The view of Kuching City at night. Photo: Ghazali Bujang

KUCHING: The beautiful and lively city of Kuching, located at the southwest tip of the state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, will capture the heart of every visitor.

Kuching City which is the capital of Sarawak has an average population of around 570,000 citizens. The society comprises of a multi-diverse ethnic group of the Malay, Chinese, Bidayuh, Iban, Melanau and other indigenous people.

Although Bahasa Malaysia is the official national language, English is widely spoken in Sarawak. Besides speaking in Bahasa Malaysia, and Bahasa Sarawak (which is similar to Bahasa Malaysia), there are several Chinese dialects used alongside with Bahasa Bidayuh, Bahasa Iban, and Bahasa Melanau, are widely used in daily activities.

How Kuching got its name

The colorful Darul Hana Bridge located at the city centre. Photo: Ghazali Bujang

When we talk about Kuching, it does not necessarily mean it is a city full of cats although the term was thought to derive from the Malay word ‘kucing’, meaning cat.

The most popular story among the locals on how the city got its name was based on a miscommunication between adventurer James Brooke and a local guide.

Brooke arrived in Kuching on his yacht ‘Royalist’ in 1838 and asked the local guide about the name of the town to which the latter mistakenly thought that Brooke was pointing towards a cat and thus, he said the word ‘Kuching’.

Some might even argue that the name was derived from a fruit called ‘mata kucing’ (Euphoria malaiense) which was also a name for a hill in the city – Bukit Mata Kuching.

There is also a theory that the town’s name came from the term ‘Cochin’, an Indian trading port on the Malabar Coast and a generic term in China and British India for trading harbour.

City administration

After the formation of Malaysia in 1963, Kuching was granted city status on Aug 1, 1988.

Since then, the Kuching city is divided into two administrative regions managed by two separate local authorities — Kuching South City Council (MBKS) and Kuching North City Commission (DBKU).

The current mayor of MBKS is Datuk Wee Hong Seng who was sworn  in on Sept 3, 2019, while the current commissioner for DBKU is Datuk Junaidi Reduan, who was sworn in on Sept 5, 2019.

Before  Wee, the past mayors of MBKS were Datuk Song Swee Guan (1988 to 1996), Chan Seng Kai (1997 to 2006), Chong Ted Tsiung (2006 to 2007) and Datuk James Chan Khay Syn (2008 to 2019).

Meanwhile, Datuk Junaidi’s predecessors were Datuk Dr Yusoff Hanifah (1988 to 1994), Datuk Awang Ehsan Joini (1995 to 2000), Madehi Kolek (2001 to 2004), Datuk Abdul Hamid Mohd Yusoff (2005 to 2007), Datuk Mohamad Atei Abang Medaan (2007 to 2011) and Datuk Abang Wahap Abang Julai (2011 to 2019).

Kuching is the only city in Malaysia administered by two bodies. The city’s twin administration was born out of the need for an efficient system which would allow for a balanced development and population distribution for the two territories.

Kuching City Day

This year marks the 32nd anniversary of Kuching City.

Kuching City Day celebration is celebrated on Aug 1 every year in conjunction with the recognition of Kuching as a city status. It is the second town to be declared a  city in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur.

Usually, the two administrative bodies, MBKS and DBKU, will take turns to host Kuching City Day, an event filled with various programmes and activities! This year’s host is MBKS.  

In the past, the activities included the annual Kuching Festival and Food Fair and Kuching Street Parade which would feature Sarawak’s cultural diversity in cuisines, traditional costumes, music and dances.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg (seated centre facing camera), his wife Datuk Amar Jumaani Bujang (on his left), Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah (on Abang Johari’s right), Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian (yellow shirt) and others enjoy dinner at the Kuching Festival site in Padungan last year. Photo: Doreen Ling

However, this year’s celebration is not as lively in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

MBKS mayor Datuk Wee told a local daily that the famous and awaited Kuching Festival this year had to be cancelled to avoid large crowds from gathering.

The cancellation of the annual event this year would be the first in history since it was first organised in 1986.

“However, we will have a simple ceremony to mark the Kuching City Day on Aug 1,” he said.

Achievements

On Aug 1, 2015, the city of Kuching was proclaimed the country’s first ‘City of Unity’, making it a first ever for a city  in the world.

The title was given by virtue of the fact that its more than 20 ethnic groups with three main religions were able to co-exist very well, hence “Unity City”.

Former chief minister, the late Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem, described the historic declaration as an honour, as he had seen the city transform from a sleepy hollow into a peaceful benchmark of diversity in troubled times.

Kuching Fest 2019. Photo: Mohd Alif Noni

““We are indeed honoured to be chosen as the city in our country to be the number one in terms of how to live in harmony with one another. Let us, in these troubled times, when there is tension among races, religions and cultures, show them how to live together in peace and harmony.

“Let us be an example to the rest of Malaysia, that we believe in unity and in diversity. Even though we are diverse, several cultures and so on, we can and we will live together in unity and in peace,” he said at the 27th City Day celebration in Kuching five years ago.

In 2011, Kuching also won a United Nations backed ‘Tourist City Award’ at the second World Cities Scientific Development Forum in Chengdu, China.

Kuching and joint winner with Xining in Qinghai, China  were the first two cities in Asia to win the highly regarded award.

Kuching was also the only Malaysian city accredited the United Nations’s Health City status in 2011.