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Legend of the quarrel between Bakir hill and Gunung Lesung

Located in Sri Aman, Sarawak, Gunung Lesung National Park is a 500ha conservation area rich in flora and fauna.

But did you know that legend has it that Gunung Lesung (Lesong) used to be located elsewhere?

The legend of the quarrel between Bakir hill and Gunung Lesong

Iban ethnologist and Sarawak museum curator Benedict Sandin wrote in The Sarawak Gazette (Sept 30, 1965) about a quarrel that broke out between Bakir Hill and Gunung Lesong.

Referred to as Gunung Lesong by the Malay community, the mountain was widely referred to as Lingga mountain, or ‘Bukit Lingga’ by the Iban community, a name which still lives on to this day.

It is said that long ago Bakir Hill which lies to the west of Spaoh used to stand very close to Gunung Lesong.

“One day they argued about Mujau Hill. Each claimed that the latter was its spine as it stood close to them. No spirit could stop them quarrelling with each other, so one day they agreed to invite a hero, Tutong, from Gelong to settle their dispute,” Benedict wrote.

When Tutong came, he lit a fire and with his bellows he blew a huge cloud of smoke towards Bakir Hill and Gunung Lesong.

Suffocated by the smoke, Gunung Lesong rose into the air and moved away, taking everything that lived and rested on top with it.

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Gunung Lesung or Lusong was once located next to Bakir Hill.
After Gunung Lesong made the move

Benedict continued, “When it was about to cross the Batang Lupar river a man who had come with his boat from the the lower river saw a huge mountain flying up in the air and making a great noise.”

The man then asked what it was. Suddenly, he heard a voice answering him that Gunung Lesong was fleeing away from the Saribas to settle with Senyandang mountain at the lower part of Batang Strap, a tributary of Batang Lupar.

When it finally reached there, Gunung Lesung sat down next to Senyandang mountain. “After the Gunung Lesong (Lingga mountain) had settled there, the strap river’s name was changed into the Lingga River by which it is known nowadays, though the upper part of it is still known as Batang Strap.”

Today, you can see the peaks of Senyandang mountain and Gunung Lesong from afar. It is believed that the original site of Gunung Lesong in the Saribas area is now a swamp.

How the world began according to Tuaran Dusun legend

Most cultures in the world have their own unique creation myths. It is a symbolic narrative of how the world began and how people first came to live in it.

In Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah, the Tuaran Dusun people have a unique legend on how the world began.

Ivar Evans recorded in his 1922 book Among Primitive Peoples in Borneo this creation myth after an interview with the headman of Timpalang, a Dusun from Tuaran, located along the west coast of Sabah.

Interestingly, the myth supports the long debated theory that life began at sea.

Kedharingan, Munsumundok and the spirit of smallpox

“At first there was a great stone in the middle of the sea. At that time there was no earth, only water. The rock was large and it opened its mouth, and out of it came a man and a woman.

“Then, they both looked around them but they could only see water. So the woman asked the man, ‘How can we walk for there is no land?'”

They came down from the rock and tried to walk on water. To their surprise, they could! But they returned to the rock and sat down to think.

Then, they decided to walk again. After walking on water for some time, they arrived at the house of Bisagit (the spirit of smallpox). They found out that Bisagit had made land but it was very far away.

According to Tuaran Dusun legend, the man and his wife were the chief gods named Kenharingan and Munsumondok. They asked for earth from Bisagit and he agreed.

The duo returned to their rock. There they pounded the rock together with the earth Bisagit gave them. From the mixture, it became land.

Then Kenharingan made the Dusun people while Munsumondok made the sky. As it was not good for men to walk in darkness, they both created the sun.

Munsumundok then said, “There is no light at night, let us make the moon.” Hence, they created not only the moons but also the seven stars (Pleiades) as well as the kukurian (constellations).

Here comes the unexpected twist of this Tuaran Dusun legend

The couple had a son and a daughter. Now Kenharingan’s people cried because there was no food.

“So Kenharingan and Munsumundok killed their girl child and cut it up, and from the different portions of its body grew all things good to eat: its head gave rise to the coconut, and you can see the marks of its eyes and mouth on the coconut till this day; from its arm bones arose sugarcane; its fingers bananas and its blood rise.”

