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The story of Sarawak’s first and only sultan, Sultan Tengah

Sultan Tengah
The mausoleum of Sarawak’s first and only sultan, Sultan Tengah.

The story started of how Sarawak got a sultan begins with Sultan Muhammad Hassan, the 9th sultan who ruled the Bruneian Empire from 1582 to 1598.

He succeeded the throne from Shah Berunai, his older brother who died without an heir.

When Sultan Muhammad Hassan himself died in 1598, his eldest son Abdul Jalilul Akbar ascended the throne.

Abdul Jalilul Akbar’s younger brother Pengiran Muda Tengah, however, also wanted to become the Sultan.

He claimed that his elder brother’s ascension to the throne was invalid as he was born when their father was still crown prince.

Therefore Pengiran Muda, who was born when their father was already king, claimed he had the right to succeed the throne.

In response, the newly crowned Sultan appointed his brother Pengiran Muda Tengah to be the Sultan of Sarawak which comprises present day Kuching division.

Sultan Tengah’s reign in Sarawak

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Sultan Tengah’s tomb was rediscovered in 1993, more than 300 years after his death.

According to historian Chang Pat Foh in The Land of Freedom Fighters, Sultan Tengah came to Sarawak in 1599.

He brought along an entourage of a few nobles and over 1,000 warriors to help him to govern the new country.

As the Sultan of Sarawak, he carried the name Ibrahim Ali Omar Shah of Sarawak.

Before he set sail to Johor and Pahang, he established four ministers to administer his new kingdom.

They were Datu Patinggi Seri Setia, Datu Shahbandar Indera Wangsa, Datu Amar Seri Diraja and Datu Temenggong Laila Wangsa.

On his way back from Johor, Sultan Tengah was shipwrecked near the coast of Sukadana which is now the capital city of North Kayong Regency of West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

There he married Puteri Suria Kesuma, the younger sister of Sultan of Sukadana, Sultan Muhammad Saifuddin.

By 1600, he left Sukadana to Sambas where they built settlement in Kuala Bangun, near the Sambas river.

Sultan Tengah’s issue

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Opening hours to visit Sultan Tengah’s tomb.

It was during their stay in Sambas when the late Sultan had three sons with Puteri Suria: Radin Sulaiman, Pengiran Badaruddin and Pengiran Abdul Wahab.

Radin Sulaiman later married Puteri Mas Ayu Bongsu, the princess of Sambas.

In 1631, Radin became the first Muslim ruler of the Sambas Kingdom bearing the name of Sri Paduka al-Sultan Tuanku Muhammad Safiuddin 1.

By that time, in 1630, Sultan Tengah had already departed to Matan, an ancient kingdom located in the Ketapang Regency of West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

There in Matan, he married a local princess and had a son. They named him Pengiran Mangku Negara who later become the Sultan of Matan.

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A brief history of Sultan Tengah written on a plague near his tomb.

His death

After staying a few years in Matan, the wayward sultan decided to return to Sarawak.

By 1641, he arrived home and made a temporary settlement at Batu Buaya near the coast of Santubong.

It was there that Sultan Tengah was assassinated by one of his followers.

His wife decided to return home to the Kingdom of Sukananda after his death.

No records show that the Sultan of Brunei sent a replacement for Sultan Tengah, and Sarawak was reunified with Brunei.

The tale of Sultan Tengah is one of a prince who was not supposed to be, but wanted to be king. And when he finally became one, he hardly spent any time in his kingdom.

It is unsurprising that none of his princes came to claim the throne of Sarawak as they themselves were not born or raised in the kingdom.

Nonetheless, Sultan Tengah did establish his capital along the bank of Sungai Bedil which slowly expanded into what we know today as Kuching.

Thanks to Sultan Tengah, the once Hindu royal houses of Sambas and Matan both turned into Muslim Sultanates and his descendants became the rulers for both kingdoms.

Sultan Tengah’s tomb was lost over the centuries and finally found again in 1993. Subsequently, the Sarawak Government commenced the construction of Sultan Tengah Mausoleum in 1994. The mausoleum was completed in May 1995 at the cost of RM546,000.

Sarawak’s first and only Sultan is now laid in his final resting place at the junction of Jalan Damai and Jalan Kampung Santubong.

Sultan Tengah
His tomb is now overlooking the junction of Jalan Damai and Jalan Kampung Santubong.

