Many years back, Andrew Simmons, an English explorer, visited a small island of Cagayan Sulu. It is a lonely spot of land in the Sulu Sea between the Philippine Islands and Malaysia. There are strange stories in the island related to a tribe of cannibals with cat’s eyes called ‘Berbalangs’.
When hunger for human flesh urged them, they will lie down in tall grass. They will then fall into a trance and go hunting for victims in their winged forms, while their bodies lie hidden behind tall grass.
The people of Cagayan Sulu have been living in fear of these Berbalangs for generations. They warned Andrew that the Berbalangs make horrid moaning noises that are loud when they are far away, but grow fainter as they approach. When they are very close to you, the sound of wings flapping could be heard and their eyes would move in the dark, like fireflies.
They told Andrew that a coconut pearl (an opal rarely found in the coconut) would keep him safe from the Berbalangs. Without one, the only defence is a kris (a local traditional knife) with its blade rubbed with lemon juice. He tried to buy a coconut pearl, but found out later that it would only protect the one who discovered it. It would be powerless if given or sold.
Andrew asked if anyone would come with him to see the tribe. Only one brave young man, Matali, volunteered. They started in the morning and finally reached the Berbalangs’s settlement in the late afternoon. Matali refused to go any closer, “We’ve seen it. Now, let’s go.”
“We’re not stopping now,” Andrew insisted that they go on further.
“I am not going in there! If you insist, you go alone!”
Matali smeared his kris with some lemon juice and handed it to the daring yet somewhat ignorant explorer. So, Andrew went in alone. The place looked deserted, only a few chickens and a goat remained. However, in one hut, Andrew saw some rice boiling in a pot, as if someone had just left it there.
Andrew went back to Matali and told him what he discovered. Matali begged the Englishman to leave, saying that the Berbalangs were hunting in their other form. It would be a suicide to stay there any longer. As the sun was already setting, they finally make their journey home.
Before they were even half way back, it was already dark. Suddenly, there was this loud moaning noise. “The Berbalangs…” Matali whispered in fear. “Pray they will pass by without noticing us.” They both hid behind the grass. The moaning grew fainter and fainter which meant the Berbalangs were getting closer and closer to them. Soon, the sound of flapping wings could be heard. Matali and Andrew began to fear the worse when they saw ‘fireflies’ flying over the tall grass. They halted for a second, as if they noticed something hidden in the grass, but then left. The moaning began to grow louder and Matali sighed with relief. “They’re gone,” he said. “We’re safe for now. Hurry up, we must go!”
The two raced for Matali’s village. As they ran beneath the tall grass, they could hear the moaning noises which slowly and gradually grew fainter and fainter. At one point, Andrew saw an isolated house. “We must help the people inside,” he told Matali.
“The man who lives there, Hassan, has a coconut pearl,” Matali said. “Now hurry! We have to escape.”
Andrew followed Matali and they got back to their safe village after a short while. In the morning, Andrew laughed at himself for believing that story. He thought it was silly to let Matali’s fear and some fireflies scared him. When he met Matali later that day, Andrew, however, asked about Hassan. Matali said he lied about Hassan owning a coconut pearl. Hassan had arrived a week before Andrew on some research expedition to learn more about the island. Matali reckoned Hassan could probably be died by now.
Andrew, insisting that the story was mere superstition and was not true, decided to prove himself right by inviting Matali to go to Hassan’s house with him. When the two of them got to Hassan’s house, no one answered to their calls. They then realised the door was not locked, so they went in. They saw a desk, with papers scattered everywhere on the floor. Matali went into room while Andrew walked towards the desk and see what was there. Suddenly he backed away and shouted for Matali. In the corner of the desk was Hassan – only his skeleton with a few scraps of flesh clutching a shredded paper.
Suddenly, they heard moaning noises outside growing fainter and fainter. And fainter….
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