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Apart from knowing that Samarinda consists of a mixed society of Kutei, Banjar, Bugis, Jawa, Dayak, Toraja, Sunda, Minang and the Chinese, two basic things to be sorted out quickly while traveling to other places away from home are the iconic sites and the famous foods there. Well, it’s kinda obvious because these are the common things that people would recommend to a tourist or traveler. Precisely, there are a lot of fun and interesting facts and buildings that catch eyes in Samarinda, but the most iconic sites that people kept talking about were the Islamic Centre of Samarinda (ICS), the Buddhist Centre (Maha Vihara Sejahtera Maitrey) and the Mahakam Bridge as well as its river.
I asked around and talked to several people in Samarinda, on their most iconic place or building. Due to its dominant population of Muslims (according to the Indonesian Statistics in 2014, the Muslim people hold approximately 90.93% of the whole population), the Islamic Centre of Samarinda (ICS) mosque (the Baitul Muttaqien Mosque) is well known as the icon or the heart of Samarinda City in East Kalimantan. Located near to the Mahakam River, this mosque is also being conferred as the second largest mosque in Southeast Asia, after Istiqlal in Jakarta. I couldn’t dig more inside because I didn’t wear appropriate clothes. Another iconic building, which is the largest Buddhist Center in Southeast Asia (Maha Vihara Sejahtera Maitrey) is located at Jalan D. I. Panjaitan Samarinda. I really adored the beautiful well-designed Buddhist center. Their fried mantou is also the best in the world! No wonder becoming a vegetarian isn’t bad at all!
The Mahakam River, the heart of Samarinda province is the largest river in East Kalimantan, Indonesia with a catchment area of approximately 77, 100 km2 . This river originates in Cemaru from where it flows south-eastwards, meeting the River Kedang Pahu at the city of Muara Pahu. Thirty shallow lakes are situated in this area, which are connected to the Mahakam through small channels. The Mahakam Bridge is also well known as the iconic symbol of Samarinda, due to its “bonding” with the Mahakam River.
Just like the other parts of Indonesia, Samarinda’s foods definitely easy to access and gained because mostly the food stalls are just around the corner. They are everywhere to be found along the street. Clearly, as evidenced by myself, its cover doesn’t judge the quality of each food. Not at all. I’ve seen a simple decorated food with an extraordinary taste in Samarinda! First and foremost, I think Bakso is the best food that ones can definitely get here. It’s cheap, around 10, 000 Rp to 12, 000 Rp (estimate of RM 3.20 to 3.90) for a bowl. It’s your lucky day if u can get the massive bowl within the prices I’ve mentioned. Not only it is affordable and easy to access, it is also delicious!
Next food on my list of interest is the Tahu Tek-Tek. Have you any idea on what is this thing all about? What a fancy name, right? Tahu Tek-Tek is a traditional local food that contains medium cooked fried tofu, bite-sized lontong, steam or fried potato, bean sprout salads, slices of cucumber and then topped with dark peanut sauce. Some restaurants or stalls provide shrimp crackers into it. Its name derives from the sound that the scissor made when cutting the ingredients.
The other foods such as soto, gorengan, nasi maut, es durian, es buah-buahan, roti bandung, nasi kuning and the fried mantou I’ve mentioned earlier should be in your next list if you’re about to do a food hunting in Samarinda.
I have had the opportunity to visit Samarinda, the capital province of East Kalimantan of Indonesia, which is also located within the Borneo island area. There are a few options to go there if you’re about to fly from Sarawak. The first option is by flying from your respected area to Kuala Lumpur, and then continues the journey by taking the flight to Jakarta, after that to Balikpapan. You’ll reach the destination, which is Samarinda after taking a kangaroo (taxi/ bus) ride for approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes (115.7km). While the second option is by taking the flight to Kota Kinabalu-Tawau-Tarakan and then books a direct flight to Samarinda. I would always prefer the first route due to some convenience factors. You choose yours!