Catholics celebrate Easter Triduum in Sungai Asap, Belaga

While the world celebrates Easter Sunday with eggs and bunnies, the Catholic community in rural Sungai Asap of Borneo took a spiritual turn of the celebration.

Like all Christians throughout the world, Easter Sunday for Sungai Asap folks was celebrated to mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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The Easter celebration for the Catholics in Sungai Asap was a spiritual experience.

Their celebration focused on the Easter Triduum – the period of three days beginning with the evening of Holy Thursday till Easter Sunday.

2018 marked the third year where Catholic devotees in the area came together at one longhouse for the weekend-long celebration.

This year, Uma Lahanan hosted the event, providing lodging and food for up to 1,000 participants. It had been held in Uma Sambop and Uma Apan back in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

To accommodate the high number of parishioners, a makeshift altar was built in the middle of the longhouse.

Some of them gathered there since Wednesday night (Apr 28) participating in activities throughout the weekend such as talks, prayers, a choir contest and bible quiz.

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One of the activities in during the weekend was a choir contest.

On Holy Thursday, the service included the ritual Washing of the Feet inspired by Jesus who washed the feet of His 12 apostles during the Last Supper.

Then the service concluded with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament to St. Ambrose Church which is just a stone’s throw away from the longhouse.

The next day, Good Friday was celebrated in solemnity with fasting and prayers.

Easter vigil celebration

The highlight of the celebration was none other the Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

It consisted of four parts; including The Service of Light, The Liturgy of the Word, Christian Initiation and the Renewal of Baptismal Vows as well as the Eucharist.

During the vigil, a huge Easter fire was kindled right in the middle of Uma Lahanan’s open space.

Then, the celebrants Rev. Fr John Chia and Rev. Fr. Sylvester Ngau Juk blessed the Paschal candle before lighting it.

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The main celebrants during the Easter Triduum were Rev. Fr. John (right) and Rev. Fr. Sylvester.

The candle will be used throughout the season of Easter. It is a period of fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.

Once the candle was lit, it was carried in complete darkness from the open space to the makeshift altar.

While the candle was proceeding, all the candles held by the parishioners were slowly lit from the Paschal candle.

Rev. Fr. Sylvester, then proceeded to chant the Easter Proclamation before the vigil continued with the Liturgy of the Word.

The vigil was also the time all the attendees renewed their baptismal promises. While newly recruited members or catechumens were baptised.

Finally, the four-day long Easter jubilation ended on Easter Sunday with a mass and a luncheon at the ruai.

Next year, the Easter celebration in Sungai Asap is expected to be held at the 101-door Kenyah longhouse of Long Bangan, Belaga.

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Cathecumens ready to be baptised into the Catholic church on Easter vigil. Photo by Martin Ubung.

The Roman Catholic Community during the Easter Celebration

The congregation is mostly made of the Kayan, Kenyah, Lahanan, Ukit, Penan, Seping, Kejaman and other Orang Ulu tribes.

Some of the participating longhouses were Uma Balui Liko, Uma Bawang, Uma Badeng, Uma Sambop from different areas such as Long Urun, Sungai Seping, Tubau and Sungai Asap itself.

Most of the residents in Belaga are from the Borneo Evangelical Church (SIB) denomination.

At some of the longhouses like Uma Bawang, the residents were even divided into different blocks of longhouse according to their denominations.

Iconic Landmarks in Pontianak That You Should Visit

If you just happen to find yourself having to spend only a day in Pontianak, which of its iconic landmarks would you visit?

For those who might have a hard time deciding where to go, just follow this Kajo-worthy list on where to go in Pontianak so that you don’t miss out a lot on its history and culture.

  1. Visit Rumah Radakng

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    Rumah Radakng is the largest replica house of the Dayak Kanayatn community in Kalimantan. (Photo credit

Rumah Radakng is one of the top iconic landmarks in Pontianak. Constructed by the city government from ironwood, Rumah Radakng is a replica of the traditional house of the Kanayatn Dayak community in Kalimantan.

Standing at 7 meters in height, 8 meters in width and 138 meters long, Rumah Radakng is the biggest traditional house in Indonesia.

  1. Try coffee at Warung Kopi Asiang

Coffee lovers would appreciate this humble yet vibrant local cafe that serves good coffee (Picture source from

This local cafe deserves a spot in this list of iconic landmarks to visit in Pontianak due to its humble yet vibrant atmosphere.

