By Karen Loh
As first time visitors to Kuching, we (5 museum volunteers) decided to visit the Cat Museum during our visit in August, 2014. Built to promote tourism since ‘Kuching’ literally means ‘cat’ in Malay, the museum is the first of its kind in the world dedicated to cats. The brainchild of the former Chief Minister, Pehin Sri Hj. Abdul Taib Mahmud and his wife, this museum was opened in 1992 at the Dewan Bandaraya Kuching Utara (Kuching North City Hall) building on top of Bukit Siol (Siol Hill). Divided into four galleries, this great cat collection has 4,000 artifacts on anything and everything that has to do with cats; from clay and wrought iron figurines, posters, artists’ collection and artwork, cat cemetery, cat’s eyes, music labels, cats during the medieval period, sculptures, cat engraved coconut shells and graters, a cat cave, preserved cats, soft toys and many other curios.
Nevertheless, Kuching was not named because it is a city of cats. One version for its name is that Kuching came from the Indian name ‘Cochin’, a term commonly referred to as ‘port’ by Indian traders. These Indian traders were one of the first to settle at the base of Santubong in Sarawak in the early days. Another famous version is the one of James Brooke, who was sailing down Sungai Kuching (Kuching River) from Bukit Mata Kuching (Cat’s eye Hill; cat’s eye or longan is a fruit and the hill was named after the abundance of longan trees which grew on the hill) when he saw a village. He asked a local for the name of the village and was answered ‘kuching’ because the person mistakenly thought that Brooke was asking about a passing cat. Founded in 1827 by Pengiran Indera Mahkota, Kuching is actually named after Sungai Kuching (Kuching River) and was the third capital of Sarawak under the Sultanate of Brunei. The city later flourished and grew as an administrative capital under the Brooke Government.
We had a ‘meowing’ good time.