A Remedy for Fugu Poisoning in 1895 Sarawak

I came across and article in the Sarawak Gazette from 1895 entitled “Poisoned by the Buntal Fish.” In Sarawak there is a fish, the buntal fish, which is like the Japanese fugu or pufferfish. It has a toxin in it which has to be carefully removed before eating it, otherwise. . . well read the article below and you will see what can happen otherwise.

Private Unong of Kabong caught some river buntal and partook of three small ones for his evening meal. In a very short time he experienced a curious feeling steal over him. His lips first became, as it were, paralyzed and then the same queer sensation pervaded his body. He called for help, and his comrades together with Malay doctors came to his assistance and proceeded to medicine him in the most approved fashions (probably however unknown to the European faculty!).

A mixture called akar bangun (a root from North Borneo which is said to possess the property of preventing intoxication) was administered in water then they hoisted Private Unong on to the kitchen shelf (para) and lit a good big fire under him (which proceeding recalls to our mind the remedy for a trek ox than can move but won’t!) and proceeded to roast him! A violent fit of vomiting presently slightly relieved their patient and when taken off the shelf he sank into a coma and slept for two days and nights.

After still further roasting, and consuming a drink composed of shavings of porcupines teeth (a most efficacious medicine), Private Unong – whose sufferings might remind us of those of the early martyrs, declared himself to be “fit for duty.” He now goes by the nickname of Salai Indut. (The stream from whence he obtained the fish was S. Indut).

It would be interesting to know what the poison of the buntal fish is and what portions of the fish are really dangerous. Some natives consider different parts such as the skin, spikes, a portion of the stomach, etc. etc. to be very poisonous, others however disagree with them. The sea buntal is poisonous too but people partake of it often with impunity. Some Malays pretend there are different species which are more deadly than others; those with the “red eyes” (mata mirah) are certain to cause death, and the proceedings as in the case of the fortman above mentioned would, if he had partaken of the “red eyed one,” have been quite useless.

Sarawak Gazette, July 1, 1895 (pg. 125)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s