According to locals, Warung Kopi Asiang at Jalan Merapi is the best place to get your daily caffeine intake. Open since 1958, the cafe is a popular hangout spot especially during breakfast.

While there, you can order coffee with milk and sugar, or only with sugar or just plain black. Aside from that, you may also order food to go along with your coffee such as half boiled eggs or an assortment of buns and cakes.

  1. Visit the Equator Monument

    equator monument
    The Equator Monument in Pontianak built to mark the division between the North and South hemispheres. (Photo credit Krasowski.)

The Equator Monument is next on the list of iconic landmarks to visit in Pontianak because it is the only city that sits on the equator.

According to the Wonderful Indonesia website, the shadowless sunlight occurs here twice a year as the sun reaches its zenith on the Vernal Equinox (March 21st-23rd), and the Autumnal Equinox (September 21st-23rd).

  1. Visit Singkawang

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The parade of Tatung occurs during Chap Goh Meh month.

While Singkawang is not exactly a landmark in Pontianak, it would be a shame not to visit this unique town.

A peaceful town, another top thing to do while in Pontianak is to visit Singkawang. It is best visited during the Chap Gog Meh celebration.

Singkawang is located about 150 km from Pontianak and you may reach there in just under four hours by bus. When approaching the town, you will notice a lot of small temples along the road.

Typically, local Buddhist residents will pray at their respective temples before Chap Goh Meh.

On the day itself, a Tatung parade will take place.

  1. St Joseph Cathedral

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St Joseph Cathedral is the largest church in Pontianak

Currently the biggest Catholic cathedral in Pontianak, the beautiful interior of the cathedral is really a sight to see.

The original cathedral was said to be built in 1908 but was demolished in 2011 to build a bigger one to accommodate more people.

  1. Mujahidin Grand Mosque

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Located at Jalan Ahmand Yani, the mosque is quite visible from the main road

Built in 1974, this recently renovated mosque is the largest in West Kalimantan as it can hold up to 1,000 people.

Located at Jalan Ahmand Yani main road, the mosque is pretty accessible and easy to spot due to its grand architecture.

The mosque’s distinct features are its four minarets covered with gold on top, so it is easy to spot from the main road.

  1. State Museum of Pontianak

This should be on the list of iconic landmark to visit in Pontianak because where else could you know everything about the city if not the museum?

  1. Pusat Souvenir Pontianak


    A visit to Pontianak would not be complete if you are to end your trip without making a stop at Jalan Pattimura.

    As one of the list of iconic landmarks in Pontianak, the souvenir centre is a pit stop for those who want to buy gifts such as traditional costumes, snacks and even accessories.

Top 8 Penan Handwoven Items That Everyone Should Have

In Sarawak, it is normal for one person to own at least one traditional item that is used as an everyday thing.

Whether it is a hand-woven mat or a basket, traditional items aren’t just decorative, they’re also practical.

For the love of traditional indigenous items, KajoMag has compiled top 8 traditional Penan handcrafted items discovered at the the 2017 edition of the Non Timber Forest Product (NTFP) festival which are still practical for modern day use.

1. Kitong

Penan Item 1: Kitong
Penan Item 1: Kitong

Purpose: The kitong is a rattan basket used traditionally by the Penans to store apu nangah (sago flour) or cooking utensils.

Alternative: While the kitong can still be used to store flour, rice and cooking utensils, it can also be used to store everyday items such as nail polish, canned food items or even as a key holder

2. Bukul

Penan Item 2: Bukul
Penan Item 2: Bukul

Purpose: A traditional Penan backpack made from rattan, it was commonly used to carry plants and herbs they gathered in the jungle . The betik, which is the motif on the rattan bag, depicts patterns inspired by the jungle such as plant vines and bird’s eyes.

Alternative: Imagine using this effortlessly stylish backpack for your books as you walk around campus.

3. Berat Sakin

Penan Item 3: Coaster
Penan Item 3:  Berat Sakin

Purpose: Coaster. Surprised?

Alternative: Still relevant, looks chic and stylish in any setting.

4. Sekepit

Penan Item 4: Sekepit
Penan Item 4: Sekepit

Purpose: A small pouch used by the Penans to store small items like tobacco cigarettes when hunting in the forest

Alternative:  A cool yet practical to carry your power bank and smart phone.

5. Mak

Penan Item 5: Mak
Penan Item 5: Mak

Purpose: Rattan mats

Alternative: A convenient size and practical to be used as a mat or a table runner. Place a piece of glass over it and you have an interesting focal piece.

