Photo: Old Court House building from Brooke Legacy
Sarawak was a part of the Sultanate of Brunei 200 years ago but as a reward for its help in putting down a rebellion, it was ceded to a British adventurer called James Brooke who ruled it as his personal kingdom. Kuching was made his capital and headquarters.
The Brooke family ruled Sarawak until the Japanese occupation in December 1941. Kuching surrendered to the Japanese forces on 24 December 1941, and Sarawak was part of the Japanese Imperial Empire for three years and eight months, until the official Japanese surrender on 11 September 1945 on board HMAS Kapunda at Kuching. From March 1942 the Japanese operated a POW and civilian internee camp at Batu Lintang, three miles outside Kuching.
After the end of World War II the third and last Rajah, Sir Charles Vyner Brooke ceded Sarawak to the British Crown in 1946. Sarawak and the British Commonwealth fought an “Undeclared War” with Indonesia to keep Sarawak from being absorbed into Sukarno’s Indonesia. The British gave Sarawak independence in 1963 and together with North Borneo (Sabah) and Singapore, helped form Malaysia. (Singapore became independent soon after).
Origin of name
The origins of its name have never been clear. “Kuching” does translate into “cat” in Malay  (“kuching” is an old Malay spelling, whereas the new official Malay spelling today would be “kucing” but both of them are pronounced the same), in specific reference to the domesticated cat, but it may actually be a variation of the Indian name for “port” – “Cochin”. Kuching was first settled by Indian traders who set up base at Santubong. Artefacts of Hindu origin can today be seen at the State Museum. The city has never been remembered for having a significantly larger population of cats when compared to others. In fact, the many cat statues, the Kuching Cat Museum and other association with cats have been part of a modern effort of tourism; many travel brochures refer to Kuching as “Cat City” or the “City of Cats”. Otherwise, they hold no real meaning for the residents and are not considered by locals as romantic.
There are other theories which attribute the name to a fruit called “mata kucing” or “cat’s eye”; it would seem that trees bearing this fruit used to grow in abundance by the river banks – where the city proper lies today. There is a hill in the heart of the old city called Bukit Mata Kuching which could have been as responsible.