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J.M. GULLICK has written several volumes on the Malays on both sides of the Main Range.

Sir Hugh Clifford (British Resident of Pahang) also wrote a book about the strange Orang Kerinchi who, according to folklore, were able to transform themselves into tigers if there was a need.

They were not the indigenous people of the Malay peninsula but had come from Sumatra. Many of them settled in Tanjung Malim and Telok Anson (now Teluk Intan).

A story had it that a Kerinchi man was caught in a tiger trap near Slim River one night.

It was daylight when the villagers came and the Kerinchi man had already transformed himself back to human form.

They saw fowl feathers, which he had vomited in the trap. He begged for his life but the villagers killed him with their daggers and spears.

Another story was of a man of the same race who left his garments and his belongings in the shrubs, and appeared as a tiger feasting upon the goats of the Malays.

All these strange things happened right in front of their eyes. Thus, the stories of the Kerinchi people were prevalent in Perak.

Similar strange stories were narrated in Kelantan.

Here, the narratives were not about human beings transforming into tigers but about people who had the power to summon the phantom of the black panthers.

These panthers were not man-eaters nor did they prey on fowl and goats but they safeguarded their masters and would appear to anyone trying to trespass on the compounds of their masters.

I remember reading a book about the first European who visited Kota Baru. The European had come from Bangkok sometime in the 18th century.

The Malays had never seen a European before, and they were not yet influenced by European progress and Arab culture.

They crowded the palace to have a look at the European. He was a huge man with blue eyes, red hair and a long sharp nose.

The Malays, who were medium in size, thought that the European looked like a devil.

When night fell, palace officials invited the European to dine with the sultan and all the noblemen (Datuk, Nik and Wan). After dinner, he was led to a room to see something unusual.

When all the people had assembled, one of the noblemen rose up and called out: “Mari sini Awen; mari sini Awen; hon mari sini Awen.”

Suddenly, a black panther appeared in the middle and it gave a wide yawn, before sniffing at everyone.

The panther stopped at the European and snarled at him.

He was told not to be afraid but to keep still in his seat.

Two more noblemen stood up and made the same call. That night, six panthers appeared before the assembly.

After the show, the European was told that these panthers were the guardians of the palace during the time.

Thus, if he happened to see them, he should keep quiet and stay still. Hence, the old flag of Kelantan displayed this panther, which the Malays in Kelantan called hala.

Tanah Merah, Kelantan.

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