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KUCHING, April 18: Betong division is a step closer to meeting all the criteria to be upgraded to a city as Fort Lily will be undergoing a facelift to serve as a museum by the Sarawak Museum Department through the Conservation and Upgrading of Historial Fortress Programme.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said in his speech today that for Betong to become a city, the town must have sites and buildings with historical and cultural values, unique architectures as well as conservation aside from higher education institution, a public library and a museum.
“As such, this project to conserve and upgrade Fort Lily, in which the fortress would serve as a museum that showcases the history and culture of the Betong community, will pave the way towards the direction of turning Betong town into a city.
“Moreover, the local community in Betong division will have another new iconic landmark to be proud of,” he said.
His text-of-speech was read out by Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah at the ceremony to handover Fort Lily for conservation and upgrading works in Betong here.
A ‘miring’ ritual was observed by Iban community members living in the area.
Fort Lily is a historical building. It came into being 164 years ago. The fortress was built during the Brooke era and it was used as a defence centre to deal with attacks by Iban warrior Panglima Rentap and his followers.
It was later used as an administrative centre and a police station before being turned into a government office.
Being the oldest fortress in the state, Fort Lily has aged significantly and her structure is becoming too frail.
The local community wants to see the fortress continue to stand majestically so to ensure she would never be forgotten by the young generation.
Uggah, thus, shared that several efforts had been made to ensure the fort be retained in its original state.
“As a result, Fort Lily has been listed as one of the forts and historical buildings to be conserved and upgraded under the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP),” he said.
“Other than Fort Lily, there are also a few historical forts that have benefitted from the Malaysia Plan, including the Brooke in Meluan, Emma in Kanowit and Hose in Marudi, which are under the care of Sarawak Museum Department.”
Meanwhile, Uggah pointed out that efforts to get Fort Lily and other historical forts in Sarawak to be recognised as an International Heritage and Cultural Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) was a positive step to make Sarawak well known globally.
“I believe that with the commitment and will from all parties, together we can transform Fort Lily and other historical forts in Sarawak to be well known worldwide,” he said.
Betong division, he continued, had gone through many drastic changes in many aspects since Merdeka in 1963.
“The many development opportunities had opened up the economic and social prospects of the division.
“With the completion of the Fort Lily facelift project, we will be able to improve the economic and social aspects of Betong,” he added.
From the economic aspect, Uggah believed that Fort Lily would attract more visitors and tourists to Betong and, indirectly, this would assist small scale entrepreneurs in their economic activities.
From the social aspect, he said the soon-to-be museum would expose the historical facts and culture of the local community to people outside, especially through exhibitions and various social activities to be carried out in the museum.
“I hope this project will be implemented smoothly without complications. With the success of the project to transform Fort Lily into a museum, I hope the local community, irrespective of gender, age and background, will benefit from this later,” he said.
Layar assemblyman Gerald Rentap Jabu, Saribas assemblyman Mohammad Razi Sitam, State Museum Department acting director Suria Bujang, former Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Alfred Jabu Numpang and his wife, Tan Sri Empiang Jabu, community leaders, village chieftains, Public Works Department (PWD) officials, consultants and contractors were among those present. — DayakDaily