Friday, 18 September 2009

Magic of the Malays

Extracted from 'The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British India and its Dependecies (Volume XI)' January-June 1821 (Kingsbury, Parbury & Allen, Booksellers to the Honourable East India Company)

Principle is the spring of action. If a man's principle be wrong, his conduct will, in general, be so too. One of the great principles that forms the character of the Malays is the belief of magic. The word magic I conceive best adapted here, as it embraces all the various modifications of those strange things that are said to take place. The Malays have regular systems of magic, which differ in every country, and are as numerous and various as the magic itself, whose inventive genius produces them; but those of one place cannot make use of that of another, except they be regularly initiated into it. They believe in a great number of evil spirits whose influence their magic counteracts. These are all known by distinct names, and have all one common head or prince, i.e. Iblis, or the devil. They are as follows : Iblis, Sheatan, Jin, Fari, Dewa, Mambang, Rak-asa, Gar-gazi, Polang, Hantu, Penang-Galan, and Pontianak.

The magic of the Malays may be divided into two kinds, viz. profane and religious. The latter they pretend to be certain prayers, taught by the Deity, the recital of which never fails to procure particular favours. I will first give a few examples of their profane magic : —

I. Tuju, to point — When a man has ill-will against any one, he makes a certain kind of dagger on the principles of the mystery, and recites his prayer over it. If the man whom he wishes to injure lives at a distance, he takes hold of the handle of the dagger and strikes towards that place, as if to stab his antagonist. The man's enemy immediately becomes sick; blood adheres to the point of the dagger, which he sucks, saying, "Now I am satisfied." His enemy then becomes speechless and dies.

II. Tuju Jantong — (Jantong is the top of a newly opened bunch of plantains (bananas), in shape like a heart). A man wishing to revenge himself on another, seeks a newly opened plantain top, and performs the mystery under it ; then ties the plantain, and having recited a prayer, be burns the point, which communicates to the heart of his adversary, till his sufferings are intolerable. When he has tormented him long enough, he cuts the plantain, and the man's heart falls down into the body, and he dies; the blood coming out of his mouth.

III. Tuju Jindang.— This is a sort of evil spirit, in appearance like the silkworm, which people rear in a new vessel, and feed on roasted paddy. When a man wants to hurt another, he performs the mystery and sends the insect away, saying, "Go and eat the heart and entrails of such and such a one." The insect then flies away. When it falls on the body, it is like the touch of a bird flying against a person, but nothing is seen, only the place where it enters, which is generally the back of the hand or between the shoulders, turns blue. The torments which the creature inflicts are excruciating and it eats out all the internal parts of the man, and the body turns all over blue. As soon as the man is dead, the insect returns to its keeper.

IV. Pontianak.—These are the children born of people after death. They appear generally in the shape of birds, sometimes white, sometimes speckled like a magpie, but not so large ; in Java they are quite black. But they can transform themselves, and assume the shape of other animals, and even that of man. This bird is dreaded more than a tiger; in moonlight nights it chases men walking alone, but never women. It kills young children and sucks their blood. One appeared sometime ago in human shape, to a man coming from the market with some fish. The Pontianak formed friendship with the man, and went with him to his house, assisted in cutting up the fish with its long nails or claws, and after the man went to sleep, the Pontianak killed its kind host and went away. They have two servants, an owl, and a species of caterpillar, which they employ as messengers to bring information of what they see and hear. It is almost impossible to hurt or catch one of them. They are covered with hair, instead of feathers. A man was once fortunate enough to get a hair of one (how I know not), and the Pontianak brought him as much gold as he wished, but to his great mortification, this cunning Pontianak got its hair back, and in an instant all his gold disappeared.

I could add a great number of such bugbears, a belief in which keeps the minds of the people in bondage and terror; but I suppose the reader finds as little entertainment in reading of those as I find in writing of them. I shall now mention a few of the prodigies which are effected by their religious magic (I call it religious magic on their own principles, but it is in reality blasphemy.) If the reader has faith enough to believe them, he will no more doubt of Mahommed's night journey.

