KUCHING: “Penambang” (river taxi) was once a popular form of transportation for the people living along Sarawak River such as Kampung Gersik, Kampung Boyan, Kampung Semarang, Kampung Sourabaya Ulu, Kampung Panglima Seman, Kampung Sungai Bedil and Kampung Lintang.
Back in the 1970’s, the villagers would use penambang to go to work, school or the city centre with fares as low as five sen for children and 10 sen for adults.
At that time, it took about five minutes to cross the Sarawak River as the “pak tambang” (river taxi operator) only used paddles.
As time passed, the operators now use engines to operate their boats. The fares have also increased to 30 sen for children and 50 sen for adults. The travel time is also shortened by two to three minutes.
With the main source of income coming from the river transport, the operators would often get RM90 per day. If there are many tourists, they could earn up to RM100 per day.
However, the sky isn’t always blue. The opening of the RM28 million Darul Hana Bridge has caused the income of pak tambang to decrease.
To understand their hardship, New Sarawak Tribune has gone down to the ground to meet some of the pak tambang.
Saman Mieso, also known as Pak Man Aloi, said: “In 1993, I could earn up to RM70 per day. Nowadays, most of the time I earn RM40 per day but during rainy season, I only earn RM20 per day.”
According to Pak Man Aloi, who operates from Pangkalan Panjang to Kampung Lintang, most of his customers are working adults and students.
“My income will increase during school holidays because most tourists will hire me to send them to Kampung Boyan and back again to Pangkalan Panjang. For requests like this, I usually charge my customers RM4 per person; they are still happy with the fare. Imagine how much they must pay if they use land transport? It is much cheaper using penambang service,” said the 56-year-old pak tambang.
Hailing from Kampung Semariang Batu, Pak Man Aloi begins his daily service from 6am to 4pm or from 2pm to 11pm. He explained that he is unable to do it full-time because he needed to fetch his children from school.
Meanwhile, 69-year-old Saron Halim from Kampung Niup, Kota Samarahan said he had been working as a pak tambang from the age of 19.
Operating from Pangkalan Boyan to Kampung Gersik only for a week in a month, Saron said he could earn up to RM40 per day.
“Last time (before the bridge opened), I could earn up to RM90 per day. On normal days, most of my customers are working adults and students. I can only get tourists during school holidays,” he said.
Despite hailing from Kampung Niup, which takes eight hours by boat to Pangkalan Boyan, Saron did not give up in order to earn a living for his family.
Starting work as early as 6am until 10pm, he said he would continue his service even on rainy days.
He added that he would sleep and bathe in the boat as he came from afar. He would also jump into the river for a quick swim and to relax.
After working for a week in Kuching, he would then return to his village to work as a carpenter and return to Pangkalan Boyan after a month. This has been his monthly routine for the past 50 years.
Despite everything, penambang is still preferred by the people living along the river as it is cheaper and faster compared to land transportation. Apart from that, their services are still relevant as it is one of the tourist attractions in Kuching.
Last but not least, as 2019 is the year to promote Visit Sarawak Campaign, it is advisable if the state government through the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) could give sponsorship to the penambang with stickers on their boats as part of the promotion.
Providing monthly allowance is also a good idea.