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The buaya putih, which translates literally to ‘white crocodile', is a legendary figure in Southeast Asian history, and has appeared in many stories across Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. While some have been documented in historical literature such as the Hikayat Hang Tuah, others are lore that circulate within communities, passed down from generation to generation. Read on to discover these two Singapore stories about this mythical beast!
Sometime in the 17th century, the Raja (king) of Malacca was sailing across the straits of Singapore with his entourage, including his Laksamana (admiral), the hero Hang Tuah. It was a smooth-sailing voyage, that is until the Raja accidentally dropped his crown into the sea. “Men!” cried out the king, “My crown has fallen into the water!”
Upon hearing his king’s cry, the loyal Hang Tuah immediately jumped into the sea to retrieve the crown, moving swiftly with bold strokes. As he swam towards the crown, he spotted something moving towards him at the corner of his eye but thought nothing of it. “It’s probably just a stray school of fish,” thought Hang Tuah, as his hand stretched out towards the floating crown.
Before he could even react, the brave warrior felt a swift blow on his back just as he was about to get the crown. He turned around as fast as he could in the water and was shocked to see a white crocodile! “Buaya putih? How can this be!” he exclaimed to himself, simultaneously terrified yet looking at this creature in awe. Atop the ship, the Raja and his men were equally surprised. The crew paced back and forth, peering over the edge, hoping that their admiral would be able to survive the attack.
In the water, a fierce battle ensued. Hang Tuah took a deep breath and dove underwater to face the beast face to face, drawing his keris (dagger) from his waist. The white crocodile used its powerful tail to propel itself towards the warrior, jaws snapping incessantly. Hang Tuah bravely grappled with the crocodile, skillfully using his dagger to swipe at the crocodile’s underbelly and paws. The battle raged on until both parties were worn out.
With one last surge of strength, the white crocodile grabbed Hang Tuah’s keris with its jaws and swiftly swam away. Hang Tuah was dismayed but had to let the beast go. He retrieved his Raja’s crown and swam back to the ship, never to see the white crocodile or his keris again.
Many years ago, Singapore was an island teeming with crocodiles, thanks to its many rivers and mangroves. This included the Kallang River, where many people lived in kampungs (villages) around the river, though they kept their houses a distance away from the water due to animals such as the crocodile.
However, there once was an elderly man named Wak Kasim who, unlike his fellow villagers, chose to build his home right on the riverbank next to the water! Many people thought him to be reckless but did not do anything as Wak Kasim seemed unharmed despite living so close to these wild beasts. Well, the reason that the old man did not suffer any crocodile attacks is because he viewed them as friends, not foe! He regularly fed these crocodiles with meat whenever he could, and so the crocodiles were somewhat tamed, almost like pets.
However, Wak Kasim was an old man. As the years went on, he was unable to keep working, which meant that he had less money to buy meat for the crocodiles. There came a time when he was too old to work anymore. “Well, I guess it’s time,” Wak Kasim sighed to himself, “I can no longer work. I will offer myself up to the crocodiles so that they can survive.”
One day, while there was no one around, Wak Kasim waded into the river and floated on his back, silently wishing and waiting for the crocodiles to attack and consume him. However, the crocodiles instead just surrounded him as he floated down the river. Wak Kasim was completely bewildered, unsure of what to do. Eventually, both him and the crocodiles disappeared into the nearby mangroves.
It was only several weeks later when the villagers realised that they had not seen Wak Kasim in a long time. “Do you think the crocodiles finally ate him?” asked one of the men, “It is surprising that they didn’t attack him sooner!” The villagers agreed, all chiming in. They started discussing if they should go looking for the old man at his house, when suddenly, one of the children yelled out excitedly, “Look! It’s a white crocodile!”
The villagers turned, blinking in surprise at the magnificent white beast which suddenly appeared from the water, climbing up onto the riverbank. The villagers quickly backed away in fear, but the white crocodile did not move. Soon, it reentered the water and swam away, much to the awe and confusion of the people who witnessed this.
Now, it is rumoured that the white crocodile continues to lurk in Kallang River, appearing only once every twenty years. Some also believe that spotting the creature is a sign of good luck. So the next time you’re passing by the river, keep your eyes peeled, and just maybe you’d see a sliver of white lurking in the water.
Illustrations by: Devanshi Seth