Sarawak with its multitude of people is a potpourri of religious establishments and places of worship that makes it one of Malaysia’s most attractive destinations.
A temple that withstood the test of time
In the heart of the city and in the centre of the “Golden Triangle” lies a 200-year old Chinese temple facing the idyllic Sarawak river.
Siew San Teng temple which is at the junction of Main Bazaar Road and Temple Street, is the oldest Chinese temple in the state.
It is dedicated to the “God of Prosperity” Tua Pek Kong, a deity who originated from Canton in China.
The first Chinese who arrived in Kuching built the temple at the estuary of Sungei Kuching which was eventually sealed and turned into a fountain recently.
Known locally as “Tua Pek Kong”, the temple is one of scores of Taoist temples found along the 5,000km of rivers and tributaries of Sarawak.
Situated 20 miles from the ancient capital of Santubong on the Sarawak coast, Tua Pek Kong has attracted thousands of worshippers and visitors over the years.
Two “War Gods” have been painted on the strong wooden gates leading into the temple premises.
The temple was established in 1777 at the foothills of Bukit Mata Kucing, built facing the Matang Range for good fortune.
It was a small wooden structure which was later upgraded to an elaborate and bright-red temple adorned by half a dozen dragons wrapped around the surrounding wall.
Tua Pek Kong withstood the test of time as a sanctuary of peace throughout the 100-year-old reign of the White Rajahs, Japanese Occupation, Colonial Era and the Independence. In 1884, the temple survived the Great Fire of Kuching.
When James Brooke first visited Kuching in 1839 it was the place of worship for a handful of Chinese businessmen living among the community of 800 Malays in the capital of Sarawak, which was then part of the Brunei Sultanate.
Just before the February 1857 Insurrection, Brooke learnt that the Bau Chinese were planning to visit the Tua Pek Kong temple to participate in one of its temple celebrations.
But this was actually a ploy to take the Rajah by surprise and capture Kuching because the purported “visitors” were in fact armed rebels.
Despite burning Brooke’s residence, capturing Kuching and killing several people, the rebellion failed. A counter attack launched by Charles Brooke’s army of thousands killed almost all the 600 insurgents.
During the Japanese invasion of Sarawak on December 19, 1941, the Japanese bombed the town centre, killing 25 civilians and wounding around 80 others along Main Bazaar.
But Tua Pek Kong and the Borneo Company’s office which occupied Bukit Mata Kucing were spared.
Over the years, Tua Pek Kong has been renovated several times and now faces the iconic Kuching Waterfront. Across the river from where the temple stands, one can clearly see Fort Margerita, another iconic building built in the name of the Rajah Charles Brooke’s wife Ranee Margaret de Windt.
One of Tua Pek Kong’s most famous celebration is the two-month-long Chingay parade, a procession held once in a decade.
It was started by the first Hokkien immigrant Ong Ewe Hai who arrived in Kuching soon after James Brooke became Rajah in 1841 and was perpetuated by his son “Kapitan” Ong Tiang Swee.
The temple is still the main place of worship for Kuching’s Hokkien, Foochow, Chawan and Heng Hua community whose ancestors came from the Fujian province in China.