Omi­nous name, no­to­ri­ous past

New Straits Times - - Jom! -

The name­plate greet­ing vis­i­tors to Kam­pung Ba­gan Tengko­rak;

Jalan Jepun, the last re­minder of what this vil­lage un­der­went dur­ing the Ja­panese Oc­cu­pa­tion.

Sun­gai Tengko­rak was be­lieved to have de­rived its name from the no­to­ri­ety of the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial Army.

IWAS in­tro­duced to Kam­pung Ba­gan Sun­gai Tengko­rak many years ago when a friend took me to a lit­tle known seafood restau­rant there. At the time, I did not think much about Ba­gan Sun­gai Tengko­rak and had for­got­ten about the restau­rant was or how to get there, let alone how the fish­ing vil­lage’s omi­nous name came about.

In fact, I had ear­lier thought that the fish­er­men’s en­clave, seven kilo­me­tres north of Tan­jung Karang, was prob­a­bly a pi­rates’ hide­out, hence the name.

Re­cently, while head­ing for Sek­in­chan to look for scenery to paint, I passed Kam­pung Ba­gan Sun­gai Tengko­rak, bet­ter known as Ba­gan Tengko­rak, again.

This time, a sign by the road that read Jalan Jepun (Ja­panese road) caught my cu­rios­ity, which took me on a de­tour into the vil­lage.

Jalan Jepun, which ran par­al­lel to Jalan Ba­gan Tengko­rak, looked more like an or­chard or plan­ta­tion of sorts, with tra­di­tional houses spread out far apart amid patches of oil palm, tapi­oca and ba­nana trees.

The 1.5km tarred stretch was just enough for two cars to pass each other. The only in­di­ca­tion of the road’s iden­tity was that lone sign­board I spot­ted ear­lier be­side the Kuala Se­lan­gor trunk road, plus a cou­ple of ad­dress sign­boards just out­side some houses.

I drove all the way into the vil­lage amid more oil palm hold­ings to find my­self in a small set­tle­ment of houses on stilts along an al­most hid­den river bank. Most of the folks here were Chi­nese fam­i­lies. The houses along the river­banks, which were built on stilts, were linked with a tim­ber board­walk that also led to a few jet­ties.

I spot­ted a Jo­hor-reg­is­tered fish­ing boat that was moored nearby. Cu­ri­ous, I asked a man who had just re­turned from sea at the jetty. The man, who was in his 40s, told me that the fish­ing boat was brought from Jo­hor and is cur­rently un­der­go­ing main­te­nance work.

I asked for the man’s per­mis­sion to paint the boat set against es­tu­ar­ine scene from the jetty. The man, who in­tro­duced him­self as Chia, said I was wel­comed since the jetty was not busy as big waves had pre­vented the fish­er­men from go­ing out to sea.

at­tRaC­tiVE SKULL

As I was work­ing on this scenery, a few lo­cals came to watch. One of them was a Malay man about 70 years old.

Hav­ing struck up a con­ver­sa­tion, I asked if he knew why the river re­ceived its fear­some name.

Ac­cord­ing to him, his grand­fa­ther told him that the name came from the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial Army dur­ing its oc­cu­pa­tion of Malaya be­tween 1941 and 1945.

Pris­on­ers were be­headed along the river and their heads were spiked on stakes to be dis­played there.

For years, be­fore elec­tric­ity ar­rived, he said, peo­ple claimed to have seen ap­pari­tions of soldiers march­ing to the river dur­ing the wee hours of the morn­ing.

Jalan Jepun, he added, was called such be­cause it was there that most of the Ja­panese soldiers were lo­cated.

Later, when I spoke to the head­man of Ba­gan Tengko­rak, Heng Seng Soo, a dif­fer­ent story was un­veiled.

Heng said that the vil­lage had been al­most a cen­tury old. Ac­cord­ing to his story, the name Sun­gai Tengko­rak was given by the early set­tlers in the area, which com­prised the Malays and Chi­nese.

Those days, the only way to get to the vil­lage was by boat and ac­cord­ing to a story, he said, when the boat­men were about to en­ter the es­tu­ary, they saw skulls along the beach­front.

“Be­cause of that, the river was nick­named Sun­gai Tengko­rak and the vil­lage, Ba­gan Sun­gai Tengko­rak, and ba­gan meant “quay” in English.

Kam­pung Ba­gan Tengko­rak is to­day oc­cu­pied by about 40 Chi­nese fam­i­lies, with most of them liv­ing along the river banks near the jetty. About 95 per cent of them are from the Chia clan,” he said.

“Un­like the old days, how­ever, only a few fam­i­lies re­mained as fish­er­men to­day. The fish­ing fleet, which was much big­ger many years ago, only has six fish­ing boats now.”

De­spite its omi­nous name, Ba­gan Tengko­rak has over the years be­come is a very pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for week­enders look­ing for some quiet.

Seafood lovers also flock to the only restau­rant here on week­ends.

Just a short dis­tance away from the restau­rant is a Chi­nese tem­ple which comes alive dur­ing the res­i­dent de­ity’s fes­ti­val.

A cockle grad­ing fac­tory is also a stone’s throw away from the restau­rant but un­for­tu­nately, when I was there, it was closed.

Sun­gai Tengko­rak also at­tracts an­glers, par­tic­u­larly prawn hun­ters. Within the river are lairs of gi­ant fresh­wa­ter prawns or udang galah that will make heads turn, so I was told.

Some of the more en­ter­pris­ing fish­er­men, in­stead of de­pend­ing en­tirely on fish­ing, also or­gan­ise fish­ing char­ters to take the fish­ing en­thu­si­asts out to sea.

Be­tween Novem­ber and Jan­uary an­nu­ally, the man­groves of Sun­gai Tengko­rak be­comes tem­po­rary homes to vis­i­tors of the feath­ered kind.

Mi­gra­tory birds such as sea ea­gles, herons and other sea birds make their stopover in the swamps to meet and mate.

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