Sarawak's Mount Santubong and Brunei's Princesses

[My friend, the Deputy Accountant General asked me what did the Sarawakians think of my article trying to link the Santubong legends to Brunei? I told him that I did not start it. I was researching about Sarawak when I came across a few blogs on the origins of the Mount Santubong in Sarawak written by Sarawakians. They were arguing about where the origins of the Santubong legends. If you add in a little history, suddenly the connection of the Santubong princesses linked to the Sultanate of Brunei became very clear and clearly not impossible. Here is the article that I wrote for Brunei Times and published on 28 June 2010.]


Mount Santubong and the Brunei Legend

In Kuching, one of the popular tourist attractions is Mount Santubong. On a clear day, the mount can be seen from Kuching. Some say that Mount Santubong resembles a woman lying on her back.

‘Santubong’ is derived from the Iban words ‘Si-antu-ubong’ which means ‘spirit boat.’ These are boat-like coffins carved out of a single log designed to represent the vessel for the dead person’s spirit to travel to the afterlife.

However Santubong is more well known for its legend about a beautiful princess and her sister named Sejinjang, the name of another mountain nearby.

According to the legends, two princesses once lived in the heavens named Puteri Santubong and Puteri Sejinjang. Puteri Santubong was known for her weaving skills because she made the most beautiful cloth in the Kayangan. Puteri Sejinjang was known for her rice. All the rice she pounded became the tastiest rice.

One day, two villages, Pasir Kuning (Yellow Sand) and Pasir Putih (White Sand) started to have an argument which escalated into a quarrel. The quarrel worsened each day. The King sent Santubong to Pasir Kuning and Puteri Sejinjang was sent to Pasir Putih to bring peace.

They did and because of their talents, they helped both villages busy prospering from clothes and rice, they had no time to fight. So, Pasir Kuning and Pasir Putih were at peace with one another.

Meanwhile, both princesses became best friends. However their friendship did not last. Many suitors from near and far tried came to them. But none caught the princesses’ hearts until they met Putera Mahkota Serapi. He was so handsome, that both the princesses fell in love with the prince at the same time. Both tried to catch the prince’s eyes with their beauty and talents.

The Prince could not decide. He asked both to be his wives. Santubong and Sejinjang however believed that only one of them was suitable to be his wife. They started to quarrel.

After verbally abusing each other, they became more violent and started to hit each other. Sejinjang took a ‘pounder’ and hit Santubong’s cheek till it cracks. Even though she was hurt, Santubong hit back using her belidak, a tool for her to weave cloths. The belidak hit Sejinjang’s head. Because of the heavy and sharp tool, Sejinjang’s head broke into million pieces and scattered in the sea to become the small islands around Kuching such as Pulau Kerak, Pulau Satang, Pulau Talang-Talang, Pulau Lakir and other islands. Santubong also died.

The King was angry with both of them for fighting over a mere mortal. He cursed them to become Mount Santubong and Mount Sejinjang.

However, there is another version to the legends. In this version, the princesses did not come from heavens.

In this version, both the princesses were the daughters of a Sultan of Brunei, who ran away with their seven brothers after their father was assassinated.

According to the legends, when the nine brothers and sisters wanted to cross the sea to the Malay Peninsula, they decided that the two sisters stayed behind and they left them at today’s Mount Santubong.

The Dayaks who frequented the place were astonished to find the two beautiful princesses and thought that these two were sent down from the heavens to become guardians of the mountain.

Similar to the other legend, both princesses lived peacefully with each other but over time, they became enemies as both wanted to be the most beautiful princess. After a fight, both moved out, to Santubong and Sejinjang. But the argument and the fight continued until one killed the other.

The lyrics of the song Puteri Santubong though focused more on the first legend:

Puteri Santubong,
Sejinjang sayang,
Kisah lama, Zaman mensia maya.

Puteri Santubong, Puteri Sejinjang,
Penjaga gunung Negeri Sarawak,
Manis sik ada dapat dilawan,
Anak dak Dewa turun kayangan.

Santubong puteri bertenun kain malam,

Sejinjang puteri menumbuk padi siang.

