The Traditional Healer of Langkawi

By Eric Chong

What is long, soft, and tubular and when you cut it into two, it is able to reattach itself? Well, you know it’s not Lorena Bobbit’s ex-husband’s...... It is an unsightly sea creature called the “sea cucumber” or the local Malay name “gamat”. Gamat is a species of sea cucumber. 

Gamat is a well known product of Langkawi. In the early days, this sea slug can be found all over the reefs around Langkawi. But since a local inhabitant saw its potential for medicinal use and commercialised it, the sea cucumber is no longer found in such abundance in Langkawi. Most of the sea cucumbers are now imported from Thailand.

Apparently, the incident that led to the discovery of the medicinal value of the gamat was when a fisherman stepped on one of the gamats on his way to his camp on the beach. The gamat secreted a kind of sticky milk which glued his hairy legs so effectively that the only solution was to have a clean shave after that. He took revenge by hacking all the sea cucumbers around him with his rusty old axe. Having finished his massacre, he went about his business but imagine his amazement on returning to his scene of crime and discovering that all his victims were whole and happy again. All their wounds had healed and those parts that were cut right through joined back again, leaving no trace whatsoever. That gave him food for thought. If the sea cucumber could heal itself, then it should also be able to heal people’s wounds. Thus, the “minyak gamat” industry began.

There are two ways of processing the sea cucumber. One is to get the pure fluid and the other is mixed with coconut oil and plant extracts. In both processes, the sea cucumber is dumped into a huge barrel which is placed over a slow burning fire for three days. In the first process, no ingredients are added. Thus, you have the pure form of fluid which is called “ayer gamat”. In the second process, the coconut oil and secret plant ingredients are periodically added in throughout the three days. After the third day, you have an oily based substance called “minyak gamat”. The amazing thing about the whole cooking process is that you can dip your hand inside the fluid or oil and not be burnt!

The processed sea cucumber or gamat is marketed in two bottles. The pure type or “ayer gamat” is to be consumed orally. It is used to cure all internal ailments such as peptic ulcer, duodenal ulcer, bleeding piles and stomach aches. The mixed kind or “minyak gamat” is for external application. It is used to quicken the healing process of toothaches, cuts or wounds.

Minyak or ayer gamat can be bought at speciality shops which only sell minyak or ayer gamat. These shops are located along the road from Padang Matsirat to Kuala Teriang, which is around the airport area. It can also be found at Tanjung Rhu, which is in the northern part of Langkawi. The price is anywhere from RM 2.00 to RM 10.00, depending on the quantity.

Other than the medicinal values mentioned above, another species of the sea cucumber is also the traditional healer for yet another ailment. The Chinese call it “Hai Som". The Chinese believe that “Hai Som” is an aphrodisiac. It is also considered a delicacy for the Chinese. For those of you who are on your honeymoon here in Malaysia, you may want to try ordering “Hai Som” for your next meal to give you that extra …….

Not exactly eye candy – preserved gamat in a bottle.
My earliest recollection of the “Hai Som” was not the most pleasant. The first occasion was at a ramshackle restaurant at Pokok Asam in Langkawi town. After an enjoyable day’s fishing, my friends and I were ravenous and ready to digest anything. Lots of seafood were the order of the day, including the famous “Hai Som”. The meal was quickly disposed of and being very tired, we retired to our rented room upstairs for the night. Early the next morning, I had to visit the out-house at the back of the restaurant. There, I witnessed my host digging nearby. I thought he was collecting worms – I was right. But these were extremely large. They were “Hai Som”. He had buried them overnight. By morning, the worms were crawling all over the “Hai Som”. The worms had eaten out the intestines of the “Hai Som”! And now the “Hai Som” is ready to be served!

Visitors can still see the sea cucumber in its natural habitat at certain places in Langkawi. Two of the places where it can be found in Langkawi is at Datai or Tanjung Rhu (or in air-conditioned comfort at Langkawi Underwater World’s touch pool). Wait for the lowest tide and look in tidal pools among the rocks for this rubbery foot-long creature. You may touch them, but please do not take them to the nearest “minyak gamat” shop or restaurant.

The next time you see this long unsightly creatures, think of what they have done to help our pharmaceutical cause. A lot of research have been conducted and they are proving that this traditional cure is not just baseless claims but have actual healing properties.

Who knows, the humble sea cucumber may hold the key to helping people like Lorena Bobbit’s ex-husband – no surgeons required.

About The Writer


Under a slow burning fire, the "gamat" is cooked for three days to extract the pure fluid of ayer gamat.

Minyak or ayer gamat can be bought at speciality shops located along the road from Padang Matsirat to Kuala Teriang, which is near the airport. It can also be found at Tanjung Rhu, which is in the northern part of Langkawi. The price is anywhere from RM 2.00 to RM 10.00, depending on the quantity.

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