Why alligators afraid to eat Dayaks
Published on: Friday, January 02, 1931
Text Size:


“Once upon a time, a Dyak belonging to the Peninjauh village was returning home after his day’s labours, and as he wended his way up the steep ascent which leads to the houses, what was his astonishment to find himself preceded by a large and comfortable-looking male alligator. “Where are you off to?” said the Dyak to the ‘buai’ (alligator) – he was not at all afraid, for in case the ‘buai’, made himself disagreeable, he had his sword, and had, moreover, an advantage in the steep rocky ascent, to which the beast’s legs were plainly unaccustomed.

“I am merely taking a walk for my amusement’. ‘Why not pay our village a visit?’ asked the Dyak ; ‘we shall be glad to see you’ (He thought it best to be civil, at all events.) “Most happy,’’ answered ‘buai’; so on they jogged together – bathed together at ‘the spout’, at the entrance to the village – and ‘buai’ became the Dyak’s guest. He made himself so agreeable to the family, and related so many wonderful stories about himself, what he had done, and especially what he could do, that the credulous Dyak thought it would certainly be no bad ‘spec’ to offer him his daughter in marriage. He did so, and ‘buai’ became his son-in-law. (Be it here observed, that it is customary among the Dyaks, when a youth marries a girl, for him to enter his father-in-law’s family, who, after supplying necessaries, enjoys the profit of his son-in-law’s labours). The Dyak, however, soon had cause to repent of his bargain. Not one stroke of work, not even in the way of fishing, would ‘buai’ do, and when remonstrated with, he merely opened his mouth, showed his teeth, and grinned in a threatening manner. All day long did he lie basking in the sun, and at mealtimes (O ye store-boxes of padi!) how he did eat! The Dyak’s treasured hoards of corn, laid up against a rainy day, were soon devoured utterly, and then ‘buai’ began to run in debt for rice with the neighbours, exacting forced loans by significant displays of his saw-like grinders, to the shame and disgrace of his father-in-law and all the family. (It is one of the greatest of shames among the Dyaks be in debt.) At last matters got so desperate, that one day they all laid wait for ‘buai’, caught him unawares, and hacked him to pieces. The news of their brother’s shameful conduct and merited punishment soon reached the ears of alligator ‘society’, and so deep a feeling of ignominy was felt thereat, that to this day an alligator will never stay to look a Dyak in the face-much less will he presume to eat him”. 

A rival historian of the same tribe, however, affirms that the following is the correct account of the matter: – 

“In the olden time a certain Peninjauh Dyak was walking by the side of the Sarawak river, when he saw an alligator lying on a mudbank, apparently in great distress, and evidently not shedding ‘crocodile tears.’ What news ? What is the matter with you?’ asked the Dyak. ‘O my poor brother! boo-oo-oo-oo. “What is the matter with your brother?’ 

“He is lying at the point of death, and no medicine we alligators have is of any use to save him. Oh, my friend, do you know medicine? 

“A little’, replied the Dyak. 

“O do come and cure him. 

“You alligators live in the water, and how am I brave enough to venture down to your house - I, who cannot swim a stroke?’ 

“O, I will manage that.

“But then consider the trouble,’ it was objected. 

“Only come and see the treasures of our house, gold and silver, gongs and jars, mats and weapons ; and, if you doctor my brother successfully, you shall have your pick – we will make you the richest man in Peninjauh  – only come’. 

“Vanquished by these lavish promises, down went the Dyak, on the alligator’s back to the alligator’s house, which was built in a hole of the rock on which Belidah Fort now stands.

“The house was decent and comfortable enough, there was no lack of necessaries, but there was, at the same time, no appearance or wealth.”

The valuables are no doubt stowed away in the garret’, thought the Dyak. The sick beast was stretched on his back in the midst of the floor – almost at his last gasp. The Dyak bade him open his mouth; he did so; down went the Dyak’s hand into his gulf of a gullet, and up he brought a leg of a Malay, still covered with portions of a very dirty pair of trouser, half-strangling the sick alligator in his determined efforts to effect a clearance.

The cure was complete; the thanks of the alligator-family were profuse, but no mention was made of tangible reward to the expectant and impatient doctor; at length he ventured to mention that he would like to see the riches of which he had heard so promising an account, and was gruffly told that they did not exist, and that, instead of asking for anything, he ought, to be thankful that he was not eaten for supper. 

He was then bidden to mount the back of his deceiving guide, who set him ashore, angry, wet, frightened, and dirty, then laughed in his face, and finally dived off. From that time to this, however, alligators always run away when they see a Dyak, lest the debt then incurred should he demanded, and a very dirty action of their progenitors be thus unpleasantly forced upon their recollection”. – The Sarawak Gazette. 


To those who have seen it, and they are many, sea-lightning must appear a mystifying term. One is familiar with forked lightning, and sheet-lightning, and one or two oil, curls but not with any form of lightning peculiarly connected with the sea. Yet no other term can so aptly describe the strange phenomenon. 

