[ The V.I. HomePage | Back to the V.I. Literary Archives Menu ]
The sky was clear, bare of any cloud, and its bluish splendour was reflected on the distant hills and mountains. The rays of the evening sun shone upon the Man and his beloved hill - the hill to which he had retired, at even, after the noise and bustle of the busy town. Often he had sat or wandered about this restful place for at least a few hours in the evening, free from the many snares and dangers of the town. But for the occasional shrieks of the whistle of the train which passed near, and shrill cries of Tamil urchins from the adjoining valley, everything was peaceful and quiet.
As evening drew on, the place became quieter. With the coming of darkness the cries of the children became fainter, till they could no longer be heard. The children were deep in the arms of slumber. The moon rose, illuminating a scene of peace and great natural beauty. The shadows of the bushes and shrubs, which swayed to and fro in the evening breeze, were like dervishes in devotion. Amidst all these, the Man sat alone, but not at all lonely. The hill was his friend, whom he had often visited when he was free, from his daily duties. As he gently inhaled the fresh evening air, he reflected on the wonder and beauty of nature, and fervently wished that the scene of his evening sanctuary would never change.
But alas, for all his wishes and dreams, people came, and with dismay and amazement, the Man beheld them starting to disfigure the hill that was so dear to him. Holes were dug in its fertile soil and the beautiful grass and shrubs were treated with utter scorn. Scaffoldings were erected and with misery and helplessness, the Man watched the construction of a building similar to those in the town. He realised with sadness that he had no power to prevent its construction. Could he, one of the many pebbles on the beach, stop the tide of the mighty ocean?
The progress of the building was rapid. In a short space of time many things had occurred. The Man remembered one occasion when he was startled by the blare of bugles and the beating of drums. He had noticed a body of youths in uniform who seemed to take a lot of pride in their dummy rifles. These people had cheered and made a lot of noise. This was when the foundation stone was laid - a tedious and unnecessary ceremony.
The hill was no longer peaceful. There were hundreds of workmen who seemed to take delight in creating a lot of noise. Holes and mounds were everywhere, and to complete the disfigurement of the hill, the people started to level the ground and to make roads. These developments were constantly watched by the Man, till he could bear to look no longer. Then with a heavy heart, taking a last farewell look, he left the hill behind.
Time flies quickly, and all these changes seem to have occurred but yesterday. The Man has returned to the place, where, he had spent some happy moments of his younger days. He is accompanied by a friend. He finds that he can still hear the shriek of the locomotive whistle and the cries of the Tamil urchins. But for these, everything has changed. The building is finished and the ground is levelled. Everything looks neat and tidy. His companion describes to him the furnishing and the ceremonial opening of the building, and the use of the levelled ground. The former is the place where some of the future's great men are trained and the latter is a place which will produce some of the country's best athletes. The Man listens to this description with some wistfulness, but all his anger and sorrow are no more. His companion has dissolved these by saying that the new building is the new Victoria Institution.
Hsih Men Wan
In a little thatched house situated on the left bank of a rushing mountain brook that ran past the beautiful monastery of Si Tze Yen near Swatow, there lived in the days of old China, a very poor but honest man named Choong whose mode of life lay in catching shell-fish in the neighbouring paddy fields.
If you had peeped into his little dwelling you would see that with the exception of a low couch strewn with hay, which usurped the place of a bed, a native stove and a few cups and dishes, there was nothing else of value and also no article of beauty to convey a pleasing picture to the eye: the whole place was a scene of utter poverty and its owner, as we have said, a live-shell picker, his only means of subsistence.
But in one of the most fashionable streets of Swatow there lived at the same period a retired merchant, whose lordly mansion and retinue were signs of great opulence. He had three daughters who were lovely maidens. The eldest, a girl somewhat too tall for her sex was twenty. The next with fully developed form which seemed to amount to obesity was eighteen and the youngest who possessed all the symmetry of grace and beauty was sixteen.
