Thursday, 23 July 2015

Bau (Gold Town) and the Great Lake of Tasik Biru (Old and New)

Bau Town, about 35 kilometers from Kuching, is the administrative and trading center of the district. Being an interior district in Kuching Division, its geographical features are composed of rugged terrain and dotted with sporadic limestone hills- It has an area of 884.40 square kilometers and shares a common boundary with Kalimantan Indonesia.

The old name for Bau district is "Upper Sarawak" whereas the old name for Bau Town was "Mau San" or "Bukit Mau". European authors during the Brooke regime pronounced "Bau" as "Bow".


Bau has a historical connection with the destruction of the first Bau Bazaar at "Mau San" (Bau Lama) in 1857. It was estimated that at least a few hundred women and children were burned or died of suffocation inside the Ghost Cave and about 2,000 people including the followers of Liu Shanbang were killed in and around "Mau San" by the White Rajah Sir James Brooke's force.

There were already a few hundred Chinese miners and their families who had established themselves at Mau Sail (Bau Lama) under the leadership of Liu Shanbang. The Chinese settlement at Mau San (Bau Lama) started between 1820-1830 when the antimony and gold discovery was made known to the Chinese in Sambas, Indonesia, The Chinese miners came over to Mau San through Pangkalan Tebang. They started to exploit the antimony at Paku and Jambusan areas and gold in and around Mau San area. Some of them planted padi, corns and potatoes around the mining areas in addition to their mining activities.


Rows of shop houses made of Atap, Kajang and timber were constructed on both sides of Jalan Bau Lama and residential houses were also put up by the miners in and around the vicinity of Mau San. In early 1850, Bau Kongsi enjoyed a period of prosperity. There were at least 4,000 Chinese in Mau San, By then, gold and antimony mining were not only operating at Man San area, but they had this activity extended to Paku, Bidi, Takon and Jambusan areas. Besides the sundry shops, traditional teashops and lodging houses were also operated at Mau San for the convenience of travelers from Kuching and Sambas. After the Opium War and signing of die Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the sale of opium to the Chinese was no longer under control. Rajah James Brooke allowed free import of opium in order to earn extra revenue. Opium smoking was therefore legal at that time. Opium smoking shops were common within the commercial area.

Bau is one of the oldest and, perhaps, the richest (in term of mineral resources) districts in Sarawak. In the olden days, Bau was not only a well-known mining district in Sarawak, but also of great political importance. Since its establishment in about 1820, major events had occurred.

Tasik Biru in the olden days.......

Many Chinese came to work for gold and many went back to China with me wealth they acquired. In 1850, Mau San was quite a sizeable bazaar with over 100 shop houses and many residential houses.

Tasik Biru Gold Mine .

Chinese Miners in 1823.

The Chinese worked on the alluvium at the foot of the hills; much harder work but probably more rewarding. The Malays and the Land Dayaks preferred to work in the crevices of the limestone hills or from the beds of the rivers by panning. Both were relatively simple but less rewarding.

Bidayuh (local tribe) barter trading in 1823....duit?, apa duit kamek tak terima duit!!!


In spite of the steady development and improvement made by the Government in and around Ban Town, the town again faced another fire tragedy. On 24.9.1978 at about 3.30 a.m., Bau Town was on fire again. This was the fourth time in the history of Bau that the bazaar was razed to the ground. The Fire Brigade rushed to the scene within 10 minutes; by then fire was seen on the roofs of 3 shop-houses .

There was a strong wind and in view of the fact that all the shop-houses which were made of wooden materials in 1950, the conflagration spread very fast to both ends of the row of shop-houses. Due to the explosions of gas, kerosene, ammunitions and falling debris, the fire grew more violent and within minutes, the opposite row of shop-houses was also on fire. 1, Three fire engines and 14 men from Kuching, Municipal Council (KMC) only arrived at the scene at 5.00 a.m. By that time, most of the 69 wooden shops at Jalan Datuk Salau had been destroyed beyond recognition. The water pressure from the gravity feed supply was not powerful enough to put off the fire effectively. Fortunately, there was a sudden change of the direction of wind after 5.00 a.m. With the additional manpower (from KMC Fire Brigade) and tile use of the water from the nearby pools, the ESSO Petrol Station and a row of the remaining 6 wooden shop-houses at Jalan Ong Guan Cheng were saved. At about 5.30 a.m. all the 69 shop-houses became ashes. There was no casualty except about 900 people were made homeless.


The year 1963 was an eventful and historical year for Bau. It was one of the districts in Sarawak with the majority of the people who supported the formation of Malaysia. When Gobold Commission visited Bau in order to determine the wishes of the people to join Malaysia, anti-Malaysia posters were seen on both sides of the road from Kuching to Ban and Bau Town itself. On 16.9.1963, Sarawak achieved independence within Malaysia and Bau people had obviously played an important role in it.

On the other hand, the year 1963 was one of the worst tragic years which Bau had experienced. The big flood which occurred at the end of January, 1963 had taken two human lives. 115 houses were completely washed away and 51 houses including the Home under the Management of Bau District Relief Committee and Public Works Department (PWD) Local Camp were badly damaged.Bau Bazaar was flooded up to 10 feet high and the Police Station was 4 feet under water. Due to the heavy rain and the rising flood water, Bau was totally cut off from other areas and even telephone contact was cut off .

A total of 815 destitute families were given financial and food assistance. National Flood Relief and Rehabilitation Committee gave $14,050.00 to Bau district to assist the flood victims and free fertilizers were given to 364 pepper farmers to assist them to replant their pepper.

Big Flood in 1963 and until till today floods still occurred at a minor scale.

There is an interesting story in connection with 1963 flood. The flood had not only hit Bau but most of the areas in the 1st Division(Kuching Division). According to an old woman who went into a trance at Lim Hua San Temple at Tabuan Road, Kuching on 10.3.1963, the Sarawak Museum which held captives of a red-headed tortoise was to be blamed. The tortoise was believed to be 'The Daughter of Sea Dragon King," If she was not released, the woman said that the flood would one day rise as high as the Museum building to enable the tortoise to escape from the wooden tub where it was kept for public exhibition. Upon the request of Tan Sri Datuk Ong Kee Hui, Mr Tom Harrison, the then Curator of Sarawak Museum released the tortoise at Muara Tebas on 14.3.1963 during a religious ceremony. True enough, after tlie release of "The Daugliter of Sea Dragon King", the flood subsided.

On 7.6.1979 at about 12.50 p.m. a tragedy again struck Bau. A bus belonging to the Bau Transport Company with 67 passengers plunged into the scenic Tasik Biru. 29 pupils and 1 trainee teacher were drowned. .Only 37 pupils, the driver and the conductor were rescued. Ban District Goodwill Committee under the chairmanship of District Officer, Encik Geoffrey Usa Baling convened an emergency meeting to organise relief assistance. The Committee received donations totaling $66,282.80 and the money was paid to the bereaved families.

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