SHAMAN, SAIVA AND SUFI
A STUDY OF THE EVOLUTION OF MALAY MAGIC
R. O. WINSTEDT, M.A., D.LITT.(OXON.)
MALAYAN CIVIL SERVICE
CONSTABLE & COMPANY LTD.
LONDON - BOMBAY - SYDNEY
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BV ROBERT MACELHOSE AND CO.
THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, GLASGOW
THis book is the outcome of a close study of the language
and beliefs of the Malays during a period of residence in the
Malay Peninsula that has now reached twenty-two years. Its object
is to unravel a complex system of magic in the light of historical
and comparative data. By itself this system is a tangle every
thread of which scholars working in Europe are led to term Malay,
although even the native distinguishes this thread as Indian
and that as Muslim. Chapters i.-iv. deal with the Malay's evolution
from animist to Muslim; chapters v. and vi. with his animism;
chapters vii. and viii. with his shamanism; chapter ix. with
rites largely infected with Hindu magic; and chapters x. and
xi. with Muslim accretions.
Like all writers on this subject I am indebted to the classical
works of Tylor, Frazer, and Jevons, and particularly to the articles
by specialists on the magic of different races and faith in Hastings'
Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. Working far away
from an adequate library, I have found this Encyclopaedia of
Chapters iv., vi. and viii. are based almost entirely on manuscripts
written down for me by Malays and checked by my own observation.
The chapter on "Magician and Muslim" is founded on
Malay lithographed texts and on a manuscript magico-religious
treatise obtained by Dr. Gimlette in Kelantan and kindly lent
by him to me. The same manuscript and an old Perak court charm-book
have been used for the chapters on "The Malay Charm"
and "Magician and Mystic." Papers on Malay charms,
on birth and marriage ceremonies, on the ritual of the rice-field
and the ritual of propitiating the spirits of a district have
appeared from my pen in the Journal of the Federated Malay
States Museums, and should be in the hands of those who wish
to study original sources and vernacular terms. I owe a debt
to the authors of many articles printed in the Straits
(now Malayan) Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society,
to Dr. Gimlette's Malay Poisons and Charms, to Fasciculi
Malayenses by Messrs. Annandale & Robinson, and above
all to that assiduous collector, Mr. W. W. Skeat, the author
of Malay Magic. Not to burden my pages with footnotes
I give detailed references and authorities for each chapter in
I would remind Malay readers that every race has its lumber-room
of magical beliefs and practices, and many such survivals are
gracious and beautiful and full of historical interest. It is
to be hoped that the rapid influx of modern ideas will not wash
away too many of the landmarks of their complex and ancient civilisation.
I have to thank Mr. C. O. Blagden, Reader in Malay at the
School of Oriental Studies, London, and Che' Zainal-Abidin bin
Ahmad of the Sultan Idris College, Perak, for reading this work
in manuscript; the former has made many useful suggestions and
the latter given me valuable material.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
II. GODS, SPIRITS AND GHOSTS:
(a) Primitive Gods
(b) Siva and the Hindu Gods
(c) Good and Evil Spirits of Dead Mortals
(d) Primitive Spirits, Fairies and Ghosts
(e) Angels and Devils of Islam
III. THE MALAY MAGICIAN
IV. THE MALAY CHARM
V. THE SOUL OF THINGS
VI. THE RITUAL OF THE RICE-FIELD
VII. THE SHAMAN'S SÉANCE
VIII. THE SHAMAN'S SACRIFICE
IX. MAGIC AND MAN:
(a) Birth and Infancy
(c) Betrothal and Marriage
(e) Installation Ceremonies
X. MAGICIAN AND MUSLIM
XI. MAGICIAN AND MYSTIC
AUTHORITIES AND REFERENCES
THIS book deals with the magic of the Muslim Malays of the
Crown Colony of the Straits Settlements, comprising Singapore,
Penang and Malacca; of the Federated Malay States, Perak, Selangor,
Negri Sembilan and Pahang; of the Unfederated Malay States, Johore,
Kedah, Kelantan and Trengganu; and of Patani, a northern Malay
State belonging to Siam.
