How people travelled from Tubau to Belaga 70 years ago

Patricia Hului

Today, it only takes two to two-and-a-half hours to drive from Tubau to Belaga.

It depends on the weather, road conditions and how many timber-laden lorries you come across along the way.

However, did you know that to travel from Tubau to Belaga 70 years ago would have taken roughly two and a half days depending on the river water levels?

In March 1949, when the Geological Survey Department of British Territories in Borneo was established, their job was to do a geographical survey in Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah).

At the same time, they interviewed the locals on their mode of transportation in order to understand the geographical features of the area.

Some of their reports were published in the Sarawak Gazette.

During one of the surveys, the director F.W Roe interviewed an Iban longhouse chief near Sungai Takis named Nawi anak Ngelai.

Geological Survey, British Territories In Borneo. R.A.F. Food Supply Drop to Geological Party, Upper Rajang River, Eastern Sarawak. Photo by G. Whittle.

Nawi gave Roe a rough description on how to travel from Tubau to Belaga because he himself had already made a few trips.

First, Nawi explained how to travel from Bintulu to Tubau: “From Bintulu to Tubau up the Kemena river a launch can be used. At three places rocks occur in the river bed, but these do not normally break the surface of the water; the first two rocks are not far apart and are about three miles upstream from Labang, the first locality is near the mouth of the tributary Telavei, about two miles before Tubau. These rocks do not show at the surface, and are neither marked on the maps, nor by a notice on the river bank; it is wise to take a local waterman knowing their location, although if the water is calm the locality is indicated by a slight surface ripples.”

Then, the Iban chief described to the geologist the journey from Tubau to Belaga.

So here is Roe’s note on how to travel from Tubau to Belaga based on Nawi’s description written in 1953:

1.From Tubau to the confluence of the Tubau and Pesu rivers is about half an hour’s travel in a long boat using an outboard engine.

2.Beyond the mouth of the Pesu, the journey up the Tubau river to the Langunan takes about one day. The first section to Rumah Maring Batok, the last house, takes about three hours using an outboard engine; from here to the Langunan the longboat usually has to be paddled, and the journey takes about seven hours. If the water is high and an outboard can be taken and the distance would then be covered in almost three hours.

3.From the Langunan river to Rumah Tamang Ubong on the Belaga river is said to take about four hours. Boats have to be left near the mouth of the Langunan (the locality is referred to locally as Pangkalan) and one travels on foot up the valley. At the source of the river there is said to be a low col leading over the watershed, and after crossing this the route is downhill following the valley of the Paku. Near the confluence of this tributary with the Belaga river there is the Kenyah longhouse, Rumah Tamang Ubong.

4.Rumah Tamang Ubong to Belaga Kubu (fort) is said to be one day’s journey. After two hours paddling down the Belaga river the section is reached where the river loops, around Bukit Jayang, and there are numerous falls. A jungle route follows the mountain side past these falls and takes about 10 hours to cross. Once the falls are passed, Belaga Kubu is about 15 minutes down river.

Take note that the Nawi’s description might not be 100 per cent accurate since the interview was done under the influence of alcohol.

In addition, the longhouses that Nawi mentioned might have already moved to other locations today.

Nonetheless, it is still interesting to know the route taken to travel from Tubau to Belaga 70 years ago.