When I was a boy living in 1960’s and 70’s Jerteh, Terengganu, santaiwong was part of my life. My grandfather whom I called Chek, was a lorry (truck) driver hauling logs and sawn timber woods for Jusoh Sawmill, a timber mill owned by Haji Jusoh, a well known tycoon in Jerteh.
My uncle Hassan bin Abbas told me in September 2011 that his father Abbas’ father Abdullah bin Domis was a brother of Haji Jusoh’s father Abdul Hamid bin Domis. So that made my grandfather and Haji Jusoh first cousins. And thus my uncle Hassan and my father Ibrahim became second cousins to Haji Jusoh’s son, Idris who later became Terengganu’s Menteri Besar (literally, Grand Minister) from March 2004 to March 2008.
But I digressed.
The sawmill got its timber logs from nearby jungles in Pasir Akar and Keruak. In the jungle, majestic keruing, seraya, kapur and chengal trees were felled by loggers using chainsaws, and hauled down the mountains by mighty santaiwongs.
I did not know then that santaiwong was locally made in Malaysia. Their owners did not pay road tax to the government, so they could not go on public roads. Their playground was the steep earth slopes of mountain logging roads. Back then I knew the jungle kings as “stewong”, pronounced “starewong”. Close enough to santaiwong.
From what I read, the santaiwongs were made in motor workshops using parts from established manufacturers such as Nissan diesel engines, Hino gearboxes and MAN drive shafts. Most probably the parts were chosen for their maintainability and individual toughness, which made the resulting 4-wheel drive trucks exceptionally rugged and powerful, able to effortlessly haul tonnes of heavy timber logs up and down slippery and muddy logging track mountain jungle roads which made normal four wheel drive drivers cringe with apprehension.
Returning to my hometown in Jerteh for this year’s Hari Raya (end of Ramadan Eid celebrations), I came face to face with a santaiwong being overhauled by my uncle’s son Mudin. The truck’s cabin had been taken off and put aside on the ground, exposing the engine, a V8 Nissan diesel. Mudin had completed overhauling the engine, put it back together and painted it fluorescent green.
Back in the 70s, at nights, lighted by kerosene lamps, I enjoyed listening in to my father, uncle and grandfather telling each other their santaiwong stories. Some, like the time when their ultra heavy santaiwong slide down a slippery hill and nearly fell tail first into a deep ravine, were downright scary.
Today, as timber jungles receded further and further away, less and less is heard of the mighty santaiwong. At construction sites one might find a cousin of the santaiwong, the “lori hantu” (literally, ghost truck) trucking earth, stones and sand. But their environment is nowhere near as tough and challenging as that of true santaiwongs.