They had beautiful, glossy, black hair made up in artistic chignons decked with costly jewels. Their clothes were made of costly silks; they had long finger nails, a custom practised by all rich ladies in China and their tiny feet were enveloped in dainty silk shoes not more than four inches long. Their virtue was unquestioned and while the first two were rather inclined to be haughty and would not do work of any description, thinking it below their dignity to do so, the youngest, the pet of their parents, was good-natured, affectionate, light-hearted and, during her leisure, she would devote herself to music and to embroidery.
Nothing was wanting to complete the earthly bliss of this family but the one and only care in the father's mind was the fact that he had no son to worship him after death and it was this that made him pay occasional visits to the monastery of Si Tze Yen offering sacrifice to the Goddess of Mercy in the hope that he might yet be blessed with a son. Such, however, was not to be. In his pilgrimage he had often met Choong and had wondered why such a young man should live in such a state of misery.
One day - it was New Year's Eve - the whole family gathered round the dinner table to go through the traditional practice of a family gathering, and in the midst of a merry conversation upon many topics, the old man at the head of the table said, "My daughters, tomorrow is New Year's Day when customary greetings will have to be given. Before we break up, I wish to ask you a question. Which of you understand the proper rules of propriety in their relation to parents?"
The first two declared that they loved their father with all the zeal of life and death and that they would always look up to their parent for support and maintenance.
This pleased the, old man very much and expecting a very much better answer from the youngest, he turned to her and said, "What do you say?"
She blushed but innocently said, "I owe my existence to you and, in return, I must be filial, but I cannot look up to you always for support and maintenance. As long as I am a girl, I owe you that gratitude but when I am married I must depend upon my husband and, in my old age, I must depend upon my children."
This absolutely modest and wise declaration of her thoughts rather displeased the old man and he told her to guard her words, but she said that she had said all that was in her mind and could not invent another thought. From that day, the old man took a great dislike to her but the mother was constant and told her not to mind her father.
The old man soon found husbands for the first two daughters. The eldest was married to a middle-aged pawnbroker with some landed property and the second to a fairly well-to-do post-graduate who often took pride in his learning. In looking for a husband for Miss Youngest his thoughts turned to Choong.
He ordered his sedan-chair bearers and declared that he was going on his usual pilgrimage. On the way he stopped at Choong's hovel and found him in the midst of a scanty meal which consisted of yam and some salted turnips. On seeing the great man, Choong rose to his feet and offered the visitor a stool - the only one he had.
"How are you my friend?" said the rich man.
"Many thanks, but you must not call me friend. How can I accept such honour when there is such a vast gap in our social life. You, sir, are on the topmost rung of the ladder and I am at the very bottom," replied Choong.
"Never mind. I see you are taking your meal. You appear to have very little to live on. My purpose in visiting you is to make you a small present. Do you want a wife?"
Choong's face was a study. "You see, I am as poor as a stick and I find it difficult to keep body and soul together. When I can hardly keep myself alive, how can I support a wife? Please do not make fun of me by this joke which is entirely out of place"
"I am going to give you my youngest daughter in marriage and you need not be afraid that you can't feed her. Is that agreed?" said the rich man.
"Please, Sir, do not carry the joke too far. Did you take wine this morning?" replied Choong.
"I am all in earnest and I am as sober as a saint. That's settled. In two days' time, I will send my daughter to you. Goodbye." So saying, the old man quitted the place and was gone leaving Choong in a state of consternation which can only be imagined.
Now, as the destinies of children in China were arranged by the parents, so the beautiful youngest girl was to be sacrificed to this shell-picker.
The young lady received the news calmly and, with wonderful obedience, resigned herself to her fate and, on the third day, with a few trinkets, she was hurried off to the hovel where she became Choong's wife. Choong now worked harder than ever to find a living for himself and his wife but, despite his efforts, he found that he had to sell his wife's trinkets, one by one, to get sufficient means to live on.
The poor girl's mother, however, occasionally sent a small present to her daughter for, without this, starvation would soon have come.
