World of Tales

Sang Kancil Counts the Crocodiles
(Sang Kancil Mengira Buaya)
A Malaysian folktale

Deep in the tropical rainforest of Malaysia where one can hear many kinds of birds, for instance, magpies, cuckoos and sometimes hornbills singing to their hearts-content, the sound of cicadas crying to attract their potential mates and if one is lucky enough he or she can hear the cries of siamangs or lotongs as they rummage the forest to find food or just play by clinging or swinging from one tree to another using the strong vines hanging from the green canopies.

In this lively forest lived a mouse-deer named Sang Kancil. As suggested by the title, this story is about his life in the jungle. At the time the story happened all animals could talk as we humans talk to each other. Some curious readers might ask, what language did they use? I cannot tell you for I was not born yet during that time, if one of the readers happened to have a time machine he can always go back to this era and ask Sang Kancil what language did he use and tell me.

Sang Kancil lived alone in the jungle, he had neither wife nor offspring. He also did not have a particular place to call home; his home was everywhere and anywhere in the forest. One could find him sleeping in a thick bush under a big tree. Sometimes he slept between the large buttress roots of a kekabu tree - the big roots protected him from draught and were quite comfortable as he could use the dead leaves which fell between the roots as his bedding. On the day that this story happened he was sleeping in a thick tangling shrubbery quite near a cengal tree.

“Croop..croop…”Sang Kancil’s stomach grumbled. He was terribly hungry that morning, so he woke up quickly and out he went into the forest to find some foods. He had searched high and low but he did not find any edible things, the little branches of the shrubs where he used to eat had not produced any juicy young shoots either, the ones which were left behind were just too small to stop his poor stomach from grumbling.

“These must be eaten by rusa sambars, they always eat ahead of me,” he thought. Rusa sambars normally searched for food at dusk or dawn. He left the shrubs and continued his searching. A while later he came under a wild chestnut tree. There were plenty of empty chestnut shells and their green prickly cases scattered on the ground. A strong smell of rotten dead leaves and deadwood was everywhere. Sang Kancil started rummaging under the tree to see if there was anything left for him. The best he could find was a half-eaten wild chestnut. “Must be the leftover from the wild boars’ feeding time last night.” he thought. Left with no choice he ate the finding anyway.

And so, battling with an empty stomach, Sang Kancil continued his search for something edible that morning. How he walked and walked and walked - his head started throbbing from the heat and all that walking. Although the sunlight cannot penetrate the dense evergreen canopy of the forest most of the time, the humidity of the surrounding air was just too high, increasing one’s body to perspire profusely as it normally happens in the tropical rainforests. Sang Kancil was almost drenched in sweat and now he had to satisfy not only his hunger; now he felt very thirsty too.

It might be just his luck for he had walked so far away that he came to a river bank. The river was muddy in colour but flowed calmly with a lot of drifted logs out there. Sang Kancil looked around, and suddenly his eyes caught a glimpse of red fruits scattered under a large shady tree near the bank at the other side of the river. As he moved closer towards the edge of the river bank to have a good look at the tree, his heart began to beat faster, hoping the fruits were the edible ones.

How his heart leaped with joy! It was a bell fruit tree.Those ripening red bell fruits, some scattered on the ground, some still on the tree, seemed to be very inviting to his hungry stomach. On the silent riverbank he could even hear the plopping sounds the fruits made when they dropped into the murky waters. He could do nothing but haplessly watch the floating red ripening fruits being carried away by the slow current of the river he could not cross. Although the current was slow, the water was very deep and the river was just too wide for him to swim to the next shore.

“There are my lunch and dinner, but how am I suppose to go there?” thought Sang Kancil. His mouth kept on watering as he imagined the juiciness and the sweetness of the fruits for he had tasted them before. His previous thirstiness started to get over him and to quench his thirst, he walked along the bank and found a lower place where he could take a drink. As he was too occupied with his drinking and thoughts of how to go to the next shore, he did not realise a log had been drifted near the side.