I encountered a few problems while in that solo-journey, especially when I reached Jakarta. The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta was a little bit delayed. Due to this, I have to rush to go to another airport (domestic flight), once landed at the Soekarno-Hatta, Jakarta International Airport. I remember watching my watch in worries and looking for a speed transportation to get me to the domestic airport. I can’t remember the whole thing but for sure, I just followed some strangers that led me to a private taxi in order to be there on time, to catch my next flight to Balikpapan. The taxi driver charged me for 150,000 Rupiah to a destination that only took around less than 5 minutes to be reached. I entered the domestic airport and felt so blue when I finally realised that: Jakarta’s time zone is 1 hour behind Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). So, basically, I had a long– way more time than I thought of that time! Another fact is, I should’ve just used a free shuttle bus to go to the domestic terminal. Okay, what a lil’ messed up I was that time. Hahaha.. (This is a reminder to do some researches before travelling!)
To cut a long story short, I found out that the life in Indonesia is way tenser than in Malaysia. I know it is quite stereotyped to judge the whole nations based on ONLY a small capital of province’s situation or context. But, that’s the reality that we should accept, in my personal opinion. I too went to other parts of Indonesia such as Surabaya, Jakarta, Tenggarong, Bali and Madura Island during my stayed in Indonesia and had an eye on what was going on in each area. There are a lot to say about each area but my best interest at the moment is on Samarinda. I could see a lot happening in Samarinda that best indicates humans’ struggles in lives.
Tendency to Break the Law
This was the first thing lingering on my mind the moment I reached Balikpapan’s airport. People in Samarinda (as well as the other regions in Indonesia) have the tendency to break the rules or law, especially on road regulations. My uncle’s car’s tyre had been punctured just because he parked his car at the taxi’s lane (only for a moment). And he was actually being warned publicly about it right onto his face! When I expressed on how rude they were on doing that to him, he smiled and said “well it’s normal. People will inject and make your tyre punctured when you parked in the wrong lane.” Wow, NORMAL? So that means, both my uncle and the doer realised that they were breaking the legislation and they have to accept any self-punishments, without referring to the real written law. Okay, got it.
Another obvious “break-the-law” habit in Samarinda is that ‘there is almost–no law on the road.’ Motorcyclists and bikers are mainly the ones who are conquering the road. They can just use any lanes while riding on the road, as long as it’s convenience for them. They can park anywhere too. It goes to all the cars on the road too. It takes only the ‘consideration’ to avoid accident between the road users. One more thing, they honk each other for whatever reasons on the road. I felt awkward to these situations but could adapt in a few days after that.
Businesses are Everywhere
This is the part that sounds kind of overwhelming. Indonesia is one of the countries in the world with the highest number of population. Due to this, people are struggling to earn money for living. Life’s survival is being dragged to the fullest here. Hawkers with moving stalls are everywhere. They sell foods, drinks, snacks, cakes, bread, flowers, bensin (petrol) and much more. They resided along the way and across the road. The view is very packed. The whole Samarinda is drowning with these businesses.
Another interesting part is ‘the show/ performances during the red stop on traffic lights.’ At first, I was so awkward that these behaviours were accepted. There are a few people who willingly playing the guitars, singing from car to car asking for money. The most terrific thing ones could do to get a little money on the road is ‘doing a theatrical show, complete with the related masks and costumes for the play.’ I could see how details these people are when dealing with “customers’ satisfaction” even though they might never accept any payment for that. The struggle is real all-the-time.
Poor Drainage System
It might not be picturing the whole Samarinda or Indonesia of course. But this problem is quite disturbing. Whenever it is raining, my acquaintances and the people in Samarinda will have the difficulty to go anywhere. I kept on hearing they said “hujan hari ini. Nggak bias jalan deh. Di rumah aja.” Translated to “It’s raining today. We can’t go anywhere. Have to cancel the plan and stay at home.” Why does this rain affect their life so much? People in Malaysia are still going out if something is on the plan. I then figured it out; it was due to their poor drainage system that will cause a heavy flood whenever it is raining. Experienced that too after that when our car was stuck in the flood while on the way to a destination.
