May 5, 2011

Chinese Hero in Sabah Folklore?: Part 1 The Legend of Mount Kinabalu

Long ago, there lived a dragon at the top of Mount Kinabalu. This dragon possessed a "Butiza", a luminous jewel, a bezoar stone. It was his prized possession and he guarded it jealously. 

They say the dragon played with it everyday and at night, the people of Ranau and Tamparuli could see the bright "jewel" being tossed up and caught again and again on the dragon's forked tongue.

They say the dragon would sometime swallow the "jewel" if need be, to hide it from prying eyes and he could regurgitate the "jewel" at will but he could only swallow the "jewel" when his stomach was empty.

The story of the dragon's luminous jewel, spread beyond the seas, even as far as China. When news of it reached the ears of China's emperor, he decided it should be his. He dispatched many of his best warriors to retrieve the jewel but none ever came back. Many were eaten or killed by the dragon. So many chinese men were killed on the mountain that the local Dusun started calling the mountain "Kina Balu", meaning Chinese Widow on account that many women became widows because their husband died fighting in the mountain. "Kina" was what the Dusun called the chinese, quite similar to the Malay word "cina".

The Emperor finally decided to send his two sons, Wong Wang Kong and the younger Wong Song Ping to retrieve the jewel. They were each given a junk, provisions and men under their command.

After many months at sea, they reached the shore of Borneo and trekked their way to Mount Kinabalu. After many weeks of trekking, they finally reached at the foot of Mount Kinabalu. They made camp and started to "recce" the mountain so that they could formulate a plan to retrieve the jewel. True to the news, at night, they could see a light seemingly floating up and down at the top of the mountain. 

After few days of "recce", the brothers and their scouts agreed that it was seemingly an impossible task. 

In those days, the mountain was thick with vegetation and even after you managed to slash your way up to the peak of the mountain, the dragon would have been alerted by all the commotions. 

The older Wong Wang Kong was disheartened and retreated to his royal tent a defeated man. However, unlike his older brother, Wong Song Ping, was unfazed with the challenge. 

Wong Song Ping made a colourful lantern with a candle holder in it, he lit the candle and the lantern glowed like a fabulous gem. Satisfied with the lantern, he next moved on to make a giant kite with sturdy long ropes. Then he observed the dragon's behaviour from afar. He noted that the dragon would leave his jewel unguarded at certain hour of the day to forage for food.

So Wong Song Ping waited for the right moment to strike. When the wind was blowing at the hour that the dragon was foraging for food, he mounted himself on the giant kite and launched himself into the air with his men holding on to the ropes. He was airborne and flew and flew till he reached where the jewel was, he grabbed the dragon's jewel and replaced it with the lantern that he had made. Then he mounted back to the kite and launched himself to the air and his men pulled him back.

Once Wong Song Ping hit the ground, he quickly told his men and his elder brother to pack up and leave because it would be a matter of time that the dragon would see through the ruse. So they made a mad dash to their ships.

They managed to reach their ships in record time and they set sail. Just then, the dragon realized that the "jewel" in his possession was but a flimsy lantern. It was night and the dragon surveyed the surrounding area and he saw from afar a bright light. The dragon flew towards the light with rage and in no time was about to catch up with Wong Song Ping and his brother.

Wong Song Ping's men thought that they were going to perish as they saw the dragon coming their way. The dragon flew so fast and so enraged that trees bent over as he flew past. Fire was spewing from his nose and his face grimaced with extreme rage. The petrified men helplessly observed what was a tiny light minutes ago had turned bigger and bigger in a matter of short period. One of the men said, "He's gaining on us! We're not going fast enough! What do we do? What do we do?".

Again it was the younger Wong Song Ping who came up with an idea. He told his men to heat up canon balls until they were red hot and they were to shoot them at the dragon with their canons. He told his brother Wong Wang Kong to order his men to do the same thing on the other ship. 

Soon they were confronted by the dragon, their ships were violently rocked as the dragon flapped his wings causing strong gust of wind. As the "jewel" was on board Wong Song Ping's ship, the dragon's attack was most aggressive on them. The dragon swooped down a few times and grabbed a few of Wong Song Ping's men. The dragon bit off their heads and discarded their headless bodies. 

Wong Song Ping and his men were not able to fire their canons as they were dislodged from their places due to the violent rocking. Part of the ship was on fire caused by the red hot canon balls that had rolled out of the pile and the men frantically tried to put out the fire while desperately trying to avoid being grabbed by the dragon. 

Wong Song Ping took a piece of cloth, put a red hot canon ball in it and then with both hands, swung it above his head a few times before releasing the projectile towards the dragon. The dragon was taken by surprise and thinking that the glowing object was his 'jewel', he opened his mouth and swallowed the canon ball. As he did, there was a look of surprise in his eyes and he let out a horrible wail. The hot cannon ball had seared his stomach and white froth was coming out from his mouth. The dragon fell into the water and thrashed frenziedly in the water by the unimaginable pain. Exhausted and heavy with the iron canon ball inside his stomach, the dragon soon gave up the pursuit and fell behind. 

