Beacon of socio-cultural preservation

Beacon of socio-cultural preservation

The finishing touches being done on the ‘golden dragon’ in time for Tua Pek Kong Temple Miri’s 111th anniversary celebration. — Photo courtesy of Lim Chin Yong

THE Miri Chinese Charitable Trust Board (MCCTB) stands as a beacon of cultural preservation and social welfare of the community.

Managed by a dedicated committee comprising seven individuals appointed by the government, the organisation plays multi-faceted roles that span the cycle of life – from nurturing the young ones through educational initiatives, providing care for the elderly folks in nursing homes, to honouring those who have passed on.

The beginning

According to MCCTB chairman Temenggong Yong Vui Seng, the establishment of the board could be traced back to the early migration of Chinese settlers to Miri way before its transformation into a modern city today, thanks to the discovery of oil fields.

“These pioneers, fleeing the turmoil in Guang Dong and Fujian provinces in China, came to Nanyang with a single intention – to seek a better life.

“Those who found Miri decided that they would settle down here for good,” he said.

Nanyang is a Chinese term that means ‘the south sea’, used back in the days to describe the ‘warm land and islands of South East Asia’, especially those around the South China Sea.

The historical significance of Miri’s Chinese community predated even the construction of the iconic Tua Pek Kong Temple in 1913, said Yong.

“Some of the tombstones date back to 1915,” Yong told thesundaypost in Miri.

Following the end of the Rajah Brooke dynasty in Sarawak in 1946, the British government established the Land Bureau to re-plan the land in Miri.

On July 17, 1953, the then-colonial government announced the establishment of Miri Chinese Charitable Trust, with local Chinese leaders being entrusted with managing the matters concerning the community.

Over the decades, the organisation has been diligently overseeing the upkeep and maintenance of the community’s cemeteries.

‘Not without its challenges’

Managing these cemeteries requires meticulous attention to detail, from identifying the old graves and tracing the descendants of the departed, maintaining the overall landscape and security, to handling crematorium service and accommodating specific rituals.

Yong said in the 1970s, the population continued to grow and as such, the six-acre Krokop cemetery had stretched to its maximum capacity.

“There was no more space for a grave,” he said.

“Back in those days, transportation was not as convenient as it is now. So seeing the maximum capacity at the cemetery, the committee had asked the government to make available a land, which was granted later in 1966.

“Covering 9.37 acres, the plot was located at Riam Road. Still, the MCCTB continued to secure additional lands. So, when the Riam Chinese Cemetery almost reached its capacity, the board requested another land.

“In 2005, the government granted a land for a cemetery, sited between Taman Tunku and Lambir.”

Yong acknowledged that for the Chinese, the costs involved in funerals had always been very expensive.

“Not taking into account the costs for holding the wake and other arrangements, a family could very well spend more than RM40,000 on the coffin, the burial plot and the tombstone.”

Yong acknowledges that for the Chinese, the costs involved in funerals have always been very expensive.

In this regard, Yong said the MCCTB had been encouraging the community to opt for cremation instead.

“Families who are struggling financially can opt for cremation, of which the cost is RM10,000 and below. The ashes of their loved ones would then be placed at the Lambir Chinese Cemetery and Columbarium.”

Nevertheless, Yong said MCCTB was able to make arrangements for ground burial at the Lambir cemetery as well.

Yong seen at the Lambir Chinese Cemetery, managed by the MCCTB.

“RM32,888 is the cost for two burial plots, namely for husband and wife; for individual plots, it’s RM24,388.

“The funeral benefit under the Kenyalang Gold Card is also an application for the burial and cremation services provided by the association, in the form of 10 per cent off from the cost,” he added.

According to Yong, the Chinese cemeteries in Miri are not classified according to clans, unlike those in Sibu and Kuching.

“Instead, they are categorised according to religions.”

Field of education

MCCTB’s education initiative was set up more than 30 years ago, at the time when two Chinese independent schools in Miri were about to receive assistance from the Sarawak government, with the intention to provide them with sustainable income.

Yong said after careful consideration, the government chose to let MCCTB take over the management of four shophouses, including the collection of rents.

“The board took over the tasks of rental collection, accounting, settlements of utilities’ bills, handling the maintenance and other miscellaneous costs.

“Since then, the proceeds from rental revenues have been distributed to underprivileged children studying at these two Chinese independent schools every year.

“Gradually, the programme has expanded to other primary and secondary schools in Miri, meant for Chinese children from B40 (low-income) families.

“We truly believe that when it comes to education, no one should be left behind. Our effort may seem small, but we strive to reach out to as many of them as possible,” said Yong.

Yong says now, MCCTB is expanding its education incentive programme to include more primary and secondary schools in Miri, meant for Chinese children from B40 families.

In April this year, the board’s education incentives were given out to 125 children from primary schools, and 215 from secondary schools, at a special ceremony held in SM Pei Min.

‘Miri Home for the Aged’

The MCCTB has always upheld the spirit of filial piety, as can be seen by its establishment of Miri Home for the Aged in Krokop.

It adheres to the belief of providing care, companionship and a safe place to live to those entering the later years of their lives, especially those who are without any families or relatives looking after them.

The old folks home was officially opened in July 1979, providing shelter, food and care to the ageing community, including those who were bedridden and unable to care for themselves.

In 2012, fire broke out at the centre and caused substantial damage to the structure, necessitating for the structure to be rebuilt.

Currently, there are about 27 residents of Miri Home for the Aged.

The MCCTB has always upheld the spirit of filial piety, as can be seen by its establishment of Miri Home for the Aged in Krokop.

“Though MCCTB runs the place on grants and donations, many people often drop by to bring in food, and many even volunteer to spend time with the elderly residents,” said Yong.

“However, following the Covid-19 pandemic, random visits are not encouraged, but those coming to bring in food or donate money are highly appreciated as these help lessen our burden a bit,” he added.

Temple’s guardianship

The guardianship of Miri’s Tua Pek Kong Temple is another critical aspect of the board’s work, which is preserving the cultural and spiritual heritage of the community.

“I believe most Mirians know the history of the temple, which was built after a mysterious epidemic swept through Miri in the early 1900s, resulting in a high death toll.

“The Chinese believed that this was caused by evil spirits, and a monk called to appease these otherworldly beings. After a cleansing ritual was performed, an altar was erected at Miri River, the exact location where the temple now stands, paying homage to the patron deity, ‘Tua Pek Kong’ – also known as the ‘Right God of Blessing and Virtue’.

“This temple is not just a place where people come to perform religious practices, as it also serves as a focal point for gatherings, celebration of festivals, and a place that keeps the community’s traditions alive and vibrant.

“That being said, the refurbishing and upgrading project to beautify this 111-year-old heritage is a part of our responsibility. We, the board, believe that the upgrading is crucial in contributing to Miri’s tourism too,” said Yong.

The guardianship of Miri’s Tua Pek Kong Temple is another critical aspect of MCCTB’s work for the Chinese community.

The temple is celebrating its 111th anniversary today (May 5), with a special city-wide procession as the highlight of the event.

“We are happy to be celebrating what I would regard as among the most important occasions in Miri, and we pray that the ‘Tua Pek Kong’ would continue to bless this city with peace and harmony,” said Yong.

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