Sibu Town
Early History of Sibu

Origin of Sibu
W.J. Charter stated in his book, Sarawak Long Ago , that Sibu, a riverine town, was established in 1862. Fort Brooke was established in 1863 and the establishment of this fort indicated a concentration of sizeable population. It was built on an island at the river bend opposite the site of the present Sibu town and served as a centre of government administration. This river bend was called Tanjung Maling and the village on the island was also called Maling. A little settlement, Sibu, opposite Maling grew up rapidly because of its position as a riverine port. Because it was very near to Maling, it was sometimes called Maling Town.

The Sarawak Gazette published on 24th January 1871 stated that there were 60 wooden shops in existence in Sibu. On 1st June 1873 the Rajang Basin became a residency with its Divisional Headquarters at Sibu. In 1887 the Sibu Chinese traders with Government aids built at the site of the former Channel Road a row of 60 belian-wood shophouses.

On the night of 10th February 1889, Sibu Town was gutted by fire; the town was burnt to the ground. This fire had caused much destruction and delay, though temporary, the development of Sibu Town.

At this time, most of the Chinese immigrants were of the Hockien dialect from Zhangzhou and Quanzhou of Southern China. It was in the early part of the 20th Century that a great number of immigrants of the Foochow (Fuzhou), Cantonese and Henghua dialects came to settle in Sibu.

Wong Nai Siong and the Foochow Settlers
The Foochow people originated from the Foochow (Fuzhou) Prefecture in Fujian, China. Foochow Prefecture consists of 10 counties which are located along the lower Min Kiang, the longest river in Fujian Province. The 10 counties are Minhsien, Haukwong, Changlok, Fuching, Lienchiang, Loyuan, Mintsing (Minqing), Yungfu, Kutien (Gutian) and Pingnan.

Wong Nai Siong (1849-1924) came from a poor farming family in the Mintsing (Minging) County of Fujian Province. When Christianity came into Foochow (Fuzhou), Wong Nai Siong became a Christian and received western education under the care of the Methodist Mission. In 1894, he passed the government provincial examination and became a 'Ju Ren' or scholar.

He joined Kang Yu Wei in his Self-Strengthening Movement to reform and modernise China. When the reform was quashed by Empress Dowager Ci Xi, Wong Nai Siong fled to Fujian. To avoid political prosecution, he left with his family for Singapore in 1899.

In 1900, having heard that Rajah Charles Brooke was willing to bring experienced Chinese agriculturists into the Rajang Basin, he left Singapore and came to Sarawak. He travelled along the Rajang River up to Kanowit for 13 days and found that the Rajang River basin was vast with virgin jungles and sparsely peopled and was suitable for a large-scale agriculcural development. So, he went to Kuching to see the Chinese Community leader, Ong Tiang Swee, and with an introduction letter from the latter, Wong Nai Siong signed a contract with Rajah Charles Brooke on 27th July 1900 that he would bring Chinese farmers to cultivate the land in Sibu.

After having signed the contract with the Sarawak Government, Wong Nai Siong obtained a loan of $30,00 (Sarawak Dollars) from Rajah Charles Brooke and returned to Fujian. While in China both Wong Nai Siong and Lek Chiong (another party to the contract) enlisted farmers from several counties of Foochow, mainly from Mintsing (Minqing) and Kutien (Gutian) counties.

The following year, Lek Chiong brought the first batch of 91 settlers from Foochow and of this group 72 arrived at Sibu on 28th January 1901 (19 of them ran away in Singapore). They were divided into two groups, those from Kutien were settled at Ensurai and those from Mintsing were settled at Sungai Merah or Sungai Seduan. Twenty days after the departure of Lek Chiong and his group of settlers, Wong Nai Siong led a large group of 535 settlers and arrived at Sibu on 16th March of the same year. As before, they were divided into two groups, with those from Kutien settled at Ensurai and the rest at Seduan. On 7th June 1902, the third group of settlers arrived in Sibu.

As more immigrants arrived from China, more lands was needed. Some Foochow colonists began rowing up and down the Rajang River looking for new lands. Thus, many new Foochow settlements were established. In 1910, Ling Ming Lok began farming near Binatang Village. In the same year, Wong Ching Poh and some others started a small Foochow settlement on the eastern bank of Nyelong River in Sarikei. Settlements were also established in Kanowit (1910), Baram (1920), Mukah (1925), Sebauh in Bintulu (1926), Limbang and Lawas (1957) and Sri Aman (formerly Simanggang) in 1959. In 1914, a group of Foochows moved out of Sibu to Seria in Brunei.

The Cantonese Settlers
Not much written historical record was available about the Cantonese settlers in Sibu. What is known was that two Cantonese pioneers were Chiang Cho Shiong and Then Kung Suk. After signing a contract with Rajah Charles Brooke to bring in Cantonese settlers, Then Kung Suk returned to China and recruited prospective settlers from Guangning, Sanshui, Qingyuan, Sihui, Fanyi, Dongguan and Chonghua to open the Sibu Kwangtung Settlement at Lanang area. In 1904, Jiang Yiqing established a farm at Salim. Latter settlements were established at Sungai Stabau, Lower Naman, Sungai Naman, Upper Naman, Sungai Nibong, Durin, Sungai Pok Sungai Petai, Sungai Pak and Tanjung Lukut. By 1917, the Cantonese were settled as far up as Kanowit.

The Henghua Settlers
The first Henghua Settlement was established in 1912. Rev. William Brewster enlisted 101 Henghua Christians from the districts of Putian and Xianyou and were led by Pastor Cheng Bingzhong to go to Sarawak. They were settled at the Henghua Settlement at Sungai Merah, Sibu. A second group of 44 Henghua, again led by Pastor Cheng, arrived in Sibu on 17th June 1913. In 1915, a second Henghua Settlement was obtained at Sungai Teku. The third Henghua Settlement was established at Penasu in 1928. The fourth Settlement was established at Sungai Poi in 1929.

-Fong Hon Kah,
A history of the development of Rajang Basin in Sarawak and
- Kiu Mee Kuok
The Diffusion of Foochow Settlement