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Kelembai

by Micha F. Lindemans

A variant of the Gedembai legend is told on Pahang, where she was called Sang Kelembai. Here she is described as an ugly woman with thick eyebrows, a flat nose, big elephant ears, fanged teeth, and about three times the size of a normal person. She lived along the Pahang river where she fed on the soft top leaves of bamboo plants and occasionally fruit and meat.

Similar to the Gedembai of Langkawi she had the power of transforming any human or animal into stone, but not to any other form, something Gedembai could. Another variation is that Gedembai had to wish for someone to turn into another form while Kelembai merely had to start talking to a person, which made her even more deadly. At first Kelembai did not realize she had this ability until she met a mother elephant with her young. She asked where they were going and both animals turned into stone. The story continues that after some she wandered into a village asked a man who was cooking what he was doing. The unfortunate man was turned instantly into stone. She apologized profusely to those who were present, and they all suffered the same fate.

One day, she passed by an old man cooking a big pot of broth for a wedding feast. The old man was near-sighted and did not recognize her, and so invited her to join the feast. Refusing to speak to him for fear of turning him into stone too she hurried away but in her haste she tripped and fell on her face. She was startled and muttered some words and upon saying these words the old man turned into stone. In her anger, she picked up the big cooking pot with the boiling broth and threw in into the Pahang river. The pot became an island in the big Pahang river, now called Batu Kari. The broth fell on the bank where there was a village, which subsequently came to be known as Kampung Bur, short for Kampung Bubur (bubur in Malay means "broth").

After this incident she wandered around aimlessly for a long time, moaning and cursing her fate. She came upon a village adjoining a jungle, but avoiding all human contact, she did not enter. Instead she went into the orchards to get some fruit. The villages had learned of the consequences of her curse and were rightfully scared. The elders of the village held a meeting a came up with a plan to drive Kelembai away. They took a big toothless old woman and put her in a cradle along the path of Kelembai. Then they took some tortoises and placed them around the cradle.

When Kelembai saw the cradle and the woman inside, she was astounded. She thought the old lady was a human baby for only babies were placed in cradles. Then she saw the tortoises and thought that even the fleas in this place were enormous. She came to the conclusion that everything in this village had to be very big and strong and that the humans must be veritable giants. She became afraid and thought of what would happen to her if she accidentally turned one of them into stone. They would surely punish her and tear her to pieces. So she withdrew from the village and fled into the jungle, and was never heard of or seen again.

She is also called Sang Kelembai, where Sang is an honorific and endearing term used by the Malays to refer to characters, animals, or objects in stories about them.


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