This photograph of Jerejak Island on 11 January 2018 shows clouds hugging the jungle-clad hill-tops of the island and conveys a sense of foreboding and fear.
In some ways it resembles the fictional Isla Nublar (which means Clouded Island in Spanish) of Jurassic Park fame.
If this imaginary island in central America had dinosaurs going on a rampage, Pulau Jerejak, off the South East coast of Penang Island, has been the site of much suffering, torment, isolation, ostracisation, even a chilling massacre in the past.
Indeed, according to an historian, there are at least 5,332 graves in several cemeteries dotted across Pulau Jerejak. Given this backdrop, only a brave person would bet on any business thriving on this island.
Now take a look at Isla Nublar drawn by a fan based on a description in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park novel. Notice the inverted tear-drop shape. In the 1993 movie depiction, the island is mountainous shrouded by a lush tropical rainforest.
Check out this other map as well.
Now take a look at this map of Pulau Jerejak (below). Notice the somewhat similar inverted tear-drop shape:
At the centre of Isla Nublar sits an artificial lagoon.
Pulau Jerejak has a mystical and enchanting reservoir at its centre as well. Take a look at this:
At the base of the hills in Isla Nublar lies a visitor centre and hotel. Well, Pulau Jerejak too has a hotel at its foothills which never prospered and was then shuttered.
The ill-fated Jurassic Park itself was built on the eastern side of Isla Nublar. Ahem, there are now some plans in the offing for a theme park on the eastern side of Jerejak Island on a site that is steeped in history.
But before anyone gets the ‘bright’ idea of creating a ‘Jurassic Park’ or some other theme park on Pulau Jerejak, think again. Some believe that the inspiration for Isla Nublar came from the Cocos Island off Costa Rica:
Kinda reminds you of Pulau Jerejak, doesn’t it? Only thing the 24-square-kilometre Cocos Island is a national park off Costa Rica that does not allow any inhabitants apart from park rangers.
And that’s the way 3.4-square-kilometre Pulau Jerejak should be – a protected nature reserve, our common painful heritage, eventually as part of a proposal for a joint listing as Unesco world heritage site along with the Sungai Buloh leprosy centre.
In the meantime, maybe people who want to visit the island people could just hire a creaky wooden fishing boat, lit by an old kerosene lamp and steered by a pak cik, and approach this island hugged by dark clouds with a sense of foreboding, as a chilly blustery wind rocks their boat.
That would give them an idea how patients and detainees, the poor tormented souls, were forced to journey to the island to live out their lives in depressing isolation, out of sight – and often out of mind – of the rest of society.