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Five Sarawak legends about people turning into stones

Petrification is found in many folklore and myths around the world. People are turned into stone for many reasons in these legends, but mostly as a punishment for their sins.

Here in Sarawak, there are five legends about people who were cursed and turned into stones:

1.Fairy Cave, Bau
Fairy Cave, Bau.

The legend of Fairy Cave, Bau is quite popular among the locals. It tells of a poor boy who lived alone with his mother and is treated to a cruel trick by one of the villagers during one of their huge Gawai celebrations.

Infuriated, the mother plots her revenge against the whole village. Dressing a cat in a beautiful attire, she throws it into the middle of their Gawai celebration. The villagers laugh hysterically, bringing on a storm. The sky roars with thunder and blazes with lightning.

When the storm stops, it is discovered that all the villagers have turned into stone. These villagers are what make up the stalagmites and stalactites inside Fairy Cave.

2.The seven Seping longhouses that turned into stone
Belaga town.

Legend has it that the Seping people slaughtered a dragon and ate it. As a result, their seven longhouses were turned into stone or swept away by flood.

Everybody was killed except for two siblings; a brother and a sister. They fled to Penyuan river, a tributary of the Belaga river.

The siblings grew up and (here it gets Game of Thrones-ish) eventually, they both marry each other and start a new Seping community.

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The Seping people are believed to be the first tribe that settled around the Belaga river.

3.The legend of Ikan Pasit
The cursed village of Marup was believed to be located not far from Lubok Antu.

This legend was found in My Life in Sarawak by Margaret Brooke, the first Ranee of Sarawak.

A long time ago, there was a village called Marup. One day there was a girl who went fishing and caught what the locals called ‘ikan pasit’. As she was preparing the fish, one of them jumped up and touched her breast.

“What are you doing? Do you imagine that you are my husband?” she said, laughing at her own joke.

The people who were there also laughed and those who heard the commotion came over and also laughed. Suddenly, the sky turned grey and a mighty wind blew accompanied by flashes of lightning.

Then a hail-storm began. Hail stones fell down non-stop and hitting everybody even their houses, turning them into stone.

Meanwhile, the girl who made fun of the ikan pasit was only partly petrified. Her head and neck were unchanged while the remaining part of her body was turned into stone.

Together with the rest of her village, the whole longhouse and its residents fell into the river. Sadly for the girl, she lived many years with a living head and stone as her body.

Many wanted to end her misery by striking her with a blade but nothing worked. Until one day, a man who heard her cries came. Like many who came before him, he tried to strike her head with an axe and a sword but neither worked.

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Eventually he struck her with a spindle and her cries finally stopped while her head and neck slowly turned into stone. According to the Ranee, the group of rocks believed to be Marup village were not far from Lubok Antu.

4.The Sarawak version of Si Tanggang
A bridge over Batang Lupar river.

Si Tanggang is a famous Southeast Asian folktale about an ungrateful son. It is about a poor boy who became a rich sailor and married a princess. Upon his return home, he was so ashamed of his poor origins and refused to recognise his elderly mother. So the mother cursed him, turning him and his ship into stone.

Margaret Brooke also recorded the Sarawak version of Si Tanggang in her book My Life in Sarawak.

The beginning of the legend is similar to Si Tanggang except it happened not far from the mouth of the Batang Lupar river. However, in this version the son came home unmarried and ashamed with his parents. He constantly berated his parents after his return.

“One day, after insulting them more than usual, a great storm arose, and father, mother, and son, together with the whole inhabitants of the village and their houses were tossed into the sea and turned into stone.”

5.The floating temple of Sebauh
The Chinese temple of Sebauh.

If you have been to Sebauh town, then you have seen a Chinese temple right smack in the middle of Sebauh river.

There are different legends on how the island where the temple sits came about. Apparently, there was a group of sailors who anchored at Sebauh. The cook onboard made them linut or sago porridge known for its sticky texture.

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The sailors played with the linut and teased each other. As you can expect from the other stories in this list, the sky suddenly turned dark and a storm thundered overhead.

Hail stones started to drop from the sky, turning everything the hail stones hit into rocks.

Hence, that was how the island of the floating temple in Sebauh was formed.

So the lesson here is that in Sarawak, you shouldn’t laugh at animals, eat a dragon or play with your food if you do not wish to be turned into stone.

Do you know about any other folktales about people being turned into stone in Sarawak? Let us know in the comment box!

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who 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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