November 9, 2009

Kamunting from Childhood Days : Come See My Black Teeth!!

What would be one of your most memorable childhood pranks? My friends and I would remember how we blackened our mouth and cry "poison" or "I'm dying!"

The fruit which would give us the black mouth or lips is the Kamunting. Its flowers are beautiful as shown by this photo below:

This is a lovely photo from my birth town Sibu by Ah Tuong (Bengbeng's blog).

Kamunting is found all over Sarawak and could probably be the first wild flowers many children would get to know and "eat". Called the Malayan Rhododendron or senduduk (kamunting to the Ibans) it grows practically every where. The flowers are usually purple but there are white or blue ones. A political detention place in Perak(Malaysia) is named after this plant.It has become one of the most feared detention centres in Asia!

Many of my Malay friends cook (boil) the leaves or even eat them raw to help ease diarrhea and dysentery.

A paste made from its young leaves and stem is often used as a kampong cure for open sores and in the past as a wash for open wounds from small pox (we are very lucky that small pox is a thing in history). A very popular use of the paste is for curing  piles.

The scientific name for the plant is Melastoma candidum. If you come across a white senduduk you are lucky as it is prized by local bomohs as a cure for sicknesses they can identify.

Like most wild flowers the life span of this Malayan Rhododendron is only one day. The flowers open at sunrise and by sunset the petals fall off or close up.

My friend Ann also remembers how she loved playing with the black seeds when she was young in Sibu. In our innocent childhood we played freely in our neighbourhood (there was no fear of kidnapping or child abuse) and we would eat the seeds which would stain our lips and tongue black. We would run up to our elders and frighten them. But of course they too had their fun with these seeds. Sometimes  these rather tasty and soft fruits/ seeds would keep many poor children from hunger!

I have just learned that the word melastoma is Greek for "black mouth”.

Birds of course love the seed and you often see burong pipit and other smaller birds sitting on these lovely bushes which bend easily and gracefully in the wind.The leaves are usually full of holes because caterpillars love them. So one should be careful when trying to touch the plant or shrub. Some plants may be host to a huge family of caterpillars! In fact in Indonesia the leaves are fed to silkworms.

Easily propagated and a great survivor in wasteland this plant often helps to prevent soil erosion.

So one must never sneeze at this lowly plant.


Daniel Yiek said...

Good education!

Uncle Lee said...

Hello Sarawakiana, I remember this particular plant very well as yes, I too would eat that when very young to frighten my mother telling her I was sick, don't want to go to school. But ha ha, she never bought that trick as she knew how I got it.
We lived near a forest and there were lots too.

Here in Canada we have our Canadian Rhodenderons, either red or pink in colour, and the flowers come out in bunches, looks more like roses.
Infact they always get mistaken for roses too.
But today I learned something from you, never knew it has all those healing properties. Holy Smoke! Diarrhea and dysentery. And piles too.
Wow Sarawakiana, you sure know your botany, ha ha. You give tuition? Ha ha. Any plants that can slow aging or bring back our youth? Ha ha.
Psssst, would love to know or read of your Sarawak wild, jungle 'Tongkat Ali' and 'Kasip Fatimah'.

Have a nice day, Lee.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Daniel for reading the post. Glad it is useful

I learned a lot from neighbours and friends I worked with. And of course I have always been interested in Ethnobotany.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Uncle Lee

I am glad you were naughty as a child like most of us. Mothers are often cleverer than we is wife....

Birds nest and ginseng will keep one from aging. I believe in Tien Ma (Tibetan root) which gives us good memory power.

Sure I will write about Tongkat Ali and Kacip Fatimah one day...we gave away a few long pieces of tongkat ali recently. But so far none of the recipients came back with good news....or may be they dare not try???

Sea horse might work for some people.

Eating lots of fish is good (hence Omega 3) to keep one young and healthy (e.g. Japanese).

But I am no sinseh...

Ah Ngao said...

hi S'kiana,i think for your indept knowledge of plants and vege is good enough - no need Chinese sinseh,hehe..

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ah Ngao
A lot of these plants provide us with a backyard pharmacy actually. Now that you mention that I need not be a sinseh...I did remember when walking through the rubber gardens to my school a friend said she got stomach ache and we both chewed the soft stem of the senduduk. And it worked. Just like that..

But those were the days when we kids had stomach worms and improper water supply etc....May be you are too young to eat those nice soft sweets for stomach worms?

Nice of you to drop by.

Anonymous said...

Hi Cikgu

Lots of memories are awakened by this posting. Thanks. My sisters and I have been laughing about similar we children of Malaysia can be...

My students still eat the black fruits...Yes the young leaves are good for cirit birit....cheers.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi K
Isn't it nice to know that children of all races enjoy this plant?

Many of us are actually united in ethnobotany. For example there is one Chinese plant called Peal Under the Leaves which the Malays and Ibans also use for diabetes!! It would be interesting how our elders learned from each other or how such knowledge spread....

Buas buas is another example. I will write about this soon.

Are you asking for a transfer?

Ann said...

Hi CY,

I was going to do a post on this Singapore Rhododendron, even got the photos from Singapore to coincide with the New Zealand Taranaki Rhododendron festival.

You have done a great job with this post.

My younger sis Margaret lectures in uitm and trains tour guides in Mulu. She should know Sarawak plants very well. May be one day you can meet and have a cup of organic Sarawak coffee.

Ann said...


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann
Would love to meet up with your sis Margaret. Does she go to Mulu often?
Will look forward to the organic coffee meeting.

thanks for the blog site.


Shafee Ramli said...

this looks like senduduk to me. kemunting is quite similar but bigger in size, the flowers are lighter colors and the berries taste better… wallahua'lam

Sibu Tales : Making Bah Gui from Scratch

The pioneering families of Sibu Foochows continued to practise the  adoption of girls from poor families who become their maids (slaves). ...