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June 27, 2012

Legendary Stones of Kuching

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – The stone grows and gets larger and larger, therefore it has mystical and magical properties. That is one of the legends I had heard about a sand stone outcropping located, appropriately, on Rock Road here in Kuching.


Suriani and I have made it a point to take small excursions, exploring her hometown and my adopted city. We were still exhausted from our two month tour of the states, and I was recovering from a medical emergency trip back to the Washington area.


Stones have been a legendary part of the lore in the Western world. Being Irish, I was often told I had kissed the blarney stone when I was growing up. There is the Philosophers Stone that can turn lead into gold. Many sing about the “Rock of Ages” in church.


Known in Malay as the batu kinyang, meaning stone crystal, the rock is wedged between a large Hindu Temple and a secondhand store. Nobody knows how long the stone has been a place of worship, as well worn paths led to it when it was made know to the Western world in 1840. From the road to the very rear of the black, smooth and undulating outcrop, it measures about 24 meters (80 feet). The width varies but can exceed 15 meters (50 ft.) in places.


I had read that the stone was considered sacred by all the races in Sarawak, the state where I live on Borneo Island; but, particularly for the Malays. I asked my wife’s parents, who are strict Moslems, about it and they and their friends had never heard of it.


We had thought the sacredness of the stone to be long abandoned as we clamored over the structure. A small rivulet with aquatic plants dribbled through a water-carved, centimeter-deep-and-wide ravine attached to a small pool. Further back, a tree, whose diameter was about the size of a pencil and with about three large leaves waving at the top was bravely surviving the inhospitable conditions.


Moving closer, we realized the holiness had not left the rock for some people. There were remnants of burnt incense sticks. A glass, meter-high box with red sleeves and opening at the top was for monetary offerings. We then realized the tree had been planted.


As mentioned in an earlier column, my wife is related to Panglima (leader of warriors) Seman, a Malay who helped the White Rajah, James Brooke, fight the pirates. According to legend, he would paddle his sampan down the river, and silently swim to the pirates’ dhow and pull each one into the water. Taking them to shore, he would then dispatch them on some rocks.


I wanted to see the rocks from the perspective of the pirates and the Panglima, so we hired a sampan and were motored by a wizened old Malay, who gladly took us to the location. The trip took about 20 minutes, and we scanned the shoreline admiring some of the ancient houses that still stood on the shores.


When we reached the place in the river, off the village named for Panglima Seman, the motor stopped and I took some photos.


Apparently, the rocks that had once spilled into the waterway were now drowned by a lock (barrage) that controlled the depth of the river. The boulders that lined the shore line looked more like an erosion control project than an area to ambush pirates bent on sacking Kuching.


However, in my romantic mind I could envision my wife’s ancestor bravely and single-handedly attacking a six-man canoe, protecting the villages and the fortunes of the White Raj.


…Life is good . . . .


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