Sri Gumum

Sri Gumum
Peter A. van der Helm



Dragons of the Lake
or
How to Recognize Sri Gumum if You Meet Her


In Orang Malayu stories, Sri Gumum is a to-be-feared crocodile, while in Orang Asli stories, she is the to-be-respected spirit of Tasik Chini, who may take the form of a snakelike dragon but also other forms (see Legenda Naga Tasik Chini). So, if you have seen something extraordinary, can you ever claim it was Sri Gumum? Perhaps, but here are a few things to consider before you do.


Strange things

Both Orang Asli and others have, also in recent years, reported to have seen strange things happening around the lake: Waves of unclear origin that make boats capsize, or moving objects that on and off stick out of the water. Take, for instance, my personal experience in 1992:

Hovering flies
One day, a swarm of flies started to hover in front of the door opening of a house. To enter or leave the house, people had to walk through this swarm but, when doing so, were not harassed by the flies. It was as if the flies were looking for a place to stay and, as was said, were waiting to see whether the people in the house were willing to leave the house to let them stay there instead. The flies disappeared when it rained, but returned afterwards. They also disappeared during the night, but returned the next day. Only after three days, they disappeared alltogether.

The Orang Asli categorize such events as mysteries. However, they hesitate to attribute them to Sri Gumum.


Snakes


Not every big snake at Tasik Chini is Sri Gumum. For instance, the Jakun have a story about an egg-eating man that became a snake (see The Tasik Bera Connection), but this snake is not Sri Gumum. She can neither be found in the place known as lubang ular (snake hole) half-way Sungai Chini (see Satellite Photo). According to Jakun story, this hole was home to a ferocious big snake that, however, has been killed.
Lubang ular
Lubang ular



Crocodiles

Could Sri Gumum appear to you as a crocodile? Yes, if you would see a crocodile at Tasik Chini, it might be Sri Gumum. Currently, there are no crocodiles at Tasik Chini, but crocodiles have lived in Tasik Chini (which may explain the way Sri Gumum appears in Orang Malayu stories). These crocodiles were probably Tomistoma schlegelii (false gharial) and lived in Tasik Chini until the 1960s.

Tasik Chini crocodile
Tomistoma schlegelii (false gharial).

The crocodiles did not disappear for no reason. An old woman is said to have watched over the crocodiles until she died in the 1960s. She fed them and they slept under her house on the lake. In contrast to the Orang Malayu stories, the crocodiles were harmless (after all, according to Jakun story, once they were humans themselves), but they left the lake after the old woman had died. That the crocodiles were like humans is also clear from the next story (told by Epen in 1982 to Rosemary Gianno):

Crocodiles at Tasik Chini
At first, there were crocodiles at Tasik Cini. Whatever. If we had problems, wanted to put on a kenduri or a jamuan, dishes, bowls, pots, and pans could be borrowed, or even rice. After the feast, we would return the dishes, bowls, pots, pans and rice. Even if we broke them, we would return them.
    Came a time when people were having a wedding; they borrowed dishes, pots, and pans, but they didn't return them anymore. Therefore, until now, we cannot borrow these anymore. From that time, s/he was hostile and would grab people and eat them. There were three men paddling their canoe and he grabbed the one in the middle. The ones at the front and back didn't realize it.
    Tired of the crocodile always taking people, they called on some white people. So, he shot it, he shot it, then they went home. Around midnight he returned to sleep at his house. The next day, when the "boy" attempted to wake him up, he didn't make a sound. After a while, he went to his room, he looked. He was dead. Therefore, the white man there was dead and the crocodile there was also dead.


Dragons

In what other form could Sri Gumum appear to you? Well, it might be in the form of one of the next two dragons:


Varanus Bengalensis
Varanus Bengalensis.
Varanus Dumerilii
Varanus Dumerilii.


Both dragons are 3—4 meter long monitor lizards (akin to the well-known Komodo dragon) that are known to live in Malaysia. The Varanus Bengalensis, in particular, is known to live in/around Tasik Chini (I sighted one in 2010). The Jakun at Tasik Chini sometimes ate its eggs, and they call it a geriang (the Semelai at Tasik Bera call it a gryang). Geriang seems to be an old preMalay Orang Asli word that has been used to name various places in Malaysia. For instance, there is Sungai Geriang, Kampung Sri Geriang, and also the geriang-shaped mountain Gunung Keriang:

Gunung Keriang (Kedah)
Gunung Keriang in the state of Kedah.


Conclusion

As it goes with spirits, Sri Gumum is pretty elusive and it is hard to be sure that you have met her, however strange your experience might have been. My closest call was this:

Close encounter with Sri Gumum?
In 1991, near Tasik Chini, I was alone when I had a close encounter with a dragon. It was definitely not a crocodile and, to the best of my memory, it was not a geriang. Afterwards, nobody could tell me what it might have been. It was somewhat similar to a geriang, but it was completely black and it had a protruding backbone. I was just on my way to the market to buy food but, perhaps, this was my enchanted encounter with Sri Gumum....






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