The wondrous splendour of Silabur Caves

A colourful passageway leading to a cave chamber inside the Silabur Caves.

By Peter Sibon

IT never dawned on me before to explore the jade coloured Silabur Caves which is located just about 15km away from my home village of Kampung Krusen, Jalan Mongkos, Serian.

If it was not due to Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah’s recommendation for the D’Drift Adventure Team to explore the many ‘hidden gems’ of Sarawak, we would not have the opportunity at all to explore it.

June 29 was the day of reckoning for the inaugural D’Drift and the start of our adventure. Following a good send off by Abdul Karim and bolstered by a full stomach, we set off to Serian, heading to the relatively unknown cave system.

Upon reaching Serian, dark clouds hung low and we were of course worried if we could even start our journey to Mount Silabur where the caves are.

The D’Drift team with local guides Collin (left) and Benedik (right)

We whispered a short prayer for fine weather and surprisingly by the time we reached Kampung Batu Lin at 11.30am, the weather was as fine as we could have hoped for.

At Kampung Batu Lin, we met up with our tour guides Collin Marasang Nyawun and Benedik Yos who were eager to bring us to the caves.

The jade coloured Silabur Caves

The main entrance to the Silabur Caves

After trekking for about an hour, we reached the foothill of Mount Silabur where the caves were. After a lunch of ‘kolok mee’ which we ‘tapau’ (takeaway) in Serian, we continued walking for another half-an-hour before we reached the entrance of the Silabur Caves.

So eager were we to see the caves, that we kept on asking our guides how much longer it would take to reach the main jade-coloured cave.

After we passed though a few smaller cave chambers, we finally came to the jade coloured caves we had heard so much about. It actually consists of at least two major chambers, both with breathtaking walls shaded in green.

These caves are connected through an easy passage.

The few openings in the ceilings allow light to penetrate through, casting amazing curtains of light which softly illuminate the colourful interior.

Sunlight shining through holes in the ceiling provides perfect lighting for Silabur Caves.
Sunlight shining through holes in the ceiling provides perfect lighting for Silabur Caves.
Sunlight shining through holes in the ceiling provides perfect lighting for Silabur Caves.

Such a marvelous sight is a feast for the eyes, and one would definitely need ample time to appreciate all the beautiful formations in the caves.

The larger of the chambers’ walls reminds one of walls belonging to a massive cathedral.

Benedik informed us that in the so-called cathedral wall, one can make out seven major columns, reminiscent of some of the most beautiful cathedrals found in Europe crafted by master masons of the ancient world.

The beautiful ‘cathedral’ columns.

Inside the caves, one can smell plenty of guano and the high pitch sound of swiftlets and bats swirling around high overhead close to the dark ceilings is music to the ears.

Collin and Benedik told us that there is another hidden main chamber which is really huge, but it is not easily accessible due to dangerous descents coupled with narrow passages.

This main chamber is out of bounds to visitors except for serious cavers and researchers as it has been left aside for the swiftlets to nest in undisturbed.

The hidden main chamber is said to be able to fit three Boeing 747 airplanes head-to-tail with widths of at least of 100 feet. Simply put that would measure at least 300 feet by 100 feet, which is an enormous space.

Legend of Silabur Caves

A beautiful rock formation at the opening of the second jade coloured Silabur Cave chamber.

As told by Collin, the legend of Silabur Caves has been written down in its strictest form so as not to differ from its original retelling.

According to oral tradition, Silabur Caves was originally a three-longhouse community that was turned into a cave system overnight.

Long ago, Kampung Bi Sitria-uh which consisted of two longhouses was increasingly prosperous and thus, needed an extension. Their headman, Orang Kaya Bunga mang (father of) Iron who was known as Babeh Legam decided to build a third longhouse.

When the construction of the longhouse was completed, the headman suggested a shaman be invited from a nearby village to come and conduct a ‘miring’ ceremony, which the villagers unanimously supported.

With the blessing of the whole village, Orang Kaya Bunga proceeded to invite his friend who shared the same name as him, Bunga mang Laman who hailed from Kampung Daha, to come and conduct the ‘miring’.

A rock formation covered with moss inside the jade coloured main Silabur Cave chamber.

