International Tiger Day: Seven Malaysian books celebrating the great harimau

  • Books
  • Wednesday, 29 Jul 2020

Malaysian author Yangsze Choo unleashes the myths of shape-shifting weretigers in her book 'The Night Tiger' (2019). Photo: Handout

Tigers have a reputation for being fearsome animals. In real life, however, they are more in danger than dangerous.

They are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and are threatened by poaching and habitat destruction. Today's International Tiger Day (July 29), an annual celebration, serves as a platform to raise awareness for tiger conservation.

In honour of these big cats, here's seven Malaysian books - from diverse sources - that pay tribute to this majestic beast.

Sitora Harimau Jadian (1965)

Author: P. Ramlee

Publisher: Angkatan Baru (1965), Fixi Retro (reprint, 2012)

Sitora Harimau Jadian (Sitora The Were-Tiger) was a 1964 film directed by the legendary Malaysian filmmaker/actor/singer P. Ramlee. The film, however, is said to be lost today. The following year, a Bahasa Malaysia novel based on P. Ramlee’s film was published. Said to be based on local folklore, Sitora Harimau Jadian is a tale about life in a village called Kampung Kiambang. The people there lived in terror of a were-tiger from the jungle, which attacked and preyed on them. A visitor Dr Effendi (played by P. Ramlee in the movie) arrives to help them. Unfortunately, he falls victim to the curse of the were-tiger. A fun fact: the name Sitora is apparently derived from "tora", the Japanese word for "tiger".

Tiger, Tiger (1984)

Author: Philip Caveney

Publisher: St Martin’s Press

This novel takes place in 1960s Malaysia, which is slowly coming into its own as an independent nation after British colonial rule. The story revolves around Harry "Tiger" Sullivan, a retired military officer who now has nothing to do. His comfortable life, however, is ruined by the arrival of Bob Beresford, a brash Australian. Harry and Bob become rivals immediately. Things become complicated with the arrival of a man-eating tiger, which terrorises the villagers. Bob wants the glory of killing the tiger, while Harry finds himself faced with a test of manhood he is unwilling to undertake. Author Caveney was born in North Wales. As the son of a Royal Air Force officer, he spent several years living in Malaysia and Singapore. Caveney is also known for his Sebastian Darke children’s novels.

Haunting The Tiger

By K.S. Maniam

Publisher: Skoob Books

This is a collection of 13 stories told in the magical realism genre, and written over 20 years by the late K.S. Maniam, one of Malaysia’s most respected writers. The titular story was the winner of a New Straits Times-Shell short story contest in 1990, and is one of Maniam’s most well-known works. Haunting The Tiger is an allegorical story of Muthu, a Malaysian Indian man who endeavours to hunt down a tiger who roams the nearby jungle. He seeks the help of Zulkifli, a local villager, and the two embark on a perilous journey. The story is often said to be a metaphor for the search of belonging and nationhood.

Sang Kancil And The Old Tiger (2015)

Author: Rahimidin Zahari

Illustration: Jaafar Taib

Publisher: Institut Terjemahan & Buku Malaysia

In most stories, tigers are seen as scary, terrifying creatures. Not so much in traditional Sang Kancil folk tales. Here, they are often seen as dim-witted villains who are tricked by our plucky mousedeer hero. This charming children’s tale is written by poet Rahimidin Zahari, translated by Linda Tan and Peter Duke, and features illustrations by legendary cartoonist Jaafar Taib. It is the tale of an old tiger who tricks the residents of a jungle to allow him to live with them. This turns out to be an evil scheme, and it is up to Sang Kancil to expose the old tiger before he eats all of them. This book is part of a collected series of Sang Kancil tales, also available in Bahasa Malaysia.

Pak Belang The Tiger (2017)

Author: Rossiti Aishah Rashidi

Publisher: Oyez! Books

This children’s book contains many fascinating facts about the tiger, or Pak Belang (Mr Stripes), as he is called here. Pak Belang is the king of the Malaysian jungle. He is a top cat predator, killing his prey instantly with a bite on their neck. Of course, there is one animal which is not afraid of him. Guess which one? This book, illustrated by Widiyatno, tells children about the characteristics of the tiger, facts about how it lives and hunts its prey, and so on. It also contains information on how the tiger is critically endangered today. An especially good read for young animal lovers or budding environmentalists.

The Tiger And The Leopardess (2017)

Author: Ho Khong Ming

Publisher: Gerakbudaya

The Tiger And The Leopardess is a story set in a time in Malaysia when life was more laid-back, and people were more preoccupied with the immediate world around them instead of politics. So when a tiger attacks a boy on a picnic, everyone suddenly feels the urge to resolve the situation. The book's narrative follows both the perspective of the humans and the animals. Their worlds do not converge until a dramatic clash one day, and soon the rising of one world over the other becomes a pressing threat. The plot also features an old tiger which is having difficulty hunting. He ends up being stalked by a smaller and weaker leopard, but the two soon develop a cooperative relationship.

The Night Tiger (2019)

Author: Yangsze Choo

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Here's something from the historical fantasy front from US-based Malaysian writer Yangsze Choo (The Ghost Bride). Quick and ambitious Ji Lin is an apprentice dressmaker who moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay her mother’s mahjong debts. Eleven year old houseboy Ren has a secret: he has promised to help his dead master find his severed finger and bury it with his body. Ren has 49 days to do so, or his master’s soul will wander the earth forever. Set in 1930s Malaya, Ji Lin’s and Ren’s fates slowly intertwine. The two must traverse dangerous locations, both physical and supernatural, to find the truth. The duo face a series of unexplained deaths in their district, as well rumours of men who can turn into tigers. But were-tigers are just a legend. Or are they?

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