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THE NEW Straits Times’ page one picture today of the cattle sharing a banggol with the motorcars, several power tillers and a lorry to escape the floods in Kelantan tells a poignant story.
It was the story worth a million words and one that I am familiar with albeit with a modern twist.
The banggol is a raised ground in an otherwise flat topography of the rice fields and the grasslands.
I was the product of the banggols. There are several villages around mine in Kedah that have the word banggol in their names like Banggol Besi, Banggol Kambing and Banggol Petai.
During the rainy reason, when the Pendang River overflowed its banks for many miles on both sides, and the inundation lasted weeks, the banggols provided the much-needed temporary shelter for livestock.
Neighbours shared the banggols and cooperated with each other to feed the marooned animals. But there were occasions when disagreements broke out with the less cooperative neighbours.
Food would remain scarce for the livestock until after the floods had totally receded. Grasses and shrubs rotted in the floodwater and would take several weeks to fully rejuvenate.
A friend, who is a film enthusiast, told me that there is a 2004 Vietnamese movie called “The Buffalo Boy” which tells the story of quarrels among villages to gain control of the banggols during the Mikong’s annual floods.
The NST picture is special as it tells us of the change the country has gone through since my childhood in the 1950s. Then there were no motorcars, power tillers and lorries on the banggols. There were only cows, buffaloes and occasional goats.
Today, tractors and lorries have replaced the buffalo-driven wooden ploughs, bullock carts and anor (sledge) as farm essentials. Combined harvesters have taken over the backbreaking chores – literally sometimes – from human beings during the harvesting season.
Then floods were an essential part of the cycle of life. Floods that sometimes took lives and destroyed properties also enriched the soil, brought bountiful harvest of fish, lobsters and a variety of water birds.
Today, floods are big national news. What is very seldom asked and answered is why floods are getting bigger, less predictable and with greater lost of lives.
Those days, we built houses on stilts. Even when floodwater rose four or five ft., we were still dry on our stilted houses. We had sampan on the ready or at the very least we could quickly build bamboo rafts. Life was hard but the people were resilient and independent.