THERE is no better place than the World Fuzhou Heritage Gallery to learn about the success and struggles of early Foochows in Sibu.
Located at Jalan Salim, about 10 minutes drive from the Sibu town centre, the gallery, said to be the world’s biggest for the Foochow community, boasts of over 600 exhibits.
Many of the items exhibited are over 100 years old. A rice barrel which belonged to Tiong Toh Seng, the father of business tycoon, Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King, is also among the exhibits.
Toh Seng was a boarder in a school in China in 1918 and he had used the barrel to store his three-month supply of rice. He would return home to replenish the barrel each time it ran out.
“To us, the rice barrel is a very meaningful and useful tool. Because of it, the senior Tiong managed to raise six children who are very successful. Most prominent ones being Hiew King and Lanang MP Datuk Tiong Thai King,” said head of the Gallery, Raymond Tiong.
Another interesting exhibit is a set of steelyard used by another business tycoon Datuk Tiong Su Kuok when he was just a fishmonger. Su Kuok now owns CCK Cold Storage company which supplies seafood nationwide.
The exhibited items at the gallery are closely related to the early Foochow settlement’s history and the community’s unique quality of perseverance and courage.
The centre has five display sections namely - The pioneers and the settlements, Tradition and culture of the people, 100 turbulent years, and The innovative Foochow and their valuables.
Raymond said when the early Chinese settlers led by the founder of Sibu, the late Wong Nai Siong came in 1901, they brought with them many cultural artifacts.
Some of these include straw rain coat, pestle and mortar, rice barrel, steam rice tub, iron kettle, abacus, phonograph, and an iron briefcase.
An interesting item to note is the carrying box made from oil tins. The Foochow, Raymond said, made the box to bring their clothes when they travelled especially along the Rajang River.
He said the box could also be used as a life buoy because when a boat capsizes, the owner could just hold on to it to float in the river before help comes.
“When the settlers came, they brought with them three important tools. They are clippers, axes and kitchen knives. It means that they could work either as a barber (using clipper), farmer (axe) or cook (kitchen knife) when they were in foreign land.
“These items you can also find them in the gallery,” said Raymond, adding that the settlers had formed a Fuzhow clan organisation in 1902, which is also the world’s oldest clan association for the community.
Raymond said the organisation helped to preserve the Foochow culture. It was for this reason that the World Federation of Foochow Associations Limited decided to site their association’s permanent premise within the “Sibu Foochow Settlement Centenary Memorial Building” which houses the gallery.
The centre is a place for Foochow descendants to recognise and identify with their own culture.
History and culture are designated as the two main themes of the centre in remembrance of their rough pioneering encounter and also their contributions to the town.
Raymond said the gallery measuring 3,000 square ft was not only the biggest of its kind in the world in terms of the number of exhibits for the Foochow but it also has the oldest exhibits when compared with their counterparts in China. He said this was because most of the old items in China were destroyed by the communist government.