According to legend, a large serpent once protected Pulau Perhentian. The irony is, today, snakes on the island are believed to be non-poisonous.
Whenever Pulau Perhentian is brought to mention, people think of its natural beauty, including its sparkling beaches.
This island of 2,000 people, most of them fishermen, is popular with local and international visitors and is a major contributor to Terengganu’s tourism industry.
The island’s residents have benefited as they are paid for lodging and boats for angling and snorkelling.
Thanks to the Government, there are facilities like a school, clinic and police beat base on the island.
Pulau Perhentian, surrounded by 20 smaller islands, has an interesting legend.
According to historian Yusof Awang Su in his article Tempat Sejarah Di-Terengganu (Historical Sites In Terengganu) published in the 1995 issue of Berita Darul Iman, a huge serpent once lived on the island.
Villagers named the serpent Naga Pulau Berjuang. It was believed to have lived at a spot now known as Tanjung Basi on Pulau Perhentian Besar.
This serpent is believed to have plunged into the sea to battle another huge serpent which had threatened the island’s existence. A tract on a hill on the island is believed to have been created by the first serpent.
The islanders call this tract Jalan Naga.
The irony is that snakes on the island are believed to be non-poisonous. However, the villagers believe that an extract from the root of a herb (akar cina putih) on the island can be used as an antidote for snake bites.
They also believe that poisonous snakes are scared of the root and this is why they are not found on the island.
A resident of Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Awang Husin, 67, said that Pulau Perhentian had its first residents in the late 18th century.
The earliest settlement is believed to be in Teluk Dalam near a canal named Alur Cina.
The pioneer settlers are believed to be Batin Mina and his family from Riau in the Malay Archipelago.
Batin Mina and his family are said to have taken refuge on Chinese junks to escape Dutch authorities who wanted him for attacks on European merchant ships.
In the old days, cargo vessels ferrying salt from Singora in southern Thailand to Kuala Terengganu used the island for stopovers. This is why the island is known as Pulau Perhentian.
Batin Mina became chief of Pulau Perhentian.
Upon his death, his position was taken over by his younger brother Batin Jamal.
Batin Jamal later moved to Kuala Besut and set up a new settlement in Pasir Hantu on Pulau Perhentian Kecil.
However, not all of Batin Jamal’s followers stayed in Pasir Hantu. A number of them went to Pulau Perhentian Besar and lived in Seberang Air Keruh, Seberang Mat Daham, Batu Jong and Teluk Pauh.
The last of the Batin chiefs was Batin Sidek who died in the early 1990s.
Since his demise, Pulau Perhentian has had the ketua kampung as village head.
Residents of Pulau Perhentian are traditionally farmers and fishermen.
During the Second World War, the Japanese used the island to stage their attack on Malaya and other South-East Asian nations.
There are more than 20 resorts on Pulau Perhentian Kecil and Pulau Perhentian Besar.
Among them are Perhentian Island Resort, Coral View Island Resort, Tropical Reef, Paradise Island Resort and Arwana Perhentian Eco Resort and Chalet.
Visitors can go to Pulau Perhentian for only six months the year from March to August.
During the rest of the year, the waves are strong and dangerous, particularly during the northeast monsoon.
Saat Surif, of the Arwana Perhentian Eco Resort and Chalet, said the peak tourism season was from May to July when visitors arrive for activities like angling, scuba diving, jungle trekking and snorkelling.