I. The devil, when tempting Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit, pretended that, by reciting a certain prayer which God had taught him, he obtained immortality.

II. Enoch prayed one day that he might see heaven. The angel Gabriel was immediately sent to show him all the celestial glories. When his wish was gratified, he departed, but presently returned; Gabriel asking who it was that knocked, Enoch replied, "that he came back for his slippers which he had forgotten." When he got in, he would not be put out again, and the Lord reproved Gabriel for attempting it.

III. Solomon one day prayed to the Lord that he would bestow upon him tokens of favour, and badges of honour and glory, such as no man ever possessed before him, nor would attain to after him. The Lord granted him his request, and gave him a signet, upon the keeping of which this glory depended. When he washed, bathed himself, or attended to any necessary business, he committed this ring* to a concubine of his, named Amina. One day, while the ring was in her custody, the devil, in the shape of Solomon, imposed upon her, and obtained the ring, by virtue of which he got to the throne, and made many alterations in the laws. Solomon all this while wandered about forsaken and unknown, till at the end of forty days the devil flew away and threw the signet in the sea. The ring was swallowed by a fish which was caught and brought to Solomon, who found the ring in its belly. Having thus obtained the signet, he recovered the kingdom; took the devil, and tying a stone to his neck, threw him into the sea of Tiberius.

Sianu ((From the Madras Government Gazette)

* Solomon is represented, or said to lie on a golden sofa in heaven, richly decorated with all manner of precious stones, and two angels in the shape of serpents, one white and the other black. Many attempts have been made to steal the ring, but they have all been defeated.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Kerbau Balar (The Albino Buffaloes)

In light of the recent controversy over the so-called cow head protest in Malaysia, it might be a good time to revisit a traditional fable from Melaka with a strong anti-racisim message. Ironically, the tale revolves around ... no, not cows, but ... buffaloes!

There was once a herd of buffaloes, among whom were a pair of albino buffaloes. The pair had been born with red hides, and not the black hides of the other buffaloes in the herd.

Because their hides were of a different colour to the other buffaloes, the red buffaloes were shunned by the other buffaloes. The other buffaloes would not talk to the red buffaloes. They would not graze together with the red buffaloes. And whenever the red buffaloes tried to enter the buffalo pen, they were kicked and driven away by the other buffaloes.

“You do not look the same as us,” the other buffaloes said. “So you cannot stay with us. Go away from us and live somewhere else!”

So the red buffaloes had to live outside the buffalo pen, sleeping wherever they could find some shelter and grazing wherever they could find some grass. They were sad and miserable because they were hated and scorned by the other buffaloes. They so much wanted to belong to and be part of the herd.

One day, the farmer who owned the buffaloes told all the buffaloes that he was going to take them over the nearby hill in the evening, to a field where he would give them all the gift of a beautiful red collar. The buffaloes were all very excited to hear this news but could not go out of their pens to see this wonderful field over the hill where they would receive this gift. However, because the red buffaloes lived outside of the pen, they decided to go to this field and come back to tell the other buffaloes about it. Maybe then, they could be accepted by the herd.

So the red buffaloes climbed up the hill and over it and arrived at that field. To their horror, all they could see there were the heads and legs of hundreds of slaughtered buffaloes scattered all around, with the ground soaked in their blood. Unknown to the buffaloes, the field was an abattoir.

The red buffaloes galloped back to the pen and tried to warn the other buffaloes. But before they could say anything, the other buffaloes all bellowed: “You do not look the same as us - go away from us and live somewhere else!”. As much as they tried, none of other buffaloes would listen to or even go near the red buffaloes, and would only charge them with their horns and tell them to go away from their pen.

The two red buffaloes could only flee to the forest. And true enough, when evening came, the farmer came and led all the black buffaloes away over the hill and to the field, where they all had their throats cut and were slaughtered for the market.

