Kuching: The Origin - Backyard Tour

Kuching: The Origin

We should all know that there is such a city called Kuching in Sarawak, especially if you’re a Malaysian like us. It’s been known as the “Cat City” due to the resemblance of the name Kuching to the Malay word for cat. However, that still doesn’t explain how Kuching got its name. The question has baffled many for many years. Here, we would like to share with you some of the different versions of the origin of Kuching’s name.

Version 1

The most direct version of its origin came from an oral tradition revealed that when James Brooke went up the Sarawak River with a local Malay guide in 1841, he stumbled upon an animal jumping along the bank of the river. He was curious and asked the guide about the animal. The guide replied in the Malay language, “Itu Kuching (that’s a cat).” Then, James Brooke somehow just decided to name the place, Kuching.
 
​Adapted from Pat Fo Chang’s Kuching – The Cat City and The Capital of Sarawak

Version 2

The year was 1839, where James Brooke referred to the Kuching City as “Kuchin”. It bore resemblance to the old word “Cochin” which stands for port, being commonly used in India or Indochina, and thus, a relation between the two. Given the fact that Brooke was a sea-going man, he was just using an old Indian or Indo-China word for “Port”.
 
Adapted from Pat Fo Chang’s Kuching – The Cat City and The Capital of Sarawak

Version 3

Another cat-related possible origination of Kuching is the fact that was a haunt for wild cats within the vicinity of Bukit Mata Kuching a long time ago.
 
Adapted from Pat Fo Chang’s Kuching – The Cat City and The Capital of Sarawak

Version 4

This version of the origin series has its roots in the oriental culture. There was a Chinese story that said Kuching was actually named after some old wells found in the vicinity of Sungai Kuching as Kuching means “Old Well” in Chinese Mandarin. Long time ago, these old wells were the provider of fresh water to the local population; more specifically the ones along the famed Carpenter Street, Ewe Hai Street, Bishopgate Street and China Street from 1840 to the 1930s. Most of these wells have since been filled up for development.
 
​​Adapted from Pat Fo Chang’s Kuching – The Cat City and The Capital of Sarawak

Version 5

In Sarawak, naming a town after a river is a common practice and the name Kuching might have derived from Sungai (River) Kuching which was a small stream flowed from the direction of Kuching Reservoir, east of Wayang Street and emerged between the now Tua Pek Kong Temple and the old Chinese Chamber of Commerce along Thompson Road (now know as Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman) to join Sungai Sarawak. However, the river had since disappeared from the map of Kuching due to construction of Temple street and the rapid town expansion which led to it being filled up sometime in 1928.
 
​​Adapted from Pat Fo Chang’s Kuching – The Cat City and The Capital of Sarawak

Version 6

The name “Kuching” could have come from the local fruit known as “Mata Kuching” or Cat’s Eye. The fruit was found to be growing abundantly atop the hill know as Bukit Mata Kuching behind the Chinese Tua Pek Kong Temple. Locally, the fruit is known as Isau or Green Longan while its botanical name is Dimocarpus Longan, spp.malesianus, var malesianus and it belongs to the family of sap indaccae. Isau or Green Longan is a true tropical Longan that is only found in Sarawak, belonging to the group of fruit with the vernacular name of “Mata Kuching” which also includes Sau, Kakus and Guring fruits. Isau trees or Longan trees were grown wildly around Sungai Kuching in the olden days.  The fruit is spherical in shape, dark green in colour with numerous protuberances on its skin surface. Color change is from dark gren to light yellowish green as it ripens. The protuberances also flatten slightly to give it a smoother appearance. Its aril, which is the edible portion, is translucent, crispy and sweet.
 
​​Adapted from Pat Fo Chang’s Kuching – The Cat City and The Capital of Sarawak

What actually happened...

The case for Kuching’s name is believed to be more likely named after Sungai Kuching which was within the vicinity of Bukit Mata Kuching, which bore a lot of “Mata Kuching” fruits in the olden days. The existencce of Sungai Kuching and an inland wharf was proven with the discovery of 280 pieces of old coins backdated to the 16th century at the former Rex Theatre demolition site at Temple Street Kuching in 1995. Thus, “Kuching” may not actually mean “cat” and unlikely to have anything to do with cats but more to do with the name of Sungai Kuching or the from the local fruit “Mata Kuching”.
 
Looking back in history, the name “Kuching” actually predated the rule of James Brooke, being called so during the Brunei rule. This could be proven in James Brooke’s private letter to his mother on 14.9.1841 where he used the word “Kuchin” with a note stating that “Kuchin” was the native name of Sarawak. The name “Kuchin” was however dropped and only Sarawak was used in another letter to his mother dated 26.3.1842. On 12.8.1872, in the Supreme Council meeting, the second White Rajah of Sarawak , Sir Charles Brooke reverted to the name of “Sarawak” in place of “Kuching” even though at that time, Sarawak was the name of the capital and the river which flows through it as well as the territory of Sarawak. This was because he wanted to define the township of Sarawak by a more positive appellation. From then onwards, Kuching became the name of the town and the name Sarawak was used to represent the whole territory, according to Sarawak Gazette No.47 dated 16.8.1972)
 
Adapted from Pat Fo Chang’s Kuching – The Cat City and The Capital of Sarawak

Conclusion

There is no definite conclusion to where the name “Kuching” came from but what we can definitely know is, Kuching is a melting pot for various cultures and people have lived harmoniously for decades, its unique food culture, its beautiful colonial buildings and vast natural attractions. Even if there is concrete evidence that shows where Kuching actually got its name, it’ll still be fondly known as the Cat City, along with its richness in culture and traditions.
 
For the full article by the original author, please read ​ Pat Fo Chang’s Kuching – The Cat City and The Capital of Sarawak. 

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