In the olden days, Sarawak’s capital was also known as ‘Sarawak’.
Why did the second White Rajah, Charles Brooke decide to change Sarawak’s capital name to Kuching on Aug 12, 1872?
Abang Othman Datu Haji Moasili wrote in The Sarawak Gazette on Aug 31, 1964 that explained the reason behind it.
“The story, according to the old Malays and as related to me by my father, the late Datu Hakim, goes that the second Rajah who spent most of his time as Tuan Muda and later as Rajah Muda and Rajah among the Sea Dayaks in the Second Division used continually to be asked, as is the Iban custom not what town he came from but which river he came from?” he wrote.
Abang Othman described a small rivulet called the Sungei Sarawak located about 16 miles above Kuching from which the capital originally derived its name.
He continued, “But much closer to his residence, the Astana and only a short distance down the river, near the present Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, there used to be another rivulet, the Sungei Kuching, until it was filled in, in 1928.”
This rivulet was the river nearest to the Astana. Plus, it was well known to the Ibans, as they used to put up there for shelter during the night on their visits to the capital.
Hence, when people used to ask the Rajah where he came from he would say “Kuching river”.
Over time, the word ‘river’ was dropped and he was known among the Dayaks as “coming from Kuching”.
As the territory of Sarawak expanded, it caused some confusion to call the country and the capital by the same name. This led to the necessity for a distinction to be made between them.
Abang Othman stated, “At first, the difficulty was overcome by calling the capital ‘Sarawak Proper’. But as it had now become known to the Sea Dayaks, who formed the largest number of the population as Kuching, the Rajah decided officially to change the name from Sarawak to Kuching.”