Fireflies in Cherating
It’s pitch black. The only sound we can hear is the buzz of the motorboat, which seems a little too loud for what we are about to do.
The trees on the riverbank are dark and slightly ominous but for the tiny lights twinkling in the branches.
“I hope there are no crocodiles here,” someone whispers. I hope none of them heard you, I say to myself.
All of a sudden there’s a flash of light from the boat next to ours. What happens next is simply wonderful. The tiny twinkling lights — fireflies — leave the trees and fly towards us.
Instead of us invading their space, the fireflies are all around us.
Near the Cherating River in Malaysia is a man who spends his nights ‘speaking’ to fireflies which live in the mangrove swamp not far from his home.
Mohd Hafiz Abdul Majid had never seen fireflies, let alone heard of them in his native Myanmar. It was only after he came to Malaysia that he learnt about them.
Together with mangrove and sea fishing trips, Hafiz runs firefly tours but the difference between his and other tours is that he calls the fireflies to him.
If there are horse, ghost and dog whisperers, then Hafiz speaks to fireflies the way they speak to each other, only he uses flashlights.
It was by accident that Hafiz discovered he was able to summon fireflies.
Three years ago, while sitting in a boat in the river, he noticed the fireflies flying out of their trees.
It struck him that the fireflies were reacting to his flashlight; if he shone or moved his flashlight in a particular manner, the fireflies would interpret his movements and fly in his direction.
Hafiz, who holds a B.A. in History from Rangoon University, says he tried his technique with the fireflies in other parts of the country but was unsuccessful.
“They have a different ‘language’. I brought my torchlights to Kuala Selangor and tried to call the fireflies to me, but it didn’t work,” he said.
Hafiz left Burma in the 1990s and came to Cherating, where he began working at a local restaurant.
This went on until 2005 when he began getting interested in the mangrove swamps and in particular, the fireflies that make the mangrove trees their home. After he learnt more about the fireflies, he set up a tour company and began taking visitors out to the river.
“Sometimes, on some nights after the tourists go home, I like to go out on my boat and call the fireflies to me. It’s like magic. I close my eyes and call them until they cover me from my head to my feet. That always makes me very happy,” he said.
Like everyone who works in the tourism industry here, Hafiz agrees that there has been a slump in the number of visitors to the quiet town.
“Cherating is a small place but we are hoping that the beach, the mangroves and, of course, the fireflies will bring the people back.”
Fireflies, when they are in trees, are often described as Christmas lights. There are Christmas lights in Cherating- only over here, they come to you.
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