The more I read about mudskippers, the more I fascinated I get with these strange little creatures.
In Malay, they’re called ikan tembakul or blodok.
There’s this great story online explaining why there’s a mudskipper statue on the roof of one of the oldest Chinese temples in Muar, Johor.
According to the story, during Admiral Cheng Ho‘s voyages to Malacca in the 15th Century, he also landed in Muar, Johor. The locals greeted him with a dish of roasted mudskippers, explaining the health benefits: Adam (i.e. humankind) was made from the earth, so eating mudskippers (who live in mudholes) returns some kind of ‘original’ strength and power.
The Admiral was so taken by their generosity that he put a dish of roasted blodok at the Buddhist prayer alter he’d set up. Eventually Chinese people settled there, and their foundation stone is now the 160 year-old Tokong Chor Soo Kong, which has a big pink mudskipper topping the roof.
Great story, right? Except the Admiral was actually a Muslim! (He was also 7 ft tall and had no balls, i.e. a eunuch). His original name was Ma Ho, with ‘Ma’ the surname standing for Muhammad. It seems inconsistent that he’d set up a Buddhist prayer altar.
But I’ve also read that the good Admiral was a most practical diplomat, and tended to carry both Buddhist and Muslim prayer accessories when traveling to distant lands – the better to connect with whatever local culture he encountered.
Anyway, mudskippers have been cavorting at the back of my mind, establishing a funny kingdom there. They jump and dance in the light of the new moon, and wish you selamat hari raya, maaf zahir dan batin.