by Ashraf Nisfudin
Capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, Kuching is a bustling, diverse city of old colonial buildings, modern towers and rich ethnicity. It is a great place to explore and to travel to as it has so many surprises.
Here are some of the things you may not know about Kuching that may SHOCK you.
Lets start with the Dayak people (Orang Dayak) as the tribe has a wide range of characters and tradition. The tribe has their own traditional dance and would perform it in certain times due to certain reasons. It does not limit the purpose of mainly entertainment but goes beyond the scope of it and has a deeper meaning as most of it contains mystical elements.
Sir James Brooke is a British soldier and adventurer from England. In the year 1838 at the age of 14, he sailed to Singapore as with some vague notions about extending British influence as a merchant adventurer and heard of a rich, prosperous land called Sarawak, thus triggering his interest for it. His driving motivation seemed to be simply a yearning to escape from the mundane world of the respectable British middle classes. Many would think that Brooke came to conquer just for the sake of having power and authority, an evil colonialist killing the inhabitants whose country he had stolen. But Brooke actually set off to be an enlighten, liberal ruler. The indigenous people (Orang Dayak) had already had their country stolen from them by the Malays and Brooke, by taking rule from the Malays, almost certainly improved the situation of the Dayaks. Brooke’s story offers an opportunity to see how somebody with the best intentions to do good, could end up in a position where it is easy to denounce him as a murderous imperialist.
The Brookes did not interfere with the customary land rights of the Dayaks and Malays, allowing them a degree of self-governance. No scheme of alienation or land development was introduced except with respect to land where no rights or claims, whether documentary or otherwise, existed.
The Dayaks are very polite and people of extreme patience but when that patience is challenged to a certain extent, they go beyond the limits of brutality.
The Red Bowl (Mangkok Merah), a media of the tribe community to indicate if the village is being threatened. The "Chief" of the tribe or often referred to as “Pangkalima” Dayak produces a signal of war to commence. It is distributed from village to village very quickly. When it is in circulation, The tribe would feel that their sovereignty is in danger.
In the past history, the warriors of the tribe would slaughter heads when being threaten. An eye for an eye. They would then display the heads around their homes and attaching their skulls as part of their attire. The objective is to induce fear into people so that they wont be bothered by prejudice. Its either being in fear or being feared.
Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib bin Mahmud is the Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Sarawak, in office since 2014. His friends and family love celebrating his birthday with elaborate cakes and dinners. Even his anniversary as an assemblyman used to be an occasion for fanfare. It was quite odd that on March 26 recently, his 30th year as Chief Minister passed without any mention or celebration. Taib is no stranger to controversies, as he has survived elections that were filled with issues over logging, the destruction of the rainforests and the plight of the Penans. Sarawak has always been a little different from the rest of the country and a lot of it has to do with Taib’s style and policies. He has run the state pretty much in his own way. He is the only political leader whose official vehicle is a Rolls Royce. Even the roundabouts in Kuching are bigger than anywhere else in the country.
The origin of the name Kuching did not originate from the name of a cat. Although in bahasa the name does suggest a cat, but it has nothing to do with cats at all. The name “Kuching” actually predated the rule of James Brooke and has been called so during the Brunei rule. The name originated from a type of a local fruit known as Mata Kucing. The fruit was found to be growing abundantly atop the hill known as Bukit Mata Kucing behind the Chinese Tua Pek Kong Temple. Kuching holds the richest platform for this fruit and it is a true tropical Longan that is only found in Sarawak.
The women of Sarawak are blessed with beauty whether it be in culture or physical looks. They don’t need much effort in order to look good as they have it naturally. Modern Sarawakian women now just go out in public without any make up, wearing simple shorts, T-shirts and Japanese slippers.
In the past, the best way of living accustomed to being in a jungle environment is by sharing homes. The Ibans (a branch of Dayak people) set a style where all homes were combined together to live under one roof. Until today, a decent number of Sarawkians would still be living in this type of housing. It is built raised off the ground on stilts and are divided into a more or less public area along one side and a row of private living quarters lined along the other side.
On May 1, 1837, the Skrang Ibans invaded the Jagoi-Bratak Bidayuh settlement on top of Bratak Peak, killing over 2,000 Jagoi-Bratak Bidayuh men and taking 1,000 women captive. This conflict happened in Bau, a gold mining town in Kuching. Bung Bratak means Bratak Hill, and it represents what was once a large Bidayuh hill settlement of seven longhouses. Another major conflict happened during the 1857 Gold Miners’ Rebellion. The rebels, pursued by the White Rajah’s forces, retreat to a cave here, where a few hundred were burnt or suffocated to death. Now the cave stands as a tourist go-to spot by its fascinating history it has. 10 years after the Skrang Ibans invaded, Each year on May 1, descendants of the survivors of the massacre will hold Jagoi-Bratak Day on top of Bratak Peak in memory of their ancestors. A memorial stone was erected on May 1, 1988, to mark the day.
The majority of the people in Kuching, Sarawak are more family minded than money minded. They have a high positive attitude towards life, civilized in so many ways and are very friendly towards people.
As Sarawak holds the state that has one of the richest ethnicity in Malaysia, their appreciation towards music and arts go way beyond. There are many buskers and street performers all around the city compared to how it is in the peninsular.
As the city continues to develop, there are not many typical fast food restaurant branches around quite yet such as Mc’Donals or KFC for example. There is one particular fast food restaurant which is Marry Brown that is only located in the Kuching Airport. So many people that is interested on having Marry Brown can only have it if they travel to their local airport.
As they are plenty of choices when it comes to places to eat in Kuching, they seem to not have many kedai mamak (Muslim Indian Restaurant) around that much compared to the peninsular area. Is it possibly because of less Indians in Sarawak? Even if that is the case, it needs more mamak shops because Malaysians love Indian food!