Mukah, the centre of Melanau culture in Sarawak, was once a sleepy coastal fishing and sago-producing village on the Rejang River. It is still a hub of fishing and sago production, but is now quite developed, with rows of shophouses lining the roads of Bandar Baru (New Town).
We had a bumpy 3-hour ride from Sibu, driving past many Longhouses (wooden terraced houses on stilts, where many Dayak families live), oil palm plantations and swiftlet houses (more on these later).
We arrived in time for lunch, but most places had shut just after 1pm. Lunch was a simple fare.
We had a browse through the stalls selling various sago products and fish items. Sago is harvested by grating the sago palm pith, then separating the flour from the fibers. Sago flour is used in many snacks, desserts, food products and the sago flour can be made into gruel. I used my pidgin Malay to speak to the Melanau stall owners who fortunately decided to put me out of misery by speaking perfect English back to me.
Fish market by the river.
Gertrude, a Melanau/Chinese friend of Auntie Eng, offered to be our guide. She owns a hair salon in town.
Harvested sago palm trunks are floated down the river to the production factory.
Gertrude took us to her kampung (village) where she showed us various swiftlet houses. Swiftlets produce salivary nests which are renowned for their health properties and command between RM$3,000 – $5,000/kilogram. Traditional birds nests are harvested from caves, a dangerous endeavor as swiftlets nest at huge heights. Astute villagers now build birdhouses with recorded birdcalls to entice swiftlets to roost.
We went to Gertrude’s house, as she wanted to gift Auntie Eng a couple of chickens. It was comical watching Gertrude net the luckless birds. These chickens are enormous, weighing up to 8kg live weight, and had to endure the 3-hour bumpy ride back to Sibu on the back of Uncle’s 4WD.