The story of petrification is common around the world, the oldest in Western literature probably being the tale of Medusa. Even here in Sarawak, many have heard stories and folktales of how people or buildings have turned into stone.
Here is one story of that is actually very similar to the legend of petrification in Fairy Caves, Bau, but this legend comes from the Batang Ai area:
In the olden days, there were certain things which one was forbidden to laugh at, for fear of incurring ‘kudi’, a state of flood and disaster brought on by the wrath of the spirits.
Anybody to have committed these taboos were believed to have suffered from dreadful punishment.
According to Iban traditional belief, the virgin forests in those days were inhabited by all kinds of spirits such as Antu Babas and Antu Keranggas.
These spirits did not like to hear words being said in arrogance or see men doing taboo things.
Legend has it that in Batang Ai, not far from a place called Rantau Panjai, there was a limestone hill called Batu Puyang.
Long time ago, this hill was the site of a longhouse under the tuai rumah (headman) named Puyang.
How the name Batu Puyang came about
About four centuries ago, the headman held a Gawai Burong (Bird Festival) at his longhouse.
He invited many people to join in the celebration. During the festival, a young boy went out to examine the catch in his grandmother’s fish trap.
After checking and finding that the trap was empty, a funny thought occurred to him and he thought it would be funny to play a trick on his grandmother.
He took a poo, and wrapped it up carefully in a leaf. He then brought it home and handed it to his grandmother. Expecting to see the day’s fresh catch, the grandmother was angry to find his fresh, steaming poop instead.
She vowed revenge. Later that evening, she put a cat in a dress belonging to a girl and released it in the middle of the Gawai Burong celebration.
As the cat walked among the celebrants, they laughed to see it.
Apparently, this was a big no-no to the greater spirits. Suddenly, the sky became dark and the wind blew so hard that everybody became alarmed.
Rain began to fall in torrents and the sound of thunder became deafening. As the rain fell onto the longhouse, the building and its people (including her grandson) were transformed into stone, which are now known as Batu Puyang.
Similar legend to Fairy Caves Bau
The legend of Batu Puyang has a lot of similarities with Fairy Caves, Bau. For the one in Bau, the story started from a poor boy and his mother who lived at a big Bidayuh Kampung known as Kampung Kapur near Fairy Cave,
Similarly, a Gawai celebration was held at one of the kampung houses.
The boy came and peeped in on their celebration, making the homeowner unhappy. To cast the boy away, the homeowner gave the boy some sugarcane waster wrapped in a leaf, telling him there was pork inside.
The boy happily went home to give the wrapped ‘pork’ to share with his mother. After finding out it was just waste inside, the mother sought out revenge against the people of the kampung.
Similar to the legend of Batu Puyang, she took a cat and dressed it in a beautiful outfit. She threw the cat in the middle of the Gawai celebration. As they began to laugh at the sight of a cat in a dress, the sky also roared with thunder and lightning.
When the storm eventually stopped, all the villagers had turned into stone, making up the stalagmites and stalactites inside Fairy Cave.
How the two legends from two different races and parts of Sarawak had so much similarities, we may never find out.