The Malay Peninsula is the most southern extremity of the
continent of Asia. It has the region of Indo-China to the north.
South lies the Malay Archipelago. It stands midway between India
and China. Nature has laid it open to many influences, though
students not presented with the evidence of geography, anthropology
and history are apt to speak as if Malay magic were unique and
The language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian or Oceanic or
Austronesian family, which obtains from Formosa to New Zealand
and from Madagascar to Easter Island. To the eastern branch belong
the languages of Samoa, Tahiti and Tonga. To the western branch
belong Malay, Malagasy, and languages of the Philippines, Sumatra,
Java, Borneo and Celebes. This latter branch is termed Indonesian,
rather unfortunately, since for anthropologists the word defines
a particular physical strain found in the Bataks of Sumatra,
the Dayaks of Borneo and the Torajas of Celebes.
The typical civilised Indonesian peoples, Malays and Javanese,
are variants of a Proto-Malay race with Indian, Arab and other
foreign admixtures. In that Proto-Malay race, whatever else may
be its components, there is a Mongoloid strain.
In the south of the Peninsula, the bullet-headed straight-haired
Proto-Malays are represented by jungle-tribes known generally
as Jakun and specifically as Biduanda in Negri Sembilan, Blanda
in Selangor, and Mantra In Malacca. The coastal tribes are termed
Orang Laut, or "Men of the Sea," and form a link between
the Proto-Malays of the Peninsula and those of the Riau Archipelago
and Sumatra, their original home.
Another aboriginal forest-dweller is the wavyhaired long-headed
Sakai, supposed mainly on linguistic grounds to have come down
from Indo-China and on anthropological grounds to be related
to the Veddas of Ceylon. A branch of this tribe, the Besisi,
have intermarried freely with the Jakun.
Oldest of all Malaya's inhabitants are the Semang and Pangan
of the north, small dark frizzy-haired Negritos, thought to be
related to the Aetas of the Philippines and the Mineopies of
Already at the beginning of the Christian era Indian religions,
the caste system and government by rajahs had been introduced
into Java and into Sumatra, whence most of the Malays of the
Peninsula came, and Indian influence spread in a less degree
throughout the Archipelago even as far as the Philippines. The
old Malay kingdom of Palembang in Sumatra introduced Mahayana
Buddhism into Java and had a vague suzerainty over the Malay
Peninsula for several centuries, until in the thirteenth the
modern Siamese gained control in the north and Islam a permanent
hold in the south. A Buddhist inscription from Province Wellesley
opposite Penang (in the southern Indian style of writing found
In West Java) dates back to 400 A.D. But in Malaya, as in Java,
the religion of Siva retained a footing until the advent of Islam.
II. GODS, SPIRITS AND GHOSTS
(a) PRIMITIVE GODS
THE Mantra, a Proto-Malay tribe, claim to be descended from
Mertang, the first magician, who was the child of two persons
called Drop of Water and Clod of Earth. In the Moluccas the earth
is a female deity, who in the west monsoon is impregnated by
Lord Sun-Heaven. The Torajas in Celebes believed in two supreme
powers, the Man and the Maiden, that is, the sun and the earth.
The Dayaks of Borneo hold that the sun and the earth created
the world. The terms, "Father Sky and Mother Earth,"
occur in the Malay ritual of the rice-year, at the opening of
mines and of theatrical shows and in the invocations of the Kelantan
shaman. A Kelantan account relates that sun and earth once had
human form, sun the form of a man and earth the form of a woman,
whose milk may be traced in the tin-ore of Malaya and whose blood
is now gold. Actors in the north of the Malay Peninsula say that
"the earth spirit, whom actors fear, is the daughter of
Seretang  Bogoh, who sits in the sun and guides the winds,
and of Sang Siuh, the mother of the earth, who sits at the navel
of the world." Many religions at once unite and dissociate
the fruitful earth and the gloomy underworld. But as Malay drama
came from India, this northern tradition may be a corruption
of Hindu mythology. By some Malay actors Raja Siu, lord of the
surface of the earth, is invoked along with Siva, and the name
is perhaps a corruption of Siva. Anyhow, in time Siva and Sri
usurped the place of Father Sky (or Father Water, as he is sometimes
called) and of Mother Earth in the Malay pantheon, and to-day
even the existence of these two primitive gods has been forgotten.
