How Labi-Labi Island came to be; 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.


During a full moon night, a young Dusun boy, named Malau, asked his father what was hanging in the sky.

“That, my son, is the moon.” Malau’s father answered.

“I want it. Can you take it for me?” Malau requested.

The father replied, “I’m afraid that is too much, son.”

The next night, Malau again asked for the moon.  This continued the next night, and the next, until the moon was only a crescent and then, barely even that.  The father, however, believing to convince the child to see the impossibility of the matter, started to put together a tower made out of bamboo sticks.  He built it tall, and kept bringing more and more bamboo on top of the structure.  Malau’s father climbed the tower one day and told Malau to wait for his return.  So he went, carrying more bamboo sticks.

Days passed.  Malau waited at the bottom of the bamboo tower, yet there was no sign of his father. His mother and other villagers tried to coax Malau to return home but he stood his ground.  What had in fact happened was Malau’s father got blown away by the wind.  He fell into the water, nearly drowning, but the river carried him and left him at the bank.

When he came to, he saw a labi-labi, a softshell turtle, watching over him.  It started to speak, “Hop on my back, I’ll take you where you came from.”

Hearing this, he hopped on and held on tightly. The turtle swam, following Malau’s father’s directions.  The turtle came the mouth of a river, but it was too large to enter.  It tried the next one and met with the same predicament.  Finally, they came to the Tutong River.  Though it was quite narrow, the turtle managed to slip in. It swam to a lake, Tasik Merimbun, but as soon as it passed the river mouth, a big log got caught there, collecting other logs and blocking the river mouth of Tasik Merimbun.

The turtle carried Malau’s father up until the riverbank but when it turned to leave, it saw that it couldn’t.  Even if it waited, the river mouth was blocked beyond help.  Malau’s father tried to find ways, but this was an enchanted log, and for its own reasons, it did not budge.  The turtle tried to go through numerous times but failed.  Resigned, it swam to the middle of Tasik Merimbun and eventually melded into the landscape.

Looking at it now, you might be able to trace an outline of a turtle upturned.  The log, however, is nowhere to be seen.


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