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How Limbang, Sarawak town of buffaloes got its name

Limbang in the Malaysian state of Sarawak is a unique town. It cuts its neigbouring country into half, leaving itself sandwiched between two parts of Brunei Darussalam.

The town is home to mainly Malay, Kedayan, Lun Bawang, Bisaya and Chinese communities.


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Some interesting historical events

It is one of those towns which holds many historical facts unknown to many.

For example, Pengiran Indera Mahkota was historically painted as the villain in Sarawak who governed in the 1830s.

The reign of Indera Mahkota on behalf of Brunei Sultanate caused unrest among Sarawakians especially due to high tax and piracy problems.

Eventually, he was chased out by Pengiran Muda Hashim who promised James Brooke a territory after Brooke suppressed the rebellions.

After his defeat, Indera Mahkota travelled along the coast of Sarawak from Batang Lupar down to Mukah.

Then in 1858, the prince was believed to have died somewhere along the coast of Limbang while en route back to Brunei.

One theory has that his boat was attacked and he was killed by the local Bisayas for kidnapping the local women and making them his concubines.

Another theory is that his boat simply capsized and that he could not swim to safety.

About 30 years later, the town saw two other Bruneian officials die in the same area, although the causes were not so mysterious.

In 1884, Pengiran Temenggong Hashim of Brunei sent his representatives to Limbang to collect taxes.

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The Limbang residents put up a resistance, refusing to pay, killing the representatives instead.

Retribution was swift – Sultan Abdul Mumin ordered an attack to punish the rebels.

The Limbang Rebellion

Fast forward to Dec 8, 1962, Limbang witnessed more bloodshed when Sheikh Azahari Sheikh Mahmud (famously known as A.M. Azahari) ordered an attack on the town.

He was the leader of the Brunei People’s Party and North Kalimantan National Army (TNKU).

Completely against the formation of Malaysia, TNKU militants took over the town by attacking the police station as well as hold hostages.

Thankfully, four days later the British Royal Marines came and freed Limbang from the rebels.

The freedom came with a price; four members of Sarawak Constabulary and five members of the Royal Marines died during the attack.

The origin of the name

Long before it was ever called Limbang, the first settlement in the area was called Pangkalan Tarap (or Tarap Wharf in English)

Tarap (Arctocarpus odoratissimus) is a type of fruit native to Borneo, Palawan and Mindanao island.

How did Pangkalan Tarap change its name Limbang? Nobody precisely knows from when or why. However, there are two theories of how Limbang got its name.

1.From the word ‘melimbang’

Bukit Mas in Limbang was believed to have gold deposits. That was why the hill is called Bukit Mas as in emas or gold in Malay.

In the book Legend and History of Sarawak, author Chang Pat Foh wrote that people in those days panned for metal ores which were supposed to be the gold ores.

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The act of panning ores in Malay is called ‘melimbang’. Hence, it was believed that people slowly started to called the place Limbang from the word ‘melimbang’.

However, Chang also rebuked this theory. He cited a report from Geological Surveys Sarawak that there were no traces of gold in Bukit Mas.

Nonetheless, geologists did find yellow-looking ores called pyrites, more commonly known as Fool’s Gold.

2.Another meaning of melimbang
The local residents used to melimbang or wash rice at this river.

The word melimbang in Malay also means washing rice. The residents in the olden days used to wash their rice in the river which is now called Sungai Limbang. Many historians believe the town was named after the river, not the other way around.

This theory could possibly true because Limbang was the ‘rice bowl’ of Brunei, supplying rice to the country.

Paddy farming in Limbang could be traced back during the reign of Sultan Abdul Mumin of Brunei (1852-1885) where Bruneians migrated in the area to farm paddy.

Buffaloes are commonly used in paddy farming. Now it has become the symbol of Limbang town.

Buffalo, the official symbol of the town.
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 or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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