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August's Borneo Legends & Myths

The Tale of Mandow

Text & Images Courtesy of SarawakAlive!



A heavy mill-stone dropped on the
monster's head

ONCE UPON A TIME, a woman was taking some sago to her parents. On the way she met a man-eating mandow (Monster), who had a body like a bull, a head like a measure of rice, and sharp teeth and claws. Its eyes gleamed, and its coat was shaggy and thick. The monstrous beast roared with laughter, and said, "Give me all your sago to eat." The women replied timidly, "I can't do that; they are for my parents." "Good", said the mandow, "I will come back this evening and tear your flesh into the hills like a bullet fired from a gun.

        The woman was frightened out of her wits. She did not go to her parents, since her heart was beating like that of a hunted deer. She stood in the doorway and wept. To everyone that passed by, she told the story and begged for their help, but everyone turned pale at the very word of "mandow", and were too frightened even to reply. Naturally. no one could help her, and she began to cry even more.

        Finally, a pedlar came by with two bamboo baskets on his carrying pole and a little clapper in his hand. He was surprised to see the woman weeping bitterly, surrounded by a gaping crowd, and asked, "Woman, what are your troubles that you have to cry so bitterly?" Between her sobs the woman replied, "The mandow is coming to eat me up this evening." "My dear woman, don't weep," said the old man. "I will give you twenty needles to stick in your door. When the mandow arrives, it will prick itself." The pedlar gave her the needles and then continued on his way, beating his clapper as before. But the woman thought that twenty needles could only do little harm to the monster, and continued to sit weeping in the doorway. Then a man arrived who collected swine, dog, and cattle dung, as manure for the fields. Seeing the subbing woman, he asked for the reason. "Don't worry," he said when she had told him, "I will give you some dung, which you must stick on your door. When the mandow arrives, it will soil itself and run away." The woman accepted the gift, but she was still not confident nor comforted and continued to weep.

        A little later a snake-catcher came by with a basket full of snakes. He walked slowly along, crying "Snakes for sale." At the sound of weeping, he also asked for the reason and was told the whole story. Then he said to the woman, "You needn't be anxious. Nothing will happen."

        But she begged him to help her. He said, "I will give you two big snakes which can climb trees and are terribly poisonous. You must put them in the water pot, because when the mandow comes in with dirty hands, it will certainly want to wash them, and then the snakes will bite it to death. You see, you needn't worry." Then he put the two enormous green bamboo snakes into the pot, but after his departure, the timorous woman began to weep again.

        Next a fishmonger arrived. He saw that the woman's face was swollen with tears. He did not dare to question her himself, but he soon learned from other people what the trouble was. He was sorry for her and, putting three pounds of round fish into the cooking pot, he said, "Don't weep, my poor woman. Pay attention to me, and you need have no fear. Take this pot with the round fish, but don't put any water in or they won't bite. If the mandow is bitten by the snakes, it will go and wash in the cooking pot. The fish will bit it, which ought to frighten it away at least, if it doesn't finish it off." But when the fishmonger had gone, the poor woman began crying again.

        Next an egg-seller appeared, calling, "Eggs! Good fresh eggs! Eight for then cents!" He also saw the weeping woman and asked, "Good woman, why are you weeping? It breaks my heart to here you. Have you quarreled with you husband, or your mother-in-law, or your sister-in-law?" The woman then told him her sad story, though she could never imagine that such a man would be able to help her. At any rate, it could do no harm, she told herself. However, the egg-seller said, "Don't worry and don't weep. I will give you ten  eggs to hide in the ashes on the hearth. When the mandow is bitten by the snakes and the fishes, it will try to stop the bleeding with ashes. Then the eggs will frightened him away." But the woman did not stop weeping.

        Finally, there came a man who sold millstones and iron goods. When the weeping woman confided in him, he also promised to help her. "I will give you a one hundred and fifty pounds millstone," he said, "which you must hang on the framework of the mosquito netting around your bed. Prop it from beneath, and fasten it to the bar with a wire; and when you hear the mandow coming, cut through the wire, and it will be cursed by the stone." Then he added, "I will also give you an iron tool. If it is still not dead, you can finish if off with that. Now there is nothing more to be done. Just follow my instructions carefully."

        Now the woman was finally consoled, and she went into her house to prepare all the instructions told to her before evening came. She rested alone in the  pitch darkness, with the iron tool clasped in her hands in case the monster arrived. The first and second hours of the night went by, but although she strained her ears hard, listening, she could here nothing. The hour began at midnight.  The sky was blue, with scarcely a star to be seen, since the bright moon shone into her room and lit up the floor. A cool, refreshing wind sprang up. She was so tired that she soon fell asleep. Suddenly she heard a noise. It was the sound of foot-staps, and she knew the mondow had arrived. Hardly daring to breathe, she listened carefully and clasped her iron tool more securely. "Open the door!" shouted the beast. "If you will not open it, I will eat your bones." With three kicks, it broke down the door. A scream and a curse followed, as it scratched itself on the needles and got the dung all over its hands. "What's all this?" it roared. "You have made me get my hands all dirty, you filthy woman." The door was now open, but it said, "I must first wash my hands. There is time enough afterwards." It went across to the water jar. But as soon as it dipped its hands in it, the green bamboo snakes bit it in the finger and it screamed with pain as the red blood flowed out.

        With all its strength, the monster shook off the snakes and then went across to the cooking pot, thinking to itself that the water there must be safe and clean. The moment it touched the water, something else bit it in the finger, which made it touched the water, something else bit it in the finger, which made it cry out even more loudly, "Another of this hag's tricks! I will smash all her bones. But first I must quench the blood at the hearth." While it was burrowing in the ashes, all the eggs exploded and bits of shell flow into his eyes and blinded it. "Damnation!" he cried. "Things are going from bad to worst. I have never met such a woman. I can't stand it."

        Now it not longer cared about its pains, but burst screaming into the bedroom in such a fury that it tore off its eyebrows on the door beams. But because its mind was bent on revenge, it did not feel the pain. It bellowed, and threatened; "Your filthy old hag! All your tricks can't kill me. Now I am in your room. In a little while, I shall eat you up, bones and all. Only then can I get my revenge." With these words, it grabbed the mosquito netting. The woman then cut through the wire with her knife, and the heavy mill-stone dropped on the monster's head. Its bones were crushed and the blood gushed out like a stream. It began to scream in agony, whereupon the woman beat it with the iron tool until it was dead. In this way she escaped being eaten. Instead of being devoured herself, she had killed the mandow. She sold it for a great sum of money, and bought everything she wanted, and lived happily ever after.

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