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The legends of how paddy came to Sarawak

As rice is a staple food in Sarawak like any another Asian culture, paddy planting plays an important economical role in the local communities.

Though most people nowadays stock up their rice from supermarkets, there are people who still cultivate rice for self-consumption.

However, have you ever wondered how paddy came to Sarawak?

Here we take a look on the different legends of how paddy came to this Malaysian state of Borneo:

1. Singalang Burong taught the Ibans how to plant paddy
According to an Iban legend, the God of war taught the Iban how to plant the paddy. Credits: Pixabay.

Singalang Burong is the God of War and one of the deities in Iban mythology. According to legend, he had a daughter named Endu Dara Tincin Temaga (or Endu Sudan Galigan Tincin Mas).

One day, Menggin (or Siu) who was a human found a feathered robe belonging to Tincin Temaga during a hunt.

He took the robe into his possession and Tincin Temaga made Menggin promise that he would never touch another bird.

To make a long story short, Menggin married Tincin Temaga and they had a son named Seragunting.

After the birth of their son, Menggin accidentally broke his promise to his wife.

Upset, Tincin Temaga left her husband, returning to her father’s realm. Together, Menggin and Seragunting went out to look for her. They followed Tincin Temaga’s instructions on the routes and ways to avoid the traps to Singalang Burong’s home in the celestial realm.

Eventually, they arrived at Singalang Burong’s house and remaining there for one whole year.

During this period, Seragunting learned how to read omen, catch fish, dear, and wild pig as well as how to plant paddy.

Singalang also gave Menggin and Seragunting some paddy to bring home to the mortal world.

There are many written accounts of this legend available out there. But one of the most detailed stories was written by Edwin H. Gomes.

Gomes was an English missionary who wrote the book Seventeen Years among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo: a record of intimate association with the natives of the Bornean jungles (1911).

Gome wrote Singalang Burong said this when he handed them the paddy.

“You have learned here how to plant paddy. I will give you some paddy to take away with you, and when you get back to your own country, you can teach men how to cultivate it. You will find rice a much more strengthening article of food than the yams and potatoes you used to live upon, and you will become a strong and hardy race.”

2. The plant of Pleiades or Seven Sisters
In another legend said the paddy plant must be cultivated first under the seven stars. Credits: Pixabay.

This legend of how paddy was first brought to Borneo was recorded by the first Ranee of Sarawak, Margaret Brooke in her book My Life in Sarawak (1913). A fortman’s wife in Simanggang (Sri Aman) told the Ranee this version of the legend.

Long time ago, there was a man who lived alone in a small hut by the river. After a series of heavy downpours and thunderstorms, the man watched the driftwood and debris floating down from the upper river past his house.

Then, a huge tree with its roots still intact floated down the river. The tree got caught on a sandbank with its roots emerging above the water.

The man noticed there was a strange-looking plant entangled in its roots. So the man took his sampan and went out into the river to collect it.

But after that he thought the plant had no use so he threw it at the corner for his hut. That night, the man had a dream.

A spirit told him that “the plant was necessary to the human race, but that it must be watched and cherished, and planted when seven stars were shining together in the sky just before dawn.”

After he woke up, then man went to his neighbour and told him about the dream. His neighbour said that the Petara (deity) himself who appeared in that dream and the man should listen to him.

Later that night, the man waited for another dream to tell when he was to look for the seven stars.

The Ranee wrote:

“In due time, under Patara’s guidance, the man noticed the ‘necklace of Pleiades’ appearing in the sky. The little plant was then put in the ground, where it grew and multiplied. The people in neighbouring villages also procured roots to plant in their farms, so that the paddy now flourishes all over the country and the people of Sarawak have always enough to eat.”

3. The Chinese legend of paddy
It has been scientifically proven that all Asian rice come from China. Credits: Pixabay.

There are plenty of Chinese legends on how paddy came to Earth. In one legend, a Chinese deity named Shennong was the one who introduced paddy planting to human race.

Shennong was credited for teaching the ancient Chinese how to use the plow and medicinal plants. From China, rice cultivation was spread to India, Southeast Asia, Korea and Japan.

Putting aside these folk stories and myths, it had been scientifically proven that all forms of Asian rice come from a single domestication that happened between 8,200 and 12,000 years ago in China.

Researchers from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States did the research using a map of rice genome variations and published their work in Nature journal back in 2012.

The research also indicated the domestication of rice occurred in the Pearl River Valley regions of China.

Even so there are no written records or proven research of how paddy planting introduced to Sarawak, only mythical legends to tell the next generations.

Do you have know any legends of how paddy came to Sarawak in your culture? Share with us in the comment box.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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