I was saddened by the email I got from Professor Mardan this morning from Malaysia titled, “Pak Teh passes away!” I think Mardan’s note, quoted below, speak for many people who knew Salleh Bin Mohammend Noor, affectionately nicknamed “Pak Teh.” He was a grandfather, bee shaman, leader of the honey hunters, healer, Imam, and hero of our children’s book, The Bee Tree, that I illustrated in 2006.
Like Makhdzir, after the initial shock and sadness, I started to smile inwardly, thinking about all the experiences I had with Pak Teh during the ten years I traveled to Malaysia working on the book.
Very sad indeed to let you know that Pak Teh passes away less than hour ago at 84 years of age. He had a stroke a month ago and he was hospitalised. He was discharged a day ago and he died peacefully at his home. Innalilla wa’innlillhiroji’ooon!
Let us pray to God the Almighty for the well-being of his soul and in the hereafter. Pak Teh has passed and TAUGHT me very valuable knowledge, wisdom and experience on the giant honeybees and honeyhunting in the rainforest of Malaysia. I owe him a great deal in many of my insights about the forest, the bees and the wildlife. Many times he expressed to people, liking me like his son. I feel very honoured to be treated very specially by him, that he was very helpful and supportive in whatever undertaking that I came up to him throughout my knowing him for more than 25 years.
I remember meeting him for the first time under the bee tree then when he was as old as I am now. He was muscularly built at 56 and I can never forget that we have little rations left under the bee tree, except rice and coffee. He ate 7 plates of rice mixed with coffee right before my very eyes!!! Surely, I know that he was not a hungry monster then, but blimey! 7 plates of rice! That was a rainy night that we slept at the foot of a big tree near the bee tree. Only to find next morning that our colleague’s stomach was smeared with blood because there were leeches in his sarong. We joked over the years and he never loses his cool or temper, but always has his humour intact, no matter how bad, tired and dangerous the situation we were in.
He told me stories about how he was caught by the forest rangers and brought to court because he had a gun and was trespassing the forest. He was asked during the court hearing did he see the signboard that showed he should not be hunting in the forest. Earnestly and honestly he said that he saw it. But when asked why did he still went into the forest with the gun. He said he cannot read ! He was always cool and collected and humourous under the gravest of circumstances. I could not ask for more from Pak Teh than to share his experiences and knowledge of honeyhunting.
I gained many insights from his observations over the many years of honeyhunting. I feel very lucky to have made the honeyhunting documentary with DISCOVERY CHANNEL, months ago, about his conveying of the cultural baton of honeyhunting to his grandsons, Nizam and Shukor. The documentary will be broadcasted again on the 11 November on DISCOVERY CHANNEL.
I remember times we would be walking in the forest on the trail to the bee tree. We English speakers would be talking and laughing about something and Pak Teh would ask Makhdzir, or someone else who spoke English, “What are they saying, What are they saying?” Makhdzir would translate and Pak Teh would laugh and start making comments of his own. So we would ask, “What is he saying? What’s he laughing about?”
As a quick little memorial to Pak Teh, I’m posting for the world, some of my sketchbook drawings and paintings of him.