My first time at Dalat in 2002, it was just a cowboy town, where the town just make up of a row of wooden of shop house just at the riverbank of Batang Oya. This town was the biggest town on that area, which collecting the farms products on its surroundings before trade it to other major town. Than just imagine, how good business for the traders!
It was not come to five years where everything seemed changed, following the declaration of Mukah as a new Division. The new modern shop houses born and the cowboy town of Dalat were abolished. The only building to mark the site of the existing cowboy town is a Buddhist Temple. I believed that the temple built by the first generation of Chinese traders which now is part of the permanent folk of Dalat. Don’t argue on that, please! In fact, the first time travelers will not able to differentiate among Melanau, Chinese, Iban or Malay on languages. Most of them spoke on Dalat Melanau, which is quite different from other Melanau languages. This is so special about this town, where the real Malaysia live in harmony among them. With the modernization of the town, rivers and canals are still maintaining its popularity as the major mode of transportation by the locals. The have their own cars of course, but the rivers are still giving their important roles to the locals. Apart from roads, other basic infrastructures are developed as well. This is how the story of sago or “Balau”plays his roles as the activities that gearing up the modernization of Dalat.
Travels from Oya to Dalat (Oya is another cowboy town, a sub-district to Dalat), travelers will see nothing other than Sago trees. It was a beautiful view indeed! 15 km of road, the smooth driving on this paved road spoiled by various types of crossings. It is reported that total numbers of crossings are about 25 numbers, including of culverts and bridges. They are built higher than the road level, so that the local farmers still can use their boats in the canals and rivers.
Before the authority changed the crossings to a parmenant structures, the crossings are made of belian wooden which were built higher than these permanent structures. So, I cannot imagine driving on the 15 km of roads with not less than 25 bumps. I am not joking indeed!
To visit the sago farms and trees is just too easy. The travelers just can park their vehicles on the roadsides and enjoy the view of farmers pouring their very best effort on their Sago Farm. Most of them are traditional farmers; however nowadays planting sago is no more their only daily business. In fact, it was reported that sago farmers in Dalat has their own association to protect their welfare. Of course, I have to agree on this. They are small farmers, very hardworking to run this family-based business. In fact, some of them use the road side earth drain to transport their sago logs to the factories. This part is headache for me to think! Why should they use this orthodox way of transportation, where the roads are much easier to use. Than I get the answer, it should be much cheaper to use the drains and rivers compare to the land transports. I guess.
During high tide, the travelers even can see the small boats on the left and right side of the road. This is their most suitable time for them to transport their sago log. Otherwise, they have to wait another twelve hours for the high tide to come again and transporting their sago naturally. It is totally an amazing natural view, which in my opinion sooner or later will be extinct from their daily activities. And of course it will just become a history to the Dalat. Hence, for those to enjoy the scenic view, this is the time to snap on your camera and frame it nicely for the reference of future generation. It is not an easy to transformed Dalat from a cowboy town to a modern City, maybe.
I was shocked when my local friends informed me that the outsider farmers as far as Mukah, prefer to sell their sago logs to factory in Dalat. It is believed that this factory can offer them much higher than other factories. For a log, normally in 3 feet long, thaey will paid for about RM 6.50. For a tree of sago, they will get not less than ten logs which mean that they will get more than RM 65.00 for a tree. For me it is not worth, compare to their effort and tiredness. Anyway, I believed that their income should be much higher than my naïve calculation; otherwise this business will be bankrupts.
Another shocked is that, the information that the qualities of sago products in Dalat are much higher than other district. I am not daring to too descriptive on this matter, or otherwise I will stir up other people business. Anyway, I don’t like sage, that is the real truth.
Another product of sago is sago worm or “siet”in local Melanau. Most people will see this as taboo, but for Sarawakian, this food is a must try dish in this central region of Sarawak. It is not easy to buy, as you have to book earlier. It is totally special, a worm will needs about forty days before its ready for harvesting. I still finding a local farmer to bring me on the processing of the worm and write it in details later. However, I believed that it will be an interesting trip.
Crossing the river of Batang Oya, just on the opposite side of Dalat Town is Brunei. I am not joking! Anyway, it is not the country of Brunei, it is actually a small village known as Kampung Brunei. No other way to reach the kampung through land vehicles. Boats and “perahu tambang” are among the popular mode of transport to the kampung. A private wooden ferry operates to transport the vehicles to Kampung Brunei which could bring two cars in a single trip. The fare is not cheap, but the villagers have no choice other than paying RM 10.00 for a trip. No insurance and no warranty! Anyway a bridge now is under construction, and the kampungs on the opposite side of Dalat Town will enjoy the benefits.
In order to promote Dalat as a tourism place, the government spent million of RM to develop the riverbank to a beautiful waterfront. Maybe one day, Dalat will have a beautiful waterfront as what we have in Kuching City. This is just a matter of hope and reality.
When the time comes, the younger generation shall know that “Balau” is the industry that promotes this cowboy town to a riverbank city. There is an annual event, Pesta Balau that I cannot remember the schedule, which I believed an effort by the government to remind the younger generation the important of sago industries in Melanau community!