The study of early cults shows that the place of a sky-god
tends later to be taken by gods of the sun, the moon and the
stars. So in some ancient layer of Malay beliefs before the introduction
of Saivism, the white spirit of the sun, the black spirit of
the moon, and the yellow spirit of sunset may have been important,
seeing that they have Indonesian names (mambang), have
been incorporated into the Malay's Hindu pantheon, and have survived
under Islam as humble genies.
"The fishermen along the west of the Peninsula sacrifice
to four great spirits " (also called mambang) "who
go by many names but whose scope is always the same. One is the
spirit of the bays, another
[1. A dialect form of Sultan.]
that of banks or beaches, another that of headlands, and last
and fiercest is the spirit of tideways and currents." Three
of these bear primitive names used by the Proto-Malays. The spirit
of the tides is famous. The spirit of the bays is mentioned as
a black genie and the spirit of headlands as a white. Was there
originally a fourth spirit? To the three Proto-Malay names yet
another, not convincingly authentic, is sometimes added. But
only three of the four bear Sanskrit names. And the modern naming
of four spirits after the Archangels may be due to the liking
of the Malay Muslim pantheist for that number.
It is uncertain, too, if the primitive Malays, like the people
of Madagascar and Celebes, believed in four gods of the air in
charge of the quarters of the globe. In Bali Indian influence
gave these gods Hindu names, and three are still worshipped there
as forms of Siva. One Peninsular charm speaks of "the four
children of Siva who live at the corners of the world."
A Perak charm describes Berangga Kala as the spirit of the West,
Sang Begor as the spirit of the East, Sang Degor as the spirit
of the North, and Sang Rangga Gempita as the spirit of the South.
But generally the four corners of the world are held to be in
charge of four Shaikhs, of whom the most often mentioned, 'Abdu'I-Qadir,
is probably the founder of the famous order of Muslim mystics.
A Malay knows of Vayu under the name of Bayu. But when with
arms akimbo, loosened hair, and head-cloth streaming over his
shoulder, the sailor whistled to the Raja of the Wind, he may
have been invoking not Vayu but some indigenous spirit or the
Prophet Solomon, to whom Allah gave dominion over the breezes
In the Malay pantheon there is a mysterious black Awang, addressed
by actors as king of the earth, who "walks along the veins
of the earth and sleeps at its gate." Apparently, therefore,
he is identified with Siva, and this identification, if correct,
suggests a high place for this forgotten figure of some early
cult. But in a Proto-Malay charm to propitiate the aforesaid
spirits of the sea, Warrior Awang figures as their servant, who
climbs the mast of a ship in distress, a young man with "hairy
chest, red eyes, black skin and frizzy hair." A Kelantan
charm, also, depicts him as a haunter of forest undergrowth,
"a span in height, with bald temples, frizzy hair, red eyes,
white teeth, broad chest, and feet and hands disfigured with
skin disease." This is a good picture of a Negrito, member
of the oldest race in Malaysia, but it may be a posthumous description
as applied to this god or godling of a primitive cult, who rides
the storm and can cause ague and disease.
(b) SIVA AND THE HINDU GODS
A white genie, "jewel of the world," lives in the
sun and guards the gates of the sky. He has a brother, with seven
heads, king of all the jinn. This white genie is entitled Maharaja
Dewa, a Malay corruption of Mahadeva, the blue-throated Siva.