Nearly a year passed. One day, while Choong was aimlessly walking along a mountain track he saw a small cave which was unfamiliar to him and, wondering how that new cave came into existence, he crawled into it purely out of curiosity. Imagine his surprise when he saw heaps of gold, silver and other precious jewels on the floor. The whole cave sparkled with a thousand stars, as it were, and he was wondering how he might act when he heard a voice which came from somewhere.
"Choong," it said, "all this wealth belongs to Hsih Men Wan and as it was ordained that you should have some connection with the said person, you can come here and take one piece of gold every third day - but nothing more."
He was straining his ears to hear more but the voice died in thin air. So, acting upon the order given him by the invisible one, he took one piece of gold, crawled out of the cave and ran home as fast as he could and, on reaching home, he told his wife all that had happened.
As he now could give up his usual trade, he spent all his time in the neighbourhood and even went as far as Swatow in trying to discover the mysterious Hsih Men Wan, but all his efforts proved futile. Nevertheless, the search was never abandoned.
It happened that Choong, during his search for the mysterious Hsih Men Wan, had occasionally but casually met his brothers-in-law who so despised his poverty and poor clothes that they ignored him entirely and when he offered them greetings and salutations, they turned away with looks mingled with self-pride and hauteur, but such was the generous nature of Choong that he took no offence only musing to himself that the self-same sun which shone on the rich and the proud had not refused him warmth and glory.
A son was born to him on the same day as his own birthday and when the baby was one month old, according to custom, his wife carried the baby to her father's mansion thinking that by this time he might have come to a reasonable frame of mind. The mother received her with tears in her eyes and was very glad, indeed, to see her healthy grandchild whom she caressed and kissed tenderly. When the father came in, the young lady proffered her respects and asked for forgiveness but, on seeing the old man, the baby began to howl and scream as if it was suddenly seized by some spasm of pain. The old man in trying to soothe the babe offered his hands and his daughter handed him her child. Nothing, however, would stop the child's wailings. The old man carried it to the door and, while he held the babe in his left hand, he began to beat the glittering copper door ring with his right.
The moment the babe heard its metallic sound and the instant its eyes caught sight of the shining ring, it stopped howling as if it was pleased with the sight and charmed with the sound. This was indeed strange, but stranger things were to happen.
"It seems to me," said the old man, "that my grandson is pleased with the door ring."
"Yes, father, it is very strange," answered the daughter.
"Have you yet christened your son?" asked the old man again.
"No," answered the lady.
"In that case I will call him Hsih Men Wan," said the old man. (Hsih Men Wan means "pleased with a door ring").
The very moment the lady heard her son being called by that name, she snatched up her baby and, without further ceremony, ran home with all the speed she could.
She found her husband, tired and dejected, for he had not succeeded in his search for the mysterious Hsih Men Wan. She told him her own adventures particularly laying stress on the fact that, as their own babe had been named Hsih Men Wan under circumstances which could hardly be explained, it was certain that the Hsih Men Wan spoken of by the invisible one in the cave was no other than their own child. Yes, it must be so, for the invisible one had said that Hsih Men Wan and he were connected in some way.
He ran to the mountain cave, crawled into it and began shouting it the top of his voice, "Deities of the Unknown and Guardian Angels of heavenly wealth, I have discovered Hsih Men Wan; he is no other than my own son." He held his breath and listened. There was a rustling sound somewhere and then a small voice was heard telling him to go home for all the treasures which had been stored up for Hsih Men Wan had been transported to his own home where he would find everything in order.
He fled home, his feet barely touching the ground, and everything turned out as the invisible one had said. There, in his wretched hovel, the heavenly carters had left all the wealth - gold, silver and jewels - that he had so often seen in the cave and which was now his own.
Husband and wife embraced each other and wept for joy while the baby on the couch started to coo. They determined to bury their wealth within their hovel until such time when it would be most advantageous to use it and though they were no longer in want, being now richer than any king, they did not make any ostentation of their riches but lived a simple but happy life gradually trying to improve their abode and its surroundings.
