Sri Gumum

Sri Gumum
Peter A. van der Helm

The Tasik Bera Connection: Tales of Two Lakes

The wetlands Tasik Chini and Tasik Bera are often mentioned in one breath and, according to Orang Asli oral tradition, these two lakes indeed form one ecosystem. Both the Jakun at Tasik Chini and the Semelai at Tasik Bera have stories about a subterranean river that connects the two lakes. This subterranean river is said to begin in Tasik Chini's south-west Laut Kenawar (see Satellite Photo) and to end in Tasik Bera's deepest part Lubuk Keruing.

This subterranean river also reflects the relationship between Jakun and Semelai. They feel, and through marriages are, connected. This connection returns in various stories shared by Jakun and Semelai. For instance, the Semelai story of the origin of Tasik Bera has much in common with the Jakun story of the origin of Tasik Chini (see below). Tasik Chini began as a mountain and Tasik Bera began as a stream, but for the rest, the basic motifs of the two stories are the same.

In fact, the Semelai story of the origin of Tasik Bera has a preamble that begins at Tasik Chini and that tells how this subterranean river came about. This preamble, as told by Sahat to Rosemary Gianno in 1981, goes as follows:

Tasik Chini and Tasik Bera

The subterranean river between Tasik Chini and Tasek Bera
In the beginning, the man there took a wife. Where? At Tasek Chini. The grandchild, who was digging for sweet potatoes, sees eggs. She carried them over here, over there. The grandchild with the grandmother were digging up sweet potatoes. The husband came home. He saw the eggs. He took them and ate them. After he ate the eggs there, the grandmother returned home with the grandchild. She asked what had happened to the eggs the grandchild had found earlier. I ate them said the grandfather. She asked why he had eaten them. He didn't do it for any reason. Not that we wanted to tease them. He just ate them. Oh, said the grandmother, you must hate me. Let's go, said the grandmother (and she left).
    After a while, he wanted to drink. He drank all the water in the house. He asked the grandchild to go down and get him more water, he asked his wife to go get him more water. The wife there went down and she got some. At first, she was able to bring a basket full of water. After a while, she used a tin, then after a while she wasn't able to bring it up anymore to their house. So they made a house down at the pool of water. At Tasik Chini. There. They made a house in the water. He kept drinking. Initially his body was small but after a while it became big. He was just drinking, not eating any food there.
    Until, after a while, he there became an animal, became a snake. After he became a snake, he was still in the house they had built but then the size of his body filled the pool of water. He was the same size as the pool of water. Then he said, oh, don't feel that you have to stay with me here. Go!  He said that if they wanted to see him, they should return there once every seven days. So, at first they did that, returning every seven days. Then, after a while, no, they weren't returning to see him anymore. Then they went away without the intention of returning.
    The grandmother with the grandchild fled to Lubuk Keruing there. So, they stayed there, year followed year, they made a settlement there at Lubuk Keruing. Eventually they were followed there by the husband there. He followed them there by making a tunnel from Tasik Chini, arriving at Lubuk Keruing there. So, he's there.

The Jakun at Tasik Chini do not have this particular preamble-story (which, they say, might have come up after the big 1926 flood), but they do have related stories. First, according to Jakun story, this subterranean river has always existed even though, in the old days, also some people at Tasik Chini doubted its existence; but then a man went to Tasik Bera to release a nyiru (winnow tray) and two biji kelapa (coconuts) that, through this subterranean river, returned within a week to Tasik Chini. Second, the Jakun at Tasik Chini do have a story about an egg-eating and water-drinking man who became a snake but this Jakun story, as told by Seman bin Samad, takes another turn (both as story and geographically):

The story of Asan
Seven Tasik Chini men went berotan (gathering rotan). One of them, a man called Asan, ran into big eggs. His companions urged him not to eat them, but he ate them anyway. He became a big snake that wanted to drink lots of water. His companions informed his wife and child, but he preferred to stay there, that is, at the other side of Sungai Pahang. After some time, however, he could not stand it any longer. He split the island Pulau Kinchir in half, and went to the sea where he became the island now known as Pulau Asan.

Pulau Kinchir

Pulau Kinchir, nowadays split in half.  