The distinction between this white genie and his black brother,
who lives in the moon, is sometimes obliterated, as in the invocation
used when opening the stage for a ma'yong play:--"Peace
be upon Mother Earth and Father Sky! ... Peace be upon thee,
Black Awang, king of the earth! ... Peace be upon the blessed
saints at the four corners of the world! ... Peace be upon my
grandsire, Batara Guru, the first of teachers, who became incarnate
when the body was first created, teacher who livest as a hermit
in the moon, teacher who rulest in the circle of the sun, teacher
of mine whose coat is of green beads, teacher of mine whose blood
is white, who hast but one bone, the hair of whose body is upside
down, whose muscles are stiff, who hast a black throat, a fluent
tongue and salt in thy spittle." Incidentally it is interesting
to find the Malay still paying homage to Siva as Nataraja, lord
of dancers and king of actors, though to-day he is quite unaware
of this name and róle of the Hindu god whose theatre is
the world and who himself is actor and audience. In another Malay
invocation the Black Genie too is painted as "having but
one bone, the hair of whose body is upside down, who can assume
a thousand shapes." Though he has "one foot on the
heart of the earth," yet this Black Genie also "hangs
at the gate of the sky."
Batara Guru or Divine Teacher is the Malay name for Siva.
And it is not surprising to find that on accepting the Hindu
deities into their spirit-world Malays paid great homage to Siva
under his sinister aspect of Kala the destroyer of life. Anyhow,
here are the white spirit of the sun and the black spirit of
the moon identified with manifestations of Siva. The spirit of
the tides is often associated with the spirits of the sun and
moon, and, again, the Malay expressly identifies him with Siva
and makes Kala the dread god of the sea.
Furthermore, in Malay mythology there is a Spectre Huntsman,
whom magicians identify with Siva. This Spectre Huntsman is even
known by the various Malay appellations of the Divine Teacher
such as "Raja of land-folk," "Raja of Ghosts,"
and "Gaffer Long Claws." Now Siva, of course, was the
Rudra of Vedic times. And it has been pointed out how in Rudra
are found the same characteristics that distinguish the German
Wodan (or Odin), namely those of a storm-god followed by hosts
of spirits, a leader of lost souls, identified both in Malay
and German legend with the Spectre Huntsman. The association
by Malays of the Spectre Huntsman with Siva clearly corroborates
the relationship between Rudra and Wodan and lends colour to
the theory of an Indo-Germanic storm-god, the common source of
the Indian and Teutonic myths.
The identification of Siva with Gaffer Long Claws finds a
parallel among the Bhils, Kols and Gonds of India, who also confound
him with a chthonic tiger-god. And like those tribesmen the Malay
appears sometimes to confuse Siva with Arjuna, calling that demigod
the earth spirit and king of the sea.
Last phase of all, Siva becomes father and king of the jinn
imported with Islam. Even his white bull Nandi is yoked to the
service of the new religion. According to early Hindu mythology
Brahma, or according to later belief Vishnu, took the form of
a boar and raised the earth out of the waters. Other stories
current in India make an elephant or a bull the support of the
earth. Muslim cosmogony definitely places the earth on a bull
with forty horns having seven thousand branches, a beast whose
body stretches from east to west. So the Kelantan magician invokes
"the father and chief of all jinn practising austerity in
the stall of the black bull who supports and fans and shakes
the world." The idea that the king of the jinn is the father
of seven children may be connected with the Muslim notion of
The wife of Siva is known to Malays as Mahadewi "the
great goddess," as Kumari "the Damsel," and above
all, as Sri, goddess of rice-fields. As Sri she may be said to
have taken the place of "Mother Earth," just as her
divine spouse represented "Father Sky." As Kumari she
is supposed in the north of the Peninsula to have been made by
Gaffer Mahsiku out of a bit of eaglewood. (In Patani a name for
the earth spirit is Siriku.) The goddess married her creator.
But the legend adds that she had one daughter by the god (deva)
of the moon and one by the god of the sun, a remarkable preservation
of the Malay myth that the Divine Teacher under different manifestations
lived in both those luminaries. The same tradition adds that
Kumari is invoked against lock-jaw and dumbness, because she
made her eldest daughter live on a hill as an ascetic with her
mouth wide open till it grew into a cave which Hanuman entered!
