Tales of Bananas, Dragons and Tigers

[My article below was published in Brunei Times on 13th December 2010]

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THE GOLDEN LEGACY

The Tales of the Bananas, Dragons and Tigers
by Rozan Yunos

One of the most interesting facts about animals is that the entire Borneo Island of which Brunei currently occupies a small percentage has no tigers. No one knows why. And yet for a country without tigers, it is quite surprising to note that a few caves found in Brunei are said to be Sawang Harimau or Tiger’s Caves.

It is indeed surprising that there are at least two caves in Brunei, one in Muara and one in Kilanas are known as Sawang Harimau. With names like that, one would expect to find that these caves were at least once used by tigers even if they are no longer used by tigers today. But then there were no tigers in Brunei, so why the name Tiger’s Caves?

Bukit Tempayan Pisang in Muara housed one of these tiger’s caves. From the top of the 500 metre high hill, one can have a panoramic view of the beautiful beaches around Muara especially the Meragang Beach. One can also have an aerial view of the Muara Town, the deep water port and ships plying and berthing and its surroundings from the peak. Even the off shore drilling wells can also be seen.

(Photo: Bukit Tempayan Pisang taken by SangAji of Virtual Tourist)

The name Bukit Tempayan Pisang can be loosely translated as Banana Pots Hill or Banana Vases Hill as tempayan can mean vases, pots and urns and pisang are bananas in English. How did the hill get its name?

According to the local oral legends, the hill was once used by fairy princess to play and have fun. Their game consisted of playing with seven dragon stones (kumala) or seven giant jewels balls. Every fifteen days when the moon is full, the top of the hill would be lighted up by these dragon stones which were being tossed into the air by the princesses.

One day, a quarrel broke out between the princesses of the hill and the princesses or inhabitants of the Mount Kinabalu. These two groups apparently had a long distance warfare where each group attacked each other. So, in order to defend themselves, the Mount Kinabalu group fortified themselves with pestle and mortar (alu lasung). The Hill princesses apparently used banana tree trunks which were stored in huge pots and vases.

During the battles, the Mount Kinabalu group managed to grab five of the dragon stones belonging to the princesses. Hence the Bukit Tempayan Pisang princesses only had two of the dragon stones left. According to the village folks up to the 1940s, these two dragon balls were played by the princesses every time there is a full moon. Presumably the hill was less bright compared to when the princesses had seven dragon stones.

To digress slightly, it is interesting to note that one of the legends of Mount Kinabalu was that there was only one dragon stone. This one dragon stone was kept by the one and only dragon which was tricked by Ong Sum Ping. He managed to steal the stone by leaving behind a colourful Chinese lantern lighted up by a candle which the dragon thought was his stone. However when the dragon discovered that it had been tricked, it immediately chased after Ong Sum Ping’s junks. Ong Sum Ping told his men to heat up one of the cannon balls and fired that at the dragon. The dragon thought it was his dragon stone and swallowed it. It sank under the sea waters.

The name Bukit Tempayan Pisang was derived from those banana tree trunks which were preserved or kept in huge vases during the battle between the folks of the hill and their much larger mountain counterpart.

What about the Tiger Cave?

Just under the peak of the Bukit Temapayan Pisang, there is a cave which has its own local legend.

Once upon a time it was said that there was a couple of husband and wife who lived in the area who were known as Awang Mawang and Dayang Mawar. One day, for whatever reason, the couple took shelter in the cave. They did not realise that there was a tiger which lived in the cave who was also the protector of the cave.

The tiger pounced upon the couple who did not know that they were trespassing in the tiger’s domain. The tiger’ sharp claws killed Dayang Mawar. However Awang Mawang managed to escape from the tiger’s attack. He ran back to the village and by the time the villagers formed a rescue team to save Dayang Mawar, she was already dead.

It was said that Awang Mawang was so aggrieved by the death of his wife. He also felt guilty that he was unable to save his wife and rather than faced the humiliation of the villagers, he decided to commit suicide. He threw himself onto a wooden stake and killed himself.

According to the local folks, Awang Mawang’s body was brought down to Kampong Tanjung Kemuning and he was buried in that village. It is said that his grave can be found till today near to Sungai Sengkutai in the village of Kapok.

Interestingly enough, in the Kampong Tasek Meradun, there exist too another of these Tiger Cave or Sawang Harimau.

Somewhere not far from the traffic light junction of the Jalan Tutong and Jalan Bengkurong, on a nearby cliff there is a water source or a Wasai as it is popularly known in Brunei. Kampong Tasek Meradun is said to be named after a lake or series of lakes around the area. According to some folks, the wasai formed several lakes along the cliff.

Similarly to Bukit Tempayan Pisang, a cave can also be found at the cliff of the hills. A number of people had managed to trek up the cliff and discovered that cave. This cave was also known as a tiger cave or Sawang Harimau. According to one of the local residents, the tiger who lived in the cave was not a real life tiger but rather a harimau jadian or in English a were-tiger, a folklore animal not unlike the Western’s werewolf.

Were-tigers similar to the werewolf are humans who transformed themselves into tigers. The transformation can be due to the use of spells and charms. Sometimes the power to transform or shapeshift is inherited. Normally the transformation was undertaken so that the human can avenge something that has happened to him or his family or he became a protector of the people.

It is possible that for a country without tigers, beliefs in the existence of the were-tigers were sufficiently strong that these caves can be associated with these tigers at least for them to hide themselves or for them to use when they shape shifted from their human form to tiger form and vice versa.

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Comments

Anonymous said…
Much like Java, tiger was said to become extinct in Borneo. It was said that fossil remains were found in Borneo suggesting that tigers did roam the island before. We still have leopards and the wild cats though.

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