When you work on something that combines both the spectacular and the relatable, the hyperreal and the real, it suddenly can become supernatural. The hypothetical and the theoretical can become literal.
– J J Abrams, American filmmaker
My father (apai) Salok Jembu (1910-2002), a leading bard, would probably be the only man ever to have sighted a flash of the dragon (naga in Iban) over a pond known as ‘Letung Naga’ in the remote Melupa hinterland.
It was named as such long before the teenage Salok claimed to have seen a dragon while tapping rubber at the side of the pond, a piece of land which hitherto still belongs to the Jembu clan.
It happened circa 1926 when apai was 16. He tapped rubber there alone. That evening he dreamt of meeting a man in full Iban warrior attire and claimed he was Keling also known as Bunga Nuing, the epitome of prowess and valour in the Iban folklore of the ‘Raised World’ Panggau Libau.
“You are a lucky man Salok,” the very handsome man told apai in his dream, telling who he was and said he was just passing by to check on the area.
Apai impulsively asked him to grant wealth and riches but he only told apai he would be blessed with longevity. The young rubber tapper shared his edifying dream with others, especially his father Jembu.
I passed ‘Letung Naga’ a few times between 1972 and 1992 while going for durian excursions to Bila Dua, our own durian orchard.
Months later apai, en route to tapping rubber at ‘Letung Naga’, had another strange encounter just about 500 metres from the edge of the rubber garden. It was still dark, probably around 5.30am when he heard a dragging sound coming from his right.
So he hid behind a tree trunk and saw something dark moving and passing his hideout provided by the dim light of dawn. It was certainly an enormous serpent with python-like stripes.
Upon inspection later he noticed the creature left a trail heading to his left towards the dragon pond. It was an encounter where newspapers and tabloids would root through the dictionaries for fresh adjectives or even superlatives of shock and fear to give it a deserving description.
That evening he met in his dream the same man — Keling @ Bunga Nuing — that he met in his dream months earlier. Keling said he was coming back from Bukit Sadok in Betong.
The astounding part was Keling said he was in Betong to lend help to Kalong Ningkan. And apai then had never heard of the name Kalong Ningkan — my Google search says that Ningkan was born in 1920.
So Ningkan, who was to become Sarawak’s first chief minister 37 years later, was around six years old then.
Many years later Salok, then married, was confronted by a cobra of medium size around mid-afternoon after crossing a wooden bridge over the Kebuk stream at middle Melupa river basin. He was going upriver.
The snake was in upright and ready-to-strike position but there was a small basket, about the size of a matchbox attached to its neck. It stayed upright a while seemingly waiting for the 40-year old Salok to take the basket from its neck.
But apai didn’t dare do so. After a while the cobra slithered away and disappeared. In his dream the night after he met the late Aki Kawit @ Naing who was nicknamed Naing Pengerambing Kuta, Berinau Panggau Dara (Naing the valiant, conqueror of men and maidens) told apai he wanted to give him an amulet in the basket but apai misinterpreted it for aggression.
“You are not meant to be a man of valour and gallantry,” Naing told apai as he failed to get the charm from him. Nevertheless, he assured apai that he would achieve glory in other areas without being specific.
His last weird and scary encounter took place just about 100 metres from the episode with the cobra but this time on top of the hill. I was nine years old when this happened in 1963 that saw apai on his way to the wake of the late infant Igat Tom Meludin who died just hours before.
Meludin was residing at the Nanga Assam Primary School where he was teaching. The school was about 10 minutes’ walk from the spot.
Upon reaching the hill top, apai was obstructed by a non-descript dark brown entity that seemed to be sitting on the path and blocking the way. Apai wished it would go away by stepping heavily on the ground plus calling loudly to shoo it but to no avail.
So he had no choice but to wrestle with it. He could feel the furry body of the creature that made an “ooh” sound and went rolling down the steep gradient into the Melupa river below.
In his dream hours later, he met a young man in full Iban warrior attire. The man said, “Salok, you are the first man to have outwrestled me. For your deed I hereby rule that the right side of the hair on your head ready for use as an item that renders you invisible to giants and evil spirits. I am from Panggau Libau.”
No name was given.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.