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How Santubong got its name according to Chinese legend

It is widely known that Mount Santubong is named after a celestial princess named Santubong.

But did you know that the Sarawak Chinese community has their own legend behind the region’s iconic Mount Santubong?

According to Lee Kok Yin who wrote to The Sarawak Gazette on Aug 31, 1957, this legend of Mount Santubong can be traced back to the 15th century.

“In Chinese Hakka dialect, San means mountains; tu means in; bong means King. Santubong means ‘King of the Mountains’. There are many legends stating how Santubong got its name. I would like to reveal one told to me by an old Chinese during my boyhood,” Lee wrote.

During the 15th century, a Chinese Emperor of the Ming Dynasty sent a fleet of 62 large junks manned by 27,000 sailors to pay a goodwill visit to the foreign countries in the South China Sea.

Leading the fleet was a famous eunuch in Chinese history named Sam Pau Tai Chian.

Mount Santubong
How Santubong got its name

Lee stated, “While sailing along the coast of Borneo, they came to the mouth of Santubong river. There they saw a single mountain, like a king protected by his followers. It was a very good geographic site in the ancient Chinese superstition of Feng Shui.”

Furthermore, they were attracted by fire and smoke at the foot of the mountain.

The fleet subsequently anchored and the sailors were ordered to investigate.

“They found that the villagers were engaged in fighting with pirates. The battle was quickly brought to an end with the aid of Sam Pau’s sailors and the pirates were all killed. The village chief, who was an Indian, welcomed them with warmest hospitality. Sam Pau Tai Chian honoured the Chief as San Tsung Wang (King of Mountain) and gave him many valuable gifts. Including a brown ceremonial umbrella, warriors’ spears, many examples of beautiful porcelain ware and silks of fine quality,” Lee wrote.

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As time passed, the honour bestowed upon the chief was forgotten and the mountain on which he lived became the name ‘San Tsung Wang’.

Gradually over the years, people started to call the mountain Santubong instead of ‘San Tsung Wang’.

Here is another legend of Mount Santubong you probably never head of.

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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