The Legend of the Tiger

The Tiger is sometimes believed to be a manor demon in the form of a wild beast, and to the numerous aboriginal superstitions which attach to this dreaded animal.  In Asiatic countries, where the lion is unknown, the tiger generally takes the place of the ‘ king of beasts.’ But the anthropomorphic ideas of the Malays about the Tiger go yet farther than this.

Far away in the jungle (as I have several times been told in Selangor) the tiger-folk (no less than the elephants) have a town of their own, where they live in houses, and act in every respect like human beings. In the town referred to their house-posts are made of the heart of the Tree-nettle (fras jelatang], and their roofs thatched with human hair one informant added that men’s bones were their only rafters, and men’s skins their house walls and there they live quietly enough until one of their periodical attacks of fierceness (niengganas) comes on and causes them to break bounds and range the forest for their chosen prey There are several of these tiger-villages or ” enclosures” in the Peninsula, the chief of them being Gunong Ledang (the Mount Ophir of Malacca), just as Pasummah is the chief of such localities in Sumatra.  So too, from Perak, Sir W. E. Maxwell writes in 1881:

“A mischievous tiger is said sometimes to have broken loose from its pen or fold (pecak kandang], This is in allusion to an extraordinary belief that, in parts of the Peninsula, there are regular enclosures where tigers possessed by human souls live in association. During the day they roam where they please, but return to the kandang at night”.

Various fables ascribe to the tiger a human origin. One of these, taken down by me word for word from a Selangor Malay, is intended to account for the tiger’s stripes. The gist of it ran as follows:

“An old man picked up a boy in the jungle with a white skin, green eyes, and very long nails. Taking the boy home his rescuer named him Muhammad Yatim (i.e. ‘ Muhammad the fatherless ‘), and when he grew up sent him to school, where he behaved with great cruelty to his school fellows, and was therefore soundly beaten by his master (‘Toh Saih Panjang Janggut, i.e. ‘Toh Saih long beard), who used a stick made of a kind of wood called los to effect the chastisement. At the first cut the boy leapt as far as the doorway, at the second he leapt to the ground, at the third he bounded into the grass, at the fourth he uttered a growl, and at the fifth his tail fell down behind him and he went upon all fours, where at his master (improvising a name to curse him by), exclaimed, ‘ This is of a truth God’s tiger !. Go you,’ he added, addressing the tiger, ‘ to the place where you will catch your prey the borderland between the primeval forest and the secondary forest-growth, and that between the secondary forest-growth and the plain catch there whomsoever you will, but see that you catch only the headless. Alter no jot of what I say, or you shall be consumed by the Iron of the Regalia, and crushed by the sanctity of the thirty divisions of the Koran.’ ‘ Hence the tiger is to this day compelled to ” ask for his prey, and uses divination (bertenung], as all men know, for the purpose of discovering whether his petition has yet been granted”.

Hence, too, he carries on his hide to this very day the mark of the stripes with which he was beaten at school.

The method of divination said to be practised by the tiger is as follows :

“The tiger lies down and gazes (bertenung) at leaves which he takes between his paws, and whenever he sees the outline of a leaf take the shape of one of his intended victims, without the head, he knows it to be the sign that,  that victim has been granted to him, in accordance with the very terms of his master’s curse”.

Note: Los is also known as Kayu Tas.  An inch of this wood is thought to be adequate protection against any tiger.

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