Mukah, in the heartland of the Melanaus, is a small town along the coast of the South China Sea. It is midway between Kuching and Bintulu. The flight (Sarawakians say naik belon!) by Twin Otter that accomodate 19 passengers (bigger plane now) from Kuching takes slightly more than an hour.
By hinterland road it will take more than 12 hours passing through Sibu and other smaller towns. With better roads and new bridges crossing Btg. Rajang (to Sibu) and Btg. Mukah travelling time is now reduced by at least a couple of hours.
The gerais (red rooftop) along the banks of Btg. Mukah (Btg. for Batang; in Sabah and Peninsular we use sungai) were my favourite eating place when I was new in Mukah. That was more than a decade ago. The hive of activities and decor shown in the picture above took place during the annual Pesta Kaul, 2006.
The Melanaus living the coast are mostly fishermen who brave the open sea. Early in the morning they will land their catch by the jetty and market beside the gerais. Readily available at the fish market is a Melanau delicacy called 'umai' consisting of thin slices of fresh fish sprinkled with crushed groundnuts, salt and limau kasturi.
Also, hemmed in between the main road of the town and and the river is the daily market for vegetables, fruits, dried goods and other produce. Live sago worms, siet in Melanau which are eaten raw or fried are usually sold in the market.
As anywhere else in Malaysia, most of the shops in the town are Chinese-owned.
To leave Mukah heading towards Balingian-Sibu is a ferry service crossing the Btg. Mukah. A new bridge was completed just before I left Mukah in 2006.
In the low lying areas and along river banks in the not far from the coast, sago palms (mulong or balau in Melanau) thrive in abundance on peat soil where many crops would not grow. They provide the main source of carbohydrate, income and material culture for the Melanaus.
The sago logs of 3ft long are floated along dithes, canals, and rivers to the mill to extract the starch found in the pith. The Melanaus are highly adapted to living by the water.
Pangeran (right), my friend who brought me to see a special sago palm in a holding owned by Hitler. Yes, that is the name of the Melanau.
A sago mill usually located by a riverbank for easy transport of sago logs and source of water for washing and processing in the mill. All the mills (5) in and around Mukah are run by Chinese.
Manually or mechanically debarked sago logs going up the conveyors for splitting and crushing to extract the juice from the pulp.
After the toils and hardwork, the Melanaus know how to get together and enjoy life during the annual Kaul Festival around mid-April. Majority of the Melanaus are Muslims, some are Christians and others follow traditional beliefs.
Exhibit of some of their material culture made from sago leaves (terendak) and fronds (tikar), rattan, and bamboo.
A Melanau wedding is similar to a Malay ceremony. However, they start quite early in the morning and finish by noon.
The previous CM, Pehin Sri Taib Mahmud of Mukah origin built a well designed mosque with an open concept where people irrespective of religion freely jog or walk around the large and shady compound. The mosque was built some 20 years ago.
Pehin, the new administrative centre for Mukah completed in 2005.
My six years in Mukah has been a memorable experience, meeting people of different ethnics (Ibans, Bidayuh), to learn about sago and life of the Melanaus.