Pantu town, Lachau’s less famous neighbour
By Patricia Hului
For those who familiar with the Kuching-Sri Aman road, a journey down this way would not be complete without a stop at Lachau bazaar.
About ten kilometres before you reach Lachau from Kuching, there is a sign saying turn to Pantu on the left.
The humble town is one of the three sub-districts under Sri Aman division apart from Sg. Tenggang and Krangas.
While I was travelling with The Borneo Post Adventure Team (BAT 6), I had the chance to visit this town which (according to some people) is famous for its Tapah fish.
There at Pantu, my teammates and I met a few community leaders led by Kapitan Lee Khin Onn.
He told us there were altogether about 200 Iban longhouses and 120 Chinese families in Pantu, Lachau and Sungai Tenggang.
Most Pantu residents we talked to comfortably switched between Iban and Mandarin when they conversed, a scene I found fascinating.
Lee said, “Most of the older Chinese folks here know how to speak in Iban while the younger Iban generation know how to speak in Mandarin as they went to Chinese school.”
Interestingly, the only Chinese primary school in town, SJK Chung Hua Pantu with 200 pupils consists of 70 per cent of Iban students while the rest are Chinese.
Tracing back to the town’s history, Lee shared that town started to bloom all thanks to the timber industry and pepper planting in the 1980s.
“When timber resources started to deplete, the Pantu people started to turn to oil palm plantations.”
Since the price of pepper has increased over the years, people have returned to pepper planting again.
Now, their economy revolves around these two commodities.
Walking past the 18 shops of Pantu bazaar felt like taking a stroll back in time.
One shop still refused to use a cash register machine, opting for an old, rusty Milo can hanging by a rope from the ceiling.
Another shop had its old school radio hung from the door for people to listen to.
Lee also had a WWII story to share over our lunch.
According to him, the Japanese put their interest in the coal mine in Selantik,an area about 10-minutes drive from Pantu town, trying to mine the coal and ship it out of Sarawak.
“They even built a railway to send the coal from Selantik to Batang Seterap where they going to send the coal via the river to Kuching and then ship out to Japan.”
The progress was as far as building a connected rail road from the mine to the riverbank and importing a locomotive head.
Then the whole plan was cut short when the Japanese surrendered.
He added that the rail road had been pulled up leaving no trace behind.
While its neighbouring town Lachau is thriving with plenty of visitors, Lee said Pantu is usually empty by noon.
Part of the reason perhaps the town is situated six kilometres from Kuching-Sri Aman road which is quite far from the main road.
Lee also pointed out, “Most of the young people here have moved to cities like Kuching and Kuala Lumpur. They only come back during festive seasons.”
After leaving Pantu, we continued our journey to Lachau before spending the night at Sri Aman.