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Why Sarawak’s Malay folks don’t eat patin fish

In Sarawak, there is an interesting legend that is connected to the Malay people here and how they are forbidden to consume a certain catfish species known as ‘patin’.

The legend tells of a fisherman named Awang Gading, who found a baby girl on a rock by the river when he was on his way back from fishing. It was said that the baby was a descendant of the fish king of the river. Awang Gading took the baby home and raised the baby as his own. He named the baby Dayang Kumunah.

As Dayang was growing up, the fisherman taught her all sorts of knowledge and good manners. Dayang grew up into a Beautiful young lady, smart and well mannered. All who laid eyes on her would fall head over heels with her. One day, a handsome and wealthy young man named Awang Usop visited the fisherman’s house. There, he saw the beautiful girl as she was putting out some clothes to dry in the sun.

He fell instantly in love with her and intended to make her his bride. A few days later, the young man came to her house and asked for her hand in marriage. She was ready to accept his proposal on one strange condition. Awang Usop was not to make her laugh under any circumstance.

Such a strange condition he thought, but because of his love for her, Awang Usop agreed to the condition. A week later they got married in a grand ceremony, with everyone from both sides invited to the wedding.

Life was beautiful, but not for long. Just a few weeks after the wedding, Dayang’s father died from a sickness. This caused great sorrow to Dayang. For months she mourned the death of her father. But soon after, she found happiness again with the birth of her five children. They lived happily together, although Awang Usop felt that something was not quite right. Throughout their marriage, she had not seen her smile even once.

One day as they gathered together, the eldest of their five children began to walk. Everyone who saw this laughed, except for Dayang. Awang Usop was so eager to see his wife laugh, that he insisted that she laughed as well. She refused, but he kept insisting until she finally gave in and started to laugh just to make her husband happy. And when she did, gills like that of a fish began appearing in her mouth. Realising this, she got up and ran straight to the river. Awang Usop and their children, curious to see what was wrong, followed her from behind all the way to the river. There, they saw her slowly turning into of fish and jumping straight into the water. It was then that he realised he had broken the promise he made to her when he was to wed Dayang. But it was too late, and she had turned into a patin fish.

Before diving deeper into the water, Dayang turned towards her husband and told him to watch over their children and to promise her that his generations and those after him will never eat patin fish, as doing so would be like eating their own kind. Those who did not heed to this warning would go crazy, catch a disease or die. Greatly saddened by what had happened, Awang Usop and his children made a promise to never ever eat patin fish, and that the generations after them would do the same.

Such is the legend explaining why the Malay folks of Sarawak are forbidden to consume patin fish. Maybe it’s true or maybe it’s not. But either way, it makes for an interesting bedtime or campfire story, doesn’t it?


The story about Nabau the mythical monster snake: Nabau: Real or Mere Myth?
The story about Puteri Santubong:  A Tale of Two Princesses

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