Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Storytime - Don't assume that still waters hold no crocodiles.

There is a Malay proverb that goes "air yang tenang jangan disangka tiada buaya". Roughly translated, it sounds something like "Don't assume that still waters hold no crocodiles". What it means is, "Don't think that a quiet person is not capable of rioting".

It is a wonder that so many Malay proverbs have animals in them, but that's probably because in the old days, the Malays had to make proverbs out of the things they saw around them, which mainly consisted of animals at the time. As for this particular proverb, it probably originated from an old Malay folk's tale that probably went something like this:

There was once a pair of deer siblings who lived in the forest. They were a brother and a sister, a male and a female deer. The sister, who was the younger of the two, was more mischievous, and enjoyed exploring more, which often led to trouble. The older brother was the more responsible one, and often had to look out for his sister. Together, the two of them got along well between themselves and the other creatures of the forest.

Now, at this time, both male and female deers had antlers. Both the brother deer and the sister deer had majestic antlers adorning their heads, and the sister deer was especially particular about her antlers and took good care of them. Their antlers were also used for self-defense, for those times when they had to walk home through the dark forest at night.

On one particular day, the two deers stopped by the forest's river to have a drink of water. However, these days the river had been getting more and more congested with the ever-growing population of fresh-water fish. They kicked up the mud at the bottom of the slow-flowing river, turning the water murky. What's more, as the sister deer was bending her head to slurp water from the river, young guppies swam up to her antlers and nibbled at them on the surface of the water. The sister was most shocked by this, and quickly drew her head back.

"Brother!" She cried. "Can't you do something about these insolent fish? I can't see my reflection in this water, because they keep stirring the mud, and I can't even have a drink without them trying to bite my antlers off!"The brother, around whose antlers the fish had been happily leaping through, stopped drinking and laughed.

"Come on, sister. They not strong enough to do that, you know, and they mean you no harm. They just want to play. Try it! It tickles!"

The sister drew herself up indignantly. "No way! I refuse to let my beautiful antlers become the plaything of these pleasure-seeking youngsters. Can't we go get a drink someplace where there are fewer fish?"

The brother shook his head. "Dear sister, the whole river is teeming with aquatic life these days, from the hills to the ocean. Where do you propose to go? There's nothing we can do about it, sister, and the fish have their rights to live in this river. If anything, we should be treating them with respect. After all, we're drinking out of their home, you know."

She felt offended that her own brother should choose to side with the fish rather than herself, so with a huff, she turned away from him and walked further down the river. But her brother's words were true. There wasn't a spot in the river which wasn't filled with fish.

Then, she heard a soft sniggering coming from the trees. Looking up, she saw a monkey, sitting in the tree with a hand over his mouth and trying to hold back his laughter, although he wasn't very successful about it.

"What are you laughing at?" she asked him sharply.

"Sorry." The monkey sniggered. "It's just that I couldn't help but overhear your little... conversation with your brother just now." He sniggered again. "Poor little thing. You can't have a peaceful spot to drink water without having your beautiful horns nipped at, and you can't even check your own beautiful reflection. Such a shame!" And here he burst out laughing uncontrollably.

The young deer just waited there, staring at him and waiting for him to finish laughing. Eventually the monkey came to, and stood up, saying "Come now, don't look at me like that. Tell you what. What if... I knew of a place... where there were no fish?"

The deer's eyes lit up. "Really? There's a place in this river that is entirely free of fish?"

"Oh, it's not in the river, exactly. Further upstream, there's a place where the river branches off to a kind of lagoon kind of place. Its nice and shady, with trees everywhere and everything. And yes, not a single fish lives there. Goodness me, I wonder why that is!" He was unable to control himself and burst into a fit of laughter again.

This time the deer shouted at him. "Hey! Hey, stop laughing for a while! Do you think you could show me where this place is?"

The monkey grinned. "Sure thing, missy! Just follow me! Oh, by the way, try to be quiet, so your brother doesn't notice you when we pass by. You wouldn't want him to come along and spoil all the fun, now, would you? Now let's go!"

