In March 1858 Sir J. Elphinstone, MP for Portsmouth, said in the House of Commons that “there was one insuperable obstacle to the colonisation of the island of Singapore, and that was the immense number of tigers that swam over from Johore, from which State Singapore was separated by no more than a small stream. Scarcely a day passed without some native being carried off bodily by those animals.”
This was cited by Sjovald Cunyngham-Brown, the very colourful and final Resident Commissioner of Penang, in his book The Traders, as an example of British governmental lunacy and he promptly ridicules Elphinstone (“The reader will be able to stand just so much of this, but no more.” I shall write about SCB another day).
When I was growing up in Kuala Lumpur in the 70s and early 80s it was rare, but still entirely possible, to hear stories about people meeting their end by being eaten by tigers. That was how we thought Jim Thompson went, although the venerable Capt Rivers has shed some new light on that mystery.
Also, my father was one of Templer’s Budak Boys, a very strange term, in the Federation Military College in Port Dickson and later Sungei Besi, and frequently went out into the jungle to learn how to navigate and I suppose look for Communists (but more frequently they learnt simply how to get lost spectacularly). He told me some bloodthirsty stories of tigers eating people that, sadly, I did not pay enough attention to and now cannot remember. He also told me about being chased by a crocodile up the Perak River, which is undoubtedly true, but rather difficult to imagine today.
People get eaten by tigers only very, very rarely now. But that is because the tigers are starving, and when they are inevitably killed by outraged villagers in retaliation, we find their carcasses so emaciated that I, for one, wonder how it is they had enough strength to attack in the first place.
The truth is some of us eat tigers, and more of their population has been lost to ridiculous Chinese witch doctors peddling cures for male sexual embarrassment for which there is now, with the availability of the blue pill, utterly no excuse, than to the vengeance of villagers. There are also criminals such as Anson Wong who has denied involvement in plans to build a Tiger Park in Penang, but I don’t believe him, and would like to dump him in the jungle if I have the chance. I will also happily criticise the Chief Minister even if he doesn’t think it constructive. I respect what he has done in the past in the causes of justice and freedom from tyranny, but there are better ways to make money. A tiger sanctuary, managed by conservationists, is acceptable. People can come and see the tigers if they want (this will help save on food bills also); but to make a commercial venture out of a “tiger farm” is an obscenity.
Malayan tigers, rampant, are our heraldic supporters not just nationally but in Johore also (there was some truth to Elphinstone’s story, apparently, though only a little).
But the truth is today they are neither rampant, nor supporters. They are dying and need our support in turn, and which it seems too few of us are prepared to give.
What does that tell us?
(More here planetofthemonyets.blogspot.com)