The Malay magician often vaunts that "the sword of Vishnu
is before his face" to protect him. And with Siva, Brahma,
Kala and Sri, this god presides over the five divisions of the
old-world diviner's day. Brahma is known as Berma Sakti, but
hardly enters into Malay magic. In Kelantan, Krishna is said
to be entreated to cure snake-bites and the stings of scorpions
and centipedes. Ganesha, under the name of Gana, is little more
than a village godling.
The Hindu demons and demigods that have found a place in the
magic of the Malays may be conveniently inserted here. Of most
of them the magician has only a literary knowledge. The Asuras
exalted demons that war not against men but gods, are represented
by Rahu, who causes eclipses of the sun and moon, and to the
Malay mind is a huge dragon. Danu, a demon relation of his in
Hindu mythology, is the serpent who inhabits the rainbow. In
the north, where plays founded on the Ramayana are popular, Sri
Rama, the hero of that epic, is a demigod invoked especially
in charms connected, with the hunting of elephants, and Hanuman,
the monkey-god, is an evil spirit with the face of a horse and
the body of a man. There, too, the great Rishis or sages are
invoked, and the magician takes shelter behind the name of Narada
and the name of Samba, his derider.
Bhuta and Raksasa are often mentioned as demons even by Malay
peasants. But to-day, at any rate, acquaintance with them is
due mainly to popular romances that have come from the Deccan.
The Malay will turn, for instance, to the story of Marakarma
and read of a Raksasa who lights a fire as big as a burning town,
pours rice on a mat a hundred yards wide, and eats it along with
spiders, centipedes, lizards, flies, rats and mosquitoes that,
overcome by the steam, drop on to his food; he drinks a well
of water, hiccups like thunder, and picks from his teeth with
a log chunks of food so large that they kill cat, goose or fowl
by their impact. Of the cousinship between the Indian Bhutas
and the Indonesian spirits of men who have perished by violence
so little is known that in one account the Spectre Huntsman is
called a Bhuta and in a Perak charm the great goddess Sri is
described as the "Genie Bhuta Sri who presides over rice-fields!"
But in fact it is not these immigrant demons that are the concern
of the Malay magician.
For centuries the Muhammadan zealot and more recently the
Ford car have invaded the fastnesses where Malaya's illiterate
priests of Siva invoked these alien deities. The Hindu gods continue
to survive in invocations degraded to magical charms. Still,
too, at the installation of a Perak Sultan the real Hindu name
of the demigod, who descended on a Mount Meru in Sumatra and
became the father of most of the royal houses of the Peninsula,
is whispered by Sri Nara 'diraja, keeper of the State secret,
into the ear of the new ruler. He and his master are perhaps
unaware that so at the initiation of a child into one of the
higher Hindu castes his teacher whispers a formula containing
the name of the god who is to be his special protector through
life. It is to be hoped that fanaticism will never extinguish
this voice from the past.
(c) GOOD AND EVIL SPIRITS OF DEAD MORTALS
The view that ancestor-worship is the oldest of religious
practices no longer obtains. Some savages have believed in a
god existing before the coming of death. Some sacrifice to gods
and not to the ghosts of the departed. Others, exchanging old
lights for new, have come to neglect their high gods and sacrifice
to dead ancestors. Many have nature-gods. Besides, being a family
cult, ancestor-worship cannot have accompanied the group-marriage
of the most primitive tribes.
The origin of this form of worship is easily intelligible.
The dead appear to the living in dreams. Or the dead may be born
again in a child, who is the image of a forefather. A Malay prays
at the grave of an ancestor to beget a child, unaware that probably
his worship is based on the idea of the dead welcoming reincarnation.
