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Sarawak place names

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As you travel through Sarawak, you’ll notice certain terms cropping up repeatedly in the names of places, longhouses and other features. You’ll seldom encounter them elsewhere in Malaysia, so it pays to know what they mean:

Ulu From the Malay hulu, meaning “upriver”; when used before the name of a river, it indicates the region surrounding the headwaters of that river – for example, the Ulu Ai is the upriver part of the Ai River and its tributaries there

Batang “Trunk” or “strip”; used before a river name, it denotes that the river is the central member of a system of rivers

Long “Confluence”; used in town names in the same way as the Malay “Kuala”

Nanga “Longhouse” in Iban; many longhouses are named “Nanga” followed by the name of the river they are next to

Pa or Pa’ In the Kelabit Highlands, denotes a village

Rumah “House” in Malay; some longhouses are named “Rumah” followed by the name of the headman (if there’s a change of headman, the longhouse name follows suit)

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