Eight years ago, Ar Bayaah Mohd Zain or Abby, recalls the life-changing trip to a little village in Perak. The sight of the rainforest, in particular, the rafflesia flower left a lasting impression on her – “It was amazing and special. I’ve never seen one before”.
“It’s the largest flower in the world and I didn’t know you can find it in Perak,” she added.
Abby, a former kindergarten teacher was inspired to write a fairytale about a princess born from a rafflesia flower, Puteri Pakma, destined to save the rainforest and tapirs from extinction.
Featuring the concept of naïve art, called the Gaugin style, the tale draws inspiration from many Malay folklore Abby grew up listening to. She began work on the picture storybook in 2013 and took a year to craft 35 pieces of artworks. In 2015, her book was selected by the National Book Council to be on the list of 50 Best Malaysian Titles for International Rights. It even garnered international attention at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany.
Without giving much away, the story revolves around a wicked prince on a mission to hunt and kill tapirs. Enter Puteri Pakma, the warrior princess destined to save a nation, its ruler and the tapirs from extinction.
In the quest to learn more about Puteri Pakma, I caught up with Abby at her art studio.
1. What inspired the story of Puteri Pakma?
It all started with a trip to the rainforest in Ulu Geroh, Perak that I stumbled upon a rafflesia flower. I visited the Orang Asli village with French and Vietnamese artists. Though the climb was about four hours, it was totally worth it.
I was mesmerized and amazed by the beauty of the flower. I thought to myself, there is something about this flower which will bring in something big if I could do a magical thing with it. From that moment, I decided to create a princess born from a flower to save the rainforest.
Some parts of the story was inspired by my dreams. For example, in the part of the story where Puteri Pakma was riding on a whale to search for the prince, this scene actually came to me in a dream!
2. Is there any particular reason for choosing a female protagonist?
I strongly believe that women can also be heroes. My wish is for young children and women to relate with Puteri Pakma as a symbol of strength and fortitude for the preservation of the environment, in particular, our rainforest.
3. Why is Puteri Pakma a unique character?
Puteri Pakma is a princess who bears similarities with Princess Adruja from the 16th century Malay folklore. She is well-known as Che Siti Wan Kembang, the warrior princess who defended her country against the invasion of Thai soldiers. This story, especially about a Malay lady warrior, inspired me to create a character called Puteri Pakma.
4. An interesting plot in the story features a peculiar-looking tapir. Why a tapir?
Tapirs are generally unknown as some people often confuse them with pandas. To a large extent, tapirs are often neglected even though it is considered one of our national heritage animals.
There aren’t many NGOs fighting for the preservation of tapirs. The time has come for us to think seriously about the preservation of our national heritage animals and wildlife. We need to step up and be the voice for the voiceless. For me personally, I want to be the voice for tapirs in Malaysia. (Fun Fact: Did you know that World Tapir Day is celebrated on 27 April every year?)
5. What’s in store for Puteri Pakma in the near future?
I would like to see Puteri Pakma turned into an animation series. At the same time, I would also like to see Puteri Pakma being recognised as a saviour of the rainforest. As a nature lover, it is important to send a strong message to the future generation on the importance of preserving our nature and wildlife.
View the tale of Puteri Pakma narrated by its creator, Abby Zain.
Featured image sourced from Ashlynn Tham