The Snake in the Banyan Tree

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Have you heard the beating of the kompang? The flatround drum is often used in Malay weddings and makes a veryinteresting thumping sound. Even more interesting is the story ofhow the drum came about.

Long ago, in the northwest of Singapore, there stood at thevery entrance of a village an enormous banyan tree. The villagerswanted to cut the tree down not only because it blocked theirway, but also because every night a haunting melody would floatout of the foliage and send everyone into a deep slumber.


When the villagers awoke in the morning, they would alwaysfind the bones of their missing chickens and goats at the foot ofthe banyan tree.

The people were baffled. “We don’t know what’s living insidethat tree,” said Hussein, scratching his head in dismay.“We have to destroy that tree! It is cursed,” exclaimed Ishyaknervously. His home was located closest to the tree and he wasalways the first to fall asleep.

“I have lost all of my chickens. I can’t afford to lose anymore goats!” lamented Daud, looking down at his five hungrychildren.The village chief decided it was time to do something about thattree. Grabbing his spear, he ordered the men to surround the treewith flaming torches.


When they threw their torches at the tree, the same chillingmusic resonated from within. It cast a spell on those nearby,causing them to fall asleep immediately. Ali, who was deaf andunaffected by the magical music, was shocked to see a giganticsnake with red patchy skin slithering out of the crackling,charred branches.

“Wake up, wake up!” he cried to his friends as the snakehissed angrily at him. Then an idea struck him. From a nearbywell, he quickly drew a bucket of cold water and splashed it onthe men to rouse them.

“Wh…what happened?” muttered Hussein. But before anyone couldanswer, the snake sprang at them. All the men struck thereptile’s body repeatedly with their weapons but its chunkytrunk-like body was as hard as a rock. Terrified and exhausted,the men dropped their weapons and fled home.

A vision came to the villagers as they lay in bed that night.They dreamt that the snake could only be destroyed by specialfire stones, which would burn when water was added to them.However, they had to wait till the next month when the wickedserpent would drift into a deep sleep.

Days slipped by. Then weeks. At the appointed time, thevillagers eagerly gathered again at the banyan tree. Soon, theybegan hurling fire stones at the tree and flinging water at them.The tree shook violently as it burst into flames and a part ofthe snake rolled out.


A slew of arrows hit the snake in the head but it continued tomesmerise the men with its music. “Stuff your ears with cloth!”suggested Ishyak.

Unable to put his attackers to sleep, the snake was powerless.After countless blows, it squirmed and quivered and collapsed tothe ground like a dead log.

The villagers punished the snake by skinning it. Theystretched its skin on a bowl and began beating it. As each personstruck the skin, it made a surprisingly interesting sound. Playedout together, the music was rather delightful.

And thus the kompang was born. So whenever you see orhear a kompang, you will recall the trouble it brought aswell as the beauty it created.