There was a Malay woman who gave the first Ranee of Sarawak Margaret Brooke a coconut as a parting gift before she left for England.
The woman told the Ranee that the coconut would bring her good luck.
At the same time, the woman told Margaret that the fruit came from fairyland.
Not one to pass up a good story, Margaret asked the woman to tell her the legend of the coconut and why she said it was from fairyland.
A legend of coconuts and dragons
According to the woman, in the middle of the world was a place called “The Navel of the Sea.”
In this spot, two dragons guarded a tree on which these large coconuts grew, known as Pau Jinggeh.
Margaret said in her book My Life in Sarawak that “The dragons feed on the fruit, and when they have partaken too freely of it, have fits of indigestion, causing them to be seasick. Thus the fruit finds its way into the ocean, and is borne by the current into all parts of the world.
“These enormous nuts are occasionally met with by passing vessels, and it this manner some are brought to the different settlements in the Malayan Archipelago.”
The coconut that the woman brought was given by the captain of a Malay schooner. He found it bobbing up and down in the water under the keel of his boat.
What did Ranee Margaret think about local legends and superstitions?
Whether she believed that the coconut would bring her good luck, we will never know. But she did put the coconut on display in her drawing room at the Astana and according to her was “a source of great interest to the natives.”
Additionally, she wrote:
“With our ideas of European wisdom, we may be inclined to smile superciliously at these beliefs, but we should not forget that a great many of us do not like seeing one magpie, we avoid dining thirteen at table, we hate to see the new moon through glass, we never walk under a ladder, or sit in a room where three candles are burning; and how about people one meets who assure us they have heard the scream of a banshee, foretelling the death of some human being? Putting all these things together, I do not think either Malays or Dyaks show much more superstition than we Europeans do. After all, we are not so very superior to primitive races, although we imagine that on account of our superior culture we are fit to govern the world.”Margaret Brooke, My Life in Sarawak (1913)
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