Sang Kancil was going to take another breath before he continued with his drinking when he heard a loud SNAP and felt an excruciating pain on his front left leg. There, he saw a big; hideous mouth with protruding sharp teeth had clamped his tiny leg a span lower than his knee. A medium sized crocodile had caught his leg and it was bleeding. Maintaining a cool look, his head was racing to find a way to release his leg from that vise-gripped jaws.

“Sang Buaya (pronounce: sung boo-ah-yah), you have wrongly bitten! That was a twig not my leg.” said Sang Kancil. One should know that mouse deer’s legs are long and thin almost resembled thin straight twigs. It is easy to mistaken them as ones.

Sang Buaya, who was not among the brightest animals, believed what Sang Kancil had just said, and immediately released the ‘twig’ and prepared to take another good snap. Seeing his chance, the cunning Sang Kancil quickly jumped to a higher ground while maintaining his balance with three legs. Sang Buaya who realised he had just snapped a thin air instead of Sang Kancil’s leg felt very angry and tried to climb the bank to give his run away meal a good chase.

Sang Kancil who knew he cannot go any much faster with his injured leg started to think. An idea struck his small but quick brain.

”Sang Buaya, my dearest companion, please do not avenge me. You do not know my intention for coming to meet you,” he said.

“Why, then Sang Kancil, do explain to me your intentions!” said Sang Buaya, stopping the chase.

“Actually, King Solomon asked me to count how many animals are there in this very river, as His Excellency wanted to know your numbers” answered Sang Kancil proudly, although he could hardly keep himself balanced with three legs on that sloppy ground.

Upon hearing King Solomons name, Sang Buaya became afraid and restless. During this time, King Solomon was the ruler of humans, animals and jinns. Every single creature was afraid of the mighty king.

“Is that so, Sang Kancil,” said Sang Buaya.

“Yes. Now, now Sang Buaya, do not waste your time anymore, do tell your leader to tell all crocodiles to be here. I shall start counting soon.” said Sang Kancil with a voice full of importance.

“Remember - do not leave out any member or King Solomon will not be too happy,” he added later.

Without losing much of his precious time, Sang Buaya quickly dived into the river to inform his leader. Before he could swim farther away, Sang Kancil cried to him,

“Pardon me Sang Buaya, I forgot to tell you, King Solomon will award anybody who has assisted me.”

“Is that so, Sang Kancil?” said Sang Buaya.

“Did I ever tell you any lies before?” answered Sang Kancil while watching Sang Buaya swimming away to inform his kinfolks.

A few moments later, what had been thought as drifted logs in the calm river started to swim towards the bank where Sang Kancil stood. Minutes later, the area was full of crocodiles of various age and size. Some of the crocodiles were more than two hundred years old! It is possible for the crocodiles to reach that age as there was no pollution and the food was plenty. There is a Malay saying “Air yang tenang jangan disangka tiada buaya” which literally means “Do not expect that there is no crocodile in calm waters”. The actual meaning of the saying is “Do not think a calm situation do not pose any danger”. Maybe this was how the saying originated.

“My fellow crocodiles, I shall start the counting now, do align yourself in a straight line from this bank towards the other, so I can easily count you.” Sang Kancil instructed the crocodiles while pointing out to the bank where the fruits were scattered.

In minutes, a straight line of crocodiles of all ages could be seen across the murky waters. Knowing that his lunch and dinner were waiting for him on the other side, Sang Kancil started to jump on those poor crocodiles heads while being careful not to land on his hurt leg. He also sung a song while he counted the poor reptiles. The song sounded like this, Malay English (nearest translation) Satu, dua, tiga lekuk, First, second, third slits, Jantan, betina aku ketuk! Male, female I’d hit! Empat, lima, enam, tujuh, Fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, Lapan, sembilan dan sepuluh. Eighth, ninth and tenth. Sebelas, dua belas dan tiga belas, Eleventh, twelfth and thirteen, Ekor kalian jangan melibas! Your tails, don’t whip! Empat belas, lima belas, enam belas, Fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, Tujuh belas, lapan belas dan sembilan belas. Seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth.

