Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tioman today

The beginnings of Tioman Island

Imagine…. A long time ago, when the world was filled with strange plants and creatures, shrouded in thick fog, ….where lands were vast - covered in ice and the sea levels were low. The islands on our east coastal shores were peaks or slopes of mountains, majestically overlooking the rough, pounding waves far below.

Then the earth started to warm up and the ice began to melt. Low lying areas were flooded and peaks were isolated from the mainland and so became islands.

Tioman today sits 30km away from the mainland.

39km long and 12km wide, Tioman today was once a monsoon shelter for merchant ships, war ships, a haughty bunch of pirates and a few families of fishermen. The first written record of Tioman was found in the journals of Arabic merchants who came this way some time before 1,000AD. The Indian, Persian and Chinese traders followed suit.

When the South China Sea route was ‘discovered’ by eager merchants from China, many locations along the Malaya Peninsular finally opened to traders. One of them being Tioman today. Not only was the island a perfect shelter from the monsoon storms and an ideal place to stopover for fresh water and wood, but the people also traded with these foreign merchants. The Chinese wanted sea produce and camphor wood; the Indian traders loaded their ships to the brim with betelnut, found in abundance on the island whilst the Arabs were in search of scented woods (such as aloe wood, camphor and sandalwood), for ivory and ebony, rice, gold and bamboo. The seafarers also used the island as a navigational marker - the point to turn north east for Cambodia upon identifying the island. It was noted now from abundant evidence that many of these traders set up camp at Nipah beach.

But it was not all dandy for Tioman Island today. In 1830, pirates marauded the island and took away 70 locals for the thriving slave markets. Fear sent the remaining villagers scampering off to the mainland leaving the island uninhabited until 15 years later when the waters in the area were rid of pirates.

Slowly, villagers trickled back and life returned to its island pace. However, in 1926, an outbreak of malaria killed many islanders and once again, the island was abandoned. Many of the homes of villagers were left derelict and the lands that they made a living from were reclaimed by the jungle. During the 2nd World War, a small detachment of the Japanese army was sent to set up a watch base on Tioman. After the war, Tioman fell into oblivion until it was rediscovered by movie makers. Fame and fortune followed suit and Tioman became the Paradise Island of Bali Hai in the musical ‘South Pacific’. The listing as one of the top ten islands in the world by TIME magazine in the 1970’s made the island popular beyond its dreams and visitors have been pouring in since to savour that little piece of island paradise.

~Tioman Island

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