Tales of Bujang Senang and Sarawak’s big crocs

18-footer Pak Indon

Kenyalang Portraits

By Wilfred Pilo

Plucking up one’s courage to get close to a reptilian monster like an 18-foot salt water crocodile still sends shivers down the spine even when it’s done with the safety of a protective barrier.

There are many grim tales of crocodilian carnivores in Iban folklore and sneaking up close to one, even in captivity, can be a hair-raising experience. It reminds you starkly not to play Crocodile Dundee for your own good!

Crocodiles that prey on humans are bad news for riverine folks. Their notoriety as vicious stealthy predators precedes them.

To learn about these jurassic reptiles, DayakDaily paid a visit to Jong’s Crocodile Farm and Zoo in Siburan near Kuching.

The skull of the legendary crocodile named “Bujang Senang” at the exhibition foyer of Jong’s Farm and Zoo in Siburan.

There, the opportunity arose to not only have a close look at these pre-historic jaws of death (like that 18-footer I mentioned earlier) — all in captivity thank goodness — but also the skull of the notorious man-eating “salty” known as Bujang Senang.

This almost 20-foot reptile was killed in a massive croc-hunt after it devoured a young Iban woman, named Dayang Bayang, at Pelaban River, a tributary of the Batang Lupar River, in May 1992.

Tales from folklore

According to Iban legends and mythologies, Bujang Senang was originally a warrior and headhunter called Simalungun.

He was killed at Senang River, a tributary of the Batang Lupar in Sri Aman, after trying to save his wife from her captors. Both their bodies were thrown into the river and drifted with the current before sinking to the bottom.

Bujang Senang’s relative, a powerful shaman, searched in vain for him. Later, the shaman  learned about the fate of Simalungun and his wife in a dream.

Iban folklore has it that in the dream, Simalungun told the shaman he wanted revenge.

At dawn the next day, the shaman went to the river and with his powerful magic, implored all the Iban mythical gods to help turn Simalugun into a gigantic white crocodile. He was to be given the name Bujang Senang and would inhabit the Batang Lupar in Sri Aman.

Crocodile/file photo

Riverine folks who claim to be related to Simalingun, say he had sworn to terrorise the descendants of the people who killed him and his wife.

Bujang Senang was believed to have been exacting his vengeance in the vicinity of Senang River for 50 years (1941-1992) until it was eventually shot and killed.

Simalugun may be dead but his legend lives on among the Batang Lupar riverine communities. His name was held in such awe that it was even chosen to represent the Sarawak football team’s “chivalric and ferocious” playing style in the late 80’s and the 90’s.

Strangely enough, taking the name Bujang Senang had sparked a resurgence for the home team after a spell in the doldrums following the mercurial Ngap Sayot period.

For the record, the Bujang Senang team went on to deliver three major accolades – FA Cup (Malaysia) in 1992, the Premier League title in 1997 and the Charity Shield Malaysia in 1998.

Numbers bouncing back

During the visit to Jong’s Crocodile Farm and Zoo, the owner, Johnson Jong who is a crocodile expert, informed DayakDaily that many of the crocodiles in Sarawak are saltwater species (crocodylus porosus).

“Their population in the wild used to be dwindling but is now bouncing back. Those in captivity are different because we can manage and monitor their population,” he explained.

Visitors at Jong’s Farm during crocodile feeding time.

Jong, who is a member of the Crocodile Specialist Group — a worldwide network of biologists, wildlife managers, government officials, independent researchers, non-government (NGO) representatives, farmers, traders and tanners — has always respected these reptiles and has reared in them in captivity for more than 56 years since 1963.

He said the crocodile farm which was started by his late father, is the oldest in Malaysia and has more than 1,000 crocodiles of various ages and sizes.

“Although our crocodiles are mostly for commercial purposes, we also want young people to come to our farm to learn about these reptiles and other wildlife we have here.”

The farm’s icons

According to Jong, apart from Bujang Senang’s skull, there are also a few notable crocodiles reared in captivity which are a must-see for visitors.

Three of them — 16- to 18-footers with a width of some four feet — are named Pak Indon, Bujang Sudin and Bujang Samariang.

“These are big salties with a story or two of their own,” he said.

Pak Indon was bought from an Indonesian trader in 1963. It’s now 56-years-old. When first bought, it was a three-foot long juvenile. Now, it’s nearly 18-feet long and four-feet wide.

Bujang Sudin

Bujang Sudin was caught by the villagers from Sadong River near Gedong, Simunjan. It’s 17-feet long and about three to four-feet wide.

“Although no one knows for sure Bujang Sudin is a rogue, the villagers say it has killed a lot of domesticated goats, buffalos and cows. This was very troublesome for villagers. Bujang Susin was 14-feet long when caught,” Jong related.

Bujang Samariang was snared in 2003 at Rubuk Kalah River in Samariang. It was then 15-feet long but now measures maybe over 16-feet long and four-feet wide.

Bujang Samariang

“These crocodiles only come out when you call their names. In the wild, they were reputed to be ferocious predators and encroachment into their territory, including by humans, could be fatal.

“This is also true of other crocodiles in the area, especially when their numbers are increasing after many years of protection. Food is also abundant in their natural habitat as people do not use the river where they breed, for transportation anymore,” he further explained

Stark reminder

Jong reminded people living in or travelling through crocodile-infested areas to exercise the utmost caution.

“Be alert. Don’t take anything for granted. Crocodiles are creatures whose predatory instincts to stalk and attack have been hard-wired into their DNA from as far back the Jurassic period of the dinosaurs. They can strike before you even know it,” he advised.

As for his farm, he said it is a place where the future generations could get to know more about crocodiles and other wildlife.

“I believe we can co-exist with crocodiles in the wild and protect them like any other endangered wildlife. We must always respect nature like we respect our fellow human beings,” he added. — DayakDaily