May 28, 2014

Nang Chong Stories : "Bitten by Chik Char"

 "As a group, mangroves can't be defined too closely. There are some 70 species from two dozen families—among them palm, hibiscus, holly, plumbago, acanthus, legumes, and myrtle." National Geographic Magazine. June 2014

Recently, after the Tsunami hit Aceh, Penang, Sri Lanka, Phuket Islands on Dec 26 2004 (This year would be the 10th Anniversary of the great tsunami.)
Malaysia initiated a Mangrove Planting Campaign. It is believed that mangroves can help protect the shore line population from the terrible effects of the tsunami should it occur again. One village in Tamil Nadu was protected from tsunami destruction - the villagers in Naluvedapathy planted 80,244 saplings to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. This created a kilometre-wide belt of trees of various varieties. When the tsunami struck, much of the land around the village was flooded, but the village itself suffered minimal damage. (Wikipedia)

There are several types of mangroves actually :black mangrove, red mangrove, white mangrove, mangrove palm, apple mangrove(berembang, pedada in Malaysia)

Our Sarawak coasts have some of the most splendid samples of beautiful mangrove species known to mankind. they would today, if well managed form very attractive ecological tourist wetlands parks.

the rashes on the skin can look like this.
One of the greatest fears of the villagers who lived along the riverine villages of the Rajang, and especially the Nang Chong villages is allergies to bakau or mangrove.the Foochows call mangrove Chik char.  Mothers would often warn the children about the dangers of getting too near the chik char (mangrove) whenever they went out swimming. It was a blessing that not many children were "bitten by chik char". I had a nasty experience and almost died from it because my allergy was very severe and Dr. Xavier saved my life with two injections.

 Dr. Xavier, (Se Mi ah Lo Kung) the first Indian doctor working in Sibu, was particularly good in helping patients recover from allergies to mangrove. His "injections" were strong and very effective. Hence the villagers would always recommend him whenever mangrove related allergies occur. His clinic was opposite the Masland Church on Island Road. Today, his clinic is passed on to his dispenser's son, Dr. Lim.

This allergic condition  "bitten by chik char" is very severe. Skin rashes would develop if untreated and in fact even a bad infection could occur. Fevers would attack the body until the child or even adult would become debilitated. Such an allergy could occur again, hence the continual fear. How do the villagers get this attack? A fruit, a seed or a branch of the chik char could pass by the "victim" while he or she was swimming in the river. The touching on the skin by any of these would cause an alleregic reaction if the victim did not have a strong constitution. Or the person could be collecting river snails or terkuyong and collided into the chik char. And it could just be an accidental touch by the leaves as the person walked along a foot path with chik char overhanging above.

Hence children were often taught to stay clear of the various mangrove species . It was a good lesson about the "bad" wood on the river banks.

In fact many Foochows even believed that mangroves could kill a person if the allergy was very serious. So no one would actually go and cut down mangroves in those days. Any collection of mangroves for charcoal would be done by the indigenous people or the Malays who were considered to have special magic against the "biting of the chik char".

Perhaps that was the reason why God made it that way : keep the mangroves growing and keep the river banks safe from erosion. Kennedy Warne  (The National Geographic magazine) wrote "These plants are also landbuilders par excellence....If mangroves were to become recognized as carbon-storage assets, that could radically alter the way these forests are valued, says Ong **. If carbon trading becomes a reality—that is, if forest-rich, carbon-absorbing countries are able to sell so-called emissions credits to more industrialized, carbon-emitting countries—it could, at the least, provide a stay of execution for mangroves. "

**For more than 25 years Jin Eong Ong, a retired professor of marine and coastal studies in Penang, Malaysia, has been exploring a less obvious mangrove contribution: What role might these forests play in climate change? Ong and his colleagues have been studying the carbon budget of mangroves—the balance sheet that compares all the carbon inputs and outputs of the mangrove ecosystem—and they've found that these forests are highly effective carbon sinks. They absorb carbon dioxide, taking carbon out of circulation and reducing the amount of greenhouse gas.

She was unconsoleable when she learned that my young brother Hsiung had passed away in 1981. She only knew about it in 1983 as we had kept the pre mature demise from her for two years. It was so sad to listen to her "Foochow wailing" (chiun kuoh) or the singing of funeral verses.Many people also said that she had cried so much that she became blind as she had lost her husband, her youngest son, three sons-in-law and a favourite daughter and then a grandson (my brother). In her wailing she mentioned all their names and memories of them.


Anonymous said...

First time I have heard of allergy from mangroves. I have visited mangrove countless times but have never heard of anything like that. Maybe u can be more specific or what plant(s) caused the allergy as mangroves are made up of many different types of plants. I know that the mango family has sap which can cuased allergy like rengas.

Ensurai said...

Thank you for your comments. I have been trying to get the scientific name for Chik Char, the species of mangrove which can cause allergy. I hope some one can throw light on this. My childhood experience in Nang Chong with mangrove is really bad. This type of mangrove has big round fruits and parts of the leaves are red to brown in colour. May be one day I should go back to my grandmother's village and photograph those trees and fruits which gave me the terrible allergy.

Anonymous said...

Is it called buta-buta in Malay or Excoeria agallocha scientifically? Google and take a look. I know buta buta is poisonous.

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