VISITING a wooden barok (traditional Bidayuh roundhouse) at a village homestay on the bank of Sungai Sarawak opposite some imposing high-rise five-star hotel is quite an experience.
One moment you are having coffee in a lovely restaurant, served by uniformed waiters or waitresses, the next moment you are whisked back in time to 1820’s.
An authentic photo of James Brooke in the living room and other historical artefacts and antiques around the building literally “encapsulate” you in a frozen timeframe.
What did James Brooke see when he landed in Kuching in 1824?
Did he see Sungai Sarawak and the little wooden Malay kampung houses standing on stilts on the left bank as he sailed up the river?
Did he notice the small Malay perahu sailing slowly in the river?
Did he have the gut feeling that he would have a castle built on top of the knoll (where the Astana now stands)?
Did he see Malay families on the riverbanks getting on with their lives?
Did he also notice how the womenfolk dried their corns and clothes?
Perhaps, when you visit this particular village homestay, you might get a feel of life in 1824. For me, the best part was checking out the place (My Village Barok B and B). That was when I felt I was stepping into an interesting longhouse-cum-barok with the crew of the Royalist.
Old Iban antiques create a 19th century ambience while old photos from a different era grace the living room.
A very cheerful Gary, the assistant, said the owner (Sophian) of the My Baruk B and B had travelled deep into the interior and bought many of the antiques to fill up his house more than 20 years ago while he was still in government service. The owner had carefully utilised his ‘antique collection’ as décor for the homestay, making each room really comfortable for guests.
Gary was very forthcoming with answers and explanations. Indeed, a huge eyeful! One could not actually see many of these artefacts all at once in one longhouse. And indeed, the owner, with an artistic eye for things of beauty, has made a grand display of his collection.
Noble Savage principle
Seeing is believing. Perhaps that was what James Brooke saw in the longhouses and barok he visited. He, therefore, deemed it necessary to strategise his Noble Savage principle. His knowledge of the native and the Malay populations and the Chinese traders led him to form the principle of Divide and Rule.
Simply put, while ruling Sarawak, James Brooke provided for the Malays to be administrators via their Majlis Adat Istiadat, the Chinese to be given the rights to commerce and the natives (Noble Savages) of Sarawak to be given the rights over the forests and the natural resources.
The Rajah and his European ‘servants’ kept the peace and made laws. Religious freedom was a matter of fact. While the locals were given freedom of worship, European churches also appeared.
James Brooke brought to Sarawak current European concepts of politics and social obligations of the time. His outlook was fairly global. Political life then was “simple and manageable” as the saying goes.
Several photos in My Barok B and B also show the old days
when Chinese shophouses were in their infancy. Other photos show Malay dancers in their splendid costumes.
The most attractive artefact in the baruk is the grand photo of James Brooke with his youthful looks.
Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Traditional Bidayuh roundhouse - A peek at the past.