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Mohamad Saiful Md Salleh with the pitcher plants he had collected. PIX BY AHMAD ISMAIL

LABIS: Come Syawal, the demand for Pulut Periuk Kera — glutinous rice steamed in pitcher plants (Periuk Kera) — increases as the delicacy is high on people’s menu list during open houses.

For a group of men in Segamat, Johor, who are members of Kumpulan Pencari Periuk Kera, the time spent during the fasting month is inside forests, searching for pitcher plants.

The group’s head, Mohamad Saiful Md Salleh, 31, from Kampung Air Panas in Labis, said they would spend four days in a week in the forests.

“This time around, we are looking at collecting 140,000 pitcher plants to meet orders from customers in Johor, Penang, Sabah, Sarawak and Terengganu.

“The demand is high during Ramadan and Syawal, compared with Hari Raya Haji and weddings.

“An average-sized pitcher plant is priced at 30 sen.

“Customers do not like the ones that are too big because they pose some difficulty in preparing the Pulut Periuk Kera,” he said, adding that his mother, Asmah Manayan Endu, 56, is an expert in making the delicacy.

‘Pulut Periuk Kera’ ready to be served.

According to Saiful, his foray into forests in Johor, including Kahang, Segamat and Kota Tinggi, and other states like Pahang and Terengganu started when he was 18.

He learnt jungle survival skills from his father, Md Salleh Md Jalis, 60, whom he considers his sifu (teacher).

With his father’s guidance, he overcame challenges that pitcher plant hunters like him face.

He said finding a pitcher plant was not easy, especially in forests which could pose great risks.

Saiful said an important guide was to look out for swampy areas, where pitcher plants grew in abundance.

“Although I am considered relatively young to be leading the group, compared with my friends, Mohd Ali Mohamad, 67 and Salam Mustaffa, 45, I’d still depend on the two experienced otais (old hands) to get to the exact location of the pitcher plants.”

Relating some of his “ghostly” experiences, Saiful said there was one time when he was busy collecting pitcher plants late in the evening when he smelt a strange sweet scent that made his hair stand.

“Then, there was the time when I woke up in the middle of the night and heard shrill laughter coming from above our tent. It was creepy.”

Mohd Ali Mohamad showing pitcher plants hanging on a tree.

Saiful said their tent once shooked as if it was hit by an earthquake.

“We also found an old fort in the jungle,” he said.

On another occasion, a python, the size of a calf, crawled over his body when he was about to doze off.

He kept still for what felt like ages.

The team also encountered a group of 30 elephants, as well as discovered fresh footprints believed to be that of a Pak Belang or leopard.

According to Saiful, he and his friends would make sure they recite the selawat (invocations to Prophet Muhammad) each time they walk into the forests, and when they spend the nights there, to seek divine protection.

“When you are in the forests, the most important thing to do is to mind your words and not take home items, such as old weapons and jars, as well as not to pay attention on mysterious occurrences to avoid disturbances and getting lost in the forests.”

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