But the two red buffaloes were safe in the forest and they became wild buffaloes, which could not be caught. They lived alone, but free, for a very long, long time.

Punishment of Adultery among the Malays

Extracted from The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register 
for British India and its Dependecies (Volume VII), July-December 1819. Published by Kingsbury, Parbury & Allen, Booksellers to the Honourable East India Company.

1786, Feb. 27 — Capt. D. told us a remarkable story of the Malays. While he was trading at Rhea (Riau), the master of the house next to him being upon a voyage, his wife proved unfaithful. Information of this was communicated by a slave to the chief throughout the island. Their houses are close by the waterside, so that they always travel by water; a very little time after the notice was given, three or tour hundred canoes appeared on the water, making towards Captain D's house; he knew not their business, and feared for his life. He armed his servants and himself, and fastened his doors; but when he perceived they came on a visit to his neighbour, he opened his doors: and relates the following particulars.

“As adultery is death without mercy, the adulterers often by opium, or the like, work themselves up to madness, and having armed themselves, issue forth and destroy as many as they can (run amok). This the Malays seemed to fear, as the adulterer defended himself against a multitude for two hours, before they expelled him the house; about a dozen entered at once in search of the offender, and upon the least appearance of him hurried out again, full of terror and anxiety.

At length having succeeded by piercing him a few times with their lances, he came forth and surrendered. He was immediately surrounded; and every man present made a small incision with their lance, and so cut his flesh that before he died there was no part of his body for two inches together which was not mangled in the most horrid manner.

The woman escaped, and fled to the king, threw herself down at his feet, and proclaimed herself his slave (which is the custom of the country, and generally protects them): but in this instance linking could effect nothing: his protection could not screen her from punishment. The friends of the dead man demanded her life; and the people would not suffer his body to be buried till she also was delivered up to justice. The body lay three days exposed before the door, and was only removed when his accomplice had suffered death by strangling.” — Rev. D. Brown’s Journal at Sea.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Malay demons and witches

From ‘The Asiatic journal and monthly register for British and foreign India, China, and Australia', Volume 10 (1820, Parbury, Allen, and Co., London)

In the eighth number of the Indo-Chinese Gleaner is a communication from a correspondent, who, after premising that the belief in witchcraft, evil spirits, charms, &c. prevails to an almost incredible extent among the Malays, and that their imaginary evil spirits, which, are numerous, have all of them names either arbitrary or descriptive of their qualities, goes on to give an account of a species of these evil spirits vulgarly called Polong, a word, however, which the writer had not met with in any of their books nor seen in any dictionary of their language. From this account it seems that the history of the Polong is very little known. They (the Malays) say that it is conveyed down from parents to children. According to their own laws, it is death to keep one, therefore we cannot expect to know any thing more about it than from its influence. It is, as it seems, invisible, and is kept in a small earthen bottle with a neck, and a hole sufficient to admit a finger. He feeds upon human blood. The keeper cuts the tip of his fore-finger about once or twice a week, either Friday or Monday night, till blood comes out, and he then puts it into the vessel, when the Polong sucks his fill. If the keeper neglects to feed him regularly, he comes out of his hole, and sucks the whole body to such a degree that the skin becomes all over black and blue.

The Polong is very seldom kept by males, most generally by females. The woman, however ugly naturally, yet through keeping the Polong possesses surprising charms in her countenance to every beholder. If the person who keeps the Polong has a grudge against any one, or if asked for, or hired by another, he is let loose upon the man whom they wish to injure.

The marks of possession are many. As soon as the Polong enters the man, he first falls down screaming, unconscious to himself and to every thing about him ; sometimes he becomes speechless and like a dead man; sometimes there is no appearance of ailment, but his conversation is incoherent ; sometimes he falls to beating all about him. Sometimes, as soon as he enters into any one, the person possessed dies. The Polong always adheres exactly to his orders, and inflicts that punishment which is commanded him. Sometimes, though but seldom, it proves infectious, viz. in the following way, when the possessed falls down in a fit, and another asks him, saying, " What! What is the matter ! What, have you got a Polong?" The person asking is affected, falls down insensible, and remains in the same state with the other till the Polong is expelled. A person seriously assured the writer that he had seen men and women, to the number of 20, thus affected at the same time.

