BY SARAH HAFIZAH CHANDRA & ALVERTEKOSTER ANYAP
KUCHING: St James’ Anglican Church, at Kampung Quop which was consecrated in 1865, is one of the oldest churches in Sarawak at 156 years old.
While the church — made mainly of belian wood — has survived rain and shine, some parts made of softer wood have succumbed to old age, termites and water damage.
Simon Eldine Jaboh, 71, a member of the village committee related how the villagers used to take care of the church through gotong-royong (mutual assist communal work).
However, this practice faded away as the older generation aged.
“I remember when I was younger, the villagers used to get together to clean the church. It was really interesting how they cleaned the belian wood.
“They would wash and polish the belian wood using candle wax mixed with kerosene before scrubbing it off with coconut husk. This would make the belian wood really shiny.
“The termite problem occurred roughly about 30 to 40 years ago. Back then there was no insecticide or anything to prevent it.”
Simon revealed that the church still had original items like statues and silverware from the United Kingdom (UK).
The silver candle stands designed by Omar Ramsden, one of England’s leading designers and makers of silverware, are used in the new church while a painting by British artist Emma Irlam Briggs remains hanging in the old structure.
“The church still has, and uses, the bell donated by Angela Burdett-Coutts (Baroness Burdett-Coutts was a close friend of Sir James Brooke, Sarawak’s first White Rajah). She was one of England’s wealthiest women in the 19th century. The bell is made of silver and nickel.
“She used to own land and a plantation in the area. It was said that she liked to wander deep in the jungle and she relied on the ringing of the bell to find her way home whenever she got lost.
“Unfortunately, we have lost some items such as a silver tray and two chalices during a looting incident. This happened at the same time when grave robbery was prevalent in the 1990s.”
Meanwhile, another village committee member, Gerald Wah Onn, 41, said the old church and a nearby split rock were the village’s pride.
He hoped refurbishment work on the old church could be done so that it would be accessible to the public.
“Not many people, especially the younger generation, are aware of the old church’s history and the story behind the split rock. These are part of our culture and pride.
“The refurbishment work will not happen that soon but we hope to get it done bit by bit. We want to preserve and maintain the church as it is but replace parts that are rotten or broken.
“Moreover, the old church has been gazetted so we cannot simply do any refurbishment work without consulting the Sarawak Museum Department. We must also look into getting funds as well.”
Gerald also mentioned that he hoped the village’s heritage sites would be developed as a tourist attraction in the future.
He said awareness about the village could be made possible through promotion and engagement on social media.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were tourists who came to the village. I remember Simon telling me that back in the 1980s, the grandchild of Rajah Vyner Brooke visited the old church.
“I hope engagements with the museum department and Sarawak Tourism Board can facilitate in developing the potential of the village. Perhaps the old church can be made into an exhibition gallery.”