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February 4, 2015

Another Tiring and Fruitless Day

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – We finally arrived at the Kampung Lidah Tanah after heavy rain had flooded most of the grave sites. To recap, I wanted to go there to establish that the kampung was much older than the 1823 date most sources claim. This is important to the history of the area.


The first grave site was, again, covered by bush. We had to use a parang (machete) to clear the area. One of the grave markers we found was a typical "n" shaped but very large, about up to my knees. I took a brush, some dish soap and started scrubbing. The dirt and algal growth came away but nothing was written underneath. The stone was made of granite, an uncommon rock for the area.


We hacked our way into another area right next to the large one we found. Most of the stones were triangular in shape, but they were only about ankle high and covered with moss. There was no sense in scrubbing these. We found many of them among the trees and stumps of very large ones.


We then moved around a low-lying creek to the other side of the graveyard. Here, behind a house, were other, tablet-like grave stones. I attacked each of them with a frenzy, scrubbing both sides hard. Nothing!!! Then we went behind another house and did the same. Still nothing!!!


I should have known that we would find blank, un-carved memorials. First, the Islamic religion states people must be buried in a plain grave with no names on them. Second, most of the people were illiterate and could not carve anyone's name. But, I felt, it was worth a try. We had found one or two graves with Jawi (the written language of the Malay world) carved on them. I was just hoping for a date.


After a day of this, we went to an eatery to discuss what we had found. The prize, if you can call it that, was the large "n" shaped headstone. We tried to guess where it had come from and decided it was from Santubong, 28 km down the river. The stones were the same. They could have brought them upriver by canoe. Later, when I arrived home and after a bath, I checked in Google Images under Islamic tombs and there was nothing like that one.


The triangular ones were next. Someone had cut them into this shape and used them as head and foot stones. We surmised they were local stones, but we hadn't a clue what the triangle could mean.


The slabs were easy. They came from the river. All one had to do was to pick them up and rudely carve them. The Belian wood (iron wood) were also easy because the trees grew nearby.


I have some journals to read, books to consult and a meeting with a retired Malay historian to consult. I would just like a date, maybe the century, of the stones and the founding of Ledah Tanah.


...Life is good. . . . .


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