The people are so well acquainted with the power of this Polong, that as soon as they see any one suffering they send immediately for the physician, an adept in the occult sciences, who, with an air of importance and learning, administers some medicine, or more frequently makes use of a charm. He draws a fantastical figure, which, as he pretends, is that of the demon, and a print of which is given in the Gleaner, upon the inside of a white basin, pours water upon it, and gives the sufferer to drink. Then he takes hold of the end of the thumb (for fear the Polong should make his escape, that being the door by which he enters the body), and interrogates the man in the following manner: " Why do you torment him?" Then the Polong, speaking through the man, replies, "My father (for so he calls his keeper) has a grudge against him," &c. " Who is your father ? What has he told you to do?" " To eat heart and entrails," (general term for torment).

Sometimes this evil spirit braves all means and refuses to speak. Sometimes he tells lies and confesses another name. When this soothsayer has prevailed against the evil spirit, and has heard his confession, he then tries to detect him (though a spirit, yet he has dimensions and shape) : he feels the body all over, for he lurks between skin and flesh. Sometimes he finds him in an arm, sometimes behind the ear, to the touch as large as the above.

Now for his expulsion. The soothsayer first exacts an oath of him that he has spoken nothing but truth, and also that he will never come again. Sometimes the physician has such power that he sends him back to torment his own keeper.

In the ninth number of the same miscellany is an account, by the same writer, of another imaginary being, called by the Malays the Penanggalan, a derivative from a Malay word signifying to "pull out," and which means " that which is pulled out." From this account it appears that the Penanggalan is not properly, either witch or evil spirit. It is described as a human head, neck, and intestines adjusted to, and, as it were, inhabiting the trunk and limbs of a human body, but endowed with the power of extricating itself from this body (which is always that of a woman), and of returning to it again at its own pleasure. It delights, when unobserved, to make excursions through the air from the body it usually resides in, for the purpose of preying upon all manner of garbage, which, it seems, is its favourite food; and of avenging itself upon those who may have given it offence by sucking their blood.

The person (whatever one may call her) who is made up of these separable parts—of Penanggalan, that is—and the body it usually inhabits, believes, it appears, in Satan, and, as might be presumed, practices witchcraft. She, moreover, lives in filthiness, going astray. Some further particulars of this curious composite being, together with a Malay story illustrative of its habits, are given by the writer.

A Tale of Two Malaysias

Where NOT to go in Mid Valley if you're pregnant

And why diamonds are a girl's best friend

My heavily pregnant sister-in-law had fainting spells while we were out shopping in Mid Valley today. We walked into the Springfield clothes shop nearby and asked the sales manager if she could sit down there for a while. The manager squinted at my sister-in-law's belly, paused, squinted again, scowled and impatiently blurted out "Aiiiyaaa, we have no spare seats lo - go down the mall and look for a bench lah." Two sales girls were seated nearby, wolfing down their noodles while chatting about their boyfriends, while a third seat not too far away was occupied by another sales girl giggling on her cell phone.

With my sister-in-law about to pass out at any time, we had no choice but to rush next door to the Selberan diamond jewellery shop. The reception there couldn't have been more starkly different. My sister-in-law was quickly ushered to a customer lounge and asked to lie down on a sofa. The sales manager arranged for a wheelchair to be brought from the Concierge Office, so we could wheel her to our car to go to the hospital. While we were waiting for the wheelchair, we were offered cold drinks and were made to feel as comfortable as if it had been in own our living room.

So, if you should think that most Malaysians are the callous, cold-hearted, insensitive and unsympathetic animals you'd find at Springfield in Mid Valley, think again. There are also Malaysians like Puan Rokiah, the sales manager at Selberan, and Ratnam, the security guard. They are the real diamonds among us.