The Pelagus Rapids are infamously known as the ‘Rapids of Death’.
Located up the Rajang river, the ferocious rapids spanning 5km consist of at least seven dangerous sessions. The locals call some of them Lapoh, Sukat, Bidai, Tilan, Makup, Batu Nabau, Lungga and Mawang.
The rapids are particularly dangerous when the water level is low. When the narrow passage combines with fast flowing water, it is no surprise that the river has led to many accidents.
One of the most tragic events happened in 1973 when a longboat carrying teachers and students from SMK Kapit hit the rocks and sank. Sadly, 17 students died in that accident.
As Sarawak is a land of endless mythical legends, there are several legends associated with Pelagus Rapids:
1. The rocks are pieces of a huge serpent
Once upon a time, there was a huge serpent that was captured and sliced into seven pieces.
The pieces of this serpent floated down the Rajang river and finally rested at Pelagus, forming the rapids.
When the water level is low, the rocks can be seen to be clean-cut rocks, just as if they had been sliced with a blade.
So some locals believe these rocks are pieces of the large serpent.
2.The other serpent-related legend is about a perverted one
Another version of this serpent legend of Pelagus is that it could turn into human form.
While in his human form, this mystical serpent tried to seduce another man’s wife.
It was not a good idea because the woman was married to a ferocious warrior. So the warrior caught the serpent and cut it into seven pieces. He threw the seven pieces into the water which now form the seven tiers of Pelagus rapids.
3. The apparitions of Antu Belang
According to historian Chang Pat Foh in Legends and History of Sarawak, if an apparition of ‘Antu Belang’ appears at the Pelagus rapids, a tragedy is likely to happen.
Another sign of danger is if there is an extra-loud noise of splashing water. The sounds sometimes seem like someone is reciting traditional rhymes or berpantun.
When these signs appear, the locals would normally avoid the rapids.
Pelagus Rapids today
The Sarawak government approved and implemented a RM9.8 mln project in 2012 to blast these rocks away for the safety of riverine travellers.
Although it has been reported that it was only the tops of these rocks that were blasted away and to exercise caution while navigating these waters, no boating mishaps have occurred since then.