Satu hari nya dua kelahi,
Beranuk anuk sik renti-renti,
Seorang madah dirik bagus agik,
Seorang sik ngalah walau sampai ke mati.

Udah lejuk nya duak kelahi,
Lalu bertukuk nya duak puteri,
Sejinjang mengayun aluk ke pipi,
Tebik Santubong sampai gituk ari.

Tapi Santubong membalas juak,
Lalu ditikam batang belidak,
Sampei terkena Sejinjang kepala,
Lalu bertabor jadi Pulo Kera.

Kisah Santubong, kisah Sejinjang,
Asal berkawan jadi musuhan,
Kinik tuk tinggal jadi kenangan,
Pakei ingatan sepanjang zaman.

Interestingly enough, around the turn of the 17th Century, Sarawak had its first and only Sultan. The tenth Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Abdul Jalilul Akbar had a younger sibling named Pengiran Muda Tengah Ibrahim Ali Omar Shah or was better known as Raja Tengah. Since Sarawak was then owned and governed by Brunei, Sultan Abdul Jalilul Akbar appointed Pengiran Muda Tengah as the first Sultan of Sarawak.

According to the Salsilah Raja-Raja Brunei, Pengiran Muda Tengah accepted the appointment and he made preparation to go to Sarawak. When he went to Sarawak, more than 1,000 warriors of Sakai, Kedayan and Pulau Bunut origins accompanied him. A few nobilities went along with him to help him administer the new country. Many of these are the forefathers of some of today’s Malay community in Sarawak.

In Sarawak, the new Sultan and his men built a palace and a fort to surround the palace. Sultan Tengah began to appoint his senior officials. Among them was Datu Petinggi Seri Setia, Datu Shahbandar Indera Wangsa, Datu Amar Setia Diraja and Datu Temenggong Laila Wangsa. After everything was done, Sultan Tengah coronated himself as Sultan Ibrahim Ali Omar Shah, the first Sultan of Sarawak.

Around 1599, on his return from visiting Johor, his ship lost its main sail and the ship ran aground in Sukadana. In Sukadana, Sultan Tengah married one of the princesses, Puteri Surya Kesuma, the younger sister to Sultan Muhammad Saifuddin. Sultan Tengah stayed on in Sukadana and asked to be allowed to help spread Islam around the area. It was decided that he should do it around the Sambas River. And so around 1600, Sultan Tengah left Sukadana via the Sambas River with about 40 boats all equipped with weapons. To cut a long story short, he founded the Sambas and the Matan Sultanates.

After a few years’ stay in Matan, Sultan Tengah went back to Sarawak. On his return to Sarawak, he stopped at a place called Batu Buaya in Santubong. It was there he was killed by one of his followers. When news of his death reached Sarawak, Datu Petinggi, Datu Shahbandar, Datu Amar and Datu Temenggong came to Santubong to complete the funeral rites according to royal Brunei tradition.

Meanwhile, Sultan Tengah was buried in Santubong in today’s Kampong Batu Buaya. The grave stone marking the grave was fit for a Sultan. With Sultan Tengah’s death, came the end of the Sarawak Sultanate made up of the one and only Sultan. Sultan Tengah’s grave is located at the foot of Mount Santubong. Could it be then the two princesses were both the daughters of Sultan Tengah which in turn lead to the legends of Mount Santubong?


Anonymous said…
Sultan Tengah was not the only Sultan of Sarawak. How about Rajah Brooke? He was white, but in effect was Sultan. He had the power, authority & autonomy of one. Declared his heir, too.
I will be in Brunei from Aug4-22 to visit my dad. If you remember , he worked with Booty& Edward and involved in a lot of Brunei buildings in the 50+ . We are in Muara, if you happen to be in Bandar , we could meet and chat, or I may go to Seria to meet you. Any case, like to see and meet you if possible
please email me at

Havuz said…
Sultan Tengah was not the only Sultan of Sarawak. How about Rajah Brooke? He was white, but in effect was Sultan. He had the power, authority & autonomy of one. Declared his heir, too.
Fotoğrafçı said…
dont write again the first message

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