Another year passed and on the occasion of the father-in-law's birthday, husband and wife, simply dressed, repaired to the beautiful mansion to pay the customary respects. Here they met the other brothers-in-law with their wives - proud as ever - and when, according to custom, the ladies had retired into an inner chamber, the men were entertained in the main hall. Choong, wishing to retain his inferiority and signs of poverty, sat away from his proud relatives. During the feast, his brothers-in-law talked sarcastically, but Choong, who had by some chance found out that they were now practically ruined in business through trying to swindle others, coldly remarked, as if to himself, "I was thinking to myself that if there were pawnshops and any other form of landed property on the market for sale at this moment, I am prepared to offer a good price for them."
"You!" cried out all the other three, almost in one voice of mockery.
"Why," said the eldest son-in-law. "You have nothing in your system but roots and turnip pulp."
"And your clothes," said the second son-in-law, "are no better than sack-cloth."
"How dare you offer such insulting remarks in my presence," finished the old man.
"But I mean what I say," said Choong, "and if any one here has lands and other effects for sale, I will most assuredly buy them."
Thereupon, the eldest son-in-law said that he would sell all his landed property which would fetch in about fifty thousand dollars at that time - for one fifth its value if Choong could pay up within twenty-four hours and the second son-in-law offered a similar value for all his effects on the same condition, both believing that it was purely a challenge on Choong's part, not at all knowing what was in the wind; the father-in-law agreed to draw up the deeds of sale.
"Agreed," said Choong, "please draw up the articles of sale and I will pay you in full within two hours."
The deeds were drawn up and sealed and when Choong had them in his hands he hurried to his home and within an hour returned with the necessary gold which he dumped on the table before the old man.
Gone was the show of hauteur and pride, gone the show of contempt when they beheld that the hitherto despised Choong was as good as his word, and when they realised how terrible a blow this hasty transaction would be to them, the old man and the two proud brothers-in-law begged for forgiveness at the hands of Choong requesting that the sale be revoked.
There was so much congeniality in Choong's disposition, and so many virtuous principles in Choong's heart that not only did he grant their request but frankly told them how he had come by his sudden riches and he even offered to assist them out of any financial difficulty.
The reader may judge for himself how keenly the others felt their sense of pride so completely broken, and good sense having come to them, they all warmly embraced each other and we may add that they lived happily ever after.
Indian Customs and Manners -
Women folk of different countries have various modes of doing the hair on the head. In the West it has become a fashion to have bobbed hair like the sturdy members of the other sex.
Vain in thought, hesitating naught the least,
With Fancy, her twin sister, worldwide to roam,
Is visiting the countries of the Aping East.
Those who go in for this change, perhaps think that it is less toilsome and more suitable for the offices they have come to fill.
The Hindu ladies of India take a pride in having long hair and having it parted to the right and to the left of the crown by a line running lengthwise. Grown-up girls and women gather their hair in a single knot at the back of the head, while young girls wear it in a single pigtail. Every one, however, wears it parted in the middle leaving a furrow-like line of skin exposed on the top of the head. That this has been a custom from ancient times may be seen from the poems of ancient India.
Like every Hindu custom this is also observed with a particular meaning attached to it. Hindu Scriptures say that the worship of God is never complete unless it is done in conjunction with a feminine form of the Supreme Being - the feminine form representing the Sakthi. So a woman, Hindus think, is a symbol of Sakthi.
There is a story in the Indian mythology in support of this belief. Siva the God-head of the Hindu Trinity became so conceited that he thought that he was all in all sine dubio. His consort Parvathi wished to teach him the lesson that, without her assistance, he could do nothing. Keeping this object in view, she who was always with him and in him, left him for a while.
All of a sudden, Siva felt deprived of his powers and was inactive. His condition was a pitiable one. He could not even stir when his wife came to him. He entreated her to help him to rise. She said jestingly, "You may try to get up on your feet without my help." He tried and continued to try. Vain were all his attempts, and finally he had to acknowledge her position as an energising spirit in the universe. Thus from the most ancient Upanishats, from the later epic poems, and from the works of modern times, several instances can be cited to uphold that a woman's place in life has been one demanding respect and infusing energy.
