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April 26, 2017

Fossils and Borneo Bargaining

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – As one wanders around the downtown area, indeed, the only place I do wander, there are usually tables set up between the sidewalk and the curb that sell either cake lapis or what I call jungle Viagra.


The cake lapis is layer cake that is sold in long sections and is the pride of Sarawak. Jungle Viagra is an aphrodisiac from a tree in the forest that is supposed to duplicate the Viagra tablets sold in the U.S.


I always examine these tables when walking by because they sometimes have unusual items for sale. We have purchased some very interesting blades and small porcelain pieces. While in Montana, I became interested in fossils and noticed they sold them at these tables. I wondered why.


These fossils are not used for collectors or scientific interest but rather for prevention of ill will by others. They are purchased by kampong people and sell at high rates to white people such as myself, but local Malay can buy them very cheap.


One of the more interesting is the fossil of the Umbut Nibong tree. The tree is a skinny palm tree whose middle part is used for food in stews and soups. I probably ate a ton of the stuff, but I was unaware that I was doing so.


According to lore, the fossil will protect the owner from evil people or people with bad intentions. I had visions of the fossil hurling itself at the head of an evil doer, but such dramatic consequences was not to be had. Rather, it makes the owner aware and alert to strangers with evil intent.


I learned there is an entire protocol in the purchase of such things. It's like adding Islamic words to the local Malay. Here is an English Christian version of it.


Buyer: How much, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, is that holy of holiest relic?


Seller: Oh great blessed one, I will pass it on to you, but I need a bit for my trouble as I know these relics are meant for you.


Buyer: I realize you need money for your petrol, food and other things to present these holy items to me. How much for all your troubles?


Seller: Yes, with all things being very expensive, I need to feed my wife and children, the roof needs mending, I would need RM 80 (about $18 U.S.).


Buyer: I see you have two of them and it must have cost you lot of pain and suffering to bring them to me. I pray, will you accept RM100 (about $23 U.S.) for two of them?


Seller: The seller contemplates this price for about two minutes and then places the two fossils in front of his face. He states we have an exchange for these holy objects. Be kind to them.


Money is exchanged. The fossils are carefully wrapped in cloth and put into a plastic bag.


The items are never bought or sold in the usual sense, but it is the seller returning the objects to the buyer who are the rightful owners of the fossils.


Me? I would have said "How much?"


Seller: RM 500 (About $114 US.)


Me: Can you do better?


Seller: RM 450 (about $103 in US)


Me: Okay, RM 450 thinking I got a very good deal. That's why I have my wife bargain for me while I am not there.


...Life is good. . . . .


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