Despite almost killed in boat crash, ‘penambang’ continues ferrying people for over 50 years

By Shikin Louis

KUCHING, March 16: Even after a near-death experience, 74-year-old Jeman Mat remains unfazed and has been operating his ‘perahu tambang’ (taxi boat) service along the Sarawak River here for more than half a century.

Hailed from Kampung Empila of Samarahan Division, the septuagenarian ‘penambang’ (boat operator) said the tragedy that almost killed his entire family occurred in 1973.

Jeman recounts his near-death experience in 1973 to DayakDaily on March 15, 2024.

“At that time, I was rowing my ‘sampan’ (boat) along the river near Kampung Baru in Samarahan, transporting my wife and my children.

“A fishing boat then crashed into our small sampan, causing their catches and an abundance of water to fall onto our sampan. With the heavy load, my sampan was sinking quite rapidly.

“Luckily, I managed to save my family, and we swam to safety,” he recounted the events to DayakDaily when met yesterday.

The tragedy, however, came with a price when he lost his first boat, which led him to halt his job as a penambang for some time.

Despite the horrifying event, he said it does not affect his spirit to continue his career in river transport.

Jeman rowing his perahu tambang along Sarawak River on March 15, 2024.

Jeman explained that he has been ferrying people between Kuching Waterfront and Kampung Boyan since 1967.

One trip to the other side of the river costs only RM1. There are also other price rates reaching about RM5 for passengers who wish to be dropped at different jetties along the Kuching Waterfront.

Sometimes, he also takes requests from visitors who wish to have a special boat ride along the Sarawak River. He charges RM10 per head for a half-hour experience.

To date, he has had three boats throughout his life as a penambang.

Penambang Jeman Mat poses in his perahu tambang at Pengkalan Sapi, Kuching on March 15, 2024.

The hard-working husband and father of six also mentioned that his family cultivated paddy on a small-scale plantation and planted lots of fruits as part of the family’s income.

Jeman admitted that a career as a penambang today might not be as lucrative as before due to the rapid development of road connectivity in the city.

“Previously, we would always have people lining up to ride the boat to get to the other side between Kuching Waterfront and Kampung Boyan.

“Today, since the development of Darul Hana Bridge in particular, the number of perahu tambang passengers has declined. However, we penambangs are still grateful because the ‘cukup cukup makan’ amount of money that we earned can still feed our family,” he added.

Ironically, when the night falls, Jeman would leave his sampan at one of the docks near the Malay villages across Kuching Waterfront before going home by car.

He said that the days when he would row his boat home all the way to Samarahan were gone, which would take about a day.

Even with boat engines today, he said he rarely brings his boat home via the river and would prefer moving by land, which is only about a 1-hour drive.

“However, my spirit of ferrying people back and forth across the Sarawak River remains strong. Some of the regular passengers are those who are working across the river, and I believe they still need a penambang like me to transport them.

“Even with the rapid modernisation that took place in the city, it does not heavily affect my life and my job as a penambang despite the fact that a large number of people may only use our service solely for the river experience,” he emphasised.

Watch the video here.

— DayakDaily