History of Song District in Sarawak

Song is a city and the capital of the Song District in Kapit Division in Sarawak in present-day Malaysia. Song is located by the Katibas River banks, a tributary of the Rajang River. It is a crucial stopover for river traffic going up the Rajang River.

The district was initially named by the Kayan tribes as long, which means river stream. After the Iban people defeated the Kayan people, the Ibans decided to rename the place after an Iban warrior named Song, who led them to triumph against the Kayans. 

History – Song District

The Kayan tribes were the first bunch of settlers to occupy the Song District. At that time, the Kayan people were essentially nomadic people. At the same time, the Iban tribes migrated from the present-day Kalimantan, Indonesia, and lived near the Katibas River banks (situated in the Song District) to find land for farming. However, the conflict between the Kayan people and the Iban tribes soon grew into a war, and the Iban tribes won. Accepting defeat, the Kayan tribes then migrated to Belaga District.

The Chinese and the Malays first arrived in Song District in the 1800s CE. They constructed wooden shophouses with Nipah rooves along the river banks and started floating shops on the river. Initially, the barter system from Ancient India was used, but when the Kingdom of Sarawak took Song, a monetary system was brought in. The first three Malays to land in Song were Haji Omar, Mr. Haji Tahir, and Haji Dollah. In 1870 CE, the Brooke government established a fort at Nanga Song. The fort also worked as the first administrative center for Song and was designed to inhibit Iban uprisings at Katibas river. The Iban people rejected the foundation of the assessment tax by the Brooke administration. Such uprisings lasted until the 1900s CE. In 1873 CE, Sibu Division was launched. Kapit and Song sub-district were included in the division at that time. In 1937 CE, there were 10 Malay houses in Song. The Malay traders at Song were identified as Abang (meaning “nobleman”). In the 1820s CE, they traded with the Ibans in Song in exchange for jungle produce. One of the famous traders was Haji Ahmed bin Haji Omar. The Malays would trade the jungle produce in Sibau town (present-day Sibu) for a profit. Ships like “Ang Bee” from Singapore and “Kampar” from the Malay Peninsula would anchor in Sibu to take the jungle produce back to their respective destinations for sale. In exchange, these ships brought daily necessities such as sugar, salt, salted fish, bowls, pottery, plates, and clothes to trade with the locals. Meanwhile, the Iban people worked as rubber tappers, farmers, and jungle produce collectors. The Ibans then traded their products at the Song bazaar in exchange for everyday necessities.

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