March 2021

What does kayu bakau smell like? 

The wood from rhizophora trees with their aerial roots                 plunging
                    like a thousand
                              fingers  
                into brackish mangrove waters,
while mudcrabs burrow beneath them.

    Inside the guts of those crabs
and beyond their exoskeletons in the wider
        tidal mangroves
            microbacterial communities     flourish
            filtering and buffering
            invasive pathogens.


A friend tells me that bakau sap smells like wood preservative. Another says it smells of childhood freedom, thigh deep in mud, a salty breeze.

And what about daun nipah, the leaves of mangrove palms that grow abundantly
    in slow-moving tidal waters?

       What do nipah leaves smell like?

A floral sweet smell, that turns sourish when exposed. A boat down an estuary, fireflies. The chemical compounds in its floral scent contains fatty acid derivatives, terpenoids, carotenoid derivatives and benzenoids.1

I ask the same questions on whatsapp to Pak Uning Laut, the third brother of the sea. After all, it’s because of his rumah ikan, the houses he makes for fish, that I wanted to know.

Ha…ha…datang sini, he replies.  Not bad, like bamboo. After it’s been in water for 2 or 3 weeks then you can smell it. Ikan suka.