Behind The Shadows of Death

The setting sun backlighting the cerbera odollam.

The cerbera odollam is an innocuous looking tree with big round fruits hanging from its branches. They are green and glossy. Some of them looked good enough to be eaten but I knew better. Behind that desirable facade of innocence lies a deadly secret. Its seeds are poisonous and are known to have been used for suicide and even murder.

This is the Indian suicide tree, also called the Pong Pong. It grows along the sandy coasts, riverbanks and near mangrove swamps. The insides of the fruit are enclosed by a fibrous shell that floats and is easily carried away by the water. The toxic seeds are used as rat poison, insect repellent or burned for light.

When I saw that tree, it reminded me of my primary school days. Several of these trees stood along the fence. Whenever we felt like playing ball and did not have one handy, we would use the dried fibrous fruit as a substitute. This tree used to be planted by the roadsides all over Penang. When the fruits ripened and fell off, they littered the ground.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

4 thoughts on “Behind The Shadows of Death”

  1. hi peter, i think in lay man’s term, its call the PONG PONG tree….n during my primary school days, i used to kick the fruits around with the boys….knowing that the fruit is actually poisonous, causing one to be mute at least!!, i did have thoughts of using to poison my guardian then, who was actually a devil in disguise!! 😛

  2. trees like that reminds me of my playground back in hometown – used to haggle all my aunts to bring me there as we have to cross a big road to get there (went back to hometown this year and realised the road is so small!)

    the swings were placed right next to such a tree and i’d swing myself higher and higher trying to kung-fu kick the leaves, hehe


  3. thai boxing girl,
    My parents told me that the rats would not come near this fruit. How true that is I do not know. Now as I read through the articles about its toxicity, I began to see how dangerous it is to those who do not know about it.

    When we were small, everything looked big. Now that we have grown up, our perspective is totally different. Reminiscing about those childhood day is fun, right?

    In India, its poison is used to commit suicide, hence its name.

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