Monday, December 24, 2007


Some how we humans have a great abhorrence for snakes and other scaled serpents.

My family had several frightening encounters with snakes and also a few snake related stories under our belt.

One of my earliest snake encounter was during a particular high flood and we were living in the Hua Hong Ice Factory's manager's house (built by my great grandfather and grandfather), across the Rejang River, near Pulau Kerto.

My mother was always very provident and we had lots of ducks and chickens in the coops. We had fresh eggs every day and fresh meat every now and then. The chickens and ducks also made very good presents for our elders in Sg. Bidut and across the river, in Sibu town.

One evening, the skies were very dark and the flood water was rising fast. We thought that the water would reach the top the stairs. Our house was very intelligently built on stilts, very similar to the Malay houses by the river side. We were always confident that no water would ever reach our living quarters.
And suddenly, we heard our chickens started making a lot of noise which challenged the loud thunder claps and the splish splash of the flood water. The sounds created quite an eerie atmosphere.

In very fast movements (usually he was very slow and measured in his movements), my father took down his gun from the wall, put on his long rubber boots and waded in the very high water, cautiously stepping on the plank walk which we could see quite clearly under the water, to the chicken houses. We saw him beding down and opened the door. Later he told us that he saw these huge eyes staring at him. He gave the reptile one shot a point blank!!

We heard the echo of the shot and I felt as if the whole house shook. That was the only time in my childhood that I heard a shot from my father's gun. In 1963 he surrendered his gun to the government and we never saw it again. He died two years later very suddenly and before his time.

We thus lost our protector,our guide and our provider. It was a terrible loss to the family and especially my mother who has been the only one person I know who has been grieving for more than 40 years for a beloved spouse. Her heart has always been heavy and she would never put on makeup to look pretty.

It is a pity I never learned to handle a gun as well as a man. I believe I could have been a very sharp shooter.

The snake was removed and given to some of the workers for a great feast. It was about seven feet long. My mother and younger siblings never came out of their bedroom during the whole episode.

Another encounter I had with snakes was a huge one that coiled up in a beam in a longhouse. I was helping an English Missionary nurse as a translator during my school holidays and we operated a mobile Mission Clinic.

We had to spend the night in this longhouse as it was quite far away from the mission house in Bukit Lan. As we were having our dinner with the Iban family, I noticed this huge python coiled up on a beam in the ceiling. The longhouse folks were unperturbed but I could hardly take my eyes off the reptile. I could not even eat that evening, wondering why no one was bothered and feeling fearful that the reptile may drop on to the floor any moment.

the next day I was told that the python was probably an ancestor coming back to see the family and according to the longhouse "pantang" or taboo, no one was to kill it. This particular family did not eat snakes because they believed that one of their ancestors had turned into a snake after he died. Nothing untoward happened to us or the family while the snake was up on the beam.

But as I thought about those mersmerizing eyes and shiny scaled snake on the beam, I would give shudder. Every time I see a snake skin handbag, I would be reminded of that particular one. Snakes are just so haunting in the mind.

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