6. Pihan

Penan Item 6: Pihan
Penan Item 6: Pihan

Purpose: A Penan’s rattan bag

Alternative: Consider swapping your H&M bag for this as your staple everyday handbag

7. Basah

Purpose: A western Penan rattan bracelet. Most of the basah salak motifs are patterns inspired by snake skin. To give the rattan its shiny colour, natural dye is used.

Alternative: Great gifts if you have a lot of friends

8. Tabit

Penan Item 8: Tabit
Penan Item 8: Tabit

Purpose: The tabit is a Penan traditional garment made from rattan. It is worn around the waist over a loincloth to protect the wearer from sitting on thorns or other sharp objects when they sit on the forest floor.

Alternative: Frame it and put up as decoration. It’ll make an interesting conversation topic when people come to visit.

To know more about NTFP, click here to check out their website.

Crocodile Effigies Part 1: The Iban Mali Umai Ritual

In days gone by, Ibans carried out rituals and festivals for all occasions. From celebrating the birth of a new baby to warding off bad omens, pest control was no exception.

While some traditions are still practiced today – like the meri anak mandi ritual where a new baby is given a traditional baptism in the river – the mali umai , ngemali umai or nambai umai ritual which sees crocodile effigies being made to ward off pests is rarely done today.

As of 2014, the Sarawak Museum Department has recorded about 40 sites with confirmed effigies built by the Iban community throughout Sarawak. Some of these effigies can be dated back to 100 years.

Among them, 19 can be found in Kuching, Samarahan, Sri Aman and Betong division, while seven can be found in Sibu and Mukah division, three in Sarikei division, and six in Kanowit district.

Presently, there is one at Fort Alice in Simanggang, otherwise known as Sri Aman.

Living next door to Alice

The fort was refurbished in 2015 and turned into a heritage museum
The fort was refurbished in 2015 and turned into a heritage museum.

Fort Alice was named after the second Ranee of Sarawak, Margaret Alice Lili de Windt. Until 2015, it was an abandoned building until it was refurbished and reconstructed into a heritage museum under the Sarawak Museum Department.

The 153-year-old building was built following the victory of Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah of Sarawak, over Rentap, an Iban chieftain. It functioned to control the activities of the Iban from the Saribas area.

While the newly renovated building itself is worth visiting, the earthen crocodile effigies (baya tanah) located outside the compound at the foot of the building also deserves equal attention for their fascinating history and purpose.

A pair of male and female crocodile effigies at Fort Alice
The pair of male and female crocodile effigies at Fort Alice.

Traditional pest control

The effigies were typically made in pairs; one female and one male, the latter often slightly bigger than the former.

Sometimes, the pair would be accompanied with a smaller crocodile effigy, supposedly the baby crocodile.

As part of a hill paddy planting ritual, it is used as an ‘agent’ to get rid of paddy pests such as grasshoppers, locusts, sparrows, rats and monkeys during the weed clearing season (mantun) before the paddy began to bear grain.

According to an entry called “Mali Umai Iban” in the Sarawak Museum Journal vol I.XX, a path would be cleared from the crocodile snouts to the edge of the intended paddy farm after the ritual so that the crocodile spirit wouldn’t get lost.

Typically 2 to 3 metres in length and 0.4 to 0.8 metres in width, most of the effigies face a water source, such as a river or stream.

Only a few face inland. Those that do are in Simanggang, where the effigies face the paddy farm or the setting sun.

Ceramic cups used as the eyes of the crocodile effigies
Ceramic cups used as the eyes of the crocodile effigies

The earthen effigies would often be made on flat ground from the clay soil located at or around the chosen site.

The crocodiles would normally be made with outstretched limbs, forward-facing heads and slightly curved tails.

The ones at Fort Alice have porcelain cups and plates used as the eyes and scales of the crocodile.

Before the availability of porcelain dishware, pebbles were used instead. Besides porcelain, white glass marble or coins were also used.

Ceramic plates as scales
Ceramic plates as scales

Protection against the natural elements

Besides pest control, it was also said that the effigies were used in rituals to stop droughts, known as gawai minta ari.

Usually used in severe weather conditions, rituals were also conducted during torrential rain and flood, asking for dry weather.

The effigies were also used for a ritual called pelasi menoa, meaning to ward off bad omens and calamities.

With most Ibans being exposed to Christianity and the availability of pesticides, however, many have abandoned the practice.

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