If this point is clearly understood, then the meaning of the custom of dividing the hair from the crown of the woman's head, half to the right and half to the left, becomes clear. It is merely symbolising the radiation of the positive and negative energies from a central place. The Hindu Yogis say that each thought is a mental picture framed in a mental eye by two magnetic centres completing their circuit in the brain. So, then, the parting of the hair from the crown of the head simply represents the completion of a circuit producing a flash of thought. Moreover, philosophers agree that this universe with everything in it is the result of the union of two currents in the invisible matter. The fact is also represented in the Linga symbol in the Siva temples. Thus it, is to be noted that the highest philosophical thought is symbolised in the simplest possible manner in the division of the hair on the crown of a woman's head.
China being the largest nation of an old civilization, the Chinese physicians, therefore, having had long experience in the art of healing have discovered many kinds of medicines for the many kinds of sickness.
A Chinese physician diagnoses the sickness of his patients by looking at his eyes and tongue, and feeling the pulse for the pressure of the blood. Then he will write out a prescription to be made up in the Chinese druggist's shop. The Chinese drugs are composed of dried medical herbs, leaves, roots and the bark of trees and plants. They are put in an earthen crock and boiled appropriately.
The patient drinks the resultant mixture and goes to bed to rest covered up in thick blankets from head to foot and hedged around with pillows. This has a similar effect to a "Turkish Bath", as the patient will now sweat freely. The sickness is considered to be serious if the patient does not sweat. During the taking of this "Turkish Bath", care is taken that there, are no openings for the inflow of cooler air lest the body gets a chill. The air inside the blanket is kept steamingly warm by the patient keeping as motionless as possible so as to prevent wind getting in.
About an hour or so afterwards the blankets are removed and the sweat and dirt are thoroughly sponged off with a clean towel. Warm clothing is put on so as to prevent the patient catching a chill. Generally the patient finds himself better and much refreshed after the "steam bath." A repeat dose usually puts him on his feet again.
Reported marvellous or wonderful cures have been lost through the selfish policy of skilful and clever physicians. They believed that if there were pupils there would be no masters. It was a fact, however, that pupils often denied their teachers when they themselves became clever. Owing to many examples of ingratitude, the masters would not even trust their own relations. Eventually the wonderful cures died off with their respective discoverers.
It is to be hoped that with the new order of things in China, the many doctors trained in western scientific methods will be able to rediscover the cures that were lost to mankind for so long and re-establish many that are likely to be lost through ignorance and abuse.
Autobiography of a Kachang Puteh
I was tired of lying beside my brothers in the pod for I longed to see the world with its many beautiful sights, to feel the breeze that frequently shook the pod, and to see what made those strange noises. I was only but a Lilliputian when compared to my brothers who teased me for this single cause. I lay in this hapless condition for a very long time - so long that the pod changed from a green to a brownish tint. One day I felt the pod being removed somewhere else.
Some time later, I was nearly blinded by a sudden change of light from darkness to daylight. On recovering I found myself lying on the top of many of my fellow peas in a bamboo basket. I later came to see that it was only a Chinese girl who had put me there, having first broken the pod. Here I lay for a few days, hearing many noises even stranger than those I had heard during my imprisonment in the pod but I could not find out their sources.
One day, an Indian bought many of us by the kati. He put us into a bag which he slung on his shoulder as he walked to his house. In his house we suffered untold hardships. First we were washed in exceedingly cold water, then we were put into a hot pan. I thought the heat would decrease but, to my disappointment, it increased instead. After a few minutes, the heat was so great that my skin cracked a little. To my great relief we were finally removed from that horrid pan but only when I was half-dead.
We were then put into a wooden box and that cruel Indian took us along the streets. He threaded his way through so many streets, lanes and by-lanes that I began to think that there was no end to them. All the time the man was shouting at the top of his voice "Kachang Puteh." I also saw many black, red and blue monsters rush by us shouting "Poat, Poat."
A schoolboy bought a few of us and put us into his coat pocket. My size helped me a lot this time for I was able to hide in a corner of his pocket. My comrades soon disappeared one by one but my owner could not find me. A few days later I was in a dhoby's shop. As the coat was being washed, I slowly floated into the water which was later flowed into a gutter. After going through a series of drains and I floated along with the current, thinking of my unhappy past, critical present and unknown future.