He had chanted the song repeatedly until he reached the next shore. Cautiously, he jumped up the bank and said,

“My dear fellow crocodiles, I had finished counting you. Now, you are free to go.”

On hearing those orders, the poor crocodiles started to swim away and went on with their own businesses. But, there was one left at the bank and insistently waited there. The persistent crocodile was nothing but Sang Buaya himself!

“My companion Sang Kancil, have you forgotten your promise just now?” asked Sang Buaya.

Still munching on the ripe fruits in his mouth,”What promise? Did you mean King Solomon’s promise?” asked Sang Kancil with a made up surprised voice.

“Yes. Where are King Solomons gifts to me?” asked Sang Buaya eagerly. He had plenty of things imagined in his mind right now. “What will it be then? Maybe it is a golden service medal,” he thought, imagining he wore the glistening gold medal on his neck and parading with it in front of his kins. One could see how proud he was. He even went far into imagining he will be the successor of the current leader and drooled at the thought.

“Plop…” something dropped into the water near him. The sound brought him back from his dreams.

“Those are your gifts, Sang Buaya.” said Sang Kancil, he couldn't help not to smile whimsically.

Sang Buaya looked at the bunch of floating red fruits in disbelief. One could easily see his perplexed face. The fruits nearly floated away before Sang Kancil said,

“Those are the gifts from His Excellency himself. You have to eat it or else...” he purposely let the sentence trailed away. The perplexed Sang Buaya caught the fruits with his mouth and intentionally grumbled loudly,

“Why in the world would a crocodile like me want to eat these fruits? If this is meat then it makes sense!”

Still within an earshot, Sang Kancil replied warningly,

“Those were His Excellency’s gifts; thou know what will happen when King Solomon is enraged?”

The poor fellow took the gifts and swam away with his crumbled dreams. Now he could not brag about his what gifts were, could he? No, not after being awarded with fruits for helping the royal order, he will be a laughing stock if the others knew he had to eat the gifts.

Now, safely on the other side of the river with plenty of fruits to eat, Sang Kancil happily munched the crunchy fruits. It did take a while for him to finish the fruits all by himself.

Author: Khairun Nisa License:Creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs© - Khairun Nisa
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A word from the author:

Sang Kancil (pronounced: sung kahn-chill) or Kanchil, also known as Lesser mouse-deer(Tragulus kanchil), stories are amongst the most famous folktales in Malaysia and Indonesia. The animal is highly regarded as very intelligent, quick-witted and sometimes cunning (most of the time for protecting itself from dangerous situations) by the Malay community.

There is a Malay idiom that is based on the animal “Cerdik macam Kancil”(pronounce: cher(cher as in cher-ry)-dick mah-champ kahn-chill) which can be literally translated as Clever like a mouse-deer. As suggested by literal meaning, the saying is used to describe a very intelligent person. There is also a Malay idiom “Akal Kancil” (pronounce: Ah-kahl kahn-chill), literally translated "Mouse-deer’s mind", which means a clever mind/brainy.

These stories have been passed down orally from one generation to another, thus readers may find various versions of the stories. Nowadays, most of the stories have been recorded in Malaysia folklore books but one might find the stories are different from one publisher to another due to their oral nature.

I wrote this story based on a book that I have read in the past. It was a book on collections of Sang Kancil stories. The reader may also find that the story I wrote here is far different than the original story, it is because I want to assist my readers to imagine and feel how a typical Malaysian rainforest looks like as not many of us had a chance to go into a rainforest before and each forest is different depending on climates.

As I had personally translated the story from Malay to English which is not my mother-tongue, please forgive my grammatical errors if any present themselves in the story and disturb your reading.

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