and is a hero of the state.


Ali's grave (I assume it was Ali because everyone told me it was) was set above ground with tiles like the ones you see in a kitchen. An oblong space with a red bush in the middle occupied the top. Next to his resting place were five other graves without the tile adornment. They had a head and footstone and were surrounded by Belian wood. There were no names or dates on the stones that we could see.


I asked if there were other graveyards, and, to my surprise, he took us to two others. The first was behind a block concrete house and seemed to be an area for chickens and ducks. There were several head and foot stones made of granite. This was most unusual because the nearest granite was several miles away. I wondered who could have been buried there and when.


The second group of graves was behind another house, all of granite and seemingly out of place. They were lined up to face Mecca. Some of the headstones were about a meter above the ground.


I don't know who was buried in these old graves and nobody else seemed to know either. Usually, Malay graves are made of Belian wood with a small stone marked and not edifices like these.


I will continue my search in the library. Stay posted.


...Life is good. . . . .


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