Meragang in Muara

[I wrote this piece for Brunei Times and got it published on 21st March 2011 in my column, The Golden Legacy.]



The Place Names of Meragang
By Rozan Yunos

Last Thursday, His Majesty The Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam visited the newly developed housing program at Meragang. About 2,000 houses are currently being built on this site overlooking the South China Sea and the Meragang Beach across the Muara-Tutong Highway. Meragang which had been in relative isolation will have more than 10,000 people suddenly living among its hills and valleys by the end of 2012.

Not many know Meragang before the Housing Development Department selected the area as one of its housing estates under the National Housing Program. Those who knew the name mostly knew it as the Meragang Beach. But even today, the Meragang Beach is relatively untouched compared to the Muara or Serasa Beaches nearby.

Meragang hides a number of secrets. The beach itself is very near the old coalmine operated by Rajah Brooke nearby. If one was to walk along the beach and search among the ruins of the coalmine next to the beach, one can still find the entrance to the mine and the many relics left behind by the coalmine. The Brooketon Coalmine was in operation from the end of the 19th century to about the 1920s before closing down. The Japanese during the Second World War attempted to reopen the coalmine and was partially successful. It was only after the War the coalmine finally stopped operating.

During the height of its operation, the mine ran a railway line from the mine all the way to today’s Muara Port. The railway brought the coal directly to the ships. Up to the 1960s, the railway line was still visible running through today’s Muara Town.

Where did the name Meragang come from? According to Dusun speakers, Meragang in Dusun language means “red monkey”. These monkeys are solitary animals and can be found at Bukit Tempayan Pisang, a hill which also has plenty of stories to tell.

However some also believed that Meragang is not named after the monkeys but instead after another animal of the reptilian species, the crocodiles. Meragang refers to the actions of the crocodiles literally staying put in a group or ‘meragang’ at the river. Hence the action of this group of crocodiles collecting and basking in the sun is known as ‘meragang’ and eventually referred to the name of the place. Although both monkeys and crocodiles are difficult to find in the Meragang Beach or River, the name remained.

Meragang has a number of interesting local histories and local names among its terrain and hills. With the encroaching Meragang Housing Program into the area, it is feared that some of these local areas would have lost its mystic. The Brunei History Centre as part of its program managed to interview a number of local people and the result of their endeavour can be found in an article about the village published in the Centre’s journal, Pusaka Volume 17 in 2009.

The natural formation of these hills gives rise to some of their names. To the west of the Meragang River lies a granite hill. The granite hill rose up from the ground resembling a wall and it is flat. There are no trees growing on the surface of the wall because of the texture and also the angle of the hill. The first one is known as Bukit Dalas Besar, dalas referring to the wall like structure.

A slightly smaller one but much higher than Bukit Dalas Besar is known as Bukit Dalas Damit, damit referring to the Brunei word, small. The same geographical formation as Bukit Dalas Besar can be found on Bukit Dalas Damit. The Meragang River starts from under this hill.

Another hill is known as Bukit Rimba Kumpal. This hill is situated somewhere in the village itself. The hill has a cemetery known as Jahirat Panjang Tiga. According to the local folklore, there was a body buried here which became elongated and could not be fit into the grave which was already dug. So the body was positioned in such as way so that it hug itself, hence the word kumpal, which is the Brunei word for hugging oneself should one feel very cold. Hence the name of the hill, Bukit Rimba Kumpal.

The body that is supposedly buried in the cemetery known as Jahirat Panjang Tiga was found on the Meragang Beach. According to the local tales, the body was carried up to this hill to be buried. While searching for pieces of wood to complete the burial, nobody was left to look after the body. According to one story, one man was left behind but he too left because he was too scared to stay. When they all returned, they found that the body has elongated and could not fit into the grave. By then it was already dark and they did not have time to dig a longer grave. So they decided to place the body into the grave by folding the body into three and from this action, the name of the cemetery was derived, Jahirat Panjang Tiga, with panjang referring to the length of the body and tiga, is the Malay word for three.

Another cemetery is known as Jahirat Tanjong Tahi Ayam. The name of the place is derived from a tree which produces a flower smelling like the ‘bunga tahi ayam’ or in English better known as the Lantana Camara, a herbaceous shrub like plant. This cemetery has not been in use since the 1920s.

There are also a few swamps with names like Luagan Hambaniah, Luagan Kala Potong, Luagan Si Mayun and Luagan Tengkorak. Luagang Hambaniah is at the mouth of Pemarangunan River and was used by the Meragang crocodiles as a nesting place. The name is derived from the Hambaniah trees which grew there. The fruits of the hambaniah is said to be red and tasted sweet and sour. Another source said that the place was named after a little girl who drowned in the swamp.

Luagan Kala Potong derived its name from the grass which grew there known as ‘kala potong’. Luagan Si Mayun is named after another folknames of the place who is said to be the wife of Si Keruai. Luagan Tengkorak is named after the skulls found strewn in the area. Tengkorak is skulls in Malay and the skulls found there could be the skulls belonging to victims of the crocodiles.

There is not enough space to document the interesting names and origins of all the place names in Meragang. There are rivers with names like Sungai Akau, Sungai Kemangsi and the afore-mentioned Sungai Pemarangunan. There are place names like Tanjong Bukit Batu Berkajang, Padang Si-Keruai, Pulau Asam Besar and Lalak Lampai. Perhaps readers can go to Meragang and find out for themselves just how interesting one place can be.



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