The exact likeness of a male child to his father, that is, the
possession of two hosts by the same soul, causes alarm to a Malay;
one of the boy's ears must be pierced, otherwise either the father
or the son is likely to die. Curiously, the resemblance of a
girl to her father or of a boy or girl to the mother is of no
That the dead can be kind to the living is a notion not foreign
to the Malay mind. The ritual by which a Malay acquires the powers
of a shaman suggests that originally the magician's familiars
were spirits of the dead. At the propitiation of the spirits
of Upper Perak, invocations were addressed to the spirits of
a famous Raja Nek and of the byegone magicians of the neighbourhood.
A ruler looks to his royal ancestors for the protection of his
person and his State, visits their scattered tombs after his
installation or before any great enterprise, and when sickness
afflicts his house sets a cooling potion for the patient overnight
upon a family grave. As a Muslim the Malay makes vows to prophets
and saints imploring their aid in the hour of need. In Singapore
many vows are sworn at the shrine of Habib Noh, a humble clerk
of the last century, who gave up the pride of the eye and the
lusts of the flesh for religious asceticism until he could appear
in several places at once. "In every part of Naning are
found tombs of men famed for piety, in whose names the people
make vows for the prosperous termination of any project and whose
burial places they honour with frequent visits and oblations."
One outward and visible sign of the sanctity of such tombs is
the supernatural lengthening of the space between the head and
foot stones, supposed to be the work of the deceased. There are
the long graves of Shaikh Muhammad and Shaikh Ahmad on Bukit
Gedong in Malacca, the burial place of an old Achinese medicine-woman
at Kemunting in Perak, the graves of Shaikh Sentang at Temerloh,
of To'Panjang at Kuala Pahang and of To'Panjang at Ketapang in
the Pekan district of Pahang. These sacred tombs, which exist
throughout Malaya, bear an Arabic name (karamat), though
the dead whose tenements they are need not be Muslim saints and
may have been merely some powerful ruler or the revered founder
of a settlement, or even a pagan trafficker with black magic.
A celebrated shrine is the reputed tomb of Sultan Iskandar, the
mythical last Malay ruler of ancient Singapore, whose grave on
the slopes of Fort Canning is the resort of many suppliants;
and a few years ago, when it was desired to explore it, no one,
Malay, Indian or Chinese, would undertake the task. In Jempul,
in Negri Sembilan, there is a grave shaded by a yellow-blossomed
chempaka tree, whose branches are always hung with strips
of white cloth to commemorate the vows paid to a magician interred
beneath them. If the entreaty for health or a son or whatever
may be desired wins a favourable answer, then failure to sacrifice
the promised goat and hold a feast with prayers and cracker-firing
beside the grave brings tribulation upon the perjured ingrate.
The tenant of that Jempul grave was believed to attend his widow
in the form of a tiger. He would frighten off his daughters'
lovers, protect the home when their mother was absent, and drive
temporal tigers from their path. "There are many little
graveyards throughout Jempul which are credited with having produced
tigers out of-human corpses." So, too, the spirit of the
last chief of Muar is supposed to haunt the wooded hills round
his home, a sacred tiger friendly to his people. The credulity
of these Sumatran settlers in Negri Sembilan finds a counterpart
in that of certain Patani families, who in sickness or misfortune
invoke the aid of 'To Sri Lam, an ancestor's sister who turned
into a crocodile. None of these spirits of the dead that can
be gracious to suppliants are homeless ghosts; they are attached
to a religion, a district or a clan.
