Becoming Local: Datuk Kong beliefs in Sarawak, East Malaysia

Datuk Kong (拿督公) are shen (神) – a Chinese term that can be glossed in English as ‘deity’ or ‘spirit’ depending on context. They have long been known to be venerated by Chinese in West Malaysia but have not been investigated until now in Sarawak, where they are of increasing importance, or in Kalimantan, where they appear to have been worshipped for much longer. In both West Malaysia and in Borneo Datuk Kong are closely associated with (a) the ethnic groups that were already living in the area before the Chinese arrived and (b) with the local landscape. In this article we explore the ways in which Datuk Kong beliefs have developed in Borneo and how, through the ‘respect’ (拜) paid to these shen, the Chinese have integrated the beliefs that they brought originally from China into a belief system that remains distinctively Chinese but overlaps with the beliefs of ethnic groups with which they co-exist; and embedded this belief system in the local landscape and the spirits inhabiting that landscape.




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