When they saw that the dragon was not pursuing them anymore, everyone shouted with joy over their victory. The men including Wong Wang Kong's, thought that Wong Song Ping was a hero and they shouted, "Long live Prince Wong Song Ping!". The seed of jealousy was growing in the elder brother's heart for the adulation shown by the men to his younger brother. "Surely, Song Ping will be father's favorite when His Highness learned of his exploit", thought the elder brother. 

Soon they reached China. As news of sighting of their junks spread, ordinary people stopped whatever they were doing and rushed towards the port. As their junks slowly navigated their way towards the port, the adventurers were pleasantly surprised to see many people lining along the edges of the port. The people were shouting in joy over their triumphant return. Amongst the crowd were loved ones of the brave men that accompanied the two brothers. So there were many tears of joy amongst them too because everyone thought they would never return again because many had gone before them and never to return. 

When they were on land, Wong Wang Kong took his brother to the side for privacy and said, "Brother, being that I am the older one. It is only right that the jewel be mine and for me to present it to our father, His Highness". Without much hesitation, he took the jewel from Wong Song Ping. Wong Song Ping was surprised by his brother's action but being an unselfish man and loving his elder brother, he let Wong Wang Kong had his way.


Wong Wang Kong led the triumphant procession towards the palace escorted by the palace guards who had been ordered by the Emperor to receive them when news of their return got to him. The younger Wong Song Ping obediently walked behind his elder brother, humbly letting his elder brother basked in glory.

The Emperor was happy to see them, not only because Wong Wang Kong had the "jewel' in his hands but also because his two sons had returned home safely and triumphantly. There was an additional motive why he sent his two sons in harm's way, he had wanted to test his sons. Having them returned home alive would have been enough for him but having them returned home successful in their task was an added bonus. "My sons are truly worthy of my throne!". thought the Emperor as he embraced both of them.

Wong Wang Kong presented the "jewel" to the Emperor. "Father, we hope Your Highness will be pleased with this gift", Wong Wang Kong offered. The Emperor laughed heartily and said, "It is yours to keep, my son. Take it as a reward for your success. The task was just a ruse to test you and you have made me proud. Now tell me of your adventure!".

Wong Wang Kong told his father about the hardship and danger they faced while in Borneo but neglected to tell the Emperor of his younger brother's cleverness in retrieving the "jewel" and saving their lives. The Emperor was a wise man and he understood the temperament of his children. Seeing the change in Wong Song Ping's expression while Wong Wang Kong told his story, the Emperor knew that he was not being told the whole truth.  

That evening, the Emperor contemplated the situation. He admitted that it was an unexpected outcome. He had expected that Wong Song Ping would be the one to retrieve the "jewel" because while Wong Wang Kong was competent in martial arts and in his study, Wong Song Ping was more creative in solving problems and he thinks fast on his feet. The Emperor appreciated these qualities of his younger son although he wished that his son would behave more like a Prince sometimes. He also observed that Wong Song Ping always gave in to his elder brother since they were young.

He summoned for the captain of Wong Song Ping's junk the following morning to his private chamber. In the privacy of the chamber, the captain related to the Emperor all that had happened. The captain's version of the story confirmed what the Emperor had suspected. The Emperor felt sad and he secretly ordered his first jeweller to make a replica of the "jewel" and handed it to Wong Song Ping.

Wong Song Ping gratefully accepted his father's gift but the realization had set in on Wong Song Ping, one day it would be inevitable that he and his brother would get into a fight. It saddened him with the possibility of that and he did not want any of it. So he decided to leave China. Wong Song Ping called on his captain and his men and told them of his intention. They readily offered their service because they trusted their young prince.

One quiet and moonless night, they set sail from China. Wong Song Ping did not say goodbye to the Emperor because he knew the Emperor would have none of it. He did not have any particular destination, he told his captain that they should sail to wherever the monsoon wind blow them to.

After many weeks, they reached a river mouth on the coast of Brunei. The Sultan of Brunei sent his brother to receive the party. They exchanged gifts and the party decided to stay in Brunei. Wong Song Ping would later ask for the hand of the Sultan's daughter in marriage.

Author's note : Next, we explore the legend of Wong Song Ping
The author has exercised some creative liberty in retelling this folklore. Filling in gaps and providing possible scenarios in some parts of the folklore. This is not an academic piece, it's more for entertainment. Who is the author? It's the same person typing this note :D

1 comment:

Kah Yean Cheng said...

Greetings!
I'm a student from UMS and I'm doing a research about the legend of mount kinabalu. Would you like to have an interview session?

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