Racing boats under blue skies at the Tasik Biru Festival
CALM AND PEACEFUL, the town of Bau used to be a well known gold mining area back in the 1840s. Apart from its rich history as an early settlement, other attractions in Bau is the Blue Lake, which has always been a draw every year for the Jong Festival.
Held on August 23 and 24, the Jong Festival was renamed Tasik Biru Festival 2014. Although new events have been introduced this year to provide variety to the annual event, the highlight of the event remains the ‘jong’ or traditional miniature boat race.
For those who never seen a jong race before; imagine a rainbow of miniature boats with their colourful, eye-popping sails floating across the deep bluish green water of the Blue Lake.
For those who not familiar with the different type of sails for each boat, it might get a bit confusing at first.
Luckily, the participants at the festival were happy to explain the different types of jong there were.
Consisting of five categories: ‘Skunar’ (with 18 entries), ‘Kotak’ (29), ‘Bandong’ (27), ‘Barong’ (30) and ‘Skuci’ (25), each jong a miniature replica of the Chinese boats that used to sail into Bau, each defined by the particular shape of their sails.
Among the participants who joined the competition was Johari Matali, who gained interest in the competition since it was introduced in the 1950s when he was only 11 years old, where he was influenced by the people back then.
As one of the jong enthusiasts, Johari explained the different types of jong and how to differentiate those according to the shapes of their sail. He also said that to make the small boat, it would require a light wood as this would help it float.
“From this competition of course I hope to win but if I didn’t, it’s okay because it’s all for fun. That is what I always say to the youngster, join the competition just for fun,” he said good-naturedly.
Winner of the second place in the ‘skunar B’ category and third place in the ‘skuci B’ category, Ahmad Haji Salleh said that the competition was indeed a game of luck that depends on how strong the wind blows as well as which direction it goes.
According to Ahmad, his jong took about 10 minutes to get to the other side of the lake and he was very lucky that the strong wind blew in the right direction.
“I started to have interest in the jong competition not so long ago when I was 55 years old, but my parents and grandparents before have always been interested in it. So back then, I just follow them to any jong events but I only recently gained interest within the last few years,” he explained.
Like Johari, Ahmad also makes his own jong. He uses engkabang wood, which is a slightly heavier wood for the body of the sailboat.
“I prefer to use engkabang wood because if the boat is too light, it would be easy to topple over,” he explained.
Another keen jong racer is Rosni Sejin, who has been interested in the race for over 20 years now. She first gained interest in the event from her husband.
Like many other participants, Rosni also makes her own boats – from carving the wood to sewing the sail.
“Satin is the most preferable material as it is almost waterproof and if it does get wet, it will dry quickly,” she explained.
Although Haji Bojeng Seli retired from jong racing and let his children participate in his place, he can still be seen fussing over their jong throughout the event.
“I have retired from joining, I just let my children join this year,” he said and his children were proven not to be a disappointment when his daughter, Masbi Haji Bojeng got first place in the ‘Barong B’ category.
“As soon as they picked up our boat at the finishing line, I felt so happy,” she rejoiced.
But most importantly, for Masbi, the event was a chance for a family gathering, where most of her family members also joined the competition as well.
“So, this is like a family day for us,” she said.
Scenes of festival goers enjoying the festival
A happy occasion, Masbi said the jong competition really brought her family closer as it was an opportunity for them to spend time together. Although she and her siblings live far away from each other, they have always made it a point to come back to their kampong to help their father prepare for the competition.
For Haji Bojeng’s boat, he chose the colour yellow, black and red; if you guessed that it was because the colours represents the Sarawak flag, then you would be right.
Time to tally up the winners
The jong race is split over the two days of the Tasik Biru Festival into two categories – category A and B. Category A includes jongs measuring 4 to 6 feet in length while Category B includes jongs measuring less than 4 feet.
The winner of the ‘Skunar B’ category went to Masoi Haji Bojeng, Ahmad Haji Salleh and Wahap Anong who got first, second and third place respectively.
For the ‘bandong B’ category, the winners were Aminan Amit, Oden Dris and Mohd Soffian Aminan who got first, second, and third place respectively.
As for the ‘skunar B’ category, the winners were Mohd Rusydi Rohanam, Hazman Haji Ghazali and Mohd Shukri Ahmad who got first, second, and third place respectively.
For the ‘skuci B’ category, the winners were Rohaman Dris, Sahari Haji Ajong and Ahmad Haji Salleh who got first, second, and third place respectively.
Finally, for the ‘barong B’ category, the winner of the first, second and third place went to Masdi Haji Bojeng, Leman Lilly and Masli Haji Bojeng.
Aside from the jong competition, another highlight of the day was the rafting tug of war, kayaking, exhibition and food fair.