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The Melanau Oya legend of Bunga Lawan and the wicked antu sababu

Here is the Melanau version of a changeling; the legend of Bunga Lawan and the wicked antu sababu.

Long time ago, there was a nobleman who lived happily with his wife.

Once upon a time, there lived in Oya a Melanau nobleman with his lovely wife and his sister. This man was Bunga Lawan, the “Flower of Strength of Melanau Warriors”.

His wife was Dayang Tri-Ikat-ku Bunga and his sister was Dayang Salalan.

When Dayang Tri came with child, she told her husband that she would like to eat buah pangai, a fruit that tastes sour when it is eaten unripe but is still a favourite among Melanau women.

The tree that bore buah pangai fruit was on the opposite bank of the river, so Bunga Lawan asked his wife to accompany him. Dayang Tri also asked her sister-in-law to join them and together they set off in a boat, bringing some food with them.

On reaching their destination they were surprised to find the fruit tree was not there. Dayang Tri persuaded her husband to look for another tree, and so Bunga Lawan went deeper into the forest with his sister, leaving Dayang Tri alone in the boat. In those days, it was a Melanau taboo for women who were with child not to go into the forest.

Dayang Tri and antu sababu

While Bunga Lawan and his sister were off looking for the fruit, Dayang Tri sat alone in the boat trying to amuse herself by putting her hands into the water.

Suddenly she saw a woman coming towards her from the river bank.

It turns out that this woman was the wicked fairy, the antu sababu, who was out to do her harm.

Dayang Tri did not realise this, inviting the woman to sit down in the boat with her. No sooner had the fairy entered the boat than she knocked Dayang Tri unconscious and threw her into the river.

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Then the cunning antu sababu changed herself into Dayang Tri.

Antu Sababu living as Dayang Tri

When Bunga Lawan and his sister returned, the wicked fairy tried to greet them as Dayang Tri had always done, but she was unsuccessful because she was an antu.

It is said that wicked antu shout at people rather than talk to them, and so try as she might, she could not keep her voice down.

Believing that it was Dayang Tri, and not a wicked antu, Bunga Lawan thought that the atmosphere of the forest had affected his wife’s disposition and he hurriedly rowed homeward.

In time the antu sababu’s behaviour became worse, so much so that Bunga Lawan left her alone as often as he could. Soon she gave birth to a son who was just as ugly and wicked as his mother.

As the boy grew his wickedness became more pronounced; he would bully and beat up all his friends. Bunga Lawan was so angry that he ordered his men to kill his wife but spare the boy as he believed he was of his line.

Bunga Lawan also swore he would never marry again.

Ugul and Mainang

Near where Bunga Lawan had gone to look for buah pangai there lived an old couple who had no children. The couple were named Ugul and Mainang.

Ugul was a farmer and a fisherman. One morning, Mainang told her husband that she had had a dream the night before. She dreamt that the moon had fallen to earth and that she had picked it up.

To the Melanaus such a dream was portentous of good fortune.

Ugul teased his wife about it, making her angry. She turned away and told her husband not to follow her no matter where she went that day.

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Mainang went to the river and looked into the trap that Ugul had set the previous night. To her surprise, she did not find fish, but a beautiful woman! She shouted for her husband to come and they strained as they pulled it up – for they were very old – at last successfully dragging the trap onto the bank.

They opened it and took the woman out. They rubbed her with a reviving potion and at long last she opened her eyes, and said, “Where am I?”

“You are with us, child,” said Mainang. They then brought her to their home and the aged couple treated her as their own.

Dayang Tri living with Ugul and Mainang

The woman was, of course, the lovely Dayang Tri whose place the antu sababu had usurped.

In time Dayang Tri gave birth to a fine boy who looked very much like his mother.

At the sight of the boy, Dayang Tri would often weep as she remembered husband Bunga Lawan.

Her son was called Berdak Mas. When Berdak Mas was 3-years-old, he found his mother weeping one day.

Little as he was, he wanted to know why.

Dayang Tri revealed to him who she was and who his father was.

On hearing this, the boy went away resolving that he would go to look for his father one day.

However, whenever he told his mother about this, Dayang Tri said he was far too young to think about it.

Berdak Mas and his dream

One night, Berdak Mas was asleep when he saw an old man coming to him.

The old man told him that his father, Bunga Lawan was very sick. “You are the only person, my child, who could cure your father’s illness. But before you go to him, you must be made strong so that no harm will come to you,” said the old man.

The next morning, Berdak Mas told his mother what had happened and sought permission to leave her.

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His mother reluctantly agreed, even packing some food for his journey.

He bid farewell to her and travelled day and night.

Berdak Mas goes against Antu Sababu’s son

At last Berdak Mas came to a place where he saw a group of boys playing marbles.

He asked about Bunga Lawan and one of the boys who was very ugly said to him, “He is my father. Come and play with me. If you beat me in the game I shall lead you to him, but if you lose I shall beat you up.”

Berdak Mas agreed. No sooner had the ugly boy’s marble come into contact with his than it broke into hundreds of fragments. The ugly boy became very angry, dragging Berdak Mas to his father who lay in bed.

The happily ever after

As soon as Bunga Lawan saw him he bid him come near and asked, “Who are you, child?”

The little boy then told his father the story that his mother had told him. On hearing this, Bunga Lawan was so delighted that he got well again and followed his son back to his mother.

Dayang Tri was waiting for them both at the door and great was their reunion.

The ugly boy, son of the antu sababu, became their servant while Ugul and Mainang were taken to live with them in Bunga Lawan’s home. They all lived happily ever after.

This legend was recorded by Gertrude Wong and published in The Sarawak Gazette on Nov 30, 1953.

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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