Just as Penang was swiftly transformed into one of Asia’s hottest destinations a few years ago, the buzz in Malaysia right now is all about another under-the-radar spot, the little-known city of Kuching, riverside capital of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. There are several theories as to how the city got its name (Kuching is “cat” in Malay), Some believe that when Sarawak’s first ruler named it because of the “eye cat” fruit that was planted here, some say he named it after an interesting answer from the native people in the island at that time.
Kuching in Malaysia is a place where the presence of cats can be seen everywhere, from the name to the sights. Kuching is the capital and most populous city of Sarawak state, Malaysia. Not many people know the reason why Kuching city is named after a cat, most of which are legends and judgments. Cat images are deeply rooted in the life of the city, from history to culture and modern life.
In Kuching, you can see cats everywhere. From the airport to the city, just outside the Chinatown, a giant statue of white cat waving to visitors. On the sidewalk near the mosque, a cat family stares at a passerby. Pictures of Cats are decorated with spray paint around the buildings, streets, walls, ….
What to see
Located in the northern city of Kuching, the Cat Museum is the most special place in the city if you want to learn about cats as well as their relationship with the city located on the island of Borneo. “The obsession with cats in this place comes from the name of the city,” says Amir, who works at the Cats Museum. The word ‘kucing’ means ‘cat’ in Malay.
Standing next to many of the exhibits depicting the 5,000-year history of the cat, Amir explains some of the theories behind the birth of the name “Kuching.” Some believe that when Sarawak’s first ruler, an Englishman named James Brooke, arrived in Kuching around 1839, he pointed to the settlement and asked for the name of the place. One local thought he pointed to a cat passing by, so he answered ‘Kucing’. Others say the city is named after the tree that was planted here. The fruit of this tree is called ‘Mata Kuching‘, which means ‘cat eye‘. The final hypothesis of the city’s unique name is that it was put in place when people discovered the Short-tail cat that lives along the Sarawak River flowing through the city.
Cats are so important to Kuchin’s inhabitants
Kuching is a multi-ethnic city inhabited by Malays, Chinese, and Indians, as well as local tribes such as Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu and Melanau. Cats carry important meanings to each group of people living here. For example, for the Chinese, cats are symbols of luck. For hundreds of years, cats have also been worshiped by Muslims – the dominant form of religion in the native tribes of Borneo. The Prophet Muhammad had a cat named Muezza.
Residents of Borneo Island love cats because they help control insects. In the 1950s, the government used chemicals to kill mosquitoes and mice carrying malaria. After the chemicals were badly affected to the cat population in the area, the Britain Royal Air Force carried out a mission called Operation Cat Drop dropping 14,000 cats into the countryside of Borneo, Malaysia.
Images of cats have been ingrained in the life of this city. The colorful giant cat family at the top of the fountain, the mischievous cats that are cast in bronze along the river … are just what you see. There are also I-CATS – International College of Technology Sarawak – or Cats FM – Local radio. On the highest point of the city, there is a statue of the balance of justice and a gold cat, along with four other white cats.
If you want to meet real cats, you can visit the Meow Meow Cat Café, near the Sarawak River and approximately 5 km south of the Cat Museum. The Owner, Janet, and the founders thought to open a cat cafe for those who could not afford cats at home. “We are currently raising six of different cats,” she said. Here you will see guests playing with many different cats such as large kittens with white fur; Suria, a regal Bengal cat; Honey, Persian cat big eyes or a long gray cat named April.
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