The town's name has been derived from the following story: a mythical pair of birds flying from Majapahit to Demak dropped a precious heirloom stone on the town thereafter named Tuban based on the Javanese phrase "waTU tiBAN", which means "stone fallen from the sky". Another explanation refers to flooding ("TU BANyu" meaning "water streaming out") that occurred when the aristocratic Islamic scholar Raden Dandang Wacana entered the Papringan Forest, discovering an old well near the seaside that miraculously contained freshwater. The name has furthermore been derived from "Tubo", meaning poison, in keeping with the name of a Tubanese subdistrict named Jenu to this day, which carries the same meaning.

The official history of Tuban began in the Majapahit era in the 13th century. There was once an important ceremony when the king of Majapahit crowned Ronggolawe as the principal of the Tuban region. It was held on 12 November 1293 and that date has become the anniversary of Tuban, making it more ancient than Surabaya. Tuban's 700th anniversary was celebrated with a grand parade of decorated floats in 1993. The spread of Islam was pioneered by Sunan Bonang and his follower named Sunan Kalijaga, who was the son of the Tubanese principal in the 13th century.


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