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  • The picture was taken by my Facebook friend, Mr. Hanafi Hanafinoor, at the Lubuk Timah hotspring and waterfall in Ipoh, Perak. During the trek, he found tiger footprints and a strong scent of carcass, indicative of tiger presence.

    It reminded me of a story my father was fond of sharing about his childhood in Perak. He had a peripatetic lifestyle with his mother, always moving from one village to another until they finally settled in the village of Tualang Sekah in the Malim Nawar district.

    This was in the 1940s and a lot of Perak were virgin forest that was broken up by the occasional tin mines and farms and paddy fields. Settlements were few and far in between, often lining the main trunk roads or riverside for transportation purposes.

    Tualang Sekah was nestled in the verdant and wild forest that carpeted the mountain range forming the chalk and granite spine of the Malay peninsula. It was an accepted fact in those days that humans are not necessarily at the top of the food chain. Hardly anyone would venture out of their homes after dark if not for cases of emergency; wild tigers roamed to snatch at livestocks and the occasional unwary villager.

    It got to a point that the villagers felt desperate. It was hard enough scrabbling a living under the British and then Japanese yoke (before back to the white man) without having to contend with furry maneaters that slaughtered your animals before you could. As my father recounted it, the village head invited a distant relative of my father for consultation. If my memory did not fail me, he was called Pak Ngah Merah (I could be wrong, but this was probably not the name on his identification papers anyway). He agreed to help the villagers by drawing the tigers away and resettling the deadly felines away from human habitat.

    A cheeky soul asked Pak Ngah Merah (literally translated as Red Middle Uncle) if they could watch him perform the ritual to lure away the tigers. To the surprise of many, he was open to the idea. "If you want to watch," he said, "After the Maghrib prayer, go climb as high as you can, a tree near the clearing. Don't make any noise, don't speak, and all will be well. Do not come down, don't make a sound until I say that you may do so."

    A few of the younger (and not so young) men of the village did as he bade. When night fell, Pak Ngah Merah took off all of his clothes and started singing. He picked the leaves of the ribu-ribu fern (for a picture of Selaginella willdenowii, please go to: http://idristalu.blogspot.com/2010/07/ribu-ribu.html) to cover himself, never stopping his singing. Once he was clothed in the ribu-ribu fern, a large tiger appeared and paid homage to him. The watchers up on the trees were paralysed with fear.

    This was said to not be a real biological tiger, but rather a manifestation of a supernatural entity whose help he enlisted to coax the tigers around Tualang Sekah.

    The unnatural tiger sat next to him as he continued to sit. As darkness deepened in the night, more tigers appeared. Male tigers, female tigers, adults and cubs, all came from the forest surrounding Tualang Sekah. The clearing was filled with the predators that were mesmerised by Pak Ngah Merah. After no more new tigers came about, he climbed upon the back of the unnatural tiger and guided the rest of the tigers into the forest at the foot of Gunung Mesah, some considerable distance away. Just like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, come to think of it.

    Mindful of his warning, none of the watchers climbed down from their perch until he returned, still perched atop the magical tiger. Not a sound escaped them as he climbed off his fierce mount, made his bow to the supernatural creature and took his leave. Once the magical tiger disappeared, he removed his fern clothing and replaced it with the one that he wore earlier in the evening.

    Ever since then, not a single life was lost to tiger mauling in Tualang Sekah to this day.
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