What's ours will forever be ours

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  • Tuesday, 24 Sep 2013

Once we are familiar with our little hidden heritage treasures, only then should we share them with the world.

A COUPLE of days ago I found myself donating blood to mosquitoes.

I had entered their territory and these irritating insects were merely holding their fort which guarded the historic Batu Bergambar, or picture rock.

And so, I guess I had to pay the price for visiting the archeological site that thousands of years ago accommodated the earliest settlement in Kuching.

Well, I’d like to think of it this way — this goldmine of a heritage was obviously well enjoyed by these insects rather than people.

Although located 800m from Santubong’s main road, which makes for a 10-minute walk to reach it, there was nothing whatsoever to indicate the entry point into Sungai Jaong leading to the Batu Bergambar.

If it were not for the tour organiser, the Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch (MNSKB), holding the flag for me and the other pressmen, we would have missed the site completely.

Wild bushes covered the lonely rugged track that led to one of Sarawak’s hidden treasures of historical significance.

The area is believed to represent the heart of the earliest settlement and the Batu Bergambar is the largest and most famous of the close to 50 other carved sandstone boulders spread across Sungai Jaong.

These structures varied in shape and form, some with anthropomorphic etchings while several others had geometric designs.

The Batu Bergambar has the figure of a human on a boulder. These carvings were believed to have existed since 1,000 years ago — markings left behind by the settlers then.

MNSKB along with Sarawak Museum jointly organised the familiarisation trip to make the public aware of the legacy at Santubong.

Rightfully so too for I doubt many of us were even aware of Sungai Jaong’s existence in the first place!

And how right I was when my fellow Kuchingites were amazed by the photos of the site that I posted online.

They were even more surprised when I told them the place was just a mere 25-minute drive from the city.

The general response was: “No way! How could we have missed that?”

The expression they gave me was as if they had been robbed off their heritage by not knowing that such a site exists.

Which to me, was such a pity for we have here something that is real to the senses — not just pictures and descriptions in a book.

Questions ran through my mind, like why we’re not developing this site to enable the public to come, see and appreciate these fine relics left behind by those who could possibly be our ancestors.

On the other hand, it did strike me also that there could be a downside to this — a high volume of visitors to an archeological site could be disruptive.

But this said, I have visited several archeological sites such as the Shore temple in Mahabalipuram, South India, and also the ruins of the old fortress walls of Hanoi Old Quarters.

Despite the influx of visitors to these areas (which I can assure you are plenty), the structures were still intact thanks to detailed preservation efforts that ensure the safeguard of these heritage features.

The authorities there are preserving them so that the people are able to marvel at these pieces of their history up close.

Once again it falls back to proper development planning.

MNSKB chairman Anthony Sebastian explained that proper development planning would ensure the preservation of these historical sites and it could be done.

What’s crucial here, he said, was to preserve the state’s history and archeology in context, meaning that it must be done in a way so that the atmosphere of the sites could be retained in their original form as much as possible, while allowing people to come and see them.

“Historical value is being where it was found and in places like this, where you see it is all jungle surrounding you, the history belongs to this kind of environment.

“If you take it out and turn it into a park with boardwalks, restaurants and all, it’s a whole different atmosphere.

“Yet, if you build a wall (around) protecting it and not showing it to anybody, then you are not using it and thus, the people are not learning from and appreciating it.

“Malaysians must come and learn and see our Batu Bergambar. This is our history,” he added.

Mind you, these pieces of heritage are not only for the viewing pleasure of tourists.

Rather they should, first and foremost, be for Sarawakians — all Malaysians for that matter — to appreciate and learn about.

As such, there is no need to wait for the tourist arrivals to peak before the area gets its due attention.

Once the people are familiar with their little hidden treasures, only then should we share them with the world.

It would be a crying shame for a foreigner to tell us how they are fascinated by the Batu Bergambar, only to have a true blooded Sarawakian replying: “What Batu Bergambar?”

Best have the mosquitoes tell you!

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