The Malaysian tropical forest is more than 1 million years old. Set close to the equator, and nourished by fertile land rich with minerals and torrential rain, its biodiversity is unmatched and is one of the oldest in the world. As a people long ago we depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicinal herbs. The river was our highway to the outside world. Naturally, our earliest folklores centered around the creatures of the forest. These animal fables are enduring and have international acclaim with the Mousedeer tales retold by local and international writers like Aaron Sheppard and Joanna Troughton as well as Dr Georges Voisset who writes for the Francophone world. However, like our rain forest that faces the threat of urbanization if not properly monitored, our fables and folklores too face the challenges of competing with modern day attractions and entertainment.
There is a real danger that our younger generation will no longer recognize these quintessential stories. Even today we are importing foreign fables as our own thus diluting our own pool and content of legends. While I am well aware that such tales have a way of moving from one continent to the other, enriching lives as they make their way through the global village that is our Earth, I strongly believe it is important to preserve cultural identity and our Hikayat (Malay legends), folklores and fables have a role to play in this.
Is it really important to protect such folklores? Local legends are really reservoirs for intrinsic values and understanding of the region they are born. This is a form of knowledge as a collective memory of mankind. Salman Rushdie once said, “Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts.”
Fables have a way of capturing truth that transcends time. As far back as the 13th century, Thomas Aquino said, “Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”
What can all of us do to help our local animal fables survive the globalization of culture?
Every year during our Independence Day celebration, I take part in nationwide The Say Something Nice #SSNC campaign led by Anas Zubedy from 31st August (Merdeka) to 16th September (Malaysia Day) that promotes unity and nation-building. So my contribution to the #SSNC is to tell a story daily. A Hikayat A Day. The seventeen stories of Malaysian Fables from the Forest would be a short snippet or condensed renditions, written in prose and poetry on my blog http://www.ahikayataday.blogspot.com as well as my Facebook and Twitter pages.
Do you have a favourite fable from your childhood? Why don’t you share it with us?
For me, the story of the Mousedeer and the Tiger from the Hikayat Sang Kancil is one which I share here as an act of friendship and sharing.
A Malaysian Fable : The Mousedeer and the Tiger by ninotaziz
SANG RIMAU WAS THE FIERCEST of hunters. All who lived in the jungle trembled at his ferocious roar. All except Sang Kancil, that is – the cleverest mousedeer who did not quiver or shake at the sound of terror. His wit and quick thinking helped him defeat Sang Rimau, the tiger.
One day, the mousedeer sat by the paddy fields, listening to nature’s evening songs.The majestic tiger happened to be taking his regular jog. Sang Rimau was in quite a pleasant mood and he asked Sang Kancil politely, “What are you doing in this neighborhood, out of mischief’s way?” That startled the witty mousedeer. Yet, quick was his reply, “Don’t interrupt my class, if you will, Sang Rimau. Come hear my students recite!” As if on cue, the frogs in the paddy field croaked and hummed. Their song reverberated throughout the forest. The beautiful music came to a lull. “Verses from the Qur’an,“ Sang Kancil duly explained. He sat back to continue his rest.
Sang Rimau was very impressed. “I see,” said the tiger, thoroughly convinced. “This is a skill my cubs should learn.”
For the aspiring tiger wanted to be
Respected just as much as feared.
Sang Kancil said with a smile, “Well, send the eldest tomorrow. I’ll see what I can do.Remember, I am strict though. Remind your cub to be respectful!” So, the next day, the young Si Belang dropped by Sang Kancil’s humble home. The young cub quietly waited for his cue to read verses from the Holy Qur’an. Sang Kancil urged the little cub, “Read!” When the cub stammered, the mousedeer cried loudly again, “Read!”
Sang Kancil almost barked and his student was so taken aback, he could only mumble some pitiful phrases.Little Si Belang was terrified. The imposter pretending to be a master became bolder.Sang Kancil caned his first ever pupil, Si Belang. The cub ran all the way home with his tail smarting. The father was so outraged that his ferocious roar could be heard throughout the vast jungle. The trickster mousedeer immediately took off as far as possible, almost right to the forest’s edge. He stopped when he could go no further.
Sang Kancil leaned against a tree. While catching his breath, he spied a beehive upon a branch. He waited for the Tiger to catch up with him. And soon, he could still hear Sang Rimau’s murderous roar. Before long, the tiger’s approach was unmistakable. The crackling of dry twigs underfoot, the sway of the massive body against the bamboo. One wondered which was more amazing, Sang Kancil’s silence or Sang Rimau’s fury.
The enraged beast got ready to pounce on the steady mousedeer. Yet Sang Kancil’s still stance stirred the tiger’s curiosity. The wily master said respectfully, “I am sure you are keen to devour me. But I promise not to flee. Just let me complete this duty.”
Sang Rimau, amazed, just stared at his intended meal. Suddenly, Sang Kancil cocked his head upwards. Dusk was slowly enveloping them. He pointed to the buzzing beehive. The whole jungle seemed to become still, as if in agreement with the mousedeer. Sang Kancil spoke solemnly of his ‘important’ duty,
I am the guardian of Solomon’s gong
A magical gong of hidden powers
Beyond mere harmonious tones
It buzzes with imbued greatness
Sang Kancil continued, “The great king will be returning soon. After that I will surrender myself to you. Having served the great king will be a boon. Do not fear, I speak only the truth.” By this time, the tiger had ceased to hear the charming words. His gaze fell upon the hanging ‘gong’. A longing inside him grew and grew into a desire so strong.
Kancil, my son’s first Imam
I will forget his injury and pain
If I could, for once, beat my palm
Upon the magnificent gong of the king
Sang Kancil struggled to hide a sly smile. He feigned shock and reluctance. “Oh great one, even for my life, I would not dare such disrespect.” Sang Rimau roared, “Then with your life you shall pay!”
Sang Kancil quickly suggested, “Perhaps if I run up to meet the King to persuade him to make allowance for a dignified subject. Such as yourself, Sang Rimau!”The tiger agreed to such an arrangement. Sang Kancil sped off as fast as a winged bird, farther away from the danger.
When he was far enough, he called out loud to SangRimau, “Permission granted. Go ahead, pray strike the gong before the light fades.”
One can surely guess what happened. Upon hitting the gong with all his might, the bees swarmed all over the tiger. In a panic, the tiger ran to the riverside and jumped into the shallow river to escape from the bees.
Ahhh, that Sang Kancil, none could ever match his clever ways.
She is a PR consultant and a multiple award winning author and storyteller of many generations from Malaysia. Born in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, ninotaziz grew up in the idyllic village of Chenor, Malaysia and furthered her education in Canada. She specializes in Malaysian legends, or Hikayat, and wrote three anthologies of Malaysian legends and four YA novels – NAGA, ONANGKIU, SITI and NIK. ninotaziz firmly believes that the Malay classic pantun, literature and Hikayat are a rich world heritage that deserve an international audience. For poetry she blogs at here.