Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindlewald is out in cinemas! And although they didn’t pay us to write this article (*sobsob Warner Bros sponsor la sikit*), we wanted to come up with our own lists of less-fantastic Malaysian beasts!
Malaysia is a land known for its diverse wild-life and lush natural wonder. Pay a visit, and you can see all kinds of strange creatures with garish colours and peculiar habits…and that’s just on Petaling Street!
We’ve got all kinds of marvellous creatures dwelling in our forests. Not just all the usual stuff like elephants and tigers and tapirs (oh my!), but also creatures such as flying lemurs and giant stick insects.
When it comes to MAGICAL beasts, on the other hand, yeah our country has quite a few too. The creatures of Malaysian folklore are bad-ass and fascinating: Newt Scamander would probably wet his wizard pants if he met any of them on a dark night!
And so, Cilisos puts on its hunting boots and grabs its best Indiana Jones style fedora, and journeys to the deepest, darkest haunts of Malaysian folklore and legend to hunt down some of the country’s most legendary beasts. You have to admire the minds who came up with some of them.
(Note: this article is about fantastic BEASTS, which are roughly defined as ‘wild animals’. Therefore, there are no human-like creatures here (so no pontianaks or orang minyak) and none of the undead (go home, you toyols and penanggals!) Although there are so many of them we think a follow-up article may be worthy in future!)
1. Sulur Bidar
A.K.A: The Aquatic Man-Eating Carpet Monster
Where to find them: Popular Malaysian lakes and rivers, eg. Tasik Kenyir, Tasik Bera and Tasik Chini
Aladdin has his magic carpet, Harry Potter has his invisibility cloak, and Dr. Strange has his Cloak of Levitation. Rejoice, kiasu Malaysians! Because we have our own fabric-based creature, although it’s not as friendly as the ones mentioned above.
Meet the Sulur Bidar: the bane of Malaysian fishermen everywhere. Witnesses describe it as looking like an old carpet, or tikar, which floats at the top of a lake. Get too close, and it overturns your boat, wraps you up like a tasty popiah, and drags you beneath the water to drown. Alamak. Talk about a carpet bombing.
How do you tell if it’s approaching? Simple, look for bubbles on the water’s surface, and the presence of dead leaves. Some people describe it as having four heads, each on one corner of its body.
Sulur Bidar rumors are apparently so widespread that even Utusan Malaysia has done an article about them.
Possible logical, boring explanation: As the Utusan report suggests, the Sulur Bidar phenomenon is probably caused by the release of gases from the bottom of the lake (heehee lake farts!) which cause bubbles and push sunken leaves to the top. Unlucky fishermen caught in this phenomenon haVE their boats overturned, and then probably concocted the Sulur Bidar legend to save face, though why they imagined it as a giant carpet, we have no idea.
We’d like to call these stories fake, but that would be too much of a blanket statement. (Haha see what we did there?) Okay, this section is a wrap. On to the next one!
2. Sang Kelembai
A.K.A: The Stoner Forest Ogre
Where to find them: Pahang, especially the town of Kampung Gajah in Teluk Intan
The Sang Kelembai is apparently a giant monster with the power to turn people to stone with the power of their curses. So they are our version of Medusa? They also apparently love to eat bamboo, which also makes them our version of pandas, except way way less cute. According to legend, they live in the woods, and hate people who make noise: they are also so large that they can walk from Terengganu to Kuala Tahan in a few steps. In some versions, Sang Kelembai is seen as female.
Sang Kelembai is said to be the descendant of a group of Pahang-ites, most prominently the brothers Tak Ong and Tatang. Basically, the two always got into fights: Tak Ong was jealous of his brother, who was much cooler than him in every way. As the Chinese say, he really tak ong la.
Possible logical, boring explanation: One of the most famous stories about Sang Kelembai is how he got upset with a group of elephants that were disturbing the peace in a nearby river. The elephantophobic monster thus cursed them to turn to stone, and a nearby village, Kampung Gajah, got it’s name as a result.
It’s very possible that Kampung Gajah just happened to have rocks nearby that resembled elephants, and so the story of Sang Kelembai was invented as a roundabout way to explain their shape. It’s a much more interesting story than ‘geology did it’, after all.
A.K.A: Fire-breathing flying lizards
Where to find them: Tasik Cini, Mount Kinabalu
If recent TV shows have thought us anything, its that the best way to become a bad-ass leader is to have dragons on your side. After all, who wants to pick a fight with a giant, flying, fire-breathing lizard?
