Kalimantan Escapade – journey to ‘Kota Amoi’

Everybody has their own story; everybody has their own journey.

Thalia, Mexican singer

After Pontianak we left for Singkawang better known as ‘Kota Amoy’ (City of Chinese damsels) –  famous for fair and lovely Teo Chew and Hakka girls.

Over the past two decades or so, many Sarawak Chinese have patronised the city’s eating places and having tasted the delicious cuisine, and married into the community.

It was an auspicious Sunday trip because it was Hari Raya or ‘Lebaran’ as it is known in Indonesia, after the month-long fasting.

Earlier at Ngabang we called on the ‘Bupati’ Resident Dr Andrianus at his sprawling residence complete with minizoo and a community hall for functions.

At the gathering Andrianus called on Sarawak to strengthen its ties with KALBAR and exploit the economic potential.

During the 1970s logging was a multi-billion rupiah business in KALBAR.

Unfortunately, many of the loggers with connections with the police leaders and army practically

‘raped’ the hinterland, leaving little behind.

I was told some of the worst concession owners were Sarawak companies which broke environmental rules that even the Indonesian authorities could not protect them from prosecution.

Apparently, one or two of them are still on the wanted list, and perhaps are back home or still logging in other countries.

The tempo of the journey changed after the Sidas junction – a meandering stretch between the Sidas and Gunung Mandiri.

Blaring the horn almost through every ‘twist and turn’ along a narrow one-lane road, we had to avoid motorcyclists at blind corners.

Accidents on Kalimantan roads can be very expensive. I recall an accident where we were fined RM1,000 after our car ‘grazed’ a mother a child crossing the road during a drizzle.

Initially the fine was much higher but thanks to the intervention of the polisi (police) it was reduced, but not before one of the men who surrounded our car took away an expensive cowboy hat belonging to my classmate and the late ASP Wilfred Gomez Malong.

As we continued the journey, I learned a bit more about Clarry, a PhD graduate.

Born in the remote region of Nanga Badau next to the border town of Lubok Antu, the University of Tanjungpura lecturer spoke of the shared cultures of the natives and Sarawak.

The seventh child of Jambai Aji and Talam Malong, Clarry was one of the few Indonesian Iban who had an opportunity to further his education.

Thanks to an uncle from Jakarta who financed his studies, he rose from the ranks to become chairman of the Centre of Dayak Studies at the university.

Since then, he has spent most of his life conducting research on the native communities who make up about 42 per cent of the 5 million people of KALBAR.

The Chinese make up about 30 per cent of population while the rest are a mixture of Muslims from all over Indonesia.

The natives took pride that in 2006 the second Governor of KALBAR Drs Cornelis was a Catholic Dayak from the ‘Ahe’ (prounced Ahay) community.

He was the second Dayak governor after J. C. Ovang Oeray, a Kayan  from Kapuas Ulu in the regency of Putussibau who was elected in the early1960s.

His son is Yohanis Palaunseka, a cultural expert and close friend.

Like Sarawak, the natives of KALBAR are Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu and Bidayuh who have dozens of dialectical groups.

However, they are united by a common language – Bahasa Indonesia.

At that time the infrastructure development and the economic sector was lagging behind Sarawak.

The majority of the Dayaks living in the rural hinterland, subsisted on smallholdings growing padi and vegetables and cash crops like rubber, pepper and cocoa.

“For a time the natives of Sarawak who were ahead of our Dayaks and rose to the ranks of federal minister like Tan Sri Leo Moggie and deputy chief minister Datuk Seri Daniel Tajem.

“We have learnt much from our Sarawak counterparts who were once united and committed to helping the poorer section of the community,”  said Clarry.

In the past KALBAR was left behind due to the lack of education but the mindset is changing under dynamic President Jokowi.

Four years ago, Jokowi created a fifth Province Kalimantan Utara (KALTARA) with Tanjung Selor, next to the oil town of Tarakan, its administrative centre.

KALTARA’s village town of Long Bawan which shares the border with Ba’kelalan in Sarawak, has a vast network of tar-sealed roads.

In the meantime, Ba’kelalan remains underdeloped with its timber roads and ‘buffalo trails’.

Meanwhile in 2019, Jokowi opened the Aruk Sajingan-Biawak checkpoint.

Unlike Indonesia which is taking the Sarawak-Kalimantan connection seriously, the Malaysian government has been dragging its feet.

Until deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi visited the Tebedu in December 2017, no Malaysian minister has taken interest in Sarawak’s shared border.

Just for your knowledge, Tebedu was the first Sarawak town to be attacked during Confrontation in early April 1963.

Indeed, our federal ministers need to understand Sarawak’s neighbour now that the Indonesians of Nusantara will be the greatest catalyst for development.

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

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