I soon floated out into the sea. A particularly fierce-looking fish swallowed me. Thus, my wish of seeing the world was not completely fulfilled.
More About Chinese Gods
Kuang Che is a god worshipped by many of the Chinese. The birthday of this god always falls on the twentieth day of the second moon. This year it happened to fall on the 30th March, and at that time the school had already closed for the Easter holidays, so I paid a visit to Rawang, where most of the believers in Kuang Che gathered together.
I left Kuala Lumpur at 4 p.m. and an hour later I arrived at my destination. Having taken my meal in a Cantonese eating shop, strolled to the temple of Buddha where sacrifices were being offered and ceremonies performed. When I was about 300 yards away from the temple, I could see huge crowds thronging the temple gate.
Just in front of the temple, there was also a large crowd surrounding a tall wooden pole on the top of which was hung by means of ropes of crackers a nosegay. Every one was allowed to throw burning crackers at the nosegay, so that if the ropes of crackers caught fire, and the nosegay fell, the person who succeeded in doing that would receive from the temple a reward of an umbrella, a handkerchief, a watch, a ring and a bottle of eau-de-cologne. No doubt, the putting up of this pole was to keep up a constant sound of cracker firing. Throughout that day, only two gentlemen, I heard, were successful in bringing down the bunch of flowers; and, I am sure, they must have gone home proud, thinking that the gods had favoured them.
Leaving the circle of people, I proceeded to the temple. An ample shed, roofed with zinc, was erected at the gate. I was just in time to see a man performing a ceremony in honour of Kuang Che. He wore a sort of cap, and he put on a long cloak decorated with flowers and designs of men and animals. He had in front of him a bell, a piece of wood, and the horn of a bull. Holding a pair of small cymbals in his hands, he first bowed to the north and then to the south. He clanked the cymbals and murmured some prayers which I did not understand. While he did so, the holy band beside him played some wonderful tunes.
I passed on to a long table, on which was placed a great variety of foods. I will name some of them here: roast pig, boiled fish, eggs, roast duck, cooked fowl, crabs and lobsters, boiled rice, pickled melons, prepared olives, mushrooms, pumpkins, taro, peas, puddings, mee, cakes, biscuits, sweets, lotus nuts, white nuts, water chestnuts, pineapples, shaddocks, sugar cane, pears, peaches, apples, oranges, mangoes, carambolas, guavas, lichee, longan, grapes, bananas, persimmons, salad, pomegranates, and wine. In front of all these were two stands for candlesticks, two big beautiful vases, a censer, and several tripods. A pig and a sheep slaughtered a few hours before were placed one on each side of the table. They were meant as food for the gods as many Chinese believe that the gods eat the food.
Then I walked into the temple, taking care not to fall over the legs of the many people who were there. I found two doors on which were painted two warriors, supposed to be the watchmen of the temple. Many Chinese houses, especially farmhouses, have the doors thus painted. This is an old custom. I saw on my left and right two lions carved out of solid rock. In front of me was the sacred Hall of Buddha, illuminated mainly by the lights of candles and joss sticks, and decorated with ornaments, flags, and embroideries of various hues. On the walls were seen long red scrolls inscribed with good expressions, such as "The Light of Merciful Buddha shines over the World," and so on. In the middle of the ball was a white marble statue on a widespread lily. This was the image of Buddha. There were other smaller ones, either of marble or of wood, some with fearful faces and some grinning with big stomachs.
While I was studying the various statues in the midst of the hall, my attention was called away by a woman in black who had her legs bound, and who held a child in her arms. The child wore a triangular piece of red cloth which was said to be an amulet. The woman bowed to the idols, and after she had done so, she threatened the child with a loud voice to make him bow also. The child, not knowing the mother's thought, only nodded.
G. Herbert said: "One good mother is worth a hundred school masters". This shows that women play a great part in the welfare of a nation. Today, although the awareness of women's emancipation is rising in China, yet the majority of her women are still very conservative and superstitious. The thought came to me that if China wants to become strong, she must, first of all, educate her women.
