“What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.”
― Charles Baudelaire
History is part myth, part fact. When I first read about the city of Kuching, which means “Cat” in Malay, I imagined a place once home to wild cats such as leopards, jaguars and tigers from the nearby jungle. I had read about the discovery of the clouded leopard of the Borneo rainforests in 2007 and thought of how many feline varieties must have existed before the colonial era.
Although such reasoning is not entirely far from the truth when you consider one possible version of the myth behind the name Kuching. A colonial conquistador or white “rajah” known as James Brooke was reported to ask about a mysterious creature he happened upon in his jungle expeditions.
Was the answer he received from his guide and he assumed it was a wild cat. But was the guide using the word ” Kuchin” which refers a tributary of the Sarawak river known as Sungai Kuching?
Then there is a fruit based explanation “Mata Kuching” or cat’s eye is the name of the lychee like fruit which grew plentifully around the area.
But in many ways trying to find the true history behind the naming of the city doesnt really matter because it’s clear that this is a town where the diverse human population-Malay, Chinese, Indigenous, Muslim-value and respect cats.
And one factual story from Borneo’s recent past highlights this esteem.
in the 1950s, authorities attempted to use chemicals to combat malaria-carrying mosquitos and rats. After the chemicals negatively impacted the region’s feline population, the British Royal Air Force parachuted 14,000 cats into rural Malaysian Borneo in a mission known as ‘Operation Cat Drop’. Sounds far fetched and yet its true as any local cat will tell you as you wander around its city-or visit the nearby jungle