Tuesday Tales #23 : Tasik Penyilem

Snake

Origin : Va’ei Community, Bintulu
As told by:  Kairulnieza Bin Wainie
Translated by: Adrian Jo Milang (English), Kairulnieza Bin Wainie (Malay)
Edited by: Juvita Tatan Wan
Sketch by: Loretta Livan Milang

(This is Tuesday Tales, where we highlight folklores and personal stories from indigenous peoples from all across Borneo. These are stories shared with us. We strive to edit it to the best of our capabilities for your enjoyment. We welcome your feedback at hello@thetuyang.com)

Disclaimer: Contains mature content, reader’s discretion is advised.

The story begins with three villages in Penyilem preparing to carry out a funeral and wake to honour the death of one of their chiefs. With his passing, he left a wife, Surik and his grandchildren Setuk and Sulak.

Sulak is the older brother of Setuk or known as “Nya”, and Setuk the sister is “Betaw”. The both of them have been under the care of their grandparents since their parents demise. 

The villagers erected a wooden pole and placed their chief on top, a traditional way of the Va’ie community to honour their leaders back then. 

The morning before the wake, all the villagers went to the river to menyarab or scoop prawns and fish with arm-nets for the wake feast. 

Surik and her grandchildren stayed back as they were still in mourning. Night came and they all went to sleep. As they went into slumber, a giant snake appeared below their longhouse and devoured all the chickens in the villagers’ coops. 

No chickens were spared, only their feathers left scattered everywhere. Surik and her grandchildren had not noticed this happening. 

Come morning, all the villagers returned joyfully with their catch. When they reached the longhouse, they saw that all their reared animals had disappeared. Some youngsters were enraged by this and blamed Surik and her grandchildren for committing such a heinous act. 

Surik denied their accusations, as it’s impossible for the three of them to have eaten all the chickens by themselves. Arguments raged until the villagers wanted to punish them all to death. In the end, Surik mentioned that she had heard a heavy breathing sound and chickens clucking in fear, followed by complete silence. She said she was afraid to see what was happening.

So, the villagers went around, and below the longhouse and saw a snake trace as large as a tapang tree. They followed it to a pool near Tasik Penyilem. There they saw before them, a massive snake all curled up in slumber as it rested after satisfying its hunger. 

Filled with anger and vengeance, the villagers attacked the snake with what they had, but nothing seemed to work. None of their weapons, swords and blowpipes did any harm to the snake. At the brink of giving up, they were shocked to hear the snake telling them “If you wish to kill me, use a bemban stick.”

Therefore, they went to look for bemban around the lake. They pierced the bemban piece through the snake, it’s blood flowed down into the river, finally killing it. They cut it up and brought it back. 

Upon arriving at the longhouse, they cooked the snake’s body and smoked the head as meal for their feast, whilst the tail was given to Surik. 

Evening came, and they began the wake ceremony there in Kampung Julan with a ritual carried out with chants or saod. Surik and her grandchildren stayed in their room in grief as the ritual went on, ending with a feast with the snake’s meat.

As they were all having their meal, an unknown woman appeared and went around asking about her husband’s whereabouts. She went around asking every person on the verandah, but no one knew who she or her husband was. 

She walked to the end of the longhouse, to Surik’s room as she and her grandchildren were eating. She asked Surik the same question, as Surik invited her to eat with them in the kitchen. The woman exclaimed in shock when she saw the snake’s tail on the stove top. 

“For that is my husband! Have you eaten him?” she asked Surik.

“No, we had not, we had only been eating prawns.” Surik replied.

“If that is so, make haste and run away!” the woman said in anger and despair. 

As she finished her words, she turned into a giant snake, with a barbel and glimmering red eyes. Surik was petrified. She ran towards her grandchildren, as she screamed, 

Buwaw! Buwaw! Nyipa azah gik tunen telow!” (Run! Run! A giant snake is coming to devour us!)

Setuk and Sulak were shocked and ran along with their grandmother. They jumped down into the bushes behind their longhouse and never looked back. 

As they made their escape, thunder clasped as lightning struck. The villagers were baffled and were panic stricken, as they saw a giant snake rushed towards them. They scattered and ran as the snake started devouring everyone in its sight. 

The longhouse began to shake and topple as heavy rain fell. The whole area started to flood, and Kampung Julan was submerged as well as the other two villagers nearby. No one was spared except for Surik and her grandchildren. They ran through thick bushes in the dark and reached a river.

Surik then told her grandchildren to cut any tepus plant they saw. As they were walking along the river bank, the giant snake appeared behind them and devoured Surik. 

They screamed in fear as they saw their grandmother being swallowed. Sulak grabbed his sister and jumped into the river.

The river was then called Sungai Benaong. Benaong in va’ie means rice pot.

The river was named so, because when Setuk and Sulak jumped into the river, he had a rice pot tied on his waist. It sank into the river, therefore the river is called Benaong till this day.

When they reached the other side of the riverbank, they continued their escape. As they ran, Setuk remembered his grandmother’s last words when he saw some tepus plants, he cut them down and went through it. 

The snake following them had lost them from its sight. It saw the tepus and it was baffled and confused as the tepus grew back, as if it had not been cut for a long time, making it seem that no one had trailed through it recently.

Sulak and Setuk made their way downriver Penyilem, reaching Sungai Binyo. Once again Sulak jumped into the river, carrying his sister on his back and made their way across. This time Setuk’s waist-cloth’s tie snapped. Therefore the part of the river is called Levhaw Tabhik.

When they reached the river bank, a phantom embodying a white mouse deer, Pabhes Mapuk appeared and said, 

“Zaklah nyibak parey kudhuk may likod qew” – Ride on my back.

They climbed on the mouse deer’s back and hastily left, making their way towards a hill. The giant snake was still pursuing them from behind.

The moment they reached a valley known as Teguk Nyaled, nearby the hill, the mouse deer huffed and puffed as if it was muttering a chant or prayer to call thousands of uled guem, venomous black ants. The ants appeared and swarmed the entire place.

Upon arriving, the giant snake saw the ants, and felt threatened by these venomous ants, thus it disappeared. 

Finally, Sutek and Sulak are safe. Soon after all that bales(befallen into a curse) incident, they built a hut to live in and made residence on top of the hill. The hill was then called Bukit Guem, near the rivermouth of Sungai Binyo. 

One evening, Setuk and Sulak went hunting in the nearby forest. Whilst they were tracking, they saw a pair of squirrels (pu’an) that were chasing each other on the branches. Sulak took aim with his blowpipe but before he could unleash his breath, the squirrels started to mate. 

Sulak and Sutek were baffled with what they saw, and imitated the squirrel’s actions, albeit they were siblings. From then on, they gave birth to the first peoples in Penyilem.

Bringing generations of Vaie and Punan people, the first generation being Ugak Menator and Ugak Pileh, then Serenay to Serenik to Ubong to Busang. 

Hence the long and almost forgotten story of Tasik Penyilem. 

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