At Tasik Bera, the preamble in Sahat's story is followed by the story of the origin of Tasik Bera. To show the similarities with the story of the origin of Tasik Chini, both stories are given here side-by-side:

The origin of Tasik Bera

The origin of Tasik Chini

Their dog was running back and forth there. They were planting rice. The dog was barking while running back and forth. "What is it lah, that the dog is barking at?" "Go check," the grandmother said to the grandchild. They checked. "Bah," said they, "he's barking at a log." What kind of log? Keruing. So, they didn't pay attention, didn't worry about it. They kept planting rice. And the dog kept barking at the log there. "Try, you children," she said, "to pry into the log there. What is the meaning of his barking there? While they were planting, they feasted, lots of them together. They opened up the log again there. They saw the fat. They took it. Then they got a rice basket, they gathered the fat with their hands, and then were carrying and carrying it in rice baskets back to the house to eat it.
    Then the people who had been planting rice were ready to eat. They all ate together. The day was getting toward late afternoon. All of a sudden the old man arrived and stuck his walking stick in the ground. They invited him into the house. "Why don't you come into the house old man?" So he went up into the house. He stuck his walking stick down at the bottom of the ladder and then went into the house. They invited him to eat there. But no, he didn't want to. They don't know of his mischievous intention there. It was his doing the fat there. No, that was not any old kind of fat. That was fat from his body there in reality. Yes, the fat of the husband that ate the eggs before. Then he said he was going home. He ordered the children to pull out his staff. At first one, then two, three also couldn't do it. After a while a lot of them together they pulled, but even so, were not strong enough. Then even the adults joined in but still they were not able to. So then, he came down from the house to the ground. He pulled it out lah with his left hand. After he pulled it out, he disappeared. He was not just any old man. No, this was the husband who ate the eggs at Tasik Chini but it seems that they didn't recognize him.
    Then they looked back and saw water trickling from a spring. Hey, they said, the old man's staff caused a spring to appear here. Really it was the Keruing stream there. It wasn't really a lubuk (small lake) at the beginning. It was a stream. So, after that, the children tried to plug up the spring. At first they used leaves. Then they used wood, the size of a pinkie finger. The spring was the size of a pinkie finger. Then they plugged the size of a thumb. But the spring became the size of a thumb and kept bursting out. Then they plugged with the size of a big toe, with the same effect. Then the size of an arm, but the water burst forth and became the size of an arm. Then they plugged it with the size of a calf but again it burst out and became as wide as a calf. Then the size of a thigh, and again the same thing happened. Then, they were out of ideas of what to do. Then they plugged it with a gong. Eventually the spring became the size of a gong and burst through again.
    After that there was plenty of water there. They were chased by the water which drowned everything at Keruing there. Then, the water there was calling. To over there a person, to over there it chased, a person fled over there, over there it followed. The water was calling, it was talking. It said, basket, basket, basket, ... They left behind the basket. Until it asked also for the knife: knife, knife, knife, knife... said the water there. Eventually, they left behind the knife. When they left something behind, the water would stop rising and stay at that level for a moment but then would start chasing them again. So, it kept chasing, until finally it asked for the grandchild: grandchild, grandchild, grandchild. But no, the grandmother would not leave behind the grandchild. Only the grandmother earlier had not eaten the fat.
    Then, the grandmother there also fled not knowing where. She fled up to the headwaters of the tasik. She went all the way up into Temangau, carrying her grandchild. Then, no, the grandchild fell out without her having realized it. After the grandchild was dropped, the water stopped. The grandmother sat down with her back against a cot [Artocarpus scortechinii tree]. She was really tired. That's why when its leaves are falling, they make a moaning sound. The snore of the cot is because of the grandmother from back then.
There were several Orang Asli families living at the foot of Gunung Chini. One day a dog went up the mountain and began to bark loudly. A man went to investigate and found the dog barking at a tree. He threw a stick at the trunk and oil-like liquid flowed from the trunk. He informed the villagers who rushed to the scene. But there was an old woman who ignored all this. She warned the people not to allow her grandson to taste the liquid. The people forgot her warning and her grandson tasted the liquid.
    Soon an old man appeared and stuck his walking stick in the tree trunk. He ordered the people to pull out the stick, but they could not. He ordered them to bring a white chicken or seven white feathers, but they could not. He became angry and pulled out the stick himself. At that moment liquid flowed like a stream from the trunk and the people ran away.
    The liquid flooded the area and Gunung Chini submerged. Those who tasted the liquid were drowned. The liquid followed the old woman and her grandson. The old woman heard a voice telling her to abandon her grandson. She left him; he was drowned and the liquid stopped following her. The liquid formed a lake called Tasik Chini.
The usable oil producing keruing tree.

