Early History of Sibu
Origin of Sibu
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
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
The Henghua Settlers
-Fong Hon Kah,