SRI AMAN: History buff Tan Sri Adenan Satem has announced funds for the restoration of the 14 tropical forts that were built during the White Rajah era, some more than a century old.
The Chief Minister said the forts, which are mostly in rural areas, represented how Sarawak came to be and should not be left to rot.
“We must not leave them as relics. We ought to convert them into working museums to remind this generation what it used to be like. We will allocate funds for the rehabilitation of all these forts. It is the least we can do for our cultural, historical heritage,” Adenan said on Saturday.
He said studies would be carried out to determine the cost, when asked about funding. “Whatever is required,” Adenan added.
These timber forts are all over Sarawak. Those closer to Kuching – like Sri Aman’s Fort Alice – tend to be older, as the structures were built as the Brooke dynasty expanded Sarawak north and eastwards.
Adenan was launching the Fort Alice Museum, which was restored at a cost of RM5mil over 28 months. At 150 years old, it is likely the oldest surviving tropical fort in Sarawak.
The other forts in Malaysia’s largest state include Fort Lily in Betong, Fort Emma (Kanowit), Fort Sylvia (Kapit) and Fort Hose (Marudi).
Restoration architect Mike Boon explained at the opening ceremony the meticulous and tedious process.
Due to the dilapidated condition of Fort Alice, it was taken down piece by piece – but with every piece numbered and catalogued.
“We took it apart to ‘ground zero’ and rebuilt it back up. In the process, we learnt many lessons about the traditional ways of doing things,” Boon said.
Portions that were deemed in good condition were put back in its original position while damaged pieces were refashioned as pegs and even as furniture. Wooden pegs, instead of nails, were used for authenticity.
Interestingly, some damaged portions of Fort Alice were actually rebuilt as they used to be.
This was to show prior renovations and repairs done to the fort throughout its many uses, according to the restoration team, which also included the Museum Department and Public Works Department.
An old-timey radio was also placed in the living quarters to symbolise that there had to be one there during the later years, even though the technology had not yet existed when structure was first constructed.
“Photos from archives were very important. In conservation, everything done must be based on evidence. We can’t just assume,” Boon said.
The architect said photos of Fort Emma provided clues as to how the rebuilt staircases that can be drawn up, while photos of Fort Sylvia and Fort Hose were key to the reconstructed court room.
“We did not make up stories that we did not have,” Boon said.
He added that photos could also tell whether peace had been established.
The thin fencing around Fort Alice from one of the oldest surviving photographs available would imply, by the time it was built, peace had indeed been established at the newly expanded Sarawak territories.
The opening of the museum was held in conjunction with Sri Aman’s Tidal Bore Festival, which is one of the most popular tourist attractions held in a semi-rural area.