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History Of Sarawak Pepper

Pepper is one of Sarawak’s oldest exports, carrying its name beyond Borneo along the spice route that has plied its route from China, driven by the trade winds through the South China seas and onto India, the Middle East and, eventually, to Europe on the other side of the globe. These tiny kernels have been commodity and currency for thousands of years with Kerala in Southern India, where pepper nigrum originated, already a major spice trade centre as early as 3,000 BC. Even to this day, a third of all worldwide maritime traffic passes through the South China Seas, causing the rise of trading luminaries like Singapore and Malacca, and also Sarawak.

Sarawak Spice Story

The Sarawak spice story begins as early as the 7th Century in Santubong, with its majestic mountain to act as a beacon for seafaring navigators searching for fresh water and an array of jungle produce provided by the indigenous people like camphor and bird’s nests and possibly even pepper. Indigenous pepper, such as pepper sacromentum, still grows wild across the island, clinging to mighty trees in our age-old rainforest, but with only small seeds, it is largely the roots which provide that pepper punch of flavour and medicinal value. The peninsula is littered with archaeological evidence of this early passage. Researchers even debate whether Santubong was the site of the city of Poni, with 10,000 inhabitants and enough wealth to warrant tribute to China, though it eventually disappeared from the records around the 13th Century for reasons unknown as empires rose and fell around it. The Hindu-Javan Majapahit empire came to prominence, only to yield to the Muslim Malays at the end of the 15th Century. But throughout, the trade remained and sustained Borneo as a magnet for travellers, settlers and would- be rulers alike. To this day, glimmers from these great empires and their ambassadors can be seen in Sarawak’s indigenous culture, evidence of their influence and transit through the ages.

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