Wednesday, 25 April 2012

U for Sungei Ujong

Sungei Ujong, or River's End, somewhere north of Malacca, was a busy river port for the Federated Malay States. A tin-mining centre surrounded by acres of rubber plantations kept it thriving. A railway line linked the northern part of the country from Penang down to Singapore running through Sungei Ujong, but not Malacca.

During one of his monthly visits to the Indian labour line quarters at the edge of the plantation, David Bradwall made a startling discovery.

"Raju did you do this?" he had asked in surprise when he spotted stuffed squirrels, birds and musang, a local breed of small fox, adorning Raju's room.  

"Yes Mista Daveed. Tuan, I hope I have done nothing wrong. I found the animals dead in the estate. Back in Madras, my grandfather used to teach me how to preserve the animals in their natural form as they have beautiful fur and feathers. I will bury the animals if it offends you, Tuan."  

"Raju, you gem! I have been thinking of getting someone from England to do exactly this. Now I have you! Capital!"

"Capital? Yes Madras is the capital of Tamil Nadu, Mista Daveed, but what has that got to do with my stuffed animals?" Raju recovered quickly, wobbling his head from side to side.

"No, no...I mean, jolly good show old chap. Now Raju, you will be promoted to master trainer of taxidermy for our Natural History Museum. Your rubber tapping days are over my friend."

Before Raju could say 'Madras is the capital of Tamil Nadu' in his dreams, his new apprentice, in the form of Mista Ee, arrived from Malacca. "A China man! Amma!" Raju called out to his deceased mother's spirit in vain.

"Is it not difficult enough to make Mista Daveed understand what I am saying, now I have to teach a China man who speaks no English or Tamil how to stuff animals. Ah yo yo." Raju berated to himself.  

David Bradwall was a master strategist. His regular expeditions in to the jungle had been successful and safe thanks to the aboriginal guides he used for trekking. The Orang Bukit or hill people, were the nymphs of the rain forest, familiar with the birds and animals and their habitat. 

Although they travelled with blow pipes, it was a sacred principle that they only kill when in need of food. Mostly they lived off fruits and herbs of the jungle.

David Bradwall's plan was to learn about the rain forest and all its treasures from the Orang Bukit. Following herds of elephants, tracing the paths of tigers and scouting for mouse deer, tapir and bears were exciting and informative. Dead animals found on their forays would be preserved and brought back for the taxidermists and their handiwork.  

The first Natural History Museum of Malaya was well on the way to becoming a reality.

1 comment:

Amelia said...

I'm now torn between your Turkish series and this series with Mista Ee, Raju and David Bradwell. I think David needs to be enamored with a local female :)