The mysterious ‘Rock Snake of Engkilili’

Some of the locals believe that Batu Nabau is a real snake deity.

Some of the locals believe that Batu Nabau is a real snake deity.

DO not throw eggs or pour milk on the rock or ask for winning lottery numbers; instead, ask for prosperity.

These instructions might sound peculiar but they are written clearly in Malay and Chinese on a notice board nailed to a tree on the way to Batu Nabau in Engkilili — a town, about 230km from Kuching, named after the Engkilili tree, which is endemic in the area.

Engkilili trees usually grow low —– with fruits that look like red grapes.

At the town centre, washed by a river — Sungai Lubok Antu,  which hit the headlines every now and then for crocodile attacks — there is a clear sign, indicating that 3km away is Batu Nabau, a mysterious rock awash with legends.

The rock (Batu Nabau) is cylinder-shaped, measuring about 9m in length and 2m in diameter. One end of it looks like a snake head, while the other is covered in bushes.

When visiting Batu Nabau, one must remember to abide by the instructions stated on this signboard.

When visiting Batu Nabau, one must remember to abide by the instructions stated on this signboard.

The settlement nearest to Batu Nabau is 50m away — a 14-door Iban longhouse called Rumah Bukong Atah.

When the Borneo Post Adventure Team (BAT6) visited Batu Nabau recently, they also dropped by the longhouse.

According to former longhouse chief Nyalau Muang, 88, Batu Nabau is also widely known as ‘Batu Lintang’.

“For us, it’s just an ordinary long-shaped rock that we pass by on the way to our farms,” the octogenarian said.

About 20 years ago, a Siamese man from Peninsular Malaysia was brought by a few local Chinese to visit the longhouse. They wanted to know if there was a rock that looked like a snake around the area.

“He (Siamese man) told us that he had a dream about the rock which, he said, was actually a real snake and he had to pay respects to it,” Nyalau recalled.

The longhouse people showed the man what they called Batu Lintang and subsequently, the ordinary route to their farms began to see changes — mostly in the form of paraphernalia for worshipping.

Rumah Bukong Atah, an Iban longhouse, is located some 50m from Batu Nabau.

Rumah Bukong Atah, an Iban longhouse, is located some 50m from Batu Nabau.

“We were a bit shocked, at first, to see these changes — the offerings, the incense and the candles. For us, it was just a rock,” Nyalau added.

However the Siamese man claimed his prayers and offerings made at the rock had been answered and accepted.

Initially, visitors threw raw eggs and coins and spilled milk on the rock until local believers put up a sign, forbidding them to do so.

According to Nyalau, the local Chinese who accompanied the Siamese man painted the rock in yellow stripes, making it look more like a snake.

“They also built a resting hut right next to the ‘snake’.”

Soon, the Ibans started calling the rock Batu Nabau (a type of snake in Iban) instead of Batu Lintang.

“Some of them also offered prayers to the ‘snake’ and claimed their prayers had been answered. Some claimed they asked the ‘snake’ for 4D numbers and won the lottery. Occasionally, we also performed ‘miring’ (blessing) ceremony at Batu Nabau,” Nyalau said.

The local Ibans have come to believe the ‘snake’ is a deity protecting their area with mystical powers.

Flowing next to the ‘snake’ is a small river called Sungai Bukong, which sometimes overflows and causes flooding whenever there is a downpour.

According to the locals, the rock has never been submerged but appears to float above the water level despite the whole area being flooded.

A resting hut for visitors next to the ‘Snake Rock’.

A resting hut for visitors next to the ‘Snake Rock’.

This has further strengthened the locals’ belief that Batu Nabau is a real snake deity.

Adding to the mystery, a national Malay paper reported a few years ago that Jawi-like alphabets had been found on Batu Nabau.

The alphabets of ‘alif’ (ا), ‘lam’ (ل), ‘nun’ (ن), ‘mim’ (م) and ‘sin’ (س) were reportedly to have been arranged in reverse. But when BAT6 visited the rock, it was partially covered in moss and the yellow paints had faded.

When BAT6 asked Nyalau if living near Batu Nabau had brought any change to the longhouse residents, he answered: “We have more visitors dropping by than before the rock became well known. Other than that, life is pretty much the same.”

A tourist site

Last year, Lubok Antu MP Datuk William Nyalau Badak and Engkilili assemblyman Dr Johnical Rayong announced that a proper concrete pathway, leading to Batu Nabau, would be built soon.

It is considered necessary since the site has been attracting more visitors. One has to walk about five minutes through a forested area from the main road to reach this landmark.

Rayong also said the plan for the pathway had been drawn by Lubok Antu District Council (MDLA).

The rock has been an icon of Engkilili for many years, attracting both believers and non-believers alike. Regardless, one should always watch one’s behaviour while visiting the area because as the legend goes, any wrongdoing could result in a curse from the ‘snake’.

The  wooden bridge of Engkilili that straddles Sungei Lubok Antu.

The
wooden bridge of Engkilili that straddles Sungei Lubok Antu.

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