Location : Kampung Punang, Lawas District, Limbang Division, Sarawak, Malaysia.
To the locals of Lawas the traditional Malay fishing village of Punanghas always been synonymous with ‘tahai’, a fish product whose popularity has grown beyond its shores with Brunei being a major importer. We drove 20min north west towards the Bay of Brunei in search of this crunchy fishy snack.
Freshly smoked tahai
Once we arrived near the village there was no doubt we found the right spot as the strong aroma of burning ‘bakau’ or mangrove wood was in the air. So tahai as we learned, was smoked fingerlings of the tamban fish also popularly used as a bait fish. Quite a busy cottage industry going on here as we observed many households, mostly ladies, involved in either arranging the fish on mesh wire trays to be smoked overnight or packaging them into carton boxes.
Seeing the amount of mangrove timber being used for this thriving industry got me a little worried the environmental impact it had on the nearby coastline. Sustainable or otherwise, it will surely decrease the spawning ground of many fish species as well as many other life forms such as proboscis monkeys or crabs, just to name a few, dependent on the food supply/protection given by mangrove. The villagers here prefer mangrove timber over other types of timber because of the oil it produces which enhances the taste of these smoked fish. The bigger this industry gets the more imminent the environmental threat unless a more friendly option is used to replace the current method. Gas fired oven? As we continued surveying the village along the elevated wooden plank walk we noticed that besides tahai, salted fish and anchovies were also a big part of their business. Undoubtedly, Punangis the most successful traditional fishing village we have seen in Sarawak so far. Next…..Final summing up of our Lawas Irau trip.