Pontianak: The city of two rivers & three cultures

Pontianak lies on the banks of Indonesia’s longest river, the Kapuas, which rises about 1,140 kilometers upstream in central Borneo, the ancestral homeland of the Dayak, and then winds its way through the dense jungles of western Borneo toward the sea.
Bathing by the Kapuas River in Kampung Dalam, Pontianak. — Photo by Peter MilneBathing by the Kapuas River in Kampung Dalam, Pontianak. — Photo by Peter Milne

The name of Pontianak seems to originate from the Malay puntianak, which is thought to derive from kuntilanak — the name given to the wandering ghosts of women who die in childbirth.

It’s perhaps a name that hints at the high levels of poverty and a resulting high maternal mortality rate that plagued the city in former times.

Arriving in the West Kalimantan capital for the first time, I’m more inclined to think it should be called Kota Walet — walet being Indonesian for “swallow”.

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