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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sabah Fable
While in Sabah, I picked up a neat little book entitled "Animal Tales of Sabah" by P.S. Shim. This book contains contributions of charming tales from communities all over Sabah. Since clouded leopards are the largest predator in Borneo, several stories reflect human fears of them. Here's one to enjoy. (Harimau is from Harimau Dahan - tree tiger - the local name for clouded leopard. A bungkau is a jaw harp carved from a thin piece of bamboo or other wood.)

Why the Harimau is Afraid of the Bungkau

Narrated by KK Jabil bin Bahiri

A newly married man took his bride back to his hut in the jungle somewhere near Ulu Malagatan. The very next day, the man went hunting. When he returned in the afternoon, he found to his horror the bones and skull of his wife lying on the ground. On looking up, he saw a huge harimau on a branch of a tall tree. The harimau was taking a siesta after its full meal.

The heartbroken husband resolved to kill the harimau. He sat down and thought up a plan to destroy the large cat. Soon an idea came to him. He went out and killed a wild boar. After cutting a huge chunk of meat, he buried his bungkau in it. He then placed the meat in the jungle where the harimau would see it. Sure enough, the harimau, after digesting its previous meal, came down and swallowed the bait. Alas, the bungkau got stuck in its throat and killed the animal.

The man swore aloud, "If ever a harimau were to eat a human being with a bungkau, it would suffer the same fate as this dead harimau." Since then, clouded leopards have been afraid of the bungkau and people of the Mangkaak tribe carry one with them whenever they go into the forest. Should they meet a harimau, they have only to play their bungkau and the animal will either keep still or flee.

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