A Proverbial Poem
Do not your pearls before swine cast.
There's a time for everything.
The cobbler should stick to his last.
There is many a slip
'Twixt the cup and the lip.
Do not laugh at another's loss
Bad workmen quarrel with their tools.
A rolling stone gathers no moss.
There are no fools like the old fools.
Do look before you leap.
Beauty is but skin deep.
It is never too late to mend.
All that glitters is not gold.
Burn your candle at but one end.
Spare when you're young, and spend when old.
Error is always in haste,
And it's haste that makes waste.
The Recent Eclipse of the Sun
The sun is a heavenly body of which only the photosphere is visible to mankind. The, photosphere is that part of the sun which is seen by us and, although it looks smooth to the naked eye, a telescopic view of it shows that it looks like a plate of rice soup.
An eclipse of the sun is caused by the intervening of the moon between the earth and the sky. The earth and the moon are bodies travelling round the sun. The earth goes round the sun once in 365 1/4 days, approximately, whilst the moon goes round the earth once in 28 days. At a certain period the moon comes right between the earth and the sun. This position is called a nodal position. At this time the people of certain places will have their view of the sun eclipsed by the moon itself. In fact there should be an eclipse every month, but the inclination of the moon's orbit prevents this. An eclipse causes a temporary change in light and atmosphere.
Some places have only a partial eclipse owing to the moon not going directly between the sun and the earth. A partial eclipse does not cause so much change in light and atmosphere as does a total eclipse, and so is not of much use to astronomers. We in the V.I. had the opportunity of seeing only a partial eclipse this year but people in Kedah, Siam, the Philippine Islands and Sumatra viewed a total eclipse.
Astronomers from different countries were seen months before the day travelling from place to place like nomadic herdsmen, searching for the best sites suitable for their use. Astronomers from England, India, America, Japan, Germany and Australia were present. Some had telescopes weighing 4 to 5 tons which, when extended, exceeded a hundred feet. Astronomers consider a total eclipse as a great event for they can prove the various theories they have made. They go to the most suitable places to examine the corona during the totality and from their measurements they can tell the force of the sun's rays. People from all parts of the world went to Alor Star to see the total eclipse. The next eclipse will be at Peru in 1937.
On May 9th, 1929, the sun began to be eclipsed at about 12.10 p.m. It reached its zenith at about 1.30 p.m. All the time it was growing darker and darker. Birds and beasts were disturbed. They thought that the growing darkness was the onset of night, so they retired to their resting places. Birds went to roost on the electric wires, while the grazing cattle returned to rest only to go out again when the eclipse was over.
People were seen in all parts of the town with smoked glasses or negatives in their hands. The sun was obscured the whole morning by a thin layer of clouds but at 12 noon it shone for a while. We did not quite realize the change in atmosphere and light. The sun's apparent surface gradually diminished until there was only about 8% left. Then it started to grow again until at 3 o'clock it had attained its usual size. Down in the country, the ignorant people were ready with tins and tom-toms, crackers and drums to frighten away the large dragon that was growing hungry and trying to swallow the sun. Some religious people fasted the whole day. It is strange, that no Malay women were seen viewing the eclipse. The Malays say that it is very unlucky for a woman to be out during an eclipse.
The Chinese and Indians, too, have a similar belief concerning the eclipse. They say that a large serpent lives in the air. At certain periods, it gets hungry and tries to swallow the sun. So they make the greatest possible noise thinking that they can thus frighten the serpent away. After the eclipse, they would boast saying that the serpent heard their noise and was frightened away. Thus they had rescued the sun and saved the rest of the world. In fact, an eclipse should not be regarded as a very dangerous occasion. People should celebrate an eclipse with great solemnity. The sun is the large ball of fire that lights the whole world and even that can be obscured by the moon which once formed a part of it. People should spend some time in prayer, for if there is no sun there will be no world inhabited by living things.
Last update on 23 October 2000.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min
PageKeeper: Ooi Boon Kheng