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How the ancient Kingdom of Nanga Bunut in Borneo grew thanks to mythical creatures

Centuries ago, Kalimantan was made up many small ancient kingdoms, each with its own unique history and culture.

One of these kingdoms was Nanga Bunut, a small kingdom located at the intersection between Kapuas river and its tributary Bunut river.

It was founded by Raden Setia Abang Berita Kiyai Nadi Pati Jaya between the 16th and 17th centuries.

In 1909, the Dutch took over the sultanate, making it part of the Dutch East Indies.

Today, the former kingdom is a sub-district of West Kalimantan province, Indonesia.

Once upon a time, it was believed the kingdom was incredibly populous, not because of migration or human reproduction, but due to a supernatural reason.

The legend of Nanga Bunut and mythical creatures called tapok

Victor T. King in his paper A Maloh Myth, Augury and Cultural Comparison (1975) stated that it happened during the reign of Raden Setia Abang Berita Kiyai Nadi Pati Jaya or Kiyai Nadi.

“The story involves the emergence of humans from tapok. These are antu, like human beings in appearance, but usually invisible to man. Occasionally, however, one can catch a fleeting glimpse of them in the jungle.”

One day, Kiyai Nadi was out searching for honey near the Belitung lake somewhere in the area of Bunut.

He was waiting for nightfall before climbing a lalau tree which contained a large number of beehives.

A lalau tree is known for having a number of beehives in its branches and is considered a commodity for honey hunters.

Suddenly, somehow like in a horror movie, he heard someone call out in the jungle. It was the voice of a child.

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Just like in a horror movie in which the character goes out to look the source of the voice, Kiyai Nadi went in the direction in which the sound had come.

He eventually arrived in a large clearing and a longhouse.

People at the longhouse were busy doing their daily work while chatting and laughing.

Then a group of men came up to him and asked him what he was doing there.

Kiyai Nadi explained that he had heard a child’s voice and had followed the sound to their longhouse.

The tapok scared of Kiyai Nadi

After a while, Kiyai Nadi realised that the people were not real human beings but tapok.

The tapok were scared of Kiyai Nadi, begging him not to tell people about their whereabouts and identities.

The female tapok particularly were terrified of Kiyai Nadi, up to the point that one lady took refuge in a tree.

Suddenly, the old lady changed into a half-human, half-animal creature along with all the inhabitants.

Kiyai Nadi took the tapok in

After their transformations en masse, they were not able to return to how they were.

Kiyai Nadi took pity on them and led them back to Bunut as his slaves.

There he practiced powerful medicine and changed them into human beings. They multiplied very quickly and that is how Nanga Bunut grew its population.

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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