TONTON ASTRO AWANI

PENGUNJUNG SETIA

27 Ogos 2013

ALTERED COURSE OF LIFE IN SUNGAI MATI



By Sim Bak Heng


JOHOR: THERE is a big, populated island in Muar that is still largely unknown.

The inland Pulau Penarik is unique as it is neither surrounded by the sea nor a lake.

It is enclosed instead by two rivers - Sungai Muar and Sungai Mati.

With a "dead river" in the picture, my expedition was starting to look more interesting.

Sungai Mati is both the name of a river and a town, which is located about 10km from Muar. A Google search yielded the result of Sungai Mati described as an "ox-bow lake".

Checks with the locals revealed otherwise. Common sense also tells me that if Sungai Mati were indeed a lake, it would have been called Tasik Mati, or Dead Lake.

But Sungai Mati is still a misnomer. For, according to the locals, Sungai Mati joins Sungai Muar at two estuaries.

Sungai Mati is therefore not a dead river.

In fact, a floodgate is installed in each of the estuaries to prevent excess water from the swollen Sungai Muar from inundating Sungai Mati, which could then flood the low-lying Pulau Penarik.

Sulaiman Bidin, 75, the former principal of SK Serom 3, said the 87ha island was inhabited by 40 Malay families. and a hive of agricultural activity in the past, especially padi cultivation, fruit farming, and rubber and oil palm tree planting.

However, the padi fields are diminishing as most of the farmers have retired and their children migrated to the cities.

I learnt that the island was founded by former Menteri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman's great-grandfather, Abdullah Samsu, who was also the penghulu of Kampung Penarik, Sungai Mati, Serom, Rawang and Kesang Tasik.

It was he who had improved the livelihoods of the locals by introducing them to agriculture.

"Those were the glory days of Sungai Mati. Back in the era of river transport, Sungai Mati even had a river port. A passenger-cum-cargo boat named Sayang served the route between the port and the estuary of Sungai Muar.

"The river was deep then, and the children loved to swim there in the afternoons.

"All this is bygones. Today, nobody will bathe in the river, which is getting shallower and narrower. Parts of the river are now choked with undergrowth and impossible for a boat to pass through," he said.

Yet Sungai Mati is still a treasure to the local community.

Every year, a kayaking and fishing festival is held at the river.

A road, narrow but tarred, has been built parallel to the river for the villagers' convenience.

The road also serves as a jogging track, and there are several wakaf along the way for the wearied to stop for a rest.

If you are going to run in a marathon, the nine-kilometre track could be useful for training.

Walking down the track is soothing, like going through life in the kampung. You will see a cow here and there, and occasionally, you will cross paths with a low-flying white-breasted water hen.

The chirping of birds, vastness of greenery and freshness of air are certainly therapeutic.

Serom assemblyman Abdul Razak Minhat has said that Sungai Mati and Pulau Penarik had great potential for eco and agro-tourism.

He said the annual kayaking and fishing carnival was already a trademark event in his constituency.

"I was told that the Ledang District Office is studying the tourism potential of Sungai Mati and Pulau Penarik.

"While that is good, I am also interested in the prospect of turning my constituency into an education hub.

"It is time to bring positive changes to Serom, and make its name known to outsiders," he said.

SOURCE: NST STREETS JOHOR, AUGUST 27, 2013

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