Si-Tanggang and The Theory of Human Origins

Brunei's Jong Batu resembled the keel of a ship said to be transformed to rock
because the son was ungrateful to the mother and he was punished

Rozan Yunos
Sunday, March 20, 2016

IN THE book “Malay Magic” (1900) written by Walter William Skeat, there were many descriptions of the Malay world-view and of techniques – Malay magic – for dealing with its uncertainties.

The Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Society of Arts (JMBRAS) which reprinted Skeat’s 1900 book in 2005 commented on his book that in describing the Malay magic, Skeat begins with the Malay traditional picture of the world, the creation of it and man’s place in it. Then comes an account of the supernatural beings with whom the Malay villager, often using the services of the local magician (pawang), had to deal, in order to conciliate or even manipulate them.

After putting Malay village life in this context of tradition and belief, Skeat comes to his main subjects, which take up about three quarters of his main text; describes the rituals for coping with the forces, sometimes anthropomorphic, of nature, and a long description of Malay life from birth to marriage and finally death, with the amusement, sports, warfare and divination that make up its texture. Thus Malay magic extends widely over the Malay way of life as it was in Selangor villages of the 1890s, more than 130 years ago.

One area which Skeat described as a special theory of human origin where the Malays then believe that inanimate or animate objects can be of human origin and had changed or transformed into other forms due to punishment and other factors. He showed an example of how objects can be transformed from human origin in this version of the Si Tanggang tale:

“There was a married Sakai couple living at Ulu Klang, and they had a son called Megat Sajobang. When he grew up he said to his mother, ‘Mother, get me a passage, I want to go and see other countries’.

She did so, and he left Ulu Klang; and 10 or 12 years later, when he had grown rich enough to buy a splendid ship (p’rafat), he returned with his wife, who was with a child, and seven midwives, who were watched over by one of his bodyguards with a drawn sword.

His mother heard the news of his return, and she made ready, roasting a chika (monkey) and lotong (monkey), and went with his father on board their bark canoe to meet their son.

“As they approached they hailed him by his name; but he was ashamed of their humble appearance, and forbade his men to let them on board. Though his wife advised him to acknowledge them, ‘even if they were pigs or dogs’, the unfilial son persisted in turning them away. So they went back to the shore and sat down and wept; and the old mother, laying her hand upon her shrivelled breast, said, ‘If thou art really my son, reared at my breast, mayest thou be changed into stone’.

In response to her prayer, milk came forth from her breast, and as she walked away, the ship and all on board were turned into stone. The mother turned round once more to look at her son, but the father did not, and by the power of God they were both turned into trees of the species pauh (a kind of mango) one leaning seawards and the other towards the land. The fruit of the seaward one is sweet, but that of the landward one is bitter.

The ship has now become a hill, and originally was complete with all its furniture, but the Malays used to borrow the plates and cups, etc, for feast days and did not return them, until at last there were none left.

That ship became the Batu Caves of Selangor. It was said that the inside of the caves look as if it’s the inside of the ship. But the name changed from Megat Sejobang to Si Tanggang when Abdul Samad Ahmad wrote a book entitled, “Nakhoda Tenggang Anak Derhaka: Riwayat Batu Keb” published in 1955. Megat Sejobang and Nakhoda Tenggang were originally a Dayak (Orang Asli Temuan) in Skeat’s and Abdul Samad Ahmad’s book. But with the textbooks and the various movies and televison series over the years since then, Si Tenggang had also changed from being a Temuan Dayak to being a Malay. Even the Batu Caves has changed. The Batu Caves was discovered by an Indian in the early 1800s and by the 1890s, Hindu devotees began making pilgrimages and slowly turning the caves into a huge shrine attracting some 1.5 million Hindus every year.

As most readers will by now be aware, that this legend is not a Peninsula Malaysia’s monopoly. Nakhoda Tenggang, the unfaithful son also appeared in other cultures around the region.

In Sabah, Malaysia, for the villagers of Kampung Malubang and most people in the Pitas District, they may not have the caves but they have the ‘actual’ ship transformed into rock. If one was to visit it, they will be showing the Supirak Island said to be the ship of Nakhoda Supirak. The same legend of Nakhoda Tenggang also applied to the ungrateful Supirak.

In Indonesia, the same story is known as Malin Kundang. While the legend is based on a natural formation in West Sumatra. Air Manis, a beach near Padang, has a rock formation called Batu Malin Kundang that is said to be the remains of his ship which has transformed into rock.

Even Indonesia has two similar legends. Another Indonesian folk story which is similar but takes a different location is the legend of Sampuraga. The legend is based in Central Kalimantan. Belantikan Hulu, a remote area along the river Lamandau, Indonesia, has a rock formation called Bukit Sampuraga which is believed to be the ruins of his ship. However, there is also another version to the Sampuraga legend. The second version, the Legend of the Sampuraga Lake in Mandailing Natal, North Sumatra is said to be better known.

In Brunei, most people will know the story of Nakhoda Manis and its similarity to the Si Tenggang legend. In the Brunei version, Nakhoda Manis’ mother was named Dang Ambun. But his father had died much earlier. They both lived on the Brunei River. Nakhoda Manis was supposed to have travelled to a town named Suluk. The Jong Batu rock formation along the upper side of Brunei River does resemble the keel of a ship;

Just like Indonesia and Malaysia, Brunei also has two Si Tanggang legends. Not surprisingly then, even in Tutong, a similar legend was passed down through the generations. The only difference is that the name of the perpetrator is Si Untak. The ship that was cursed by Si Untak’s mother sank in the Tutong River and up to now, the rock formation known as Batu Ajung Si Untak that resembled the ship is still there near a place called Telting in Pekan Tutong.

The Legend of Si Tanggang used to be among the most popular fairy tales among the Malays. It was told from generation to generation to children because this tale contains the important lessons in the Malay culture – do not be disloyal or be ungrateful to your parents. The natural formations found in their localities that the parents can show their children drives home that lesson. It is not a surprise then to find that a number of this legend appeared in different parts of Southeast Asian nations.

The Brunei Times


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