If you’re looking for Malaysian dragons, however, you’re going to have to do some serious traveling. Somehow, these Malaysian dragons have damn good taste, living in two of the most popular scenic destinations in the country.
For the first, take a trip down to Tasik Cini in Pahang. According to Orang Asli legend, the lake is haunted by a dragon called Naga Seri Gumum, also known as the Loch Ness Monster of Malaysia. It has been described as looking like a snake, and that if you see it, death will come soon. (We don’t know if it will ask you for three fiddy, or about RM15.02 in local currency.)
The second dragon is believed to live at the top of Mount Kinabalu. According to legend, it guarded a shiny pink pearl, which the Emperor of China longed for. It, unfortunately, was killed by one of the Emperor’s sons, in a story so epic we’re surprised it hasn’t been adapted into a HBO Original Series yet. This prince also married a local Kadazan woman, but later was forced to leave her to return to China: his heartbroken wife wandered the mountains and was turned to stone (maybe she met Sang Kelembai?).
Also in 2015, there were reports that the fluffiest, cutest dragon ever had been shot in West Malaysia:
No need to cry for it lah. It’s a fake.
Possible logical, boring explanation: Dragons are pretty cool. There are stories of these fire-breathing creatures from all around the world, from China to England to Persia and even Africa. A popular theory is that dragon legends started from people coming across dinosaur bones: unable to explain these massive fossils, they invented the myth of the reptilian dragons.
However, there have been very few fossil discoveries in Malaysia so far. But who needs boring old regular dinosaurs when we have the yummy Milo dinosaur?
4. Giant Borneo water snakes!
A.K.A: Well the Name Sort of Says it all, doesn’t it?
Found: By the Papar river, Sabah (Tambuakar), by the Balleh river, Sarawak (Nabau)
What lurks in the untamed wilderness of Sabah and Sarawak? Giant river-dwelling snakes, apparently.
Dusun legends tell of Tambuakar, a large black long-necked serpent. Stories say he started life as Sinsilog, King of the Fishes, who ruled over all life in the river. After living for thousands and thousands of years, it slowly turned into the size and shape of a dragon.
Sightings of the creature were many in the 1930s to 1960s, although they have lessened over time. Some people say that it has retreated deeper underwater to avoid human contact.
The most famous East Malaysian aquatic serpent, however, has got to be Nabau. According to Iban legend, he was a giant serpent that was as wide as a drum and was over 100 feet in length. Seeing it was considered good luck, and it’s scales were believed to give people super strength.
Nabau had the power to shapeshift into different animals, though evidently, he liked to stay in the form of a giant snake. He also apparently had a dragon’s head and seven nostrils, which sounds more icky than scary: I mean, imagine the amount of tissues he would need if he caught a cold!
Nabau became an international sensation in 2009: after floods hit Ulu Rajang, a member of the disaster relief committee was in a helicopter overhead when he spotted the giant snake making his way downtown. He took a photo, which was published in local newspapers, and even made headlines overseas.
Possible logical, boring explanation: A popular theory is that most lake monsters (yes, even the famous Loch Ness Monster of Scotland) are plesiosaurs or prehistoric water-dwelling reptiles that have somehow survived to this day. Of course this then raises the question of how a creature like this could have survived from prehistoric days, which means….oh my God, are our ministers doing enough to protect us from IMMORTAL WATER LIZARDS?????
5. Orang Mawas
A.K.A: The Bigfoot of Johor
Where to find them: Forests of Johor
It seems that every country has its own Bigfoot legend, and heh we have one too, Malaysia boleh! The Orang Mawas is described as a tall, ape-like figure covered in black fur, which reportedly feeds on fish and raids orchards.
Sightings of it are pretty regular, and go back to 1871! The most famous sighting, however, is in 2005, when three workers supposedly saw a Mawas family of two adults and a child on a jalan-jalan in Kampung Mawai, Kota Tinggi. This apparently resulted in the country having a short-lived Bigfoot craze (catchily-called Mawas Mania!) to the point that government ministry officials had to step in and stop rumours. (The official news article on this has been removed, but reports are still online)
Another famous sighting was in 2014, where hundreds of huge, strange footprints were discovered all over a tar road in Endau-Rompin (possibly angering a horde of road workers who worked so hard to make a lovely road).
Some people also call this monster the hantu jarang gigi, which makes it sounds less like a monster and more like a very odd Colgate advertisement.
Anyway, Malaysian BigFoot (Kaki Besar?) has certainly been busy…there were sightings of it in Kelantan this year, which was even covered by this website itself!