Bunga mang Laman arrived and the celebration proceeded smoothly and successfully as the villagers gave full co-operation to the shaman.

That night, Bunga mang Laman held a ‘miring’ ceremony which lasted until midnight. The whole village participated with much enthusiasm as there was an unlimited amount of tuak (rice wine) being offered. All fell drunk including Bunga mang Laman who was so drunk that he passed out.

While the shaman was sleeping, his grandson, Sok, was still merrymaking with the rest of the villagers.

A rock formation resembling a cat’s head protruding out at the main opening of the jade coloured Silabur Cave.

Sok was offered a bowl of kasam (preserved meat) and he liked it so much he finished it fast. He was offered another portion of kasam which took him no time to finish. More portions of kasam were served and Sok never failed to finish them. The villagers however, got fed up of serving him.

The villagers then decided that they should serve Sok some kasam which had been mixed with rubber.

When Sok ate the pieces of rubber which he thought was kasam, he found himself unable to swallow as it was so tough! The boy woke up Bunga mang Laman and asked his grandfather to cut the kasam for him.

The awakened Bunga mang Laman tried to cut the kasam with a knife but to no avail.

“This is not pork kasam but kasam made of rubber,” he said, realising what had happened.

He was dismayed that the villagers gave his grandson something that could not be eaten while he was asleep.

“While I was drunk, this is the horrible food the villagers gave to my grandson,” he thought to himself. He decided that the whole village which had repaid his service and kindness with a mean deed should be punished.

With his mind made up, Bunga mang Laman told the villagers to start beating the gong as he wanted to “bilanggi” (dance). He then asked for a sarong which he used it to wrap around his puppy, Biruang. After that, he tied a bell on one of Biruang’s legs.

Bunga mang Laman released the puppy to let it roam freely among the villagers. They laughed when they saw the comical state of the puppy.

Interior of the Silabur Caves.

Meanwhile, the shaman carried Sok in his arms and quickly left the village. It was then four in the morning. When they reached a resting place some distance away, he chanted and cast a spell.

At Kampung Bi Sitria-uh, it started to rain heavily. Then the rain turned into rocks, as did the land which slowly rose from the ground.

“The rock will rise from the ground to reach the sky,” the villagers heard a loud voice say.

There were villagers who tried to avoid the curse by escaping from the village through the river. However, the river water was so cold that they could not stay for long and were forced to go back to land.

Once they reached land, they immediately found themselves getting wrapped up by rocks and slowly turned into stone. Some of them were called “Daya” while others “Pampung”, and “Mad” as well as other different names.

For the villagers who did not laugh at the shaman’s dressed-up puppy, they escaped the devastating effect of the curse and remained safe.

When dawn came, the rocks stopped growing.

Interior of the Silabur Caves.

Nearby, villagers of Kampung Siturib opened their windows and saw Kampung Bi Sitira-uh turned into a rocky mountain overnight. They were shocked.

As the villagers of Kampung Siturib were not invited to participate in the celebration the night before, they were not sympathetic to the fate of the villagers of Kampung Bi Sitira-uh.

“Serve you right for not inviting us,” they said.

How to get to Silabur Caves

It takes about one-an-a-half hours’ drive from Kuching, via Serian Town and Mongkos Road, to reach Kampung Batu Lin. From there, one would need to trek for about an hour to reach the foothills of Mount Silabur.

From there, it takes about half-an-hour to reach the entrance of the Silabur Caves, followed by about another one-and-a-half hours to explore the three-chambered cave system.

Tips for visitors

1. You need to make the necessary arrangements with the villagers to visit the Silabur Caves and to engage a guide. (This depends on the number of visitors). The guide’s fee is RM80 and each person is charged an additional RM10 per entry to the caves.

2. You need to have a good pair of ‘Adidas’ kampung or rubber shoes which you can buy either in Serian or Kuching prior to your excursion.

3. You need a good torch light or headlight to explore the caves

4. Bring along packed meals and snacks as well as plenty of water

6. If you plan to trek up to the summit of Mount Silabur, you need to start your journey early in the morning as it will take an extra three hours to trek up to the 400-metre peak, which the locals called Sky Park. — DayakDaily

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