Malaysia: Jealousy in a beautiful place

By Elizabeth Binning

Prosperity, much of it through tourism, has come to Langkawi
Prosperity, much of it through tourism, has come to Langkawi

Once upon a time in a small Malaysian island village there was a beautiful young woman named Mahsuri who was admired not only for her physical beauty but also her kindness.

She was married to the brother of the state ruler, but was quietly hated by her jealous sister-in-law Wan Mahora who wanted her gone.

While her warrior husband was at war in 1819, Wan Mahora spread rumours that Mahsuri was having an affair and, despite pleading her innocence, she was sentenced to death.

According to the legend, Mahsuri prayed for her blood to turn white in order to prove her innocence ... and her prayers were granted. As she drew her final breath, her blood flowed white, a sign to the world that she had been falsely condemned, and she cursed the island to seven generations of turmoil.

In the years that followed, the island, Langkawi, was hit by many disasters including long drought, floods, fires, wars and plagues of insects. "In the eyes of the local people of Langkawi every disaster that befell .

. . such as flood, fire, diseases and war were seen as the consequence of this curse," says a sign about the legend.

It was only in 1940 that the curse lapsed and the area began to prosper again.

Today, the island is flourishing again, and Mahsuri's tale is part of the appeal for the thousands of tourists who flock there every year.

Langkawai is in an archipelago of 99 tropical islands in the Andaman Sea, about 30km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia, roughly an hour's flight north of Kuala Lumpur. The island, with its giant 12m-tall eagle statue hovering above the harbour, is often a stopping point for those on their way out to the popular outer islands, but it has plenty to offer on its own account.

We arrived there fairly late, just after 9pm, and were delighted to find the main shopping strip was open until midnight. Naturally, most of the tourist shops sell variations of the same kind of things, but it's a lively enough strip with plenty of restaurants and bars to keep things interesting. And the tourist income from those visiting the strip is a further that this place has outlived any curse from Mahsuri.

By day, stopping to see the site dedicated to telling Mahsuri's tale - which many locals still believe in, white blood and all - is one of several options for those who stay on the main island. For instance, there's Eagle Square, the local aquarium with extra cute penguins and not so cute snakes, and the cable car which on a clear day offers views as far as Thailand.

The Galeria Perdana is also well worth a visit. It's basically a museum full of things given to the fourth Malaysian Prime Minster Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his wife - and you'd be amazed at what he got.

It takes three large buildings to hold just a fraction of the goodies gifted to Mohamad. There are more than 9000 items in his collection, but only 2000 can be on display at any given time so they are rotated.

When we visit, there were three items from New Zealand on display - a paua necklace, a bowl that looks anything but Kiwi and an impressive pounamu axe tucked away in the weapons section.

The array of things gifted to the Prime Minister is stunning - from the domestic (dinner sets) to the militaristic (AK47s), but it was the transportation collection that really impressed. Argentina gifted a horse carriage while Formula One Racing slipped him a Ferrari.

By the look of the gifts, it would appear Mahsuri's curse has well and truly passed - property has well and truly returned to Langkawi again - or at least to its leader.


Elizabeth Binning visited Malaysia as guest of Tourism Malaysia, Malaysia Airlines and Asian Overland Services.

- NZ Herald

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