Original film title in Malay: Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup (literally Stone Splits, Stone Closes)
English title: The Devouring Rock
Directed by Jamil Sulong
Written by Jamil Sulong & Omar Rojik (adapted from Bangsawan play)
Starring: Aziz Jaafar, Zaiton, Neng Yatimah, S. Kadarisman
Produced by Malay Film Productions (Shaw Bros.)
Year of release: 1959
Nipah palm plantation
Kampong Tampines (Jalan Guan Choon, off Tampines Road)
Kampong Java Teban, Pasir Panjang 15th milestone (for ikan tembakul or giant mudskippers)
Based on a Bangsawan (Malay opera/theatre) play, Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup tells the fantastical story of Mak Minah surrendering herself to a human-devouring rock after being bitterly irritated by her children’s ingratitude towards her. Mak Minah (Neng Yatimah) craves, often to the point of desperation, for the roe of the ikan tembakul (giant mudskipper). To satisfy her craving, her husband goes to the mangrove river to fish for the rare ikan tembakul, and dies during a dangerous fishing trip to the swamps on a stormy night. To support the family, Mak Minah harvests nipah leaves at the nipah/attap palm plantation and make roof parts (thatch) out of them. Without her husband, Mak Minah also tries her hand at fishing for the desired ikan tembakul. Once, she is fortunate enough to catch one with the roe, but her daughter, under strict instructions from the mother to leave some for her, fails to stop her younger brother from eating all of the roe. Disappointed with her children, she dreams of ghostly hands beckoning her to go to a demonic rock. Seemingly possessed, she makes her way there and surrenders herself, walking into the mouth of the devouring rock. The rock shuts itself tight, and her children become wandering orphans…
Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup was the directorial debut of Jamil Sulong, who was only the third Malay film talent (after Haji Mahadi and P. Ramlee) to direct a film for Shaw Brothers’ Malay Film Productions studio since its establishment in 1947. Newspapers of the time reported that the filming of Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup had begun in November 1958 and the proceedings were smooth despite some difficulties. One of the major problems was obtaining the rare ikan tembakul that was so crucial to the film story. The production crew had to purchase them from the village chief of Kampong Java Teban at 15th milestone Pasir Panjang. They were probably so precious that they were even given nicknames usually accorded to film stars; one of them was called ‘Skip’. Apparently, the rare mudskipper-fish could only be found in a few places in Singapore and the mangrove swamps of the Jurong River was one such place.
A newspaper report on 3 August 1985 also revealed that the rural scenes from Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup were filmed in the remote Kampong Tampines at Jalan Guan Choon, off Tampines Road. Kampong residents were sharing their stories with the Berita Harian journalists before they were to move out from the village that was due for demolishment. So, the mangrove rivers featured in the film might have been Sungei Api-api or Sungei Tampines…
1. ‘Sultan sees a temperament’. The Straits Times. 5 November 1958, p. 2.
2. ‘Sultan Pahang yang bacha do’a selamat’. Berita Harian. 7 November 1958, p. 7.
3. ‘Seram, ngeri dan meriah’. Berita Harian. 9 April 1959, p. 4.
4. ‘‘Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup’ dapat kejayaan dan pujian’. Berita Harian. 11 April 1959, p. 7.
5. ‘A forgotten kampong in Singapore’. The Singapore Free Press. 13 January 1958, p. 8.
6. ‘Nasib pendudok2 Kampong Jawa Teban’. Berita Harian. 3 September 1961, p. 4.
7. ‘Jurong: The good old, bad old days’. The Straits Times. 14 February 1980, p. 6.
8. ‘Kampung jadi tumpuan pengeluar filem Melayu’. Berita Harian. 3 August 1985, p. 7.
9. Jamil bin Sulong, Bangsawan’s Influence in Malay Films, in Cinta Filem Malaysia/Love Malaysia Films (pp. 56-60), Selangor Darul Ehsan: Perbadanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional Malaysia, 1989.
10. ‘Where are Nipah palms found in Singapore?’, Wild Shores of Singapore Website. 26 February 2010.
© 1959 Malay Film Productions
© 2002 Music Valley
Digital Map Source:
Great Britain. Ordnance Survey, Singapore Island, National Library of Australia, MAP G8040 1941. [http://nla.gov.au/nla.map-vn1900708]
© 2014 Toh Hun Ping