Hence, the Semelai and Jakun versions differ (probably to fit the local context), but the basic motifs are the same (e.g.: barking dog, old man with cane that nobody can pull out, grandchild whose death stops the water). This holds even more for the virtually identical Semelai and Jakun stories about the Orang Asli group called the Temoq:

Semelai story about the Temoq

Jakun story about the Temoq

Tembeling there had taken a tiger as pet. It was easy to catch mousedeer, wild pigs, barking deer. He carried them back and ate the meat. Came the time, they went. Tembeling was bitten by a leech. He dabbed the blood with his finger and smeared it on the lips of the tiger. It was licked by the tiger. It tasted good. The tiger grabbed his owner and ate him. (Before this, the tiger ate only cooked food.) The tiger returned to the house where Tembeling's wife asked, "Where did your owner go?" She looked down the path. The tiger didn't say anything. After a while, he grabbed the wife and ate her. He grabbed the children and ate all of them. Eventually, he began eating people in the village, also. They then fled to the Serting River.
    Left behind were two women who hid inside a drum. They waited for months. Two Semaq Beri men arrived, carrying blowpipes, quivers, and spears. "Help us kill the tiger," the women pleaded. "Everyone's gone already. They were eaten by Tembeling's tiger." The men replied that they didn't have the courage to try before nightfall. In the evening, the tiger arrived looking around on the ground. Then, he went up into the house where he was immediately stabbed to death by the men. Then the women wanted to marry. They married, had children. The children grew up and married each other, over and over. Therefore, until now, the male line here is Temoq, the females are Semelai.
Tembeling, a Semelai man at Tasik Bera, kept a tiger as pet. One day, the man was bitten by a leech and he let the tiger lick off the blood on his leg. But the tiger got the taste of it and ate the man. After that, the tiger ate all Semelai people at Tasik Bera — except for two sisters who hid away silently in drums in a house.
    Some time later, two Jakun brothers came along. They wanted to play the drums, but then the two Semelai sisters jumped out of the drums and said: Keep quiet, we are afraid of the tiger! Then, the four of them decided to try to kill the tiger. The two Semelai sisters played the drums to lure the tiger into the house, and the two Jakun brothers waited at either side of the door with their serampang (3-toothed harpoons) ready. The tiger entered. When it wanted to attack the older brother, it was stabbed by the younger brother, after which it wanted to attack the younger brother, but then it was stabbed by the older brother. This went on until the tiger was dead.
    Then, the two Jakun brothers married the two Semelai sisters. The older brother married the older sister, and the younger brother married the younger sister. Their offspring is Jakun but became known as Temoq, which means so much as "not-circumcised".

The Orang Asli group identified officially as Semaq Beri lives north of Sungai Pahang, and the Orang Asli group identified officially as Temoq lives in two villages, east of Tasik Bera and south of Tasik Chini, as if in an enclave between Jakun area and Semelai area. The two versions of the story above, however, give other accounts: Such differences between ethnicity accounts are problematic to anthropological research into the relationships between the various Orang Asli groups. A part of the problem seems to be that Orang Asli often use nick-names to refer to people or to groups of people, be it inside or outside the own community. Such a nick-name may be triggered by an event or by a place where an event occurred or by any other characteristic that, at least according to the nick-name givers, typifies people.

For instance, soon after birth, a Jakun child at Tasik Chini may get a nick-name that reflects a personal characteristic of the baby, such as "small as a fruit-fly" or "cross-eyed". Furthermore, in Malaysia, Caucasians can be referred to by orang putih ("white people") or orang barat ("western people"), but also by orang matsaleh. The latter is actually a nick-name: Mat Saleh was a Malay leader who, at the end of the 19th century, fought against the British occupiers, and orang matsaleh means so much as "the people Mat Saleh fought against".

Back to Sri Gumum's homepage
Back to Stories of the Lake