When it comes to legends related to crocodiles in Sarawak, most people will remember the story of Bujang Senang.
It was a 20-foot long saltwater crocodile that once roamed the river of Batang Lupar in Sri Aman.
Bujang Senang was believed to have swum in that river as early as 1942. (Saltwater crocodiles can have long lifespans, averaging 70 years and even up to 100.)
There is no exact number of how many had fallen into its prey, but after killing a woman in Sungai Pelaban, a tributary of Batang Lupar on May 20, 1992, it was shot to death after two more deaths later.
Some legends have it that Bujang Senang was an incarnation of an Iban warrior named Simalungun who was killed and cursed to turn into a crocodile. Seeking vengeance, he vowed to kill the descendants of those responsible for his death.
The legend of how crocodiles came to be in Sarawak
Among his accounts of how to go crocodile fishing or hunting them by torch light, J.Leong Ipoi, a Kenyah from Baram, relates a legend in the Sarawak Gazette on Aug 31, 1965 of how crocodiles first came to Sarawak.
Apparently, many years ago, there were no crocodiles found in this country.
Then came a Chinese magician named Sam Pa Kong, who brought one crocodile with him “because he did not find any fierce and wild animals here.”
He had packed the animal inside a mosquito net, which made it furious as it could not see anything.
“On arrival Sam Pa Kong set free the animal. That is why until the present time, people dare not wash their mosquito nets in the river. If they do, a crocodile will attack them,” Leong wrote.
He continued, “During many years, the Chinese said crocodiles in the Baram never attacked the Chinese because the Chinese had set the animal free.”
Before there were crocodiles, there were water ghosts
Leong also shared a story of how water ghosts and other wild animals existed before there were crocodiles in Sarawak waters.
These water ghosts were more dangerous than crocodiles.
He wrote, “They used to take children or adults into the water while they were swimming. They did not take people for food. Instead, they only wanted to kill, most of the dead bodies recovered were still in proper condition.”
Then came a man who gave the villagers an idea of how to get rid of these dangerous ghosts.
He asked the villagers to plant chillies, ginger, tuba and other plants which could sting and give off a biting heat.
After harvesting these plants, he told them to pound them together.
Under the man’s instruction, the villagers loaded the pounded vegetables onto the boats. At the right place, everyone capsized the boats, dumping their loads.
“This caused the fish to come out of the water including the water ghosts because their eyes could not stand it. Many of the ghosts escaped to the river bank. Some of them looked like human beings, with long finger nails, some had animal bodies but human heads; others with long hair around their bodies and also long teeth,” Leong stated.
Here comes the gruesome part of this legend; the villagers started to run after them, chopping off their heads.
Since then, only a few water ghosts are said to have survived the skirmish, but are no longer a danger to human beings.