From My Father’s Diary

The Story of Bunga, the Suicide

Chia Cheng Sit

Looking over my father’s diary,–ah, what recollections come back to me of the days when my father, whose lips are now closed in death, would tell me of the wonderful stories that he had heard and jotted down or that had happened in his own experience in these Settlements. Some of these I propose to give to the readers of this Magazine, believing that they are interesting as illustrating a few of the superstitions familiar to or credited by our people.

Most of my Chinese readers are aware of the practice of burning crackers when a family enters into occupation of a house. Whether the house be newly built or had been occupied before does not seem to make any difference. The raison d’être of the practice is the same–to drive away from the house all evil spirits and ghosts so that the inmates may be left in peace.

Nevertheless these evil spirits like to return to their old haunts, and in particular the ghost of a human being who had met his death by foul means. At all events, the story I am now giving from my father’s diary is based on such belief.

About forty years ago, Kampong Kapur was nothing more than a Malay village of huts with just a sprinkling of small brick shop houses. In one of these two-storied brick buildings dwelt a Chinese clerk and his wife, his Javanese concubine and her daughter,–a child of five. There were two bed-rooms upstairs; the front room being occupied by the clerk, Chan Ong Wee and his wife, Bee Eng, while the concubine (whose nick-name was Bunga[1]) and her daughter slept in the back room.

It was not without trepidation that Bunga took up her quarters in that back room, for she had heard the neighbours tell how in that very room a Malay woman had been strangled to death by her jealous husband and then hung up from a beam of the ceiling to make the Police believe that she had caused her own death.

It was the practice of Bunga after the evening meal to take her child to her room and put her to bed.  For some hours after that, she would be occupied with her needlework, until, worn out, she would lock the door of her room and go to sleep.  There was a window in the room which opened on to a narrow terrace at the back of the house, and which, on bright moonlight evenings, she would leave open until it was bedtime for her.

Once and yet again, Bunga had a queer experience to tell her master and mistress in the morning. She had left her window open until quite late, as she loved to watch the silvery moonbeams shine into her room. But there was something else that she had seen. The apparition took the form of a large black bear peering at her through the bars of the window. As she kept her eyes fixed on the strange object, it melted into nothingness.  Her mistress told her that it was purely her imagination, and took no further notice of her story.

Now, Chan Ong Wee and his wife were devotees to the opium pipe. To cap this vice, the wife, Bee Eng, was an inveterate gambler, and would oftentimes return home very late from her chiki.[2]  On more than one occasion–so Ong Wee said after the event to be recorded hereafter,–as he lay in his room smoking his opium, he heard the voice of Bunga as if in conversation with another person in the back room.     He at first thought that Bunga was speaking to her child, but when it was getting towards midnight and the talking continued, at intervals, he became suspicious.  He walked to the back room and, in an angry tone, asked Bunga whom she had been talking to, for there was no stranger to be seen.  Bunga, still at her sewing, appeared to be surprised at his query.   “I have not been speaking to anyone, towkay,” was her reply. “Well, I heard your voice quite distinctly,” he said ; but she stoutlv protested that she had not opened her mouth.

On another night, when Bee Eng had not returned home, Ong Wee was startled by hearing Bunga shouting in her bedroom, “Yes, wait, I am coming.” He thought that the shout was in answer to his wife’s knock at the house door, and yet he himself had heard no knock. After waiting for a little time and finding that Bunga had not left her room and the knocking not repeated, he visited the back room where, to his astonishment, Bunga was quietly plying her needle. He questioned her and again she said that she had not answered anybody’s call.

Ong Wee related to Bee Eng these strange incidents, and when Bunga was questioned in the morning, she frankly replied that there must have been some mistake as she had no recollection of any conversation in their bedroom with anyone before retiring for the night.

The crisis came at last. One night the same thing happened. Bee Eng was still out, and Chan Ong Wee distinctly heard a shout from Bunga, “Wait a little, I am coming.” He had an uncanny feeling about these incidents which were beginning to become of rather frequent occurrence.  On Bee Eng’s return home, he spoke to her of it, but as Bunga had opened the door for Bee Eng and seemed to be quite natural in her talk and behaviour, nothing more was thought of the affair.

In the early hours of the morning, however, as Ong Wee was just dozing off he was startled by the voice of Bunga again shouting, “Yes I am coming now,” and then all was quiet. He was getting accustomed to that sort of thing and soon was fast asleep.

Morning came, and when Bee Eng and her husband found their way downstairs, expecting breakfast laid on the table, they saw that Bunga had not made her appearance. Ong Wee shouted for her, but there was no reply. His shouts however awakened the little girl, who commenced to fill the backroom with her shrieks.  Ong Wee and his wife rushed upstairs, wondering what was up; and on going into the back room, they saw, to their horror, the dead body of Bunga hanging by a waistband tied to her bedpost.

So that was the end of Bunga, but a problem was started for Ong Wee and his wife of how to dispose of the corpse.  To inform the Police meant unpleasant questions and a terrible time in store for them. A device was quickly thought out and acted upon.  Chan Ong Wee owned a coconut plantation on the Thomson Road and every morning his coolies brought down toddy[3] in large barrels.  One of these barrels was emptied of its contents and the corpse of Bunga was crammed into it and taken to the plantation where it was buried.  The little girl grew up to be a woman, married and died, but it may be a curious fact to mention that some years after her death, her husband committed suicide by hanging.

Notes

[1] Flower (Malay) .

[2] A game which involved a number of participants betting on which of twelve Chinese characters would be selected from a box.

[3] Sap of coconut palm, used as a beverage.