Fear, however, leads to respect for many sacred places. The
anger of a Malay ruler is dreaded when he is alive; it is not
less terrible when he is gone. A European who visited the graves
of the Johore princes at Kota Tinggi in 1826 records how his
guide trembled on approaching the place, declaring that any injury
to the stones would bring misfortune on all present and behaved
"as if a demon was about to pounce upon him." There
may have been a peculiar reason for this. Among the tombs is
that of Sultan Mahmud, the last representative of the royal house
of Malacca, which furnished rulers for most of the Peninsular
States. He alone of Peninsular rulers was murdered, stabbed to
death for a sexual crime, the white blood of (Muslim saints and)
Malay royalty gushing from his veins. Apparently he survives
in Kelantan as a white genie, Sultan Mahmud, a sea-spirit, who
can cause chills and ague. A chief, swearing to his suzerain
that he had not offered a bribe to a Government officer, undertook
in a tremendous oath (which came into my hands) to be smitten
"by the majesty of the ruler and of his royal ancestors,"
if he were committing perjury. Attributable, perhaps, to this
fear of deceased rulers is the custom of dropping their real
names after death and giving them such titles as "The Deceased
who died at the Three Islands," "The Deceased Pilgrim,"
and so on. The magician also is not less terrible after death
than in life. Only fear could regard as a sacred place the rock
at Batu Harnpar, where a Sultan of Johore, caused to be executed
a pagan jungle chief "detected in necromantic practices!"
Three months after his execution this Jakun chief appeared to
his son on the same spot and thereafter haunted it, sometimes
assuming the form of a white cock.
Especially baneful are the homeless ghosts of those who perish
by a violent death, of murdered men, of women who die in child-birth.
To them no honour is paid. They are driven away by magical charms
and amulets, by prickly thorns, ashes, and the stench of burnt
According to the Muhammadan faith those who die in child-birth
are entitled to the rank of martyrs with whom God is well pleased.
The Malay has found it hard to accept this comfortable doctrine.
The horror of their untimely end led his ancestors to think that
such women generate malevolent spirits. Throughout Malaysia terror
is felt at the plaintive cry of a banshee (Pontianak),
which is supposed generally to appear in the form of a bird and
drive her long claws into the belly of the expectant mother,
killing her and the unborn child. Another banshee (Langsuyar)
flies in the shape of an owl with a face like a cat. The knowing
imitate her hoot and utter the insulting ejaculation, "Your
hoot is near, your grave is far, and you are sprung from the
lid of a cooking-pot in a deserted house," whereupon she
keeps silent and cannot bring death or disaster to any one in
the village. Or she may wear the form of a beautiful woman with
flowing tresses. But in the nape of her neck is a hole, which
she is terrified may be found by the smooth-scaled climbing perch,
used therefore by the cunning to make protective amulets. She
flies by night and the rustle of her tresses is as the rustle
of rain. She loves to alight on tall trees and hide in the bird's-nest
fern. When this banshee passes, the pregnant woman should be
bathed and the following charm recited over betel-vine, which
must be given her to chew
I am a Great Rishi!
I slay without asking leave
I behead without making enquiry
I am Allah's champion on earth
I can destroy all creatures;
Only what I create I cannot destroy.
We are children of different seed!
O thou with broad bosom and small teeth!
Thou with flowing tresses and long nails!
Thou with the swaying gait!
If thou alightest on a tree,
Mistress Stickfast is thy name!
If thou alightest on a rapid,
Sang Rangga is thy title!
If thou sittest on a tree-stump,
The Fair Bhuta is thy name.
If thou alightest on the ground,
The Fair Swaying One thy name!
If thou mountest the house-ladder,
Thy name the Fair Sitter!
If thou sittest at the house-door,
Thy name the Fair Bar-door.
If thou sittest on a roof-beam,
Thy name the Fair Peerer!
If thou alightest on the mat,
Thy name the Fair Seated Woman!
Molest not the children of Adam
Or thou wilt be a traitor to Allah!
Such, at any rate, is the charm used in Upper Perak.
To prevent a woman who dies in child-birth from becoming one
of these banshees glass beads are put in the corpse's mouth to
keep her from inhuman shrieking, hen's eggs laid under her armpits
so that she may not lift them to fly, and needles placed in the
palms of her hands so that she may not open or clench them to
assist her flight. (A hen's egg is laid also under the arm-pit
of a still-born child before burial.)
Another spirit (Penanggalan) which sucks the blood
of those in child-bed, consists of a woman's head and neck with
trailing viscera, which shine at night like fire-flies. If she
sucks the blood of woman or child, death follows. The lights
of a hill in Perak called Changkat Asah, lights described in
that most readable book on the Peninsula, George Maxwell's In
Malay Forests, are thought by the superstitious to be troops
of these shining ones.
