Beliau Samat and the Crocodile King’s Son, a Malay folk tale re-imagined

This story is published here to point to their existence and add another version to the few already in circulation.  It is re-imagined and rewritten folklore, first shared during the launch of Bookish Charms: A Folk Tale Collection; a for-charity collaboration between Heartwrite Co. and Enya Bijoux.  For their creativity, twists and deficits, we ask your kind indulgence.

Beliau Samat, an old man when this tale took place, lived in Kampong Ayer (The Water Village), in an old house with his wife and son.  For his livelihood, Beliau Samat collected mangrove wood from riverbanks and swamps, and his wife helped to tie them up, ready to be sold. Occasionally he tended to various illnesses contracted by the villagers. For this role as healer, he is well-known and well-loved.

It is said that Beliau Samat gathered mangrove wood from a place not far from the village. He collected wood right down to the roots, which meant diving into the water where vicious crocodiles sometimes lurked.  It was dangerous work. and there had been fatalities.  Sometimes the bodies were not found.

One day, as he was just about to finish up and head home, two human-like creatures appeared from the river mouth of Sungai Buang Kepayang. Beliau Samat, fearless and well-versed in shamanism, ignored them.  They come close to his boat and one of them asked Beliau Samat if he was able to heal somebody they knew.  Despite realising this was no ordinary request, he agreed.

The creatures asked Beliau Samat to tie his boat to one of the tree branches, and hop on one of their backs. He did, and they dove deep into the water.  After some time, they arrived at a beautiful mansion, large and imposing.  For a structure of that size, they had to be at an otherworldly river.

Gleaming alligator skins hung on the walls, like suits and armours.  There were people with long white bodies and tall pointed heads.  One of them approached Beliau Samat and told him that the Crocodile King requested his expertise, to heal the prince who had been choking on a bone for several days. Beliau Samat agreed and was immediately escorted into the Prince’s room.  Tired and weak, the prince was resting, his mouth stuck wide open.

‘Please, get me a pestle,’ said Beliau Samat.   The creatures had no need for pestles, which was used for pounding rice.  One of them volunteered to search for and ‘borrow’ one at a nearby human village.

When the pestle was finally produced, Beliau Samat began the healing process.  He chanted and murmured a few soothing words before striking at the bone with the pestle.  The lodged bone popped out, enabling the prince to close his mouth once again. All the witnesses, ministers, and even the Crocodile King himself, were at awe of Beliau Samat’s extraordinary ability.  They had tried many things for days what Beliau Samat was able to overcome in a matter of minutes.

Beliau Samat asked to be returned to his home.  The Crocodile King acknowledged his request and bestowed upon the hero lavish gifts such as diamonds.  Meanwhile, Beliau Samat’s family had sent out a search party.  In human terms, he had been gone for nearly a week.  When the villagers returned with naught but his boat, he was presumed dead. Imagine turning up at your own funeral!

His wife and son were happy at his return, and like the rest of the villagers were eager to know what had happened.  It was said he shared the gifts with the community, but could there be more to the gifts that he kept to himself?  A magical power of some sort?  Perhaps, though Beliau Samat would not be one to brag.

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