All the animals also arose from pieces of the child.

After Kenharingan had made everything, he said: “Who is able to cast off his skin? If anyone can do so, he shall not die.”

The snake then said, “I can.” According to the legend, this is why the snake will not die unless killed by man.

Then Kenharingan placed the Dusuns in a basket to wash them in the river. However, one of the men fell out of the basket and drifted away by the river ended up at the sea. This man, according to legend, gave rise to the Bajaus. That is why the Bajau people live by the sea and are skillful with boats.

After Kenharingan had washed the Dusuns in the river, he performed a religious ceremony over them in his house.

But one of them left the house to the jungle before Kenharingan managed to do the ceremony. When he came back, he could not enter the house because he become a monkey. So the legend has it that this man was the father of the monkeys.

Understanding the creation myth of Tuaran Dusun

Mythologists have tried to categorise the different kinds of creation myths around the world.

Romanian historian Mircea Eliade came up with the most common classifications, namely ex nihilo, creation from chaos, world parent, earth-diver and emergence.

In this creation myth from the Tuaran Dusun people, it is a mixture of earth-diver and world parent.

Both Kenharingan and Munsumundok are the earth-divers in this myth where they are sent into the primal waters to find bits of sand or mud with which to build habitable land.

Earth-divers myths are also common in Native American folklore.

Meanwhile in world parent myth, creation itself comes out from dismembered parts of the body of the primeval being.

Most of these stories have the limbs, hair, blood, bones or organs of the primeval being are somehow cut to transform into sky, earth, animal or plant.

In this case is Kenharingan and Munsumundok’s daughter in which she gives her body to create other plants.

One badass Sarawak legend about a coconut, dragons and the middle of the world

There was a Malay woman who gave the first Ranee of Sarawak Margaret Brooke a coconut as a parting gift before she left for England.

The woman told the Ranee that the coconut would bring her good luck.

At the same time, the woman told Margaret that the fruit came from fairyland.

Not one to pass up a good story, Margaret asked the woman to tell her the legend of the coconut and why she said it was from fairyland.

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A legend of coconuts and dragons

According to the woman, in the middle of the world was a place called “The Navel of the Sea.”

In this spot, two dragons guarded a tree on which these large coconuts grew, known as Pau Jinggeh.

Margaret said in her book My Life in Sarawak that “The dragons feed on the fruit, and when they have partaken too freely of it, have fits of indigestion, causing them to be seasick. Thus the fruit finds its way into the ocean, and is borne by the current into all parts of the world.

“These enormous nuts are occasionally met with by passing vessels, and it this manner some are brought to the different settlements in the Malayan Archipelago.”

The coconut that the woman brought was given by the captain of a Malay schooner. He found it bobbing up and down in the water under the keel of his boat.

What did Ranee Margaret think about local legends and superstitions?

Whether she believed that the coconut would bring her good luck, we will never know. But she did put the coconut on display in her drawing room at the Astana and according to her was “a source of great interest to the natives.”

Additionally, she wrote:

“With our ideas of European wisdom, we may be inclined to smile superciliously at these beliefs, but we should not forget that a great many of us do not like seeing one magpie, we avoid dining thirteen at table, we hate to see the new moon through glass, we never walk under a ladder, or sit in a room where three candles are burning; and how about people one meets who assure us they have heard the scream of a banshee, foretelling the death of some human being? Putting all these things together, I do not think either Malays or Dyaks show much more superstition than we Europeans do. After all, we are not so very superior to primitive races, although we imagine that on account of our superior culture we are fit to govern the world.”

Margaret Brooke, My Life in Sarawak (1913)
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Read about other legends on KajoMag:

A Sarawakian love story of a pirate and a slave

The legends of Pelagus Rapids, Kapit

5 interesting legends from Central Borneo recorded by Carl Sofus Lumholtz

Five Sarawak legends about people turning into stones

The legends of how paddy came to Sarawak

The legend of Mount Santubong that you never heard of

Legend of coconut and dragons of Sarawak