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Moonlight on the Mudflats

Last week I watched the full moon rise from a boat on the Igan River in Sarawak, Malaysia. The shimmering reflection of the moonlight on the mudflats along the banks, coupled with the roving lights from a flashlight as we watched for the shiny eyes of the crocodiles was, for me, a unique experience for the Sagittarius full moon. This river is on the Borneo side of Malaysia and is a distributary of the Rajang that spills out into the South China Sea. Sarawak, the largest state in this part of Borneo, is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society with many different indigenous tribes, Malay people, and a thriving Chinese community. Timber Most of what the West hears about Borneo is regarding the rapid resource depletion (mostly coal, bauxite and timber), and the practice of head-hunting as it was used by certain indigenous tribes in the pre-1924 time period. But there are other aspects to this land and its people that are equally intriguing.

In the capital, Kuching, there is a pedestrian walkway along the Sarawak River, the commercial life-blood of the city; a beautiful, new Parliament building; many intriguing artisan and antique shops; a plethora of reflexology and massage shops; Orchidand a state-sponsored orchid garden exploding with brilliant colors.

Two wonderful examples of ecotourism exist within a short drive from Kuching: 1) Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and, 2) Matang Wildlife Center. Both are working in cooperation with the Great Orangutan Project to try to preserve and protect this endangered species from habitat destruction, poaching, and the black market trade in wildlife. The rapid loss of habitat due to timber harvesting and the clearing of the jungle to make way for the growing agribusiness of palm oil plantations has brought this species to the brink of destruction.

Semenggoh was established by the Forest Department of Sarawak and is now managed by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation. At Semenggoh there is a group of dedicated conservationists that care for and rehabilitate the few remaining individuals that are remaining. Many of the individuals have been traumatized by the killing of their mothers by poachers while young. The staff are training them the survival skills necessary for re-release into the jungle. Unfortunately, some of the orangutans bond to their trainers and refuse to leave the safety of their new home at the semi-wild Semenggoh. If they demonstrate an ability to survive in the jungle, they are released to the Matang Wildlife Center within the Kubah National Park about 38 kilometers west of Kuching.

The people of Sarawak are a proud people…thinking of themselves as Sarawakians first, and Malaysians second. The land is so rich with natural resources that the state has an active anti-immigration policy between itself and Malaysians from other states in peninsular Malaysia (i.e., a work permit is required before a Malaysian from another part of the country can enter). Great efforts are being made to educate the indigenous population and provide job opportunities for the native Sarawakians.

KuchingCentral to the philosophy of governance is the notion of harmony between each of the various ethnic groups. It seems as though the head-hunting past of certain tribes has assured that the future trajectory of the governance of the region will be based on democratic principles and mutual respect. Current generations have learned the lessons from a violent and primitive past…just as many alive today in Europe and Japan have an aversion to war as a result of their experiences from WWII.

When the moon reflects on the mudflats, we sometimes can see different dimensions of the places we travel.