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The story of pepper in Sarawak is not much different than the one of early Chinese settlers in the Peninsular Malaysia, with the main difference being the commodity. Here, instead of silvery tin ore, the traders were harvesting from land a precious element of a different kind. The prominence of pepper may have peaked under the British Rajah rule in the 1900s when the Borneo Company streamlined the pepper trade, but the seeds were planted close to three centuries by the early Chinese settlers.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and pepper remains one of the state’s biggest foreign exchange earner, producing 95% of Malaysia’s pepper and maintaining the country in the top 5 pepper-producing nations in the world. Locally, the crop currently sustains more than 67,000 farming families and households, providing them with employment and income.

Although majority of the pepper farmers in the state right now are from the indigenous communities aided by the Ministry, the Sarawak pepper story is very much a Chinese immigrant story, one of trials, tribulations, and perseverance.

Piper nigrum, or what is now known as Sarawak pepper actually originates from southwest India, where it is still extensively planted. However, nobody actually knows how the pepper’s Bornean chapter began, with some records saying it was the Majapahits who brought it over while the publication Sarawak Long Ago reports that it was introduced to Sarawak by one W C Crocker in the 1860s. No matter the origin, no records conflict on the important role the Chinese immigrants played in the lifting of the crop in the country.

Driven by the lucrativeness of pepper in the spice trade (as well as the gold rush), the Chinese immigrated to Kuching and other parts in Sarawak many centuries ago and quickly began planting pepper on borrowed land. The harvest turned out great, the tropical weather conducive for healthy pepper plants. In fact, Sarawak is also home to its own indigenous variety of pepper, from the plant piper sarmentosum, which is more renowned for its leaf than its fruit.

By the time the British came around, Kuching as a port city played a big role in pepper trade. Seeing the vast potential and the efficient farming methods of the Chinese, the Brookes imported more farmers from the surrounding, including Kalimantan, Singapore, and China, effectively sealing the deal for Sarawak to be known as pepper central in Malaysia. The local native population have since picked up the trade as well, farming with their Chinese brethren side by side before eventually taking over the “profession”.

Right now, the average pepper farmer is very much affected by the volatile prices of pepper. Be it black pepper or white pepper, much of the farming and selling activities necessitate the aid and intervention of government bodies, including the Malaysian Pepper Board (MPB) and Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry.

In addition to the market factor, as with any crop, farmers face the threat of pests as well, with the most dangerous for the pepper plant being the ‘foot rot’, which is capable of wiping out entire generation. The fear is augmented by the fact that most pepper plantations in Sarawak either avoid using pesticides or use them minimally.

Although the tide has now changed, with many younger generation Chinese pepper farming families, leaving their family business for greener pastures with less hard labour, some still remain persevering in their farm lands. Others on the other hand, find ways to put their lands to other good use, like cultivating an entirely organic farm or doubling it as beautiful event venues.

Either way, the mark left behind by the Chinese immigrants in Sarawak’s pepper history will remain in our books for centuries more to come for it is their legacy.

砂拉越的胡椒故事与马来西亚半岛早期的华人移民并没有太大不同,主要区别是经营的商品。在这里,贸易商们从土地上收获了另一种珍贵的元素,而不是银锡矿石。 1900年,在英国的拉惹统治下,婆罗洲公司强化了胡椒贸易,胡椒的知名度达到了顶峰。

到21世纪,胡椒仍然是砂拉越最大的外汇收入来源之一,生产马来西亚95%的胡椒,并将马来西亚保持在世界前五名的胡椒生产国中。在当地,该作物目前维持着超过67,000个农业家庭,为他们提供了就业和收入。

砂拉越胡椒,实际上起源于印度西南部,至今仍在广泛种植。但是,实际上并没有人知道胡椒的婆罗洲章节是如何开始的,有一些记录说18世纪年W C Crocker将其引入砂拉越。无论如何,都记录表明華人移民在砂拉越种植胡椒方面的重要地位。

在香料交易中胡椒的丰厚利润(以及淘金热)的推动下,许多世纪以前,華人移民到了古晋和砂拉越的其他地区,并迅速开始在借地上种植胡椒。收成非常好,因為热带气候有利于胡椒植物的健康成長。

到英国人来临时,古晋作为港口城市在胡椒贸易中发挥了重要作用。看到華人的巨大潜力和高效的耕作方法,拉惹Brookes从周边地区(包括加里曼丹,新加坡和中国)引进了更多农民,此后,当地原住民也开始从事这胡椒种植这个行业,他们華人移民并肩耕种,也逐渐接手这行业。

尽管现在的潮流已经改变,许多年轻一代的华人胡椒种植家庭转而从事较少劳力的行业,但仍有一些華人在他们的耕地上持之以恒。另一方面,其他人则找到了将其土地用于其他用途的方法,例如种植完全有机的农场或将其翻倍作为美丽的活动场所。

无论哪种方式,砂拉越胡椒历史上的華人移民留下的印记都会记载在书中,因为这是他们的传奇故事。

Source: UPPRE 

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