December 7, 2010

Turtle Legends of Sabah

I was surfing the internet looking for stories/legends/history of Sabah and I stumbled upon this site called Sabah Folklore. One particular post in the site caught my attention, Turtle's Legends in Sabah. It tells the story of a turtle that helped an old woman and in return, the turtle got the old woman to tell her people not to eat turtle meat. The story ends with "To this day, many people in Sabah do not eat turtle meat". 

Interesting I thought because my late maternal Grand mother Mary Motto side of the family has a legend of their own with regard to turtle, specifically a specie called 'Labi Labi' in Malay. Labi Labi is a fresh water turtle belonging to the Trionychoidea family. Their story also ends with the turtle making someone promised not to eat turtle meat but their 'rules' were more extreme.

Depends on who I ask, the details of the story varies from one family member to the next but they all 'believe' that the 'curse' on the family is true. 
Once upon a time, in a place within Kuala Penyu or its fringes (my mom has a theory that it was in Klias), there was a wedding. All the kampung folks attended the ceremony. The newly weds' house was across a river (which is why my mom thinks it is in Klias because there is a river called Sungai Klias there and also she said most people who are affected by the 'curse' are in Klias). They had to use a boat to cross the river to reach the newly weds' house. Wading across the river probably would not be a good idea because Klias river is infested with crocodiles and going to a party soaking wet would not have been a good way to start your merry making. 
Unbeknown to the Kampung folks who crossed the river, they have left behind a little girl. So this poor girl was standing there on the opposite side of the riverbanks, probably feeling helpless and wondering why the adults in the boat could not hear her yelling at them. She probably said, "Woi! Cilaka! Kenapa kamurang kasih tinggal aku bah!". Ok, maybe she would not have said "Cilaka".

So this little girl cried and cried and cried. When a big turtle emerged from the river and asked her what was wrong. Yes, apparently there were giant talking turtles those days but they stopped talking, I wonder why?
The girl told the turtle what happened and perhaps after a few seconds of deliberation, the turtle told the girl to hop onto its back. The girl did so. Beats me why this girl trusted a giant talking turtle which she just made acquaintance with just a few seconds ago, maybe her mom did not tell her besides not taking sweets from strangers, she must not jump onto the backs of strange talking giant turtles too. 
The turtle swam across the river with the girl on its back towards the house. The girl reached the other side of the river safely, thanked the turtle and asked it how she could return the favour. The turtle told her from then on, she and her descendants (some had it that the turtle said seven generations of the girl's but some said there was no limitation) must not look at, touch, kill, let alone eat, turtle meat.   
My late Grandmother believed this curse to be true. Once, when my mother and her siblings were still children, my late Grandfather brought back some turtle meat some fisherman gave him. He cooked it and my late Grandma said that she could not eat it because of the curse. My late Grandpa brushed aside her concern because he did not believe in the curse. So he and the children ate while late Grandma abstained. Not long after that, my late maternal aunty Antonia got a bad case of scabies all over her body. My late Grandpa was a Dresser in Beaufort hospital and he tried and tried to cure aunty Toni's condition to no avail. One day, a relative of theirs whom my mom refers to as "Abang Udung", said that aunty Toni's condition was due to the curse. It was only after acquiring certain fish, cooking it and prescribing it to my aunty Toni that her condition improved.

There is also a story about my late Grandma's elder brother who saw a turtle and he tapped and poked at the turtle's shell. Later, he developed painful joints ache. Again, it was seemingly untreatable until someone suggested that certain fish. This incident probably precede my aunty Toni's.

There you have it. Another variance of the turtle legends from Kuala Penyu. If you have another version, please share because if we do not share and put our folklores in writing, we will lose them forever and our future generation would not get to inherit them.  
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