Possible, logical, boring explanation: The huge tracks left behind by it are often attributed to elephants, while the sightings are claimed to be misattributed sun bears or apes. Some people say they could be surviving Gigantopithecus apes (the same species that King Louie was in the Jungle Book remake), although those are supposed to be extinct. Which begs the question: if there really are giant apes running around, how come sightings of them are so rare?
A.K.A: A Beautiful Bird that’s too good for this sinful world
Where to find: Heaven? Perhaps look in your nearest Malay palace. The real life birds of paradise can be found in East Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Okay, all of the monsters so far have been pretty nasty creatures (and if you don’t think they’re bad, wait till you see the guys at the end of this list!). So lets have a nice change and look at something pretty for once.
The Cenderawasih is believed to have from heaven itself. According to Kitab Tajul Muluk, many ancient Malay royal palaces owned these rare birds. They drank only dew, and ate clouds. It was so pure that it would spend it’s entire life in the air. They were said to have golden heads, and four wings, and their tails sported two long ‘antenna’. (The legends did not mention what sort of TV channels these antenna received).
Malaysian and Indonesian legends say the Cenderawasih were so beautiful that all who looked upon them were stunned. These birds would only fall on the earth when it was time to die, and even then its body would not decay easily. And even when its feathers touched the earth, they would turn into precious jewels. These birds were said to be lucky, and and had the power to protect their owners from dark magic. They were the guardians of sacred emeralds.
Legends of this bird persist until today: it has been reported that the preserved bodies of this bird can be sold from RM1,500 to RM10,000, while its feathers can fetch you RM800. Not bad for an animal that allegedly doesn’t exist!
My God, what an overachiever bird. Could it get anymore perfect? It’s the bird equivalent of your cousin who scores 80As in STPM while running a successful start-up business who your aunties can never stop talking about during Chinese New Year.
Possible logical, boring explanation: A bird from heaven? More like the real-life bird of paradise, which is found in Irian Jaya, Indonesia. It’s likely that, in the olden days, our ancestors were so awe-struck by the beauty of these birds, that they believed they must have literally been heaven-sent. Thus all the fantastic stories about them.
7. Santu Sakai
A.K.A: Monstrous Mouth Men who Mau Makan Manusia
Where they can be found: Forests near KL apparently, so people in Bukit Nenas, I’d be worried if I were you…
Okay, you might want to turn on a nightlight if you’re reading this story after dark. The santu sakai are apparently half human, half monster beings with large fangs and cravings for fresh, red meat.
In June 1967, a hunter named Henri Van Heerdan was apparently hunting in a forest at night near Kuala Lumpur when he saw two of these creatures coming at him. They were ‘tall’, ‘very large’, and looked like ‘demons from hell’. Damn, and you thought the Mat Rempit were the only things to worry about in KL at night.
Van Heerdan ran for his life, but the creatures attacked him, and…you know what, why don’t you read part of his story for yourself here. It’s way better than anything out of Mastika!
Possible, logical, boring explanation: Okay, I’m at a loss here. I can’t think of a logical explanation for monstrous mouth men. Were they people in costume? Sounds too much like a Scooby Doo plot lah.
One particularly strange thing about the Santu Sakai is that I could only find references to it in Western books on monsters or shapeshifters. No Malaysian seems to have heard of it: mention the pontianak or the toyol, and people nod in recognition, but no one knows about the Santu Sakai! Their name also is odd, at first I thought it was a typo of ‘hantu sakai’, but it seems it is not the case.
Bonus: BOHON UPAS!
A.K.A: The Deadly Poison Tree
Yes, this is not an animal, but this story is too good to resist. This tree, apparently found in Malaysia and Indonesia (most legends either say Java, or cryptically ‘Malay’!), released fumes that were so toxic that it even killed plants and animals miles away from it. People used its poison on barbs and arrows, but if they fell asleep under the tree, they never woke up again.
Other legends also say the tree is so poisonous that people would drop dead before they could get to its trunk. (But how did they get the poison to use on their arrows then? HAH! PLOT HOLE!) Stories said that every animal that entered its locale was quickly overcome and smothered by a noxious gas “like the putrid steam of a marshy cavern,” and birds that flew into the poisonous zone would drop dead in mid-air. Wow, and I thought I had bad BO Problems.
The Bohon Upas was even mentioned in the popular videogame The Witcher: it is supposedly how the Manticore monsters get their venom!
According to legend, Malaysians would execute prisoners by tying them to the trunk of these trees. The stories were apparently based on a real-life tree, which does yield poisonous latex, but I like to think Western writers passed a durian orchard, took one whiff and this legend was born!
And you thought the Whomping Willow was bad? Suck it up, Harry Potter.