Before the sister deer could open her mouth to answer, the monkey was swinging off through the trees. Obedient to the monkey's orders, she treaded softly past her brother, so that she passed him by unnoticed while he was still drinking.

Further upstream, where the river merged into one from two streams as it flowed down from the hills, the monkey hopped down from the trees and joined the deer on the ground. Gesturing to her to follow him, he crossed over to the other side of the river by hopping over some flat stones sticking out of the water. She followed his steps, and nearly lost her footing once or twice, but managed to get to the other side. As they walked up the river bank, the monkey told the deer where they were going.

"As the river flows down from the mountains," he explained, "and comes near to the forest, it splits into two streams, which join back into a single river at the point we're standing now. As you can see, as we go upstream, we can trace back the river to the point where it rejoins. From here we have two paths, once that's clear, and one that's shaded with trees that block out the sunlight... and... make the place rather ominous... but! It is this half of the river which branches off into the lagoon. Right... here!"

They had been walking through the thick woods for a while, against the flow of the smaller stream, and they came to a point where the water flowed off from the path, deeper into the thick trees. Here the monkey stopped. "Uh... Well, just follow the flow of the water, and you'll get to the spot! There's only one path there, so you won't lose your way. Well, this is as far as I go, so, uh, goodbye, and have fun!" And he ran off, cackling, into the trees. The young deer had become rather afraid of the dark woods around her, but decided that since she had come so far, she should at least have a look at the place, and then return if it wasn't very nice.

But how surprised she was when, as she followed the stream, she arrived at a bright and sunny glade, in the center of which the water flowed into a clear, glistening lake, surrounded by sweet-smelling flowers and trees! This was such a bright contrast from the gloomy forest, that all of the deer's fears dissipated, and she was glad she came.

The most amazing thing, it seemed to the deer, was that in such a calm and peaceful place, there wasn't a single fish in the water! The deer was overjoyed, and ran up to the side of the lake. She tried some of the water, and it tasted as sweet as honey. She drank to her hearts content, and was glad that she had followed the monkey. No fish tried to bite her antlers, so she didn't have to be afraid of lowering her head to the water. And was the water clear? She straightened her neck and looked down at the surface of the water. The water was clear, and she could see her reflection in it. The sun sparkled off the water, and the deer admired the beauty of her antlers in the reflection.

Suddenly, there was a small movement in the water, and before the young deer could react, a huge beast burst out of the water right where her reflection had been, with its jaws open and lunging at her neck! Instinctively, the deer swung her head around to protect herself with her antlers, but the crocodile only clamped itself onto its antlers. With the weight of the huge moster pulling down her antlers, the deer could not pull away from the water, but continued to be dragged further and further into the lake. The deer, screamed for help, but realised that there wasn't anyone nearby.

All of a sudden, her brother leapt out of the trees. Calling to her sister to hold on, he charged the crocodile on the bank, and with an upward swing of his head, his antlers caught the crocodile in the neck, and flung him into the air. However, the crocodile's jaws were so strong, that he retained his grip on both antlers, and they were snapped clean off the sister's head. With a splash, the beast landed in the water, and swam off to a deep corner to lick his wounds.

"Are you alright, sister?" The brother ran up to his sister, who had collapsed on the ground, and was sobbing. "Don't worry, sister, its alright," he said. "The fish from downstream came to tell me that the monkey was trying to bring to this place. All of them, all through the river, lent a hand and led me upstream, right to this very spot. Do you understand why there are no fish here, sister? No fish will live here, because the crocodile is a difficult neighbour to live with. Now do you understand, sister? The fish are our guardians, and they patrol the waters to keep us from harm."

Since then, the female deer lost her antlers, and was unable to protect herself from danger. From that very day, female deers did not grow antlers, and only male deers were able to have them. As a result, many female deers would flock around a single male deer, so that he would be able to protect them all from danger. Since that horrible day, the female deer has not had antlers, and has had to rely on the male deer for protection. However, sometimes you will come across a female deer that has two small stubs where the antlers would otherwise be on a male. This may be the very same deer which, all those years ago, had both her antlers broken off by the crocodile.