Kalimantan escapade – bridging the Sarawak – Kalbar divide

Every man can transform the world from one of monotony and drabness to one of excitement and adventure.

– Irving Wallace, American author

Part 2

Did you know that Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province or KALBAR is larger than Sarawak?

In fact, KALBAR is 147,307 sq km and even larger than Malaya which measures 132,090 sq km.

Indonesian Kalimantan (748,168 sq km), is almost four times of East Malaysia – Sarawak and Sabah measure 200,000 sq km.

Sarawak and Kalimantan which share a 1,000km-long border, were one country long before the White Rajahs and Dutch colonialists.

For a short spell during the 1963 Confrontation, tensions were high until the Indonesian and Sarawak governments decided to work on improving ties.

As subjects of Rajah Brooke, we were happy until the Japanese occupation showed us the Europeans were not invincible.

For one thing, the Japanese revived headhunting which was banned by the Brookes and some victims were the Europeans themselves.

In Kalimantan the Japanese wreaked havoc on the oil towns of Balikpapan and Tarakan with the killing and decapitation of hundreds of Dutch soldiers.

In KALBAR, the massacre of more than 20,000 innocent civilians who were buried in several mass graves at Mandor was a bitter experience.

Most were businessmen, teachers and intellectuals as well as anti-Japanese communist elements.

Indonesia’s royalty or “Keraton” family members of the various sultans who were pro-Dutch were also wiped out.

After the war, Indonesia won their independence from the Dutch and President Sukarno’s big dream was to incorporate Sarawak and Sabah into Greater Kalimantan.

But the vision of Sukarno’s “Nusantara” archipelago dream failed because Sarawak became part of Malaysia in 1963.

The dream was further shattered n 1965 when millions of Indonesian communists were killed and President Suharto began the long process of normalisation with Malaysia.

Indonesia’s greatest change came in 2014 with the election of Joko Widodo – a down to earth Javanese – as the seventh president.

In keeping with Sukarno’s Nusantara dream it was practical to move the over-crowded capital Jakarta to the massive expanse of Kalimantan which represents 73 per cent of the country.

In the meantime, Kuching has grown from a backward riverine town whose people were quite happy with their hand-to-mouth existence to a mature, modern and burgeoning city.

Just across the border and about 100 miles as the crow flies, the city of Pontianak, is also excited with the news that Indonesia will build a new capital in Kalimantan within the next decade in East Kalimantan (KALTIM).

However, inhabitants from Pontianak (68,685) – the fourth largest city in Kalimantan after Samarinda (727,500; 2010 census), Banjarmasin (657,700) and Balikpapan (688,300) – have drawn closer to Sarawak because of our better socio-economic status.

“We both have a similar language but a different style of presenting the language, whether spoken or written,” said senior journalist Hanz Endi Pramana.

As a regular visitor to Pontianak over the last 20 years and as a friend of Endi, I have learnt the intricacies and peculiarities of the locals and have begun understanding the language.

For one thing, Bahasa Malaysia is not the same as the Dutch-influenced Indonesian language which can be confusing.

And if you want to use the toilet don’t ask the receptionist for directions to the tandas because that word does not exist.

Just ask for the “WC” or pronounced “Way Say” in the Dutch alphabet.

I also asked Endi what brengsek or goblok meant and he said it was an endearing term which means “silly” or plain stupid in Indonesian slang.

To reciprocate I taught him to address me as Selekeh – in other words messy and shabby to which he was delighted to hear.

In reality the Indonesians are a courteous and tolerant people who adhere to the “Pancasila” – the five tenets that form the basis of unity and infuse the people with a culture of respect for others.

Endi, who was a former Borneo Tribune staff member and Jakarta Post correspondent in Pontianak said: “The five principles are inseparable and interrelated: A democratic, cultured and unified country that believes in an Almighty God and a government that cares for its people irrespective of race and religion.”

He is excited because Kalimantan is on the verge of greatness following President Jokowi’s announcement that “Nusantara” will be established by the late 2020s.

Businessman Robinson Pangemanan, 55, who migrated from Menado in Northern Sulawesi to KALBAR 30 years ago to establish a small business, said that the transformation that is taking place is tremendous.

“Kalimantan has a vastly improved modern road system and we have three CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine) checkpoints at Badau-Lubuk Antu, Entikong-Tebedu and Aruk-Biawak outposts in KALBAR alone.

“Sarawak has an on-going Pan Borneo highway while we are in the process of connecting all the five Kalimantan provinces (called propinsi) by expressways and railway.”

Indeed, the connectivity within Borneo – the third largest island in the world – will become a reality by 2030.

Next week: Part 3 – Opening our borders.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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