Sarawak-Kuching 1843, boats and rocks in the foreground is the mouth of Sungai Kuching.

Borneo Post Publishes Sanib’s Comments on Kuching, The Cat City

Historian says ‘Kuching’ not from ‘Koo Ching’

A sketch of Pengiran Indera Mahkota Muhamad Salleh, known to the Brookes as ‘Macota’. Many mistook the sketch as Raja Muda Hashim.

KUCHING: A local historian has refuted several claims that Kuching City derived its name from a Chinese word ‘Koo Ching’, meaning old well, as published by The Borneo Post recently.

According to Sarawak Malay Cultural Foundation Charitable Trust chief executive officer Datu Dr Sanib Said, the article, which was published on Aug 12, should acknowledge the existence of Malay villages along the Sarawak River long before 1872.

“The first settlers here were headed by Pengiran Indera Mahkota Muhamad Salleh, who was sent by the Sultan of Brunei in the early 19th century and later built a new administrative centre in what would become Kuching between 1824 and 1830,” said Sanib who contacted The Borneo Post on Monday.

“Salleh, who was Dutch educated, built the centre at the site of the present Astana Negeri,” said Sanib, who holds a PhD in Malaysian History and History of Sarawak from University of Malaya.

Sanib added that Salleh and his followers lived across the river where a small river flowed into the Sarawak River, which is the current Bukit Mata.

“Some argued that the Sarawak Malay dialect called the feline as ‘Pusak’, therefore ‘Kuching’ may not be accepted as the name of the town. However, many forgot that the founder and original settlers were the Bruneian Malays who ruled the territory,” he added.

Sanib argued that with an abundance of fresh water in Sarawak River and other streams back in the 1800s, it is an obtuse idea that they needed to dig a well back then.

The Borneo Post, however, according to Sanib, was correct to point out that Charles Brooke formalised the Kuching name on August 12, 1872, but stressed that the birth of Kuching was not in 1872 but 1824 by the first settlers led by Muhamad Salleh.

“Those interested to know about Kuching prior to 1872 can refer to a book by Henry Keppel entitled ‘The Expedition to Borneo of HMS Dido for the Suppression of Piracy’ published in 1846.

“The book, in one of its pages, features a journal by James Brooke from 1839, describing the town consisting of a collection of mud huts erected in piles with a population of 2,000 in 1843,” he added.

Sanib further argued that whether Kuching was named after a hill or a fruit tree, the name Kuching indeed referred to the feline and not an old well as claimed.

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About sanibsaid

Majored in History from from the University of Malaya, in particular history of Sarawak for BA, MA and PhD. My writings come from the English literature and my stories are from history. I have written several books, among them are Malay Politics in Sarawak (Oxford, 1985); Melayu Sarawak: Sejarah Yang Hilang (UNIMAS, 2013; 2nd ed. Saramedia, 2016).