Puteri Santubong – Mythical Princess of Sarawak

A tour guiding & research trip to Sarawak brings back this perennial tale.  By A. Najib Ariffin

Great view of Mount Santubong outline from Bako National Park.
Great view of Mount Santubong outline from Taman Negara Bako main beach. Foto Nadge

In the Damai area not far from Kuching, the bustling state capital of Sarawak, lies a set of picturesque low mountains. An even better view can be found from Bako National Park, where from the beach on a clear day the profile of Gunung or Mount Santubong looks like a pregnant lady lying on the horizon. This is the abode of Puteri Santubong, the mythical Princess of yore. There are a few versions of this ancient legend, and here is told the popular general version.

Long ago when Borneo was a young island, giants and spirits were known to humans, moving back and forth between earth and kayangan, the celestial kingdom. One day the King saw that there was fighting among the people down on earth. So he sent two princesses, Puteri Santubong and Puteri Sejinjang, to make peace between the villages. These two lovely princesses used their charms to get the people to finally stop fighting. Peace returned and the area was called Damai, meaning ‘tranquil’.

The people were so grateful that they begged the two to stay, which both graciously did. Puteri Santubong took up cloth-weaving, while Puteri Sejinjang pounded rice padi. Their beauty remained and they were known far and wide. But Puteri Santubong became more sought after by handsome suitors throughout the land due to her delightful cloths. Soon she got married and became pregnant.

Puteri Sejinjang unfortunately became jealous, claiming she was more beautiful than her sister. Santubong would not agree and a huge argument ensued between the two. In the end Sejinjang became violent and hit her pounding pestle on the head of Santubong, who fell to the earth and grew into the mountain that bears her name. But just before Santubong fell she threw her weaving loom’s beam at Sejinjang, breaking a part of her body, which scattered into the sea, creating the islands in the area (Pulau Kera, Pulau Burong and so on). Meanwhile, the rest of Sejinjang’s body also fell to the earth and became the other mountain near Mount Santubong.

The villagers had also taken sides instead of helping to make peace between the dueling princesses, who had then placed curses on each other’s supporters, turning them into the monkeys and other animals that now roam the mountains, jungles and islands.

Today, if you look at Mount Santubong from the sea, you can see the outline of a pregnant woman, and even the gully or crevice where Sejinjang hit Santubong’s head with the pestle.

– Lessons from this tale include: Do not succumb to jealousy or dwell on who is more beautiful as this will lead to destruction, do not take sides in a dispute but help make peace, and do not resort to violence as in the end everybody loses.

[This writing was part of a series on Malay legends for Tourism Malaysia to help promote heritage and tourism attractions. Here it promotes the names Kuching, Damai and Bako, as well as local cloths & crafts, and to also link to the wildlife in the nearby jungles and islands.]

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