This has to do with the areas of the settlements. The houses are built too close to each other and most of the hallways are too narrow. A car can hardly fit into those hallways but yet the drivers can easily find a way to let their cars pass smoothly, even when two cars from different direction collide in the same time. I always think that the people here are so champion in managing the available space for parking and giving way to each other. Wow! Such a tough life yet they feel that this situation is normal.
Education with an Examination-based System
In Malaysia, every level of education ends with a public examination. UPSR examination to mark down the end of the primary (elementary) level, PMR (now PT3) examination to end the first phase of the secondary level and then SPM examination as a final struggle in the second phase (last) at the secondary level. The students will be automatically entering another level of education once they’ve received their public examinations results. Meanwhile in Indonesia, despite all the public examinations that similar to the Malaysian system of education, yet they once again have to sit for an examination in order to enter their respected school or university. Each school and university prepared their own examination’s questions. It resembles the act of “going for an interview” and let the company chooses and evaluates you. Can you see how hard it is to even enter another level of education? They have to work hard for many– times. Not only that, it takes a lot of money too (sometimes) to gain the position in a school or university. I somehow feel that this system trains them to be more hardworking and smart and personally think most of the Indonesian scholars are really smart and a critical thinking human being.
In brief, despite all the information that I’ve just explained, Indonesians people are truly friendly. Most of the workers and employees in Indonesia (and Samarinda) greet their customers politely and they are also full of courtesy. Of course, I cannot compare this part with my own country. But frankly speaking, it’s far way better situation than in Malaysia. Their foods are also awesome!! I could get a lot of delicious local foods anywhere when I was there, and I definitely loved them! In addition, you can get a lot of things that you can hardly find in Malaysia, here. Indonesians are very creative and innovative.
The past few months were really hectic for me. I was really occupied with my committed-tour to Indonesia. Now, back in Malaysia, I plan to continue on with my long-list of historical writings. Anything that I write here are some random thoughts based on my own research and observations from the places I went to and explored. Recently, my very own research writing has been published. It is in Bahasa Melayu version. Please do check this link out if you are interested in Labuan’s political history, mainly discussing the political participation of the indigenous Muslim society in Labuan by the period of 1946-1963.
The term ‘indigenous’ is the general context referring to the local people in one place. This means the indigenous people was the original inhabitant of an area. Basically, in Borneo, these people refer to the indigenous local population before the arrival of European colonisers. According to the historical use of such lines, the Malays are the indigenous people of Borneo (an island consists of two parts of two countries, Malaysian Borneo and Indonesia’s Kalimantan.), and across the archipelago. Malay is the population that was already existed in those particular areas before the arrival of the Spaniards, as a result of the collapsed of the Islamic Cardova in the 13th century.
How about the situation in Labuan? Does this historical fact apply?
Focusing on Labuan, its original inhabitants are still debatable until now. The British claimed that this island does not have inmates remain at an early stage when it was still under Brunei’s reigned. There were only a few temporary fishing huts built by the fishermen (from Brunei’s mainland) who went to do fishing activities, as well as getting other marine products, in the early stages of the British rule over the island (Nomad). Then, the population had increased as a result of the implementation of policies promoted by the British, which were: trade and made tax-free port in Labuan, which eventually led to the establishment of a permanent settlement. The establishment of community or social system was clearly showed and started in Labuan only by 1846. (Hall 2007)
“There were only a few fishing huts on shore. Mundy had brought with him gear for clearing the jungle. Spencer St. John said later that Labuan had one of the finest forests in the Far East. From all this we can see that though Britain had obtained a new Colony and would no doubt set up a Government, there was no one to govern.”(Hall 2007:6)
Despite a handful of notes and the annual report of the British, (British Annual Report) which states: ever existed trade agreement in Labuan and the existence of settlements ordered by the foreign powers like the Portuguese, as early as the 16th century, and by the British, pioneered by people of the East India Company around the year 1775, however, all these facts and evidence of the existence of settlements in Labuan before 1840’s is scarce, or not at all discussed in detail. Also, significant written records of British and local scholars have confirmed that, “there is no settlement remains in Labuan before 1846.”
