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That binding man from Mukah


Taib’s politics of development over the past 30 years may have risen from the Melanau sago culture.

MELANAU, sago and Taib Mahmud have become synonymous with Mukah, making it an attractive destination for political and sight-seeing tourists alike.

Sago and fishing are the economic mainstay of the Melanau people and these two activities have moulded the lifestyle and ambience of the locality.

Mukah Division on the coast of the central region is among the areas that were developed after Sarawak joined Malaysia in 1963.

The earliest records about the area are found in the annals of the Majapahit empire indicating that Melano was among the areas that paid tribute to the empire.

It was annexed into Brunei in the 13th century and was later sold to Brooke in 1860 to become part of the territory that is Sarawak today.

Notwithstanding its history, the Melanau people are among the earliest indigenous groups of Mukah to have contact with the outside world.

The community’s long history, legendary tales and myths add colour to the locality. It has produced many notable leaders, including Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, 74, the incumbent assemblyman for Balingian and Chief Minister of Sarawak.

He has held a tight rein on the state with his leadership for 30 years. He has indicated that he will step down in two to three years and that the 10th state election will be his last.

Many may have asked how the Melanau, who make up only 6% of Sarawak’s population, could have come up with a leader like Taib,

Some say it’s the sticky sago that they eat. Like the sago, the community has always been united by itself and also via entities like the Barisan Nasional and the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu, which Taib has led for 30 years.

According to Mukah walikota Ali Suhaili: “When we eat linut (sago starch), we also consume lots of other food like fish, sambal and ulam, and all these foods are gelled together by the linut.”

Perhaps this uniting factor of sago can be seen in the way Taib has managed the state’s politics over the past 30 years.

He united the ethnic groups under their political parties with his politics of development.

Another insight is that Taib had to look beyond race for a common factor to unite the people, and he found this in the need to progress and upgrade their living standard.

To him, unity is the key to power, and power creates the political will to plan and develop the state.

This idea was translated into Taib’s politics of development – the main concept that brought development to Sarawak in the past 30 years.

The sago responsible for moulding the Melanau way of life and thinking is from a palm tree that attracts tourists to Mukah.

After Taib switched seats from Asajaya to Balingian in 2001, Balingian has seen a massive transformation. Apart from major infrastructural development like roads and town expansion, Mukah is designated as a smart city and a destination for eco-ethnic tourism.

Its main attraction is the sago and it is used by the Melanau. The Lamin Dana sago tour packages sold by various European tour agents brought in more than a 1,000 tourists who came just to see the sago palm and experience the locality.

Sago is definitely a binding analogy in the Melanau people’s political world view, and it is also sago that gives rise to foreign tourists and politicians in Mukah.

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