Nabau: Real or mere myth?

If you’ve seen the movie “Anaconda” starring Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube before, you know well the dangers of being near gigantic snakes. Fortunately, there’s no snake out there as big as the one in the movie… or is there?

Mythical monster snake

Sarawakians are no stranger to tales of giant beasts. Local legends speak of the Nabau, a monstrous snake with the diameter of a fuel drum. That’s probably about five times bigger than the Amazon’s 500-pound Green Anaconda, the world’s largest snake. Impossible? We can’t say that we know for sure.

A Titanoboa exhibit at the Morrill Hall
A Titanoboa exhibit at the Morrill Hall, University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus

In 2002, a fossilised leaf from the Paleocene era was unearthed by a student at a coal mine at Cerrejón, Colombia. That led to the discovery of bones from several animals of that age, including a vertebra belonging to a colossal serpent non-existent in the jungles of today – the Titanoboa. The pre-historic snake measured around 50 feet and weighed about 2,500 pounds.

So is the Nabau real or just pure myth? What if a Titanoboa had somehow survived and found its way to these parts? Is it even possible for something like that to happen?


Nabau sightings

According to belief, the sighting of Nabau means that a disaster is about to strike, such as a terrible flooding. But what are the chances that the elusive Nabau is even real?

Well in fact, there had been claims of encounters with the Nabau. One occurred when some workers were clearing the forest to build a new road. While digging into the earth, they appeared to have hit a boa by accident, wounding it in the process. Another boa appeared soon after with its mouth wide open, sending the workers running away in fear. The snake was claimed to be over 50 feet in length! We’d say that’s about the same length as the Titanoboa.

In another encounter, a member of the disaster relief committee in Sibu was on a mission to monitor the situation on Jan 31, 2009. From the helicopter he was on when he was doing his work, he caught sight of a monstrous snake, thought to be the Nabau, cruising along the Baleh River in Kapit Division. He even took photos of the Nabau at one of the tributaries of the river at around 5.30pm that evening. He made headlines not just locally, but as far as the UK, and his story caused quite the commotion.

Nabau seen at Baleh River in Kapit Division in 2009
Nabau seen at Baleh River in Kapit Division, on Jan 31, 2009


Legends of the Nabau

There are four versions of the Nabau legend. According to an Iban legend, the Nabau is an ancient god (petara) with scales and extraordinary strength. It is said to be able to bring luck to those who lay eyes on it, and the Iban use its scales as a “pangkor” for god-like strength.

The Iban folks of Kapit believe that the Nabau is a reincarnation of Temenggong Koh, through a dream of his son Datuk Kenneth Kanyan. Temenggong Koh was a famous Iban leader with vast knowledge of the Adat Iban. He was also well-respected during the Brooke administration in Sarawak.

According to local Chinese legend of the Nabau, there were seven giant snakes in Limbang. Six of them made for Engkilili while one stayed behind. Of the six snakes that made it to Engkilili, one female, the largest of all the snakes, couldn’t fit into a hole in the ground and so it had to nest outside. The legend said those snakes eventually turned to stone and became Batu Nabau (Nabau Stone).

In another version of the legend, it is said that the Nabau was a serpent that had transformed into a man and harassed someone’s wife. Hence, Nabau was caught by the villagers and cut into seven pieces before it was thrown into the Rajang River.


Engkilili’s famous Batu Nabau

In Engkilili, a small area in Lubok Antu, Sri Aman, some 156.1km from Kuching City, there is a famous stone in the shape of a giant snake located some 50 metres away from the Rumah Bukong Atah Iban longhouse. The locals call it Batu Nabau or Nabau Stone and believe it to be a snake deity protecting the area.

The stone measures nine metres in length and has a diameter of two metres. It appears to emerge from the bushes below with its end facing outward resembling a snake’s head.

According to the longhouse folk, a Siamese man from West Malaysia had a dream about the stone 20 years ago. He said the stone was an actual snake and so he came all the way to Engkilili in search of the stone so he could pay his respects to it. They showed the man the way to the stone, which they then called Batu Lintang. The man claimed that his prayers were answered and his offerings to the stone were accepted. From then on, the stone became famous and was since known as Batu Nabau.

The stone was painted by the Siamese man and the Chinese folk who accompanied him there, adding stripes and patterns that made it look more like a giant snake. And until today, people from near and far visit Batu Nabau to either admire the mysterious stone or to offer prayers. Some even ask for lottery numbers. Whatever the purpose of your visit to Batu Nabau is, just remember to always have respect for it because legend has it the Nabau deity that resides in the Batu Nabau will put a curse on those who treat it with disrespect.

Batu Nabau at Engkelili, Sri Aman
One part of the famous and mysterious Batu Nabau in Engkilili

The story about Puteri Santubong:  A Tale of Two Princesses

Write a response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

BorneoTalk © Copyright 2020. All rights reserved.