The advent of sea-lightning is sufficiently rare to excite wide comment, but apparently no satisfactory explanation of its occurrence exists, and one can but theorise to the best of one’s knowledge and ability. It has no definite, permanent locality, for it, has been seen in places as far apart as time Malacca Straits and the Persian Gulf and it was my good fortune to meet with it in the latter neighbourhood. 

Imagine a night in the early part of the Persian Gulf hot-weather season, moonless and with few stars. You are in a small ship steaming southwards before a breeze barely sufficient to stir the smoke from the funnel. There is a slight sea, but die shallow waves are uncreated; and altogether the weather is perfectly normal and consistent. ln the clammy heat you have become so lethargic and somnolent that you have no longer any interest in your environment, and you pay little or no attention to the numerous faint patches of phosphorescence all around. 

As you proceed, however, these phosphorescent patches become brighter and multiply in number, until their uncanny green light forces itself upon your notice. Reflected from the white paintwork, it brightens and dims irregularly, relieving the darkness of shadowy corners, and making new shadows where were none before. Then quite suddenly you detect a confusion of light ahead. On a large area, less titan half-a-mile away, the phosphorus is no longer placid, but has become intensely alive and is bubbling fiercely as though boiling in a huge cauldron. Is it imagination, or can you really hear a faint hissing sound! You are reminded of raindrops striking upon a wet pavement in the gleam of a street-lamp, save that here the colour is green, vivid against the blackness of the sea beyond. Without warning, for there is no gradual metamorphosis, a definite shape appears before your eyes, and in a moment the bubbling mass is transformed into an astonishing wheel of light upon the water. It is not a complete wheel for there is no rim, but it has a hub and it has spokes, and, more curious still, the whole thing is revolving it no mean speed. You gaze in wonder as you approach still nearer, until your eves become dazzled by the rapidity with which time spokes flash past. With an effort you pull yourself out of a fascinated immobility, and try vainly to determine their number. Then, in a thoughtless attempt to gauge the speed of the revolutions, you concentrate on one portion of the gigantic wheel and count each passing spoke, taking the time from the second-hand of your watch. At the end of a minute you have counted ninety spokes; you rest your eyes and count again, and this time the number is eighty. Swiftly, for the strange thing is now abeam, you endeavour to impress every detail of its appearance upon your memory; you judge the wheel’s diameter to be about a quarter of a mile, and its centre about three hundred yards from the ship; you note that the spokes curve slightly to-wards the right at the outer end of their length, and that they revolve in an anti-clockwise direction, that is from right to left. Then satisfied you give yourself up to the beauty of the amazing spectacle. 

Truly it is an experience not soon to be forgotten! 

But already, only a short distance astern, the wheel has lost some of its splendour, its brilliancy is beginning to fade, and again, almost in a moment, there is only the broad patch of pale phosphorescence to be seen. You glance at your watch carelessly, and receive another shock, for the whole remarkable display has came and gone in just eight minutes. With the thought a host of questions leap into your mind. Was the wheel stationary ? Or was it travelling in the same direction or an opposite direction to the path of the ship? First, though, how was the thing composed? Two or three answers present themselves immediately, and you examine each with but little confidence that you have hit upon the explanation. It may have been merely the effect of the waves upon the surface phosphorus, you think; then why did not every patch become a wheel on approach? Perhaps it was a large shoal of fish, or several small ones, flashing intermittently, either controlled or not controlled. Then how explain the turning effect ? This requires a lot of thinking over, you decide, and turn away perplexed. One thing only is certain, that the great wheel of light revolving upon the surface of the sea, was no hallucination, but actually happened. 

Two nights later in the Straits of Ormuz you observe again the peculiar phosphorescent glare which preceded the approach of the Wheel. Again the night is a dark one, but this t e the sea is smooth and unruffled by any breeze, though a faint , swell, travelling northwards from the Gulf of Oman, is just distinguishable. Your excitement increases as the light becomes brighter; so bright at length that you might almost read a book by it. But there is no Wheel though you search for it anxiously en both sides of the ship. From edge to edge of the horizon the sea is green, pale here land brilliant there, and changing every. second like restless, molten metal. From almost under your nose a flash darts out and away, until it is lost in the distance; and at the same moment, out of the corner of your eye, you see another disappear across the bow. You turn, and another flash lights up the sea before you, then still another on your left, simultaneously there ice flashes on all sides. But still there is no Wheel. By half-closing your eyes you can almost impart a turning motion, on a very wide arc, to these flashes, but you have only to open your eyes fully again to dispel the illusion. You search your mind for a simile, knowing that somewhere you have seen something like this before, and suddenly you remember a huge electric-light sign in which a long row of bulbs, lit one after the other, gave the effect of a continuous flash. 

For three quarters of an hour the illumination continues. Then the flashes become rarer and less brilliant, until at last only the pale green of the sea remains; and you have the strange feeling that an eerie quietness has descended upon everything. Gradually patches of blackness appear on the water, and before long sea and sky are normal once more. 

And you are left more perplexed than before. – W. L. G. The Singapore Free Press.

Other News

Follow Us  

Follow us on            

Sabah In History - Most Read