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How Lubok Antu got its name

A small whirlpool or lubok was reported to be located at Batang Ai river.

Lubok Antu is a small district located in Sri Aman division of Sarawak.

The history of its bazaar dates back to 1872. Back then the bazaar was made of double-storey wooden shophouses, a market and a Chinese temple.

The name of this small town is interesting to the locals as the words lubok means ‘whirlpool’ and antu means ‘ghost’ in Iban language.

A row of handicraft stalls found in Lubok Antu town.

Locals and historians have different accounts on how Lubok Antu got its name. So let us take a look of the various versions:

1. A fight between two brothers

The name Lubok Antu is believed to come from a local folklore based on two brothers named Chiri and Jampi.

One day, the two brothers went off to sharpen their parangs (machetes).

Upon their return, they came across Bunga Nuing (a mystical figure) who then challenged them both to a duel on the sharpness of their parangs.

It was during that duel when Bunga Nuing slashed a rock along a riverbank next to a lubok (whirlpool).

Ever since then, the locals believed the area was cursed and called it Lubok Antu.

2. The Cholera Expedition

Thousand of dead bodies were reported floating around this area during the administration of Charles Brooke.

In June 1902, the-then Rajah Muda Vyner Brooke led an expedition to attack the Dayaks upriver at Batang Ai.

These Dayaks allegedly had been terrorising the neighbouring tribes.

By the time the troop had assembled in Simanggang (Sri Aman), two of their men suddenly dropped dead.

Vyner reportedly informed his father Charles that the two men might have died due to cholera.

To which the second White Rajah said, “Nonsense, the expedition must go on.”

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They continued their journey upriver and eventually 2,000 men died of cholera out of the 10,000 strong force.

Their bodies were thrown into the river,  eventually floating downstream.

Because of the lubok (whirlpool), the bodies continued to circle the area.

The locals saw all the dead bodies at the lubok and called it Lubok Antu.

3. Same dead bodies but different COD (Cause of death)

Another version of the story behind the floating dead bodies is that they did not die due to cholera.

Instead, they were the casualties of the uprising against the Brooke government by the Iban of upriver Batang Ai.

In another account, the bodies were the casualties of the tribal wars which happened back then among the different tribes living upstream.

4. A haunted pool?

In the book Legends and History of Sarawak by Chang Pat Foh, the name ‘Lubok Antu’ comes from a pool located outside of Fort Arundell.

Back in the olden days, people bathing or swimming in the pool had a feeling that someone at the bottom of the pool was trying to pull them down into its depths.

Then people started to call it a ghostly pool or what the locals called ‘Lubok Antu’ to this day.

5. A Demon’s Pool

According to the book River of the White Lily by Peter Goullart, Lubok Antu was known as a demon’s pool.

An old and monstrously large crocodile apparently lurked at the bottom of the river, only surfacing to attack animals which came for a drink or any man unfortunate enough to have his boat overturn in the area.

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The locals believed the crocodile was an evil spirit which made the place come to be called Lubok Antu.

6. The simplest version

The last version of the story is quite simple yet amusing.

There was a guy named Antu who loved to fish at a particular lubok or whirlpool at Batang Ai.

Sooner or later, people started to call it Lubok Antu, which means a whirlpool belonging to Antu.

The town Lubok Antu was founded in the late 19th century.
Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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