Furthermore, according to sources from Tarsilah Brunei, there were people of Brunei who had been living in Labuan, for generations. It also said, during a dispute involving the throne of the Kingdom of Brunei happened, Labuan Island was once a hideout place for the Prince (Pengiran Muda Besar) Abdullah Ibn Abdul Jalilul Akhbar and his family. Another source from Brunei also stated that during Sultan Muhyiddin reigned in 1685, the Spanish envoy from Manila was sent to Labuan for six months upon receiving an issue from the king. It took a lot of effort to build a settlement for six months in Labuan before getting an invitation from the Sultan. Another source derived from the in-depth interview made by myself, with the head of the village of Patau-Patau I, Mr Osman bin Matusin also said the Patau Patau I village of Labuan has already existed as early as the 1820s. However, there is no solid evidence regarding all these statements. Not even one.
So, the conclusion is acceptable.
There wasn’t any permanent settlement was successfully opened by anyone officially until the British occupation in 1846. Therefore, it is very hard to identify who are actually the original people/ settlers of Labuan before the British arrival, and in power around 1846?
Due to the confused identity of the first settlers or the original inhabitants in Labuan, British always claimed that they were the original settlers in Labuan. But, some scholars indeed argued that the Malays are still the original people in Labuan. In fact, this is somehow also true because Labuan is a part of Bornean island and looking from this context, the Malays should be regarded as the original inhabitants in Labuan area as well.
Although there is much debate regarding who the original inhabitants of Labuan as has been noted, however, there isn’t any clear evidence with respect to the population that remained in Labuan before the British dominions. The ethnic group (Kadayan) first pioneered and stayed in Labuan even though as the ‘nomads’ is finally “regarded” as the permanent resident of Labuan by Danin (1991), as follows:
“Penduduk asal Labuan ialah orang-orang Kedayan yang datang berhijrah dari Kerajaan Kesultanan Brunei. Mereka ini beragama Islam yang merupakan penduduk ‘tetap’ sejak zaman Kesultanan Brunei lagi. Pada masa pemerintahan kerajaan British, orang-orang Kedayan ini telah berhijrah ke Labuan untuk mengerjakan tanah-tanah yang terbiar. Sebahagian daripada mereka bekerja menjadi nelayan di sekitar pulau tersebut.” (Danin 1991:106)
At this early stage (after 1846), the Kadayan people, who mostly professed the religion of Islam was the earliest human groups that finally built the permanent settlements on the island. It is believed that the Kadayan people are the slaves who came from Brunei, who had fled to Labuan for the protection of the British. (Hall 2007) The opening of a permanent settlement by them became one of the earliest history of the local population on the island (Sidek 2007: 21-24). Some of the Kadayans were the free people who wanted to find a new land for cultivation and intended to keep their land for the next generations. The Kadayans are known for their efficiency in agriculture, especially in rice cultivation. They are also synonymous with economic plantation, rubber tappers and engaged in fishing as a fisherman (Hall 2007: 6). Their steps were followed by other ethnic groups such as the Melayu Brunei (Bruneian Malays), Iban, Murut, Kadazandusun and etc.
The Kadayan ethnic does not regard themselves as “Malays” even though the British always resembles them as one of the Malay ethnic groups. The Kadayans have their very own culture and are more to a “native” compared to the Malays, whether in Peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia, the Bruneian Malays or any Malays across the Borneo island and the whole archipelago. The “Malay” term seems debatable in Labuan historical context. Since all the historical documents and evidence only mentioned on Kadayan, it is best to say that the original inhabitants in Labuan are the indigenous Muslim people called the Kadayans.