Then there is a class of familiar spirits created from the
dead. Many Malays say that their several names are only dialect
terms for one familiar, but others distinguish three species.
The Bajang may be just a malignant forest spirit or, according
to others, a man's familiar. As the latter he is kept in a stoppered
bamboo vessel and fed with eggs and milk. Released he will cause
sickness and delirium to his victims, especially to children.
His visible embodiment is a civet-cat. He may be the hereditary
property of his owner, but more often is conjured at dead of
night from the newly-dug grave of a still-born child. Pour the
blood of a murdered man into a bottle and recite the appropriate
charm, and after seven or twice seven days a bird-like chirp
will announce the presence of a Polong. Every day the
owner must feed this familiar with blood from his or her finger.
Its victim dies raving unless through his mouth the Polong
will confess the name of its owner and of any malicious person
who may have hired it from that owner. But the best known of
these familiars (Pelsit) is of the nigget type and takes
the shape of a house-cricket. A woman goes into the forest on
the night before the full moon, and standing with her back to
the moon and her face to an ant-hill recites certain charms and
tries to catch her own shadow. It may take three nights. Or she
may have to try for several months, always on the same three
nights. Sooner or later she will succeed and her body never again
cast a shadow. Then in the night a child will appear before her
and put out its tongue. She must seize the tongue, whereupon
the body of the child vanishes. Soon the tongue turns into a
tiny animal, reptile or insect, which can be used as a bottle
imp. According to a more gruesome version the tongue that can
change into this familiar must be bitten out of the exhumed corpse
of the first-born child of a first-born mother and buried at
cross-roads. This vampire cricket is employed especially by jealous
wives to injure their rivals or their rivals' children.
Besides these two classes of malicious birth-spirits and familiars,
created from the corpses of man, there are graveyard spooks of
the sheeted dead. In Patani one of the most noted of these (hantu
bungkus) is thought to appear as a white cat or to lie like
a bundle of white rags near a burial ground. "Should a person
pass it who is afraid, it unrolls, twines itself round his feet,
enters his person by means of his big toe and feasts within on
his soul, so that he becomes distraught and dies in convulsions,
unless a competent medicine-man can exorcise it in time to save
his life and reason." A bold person anxious to see ghosts
has only to use as a collyrium the tears of the wide-eyed slow
A relic of the Malay's fear of the departed survives in the
moribund custom of abandoning a house where a death has occurred.
(d) PRIMITIVE SPIRITS, FAIRIES AND GHOSTS
Spirits and ghosts that are not termed jinn by the Malay spontaneously
may be classed together as flotsam of primitive beliefs. They
may be the ghosts of men who lived too long ago to be associated
ordinarily with the genies of a religion they never practised
in their lives. They may be fairies too human to have sprung
from smokeless fire. They may be godlings or nature-spirits too
local or petty and neglected to have attracted the attention
of the pious. Or they may be spirits too vague to have acquired
a local habitation and a name. Challenged, the devout Malay would
give to all of them the sinister canonisation of Jinn.
Some of this class are on the border-line between spirits
and ghosts. There is the Spectre Huntsman, known generally as
a ghost, in one aspect an avatar of Siva, in another an uxorious
villager whose endless hunt for a mouse-deer for his gravid wife
led to his being turned alive into a forest demon. In many lands
a vanquished aboriginal people are allotted by their conquerors
to the borderland class between ghost and spirit. Were it not
that he also is identified with Siva, it would be tempting to
include in it Black Awang in his shape as a Negrito (p. 7 supra).
Then there are "Bachelor" spirits, who may be forgotten
godlings or the ghosts of youths cut off in their prime. There
is the Bachelor Cock-fighter, who presides over mains and hates
liars. There are the Black Bachelor and the Boy with the Long
Lock, of whom Perak peasants speak.
There are a few spirits of high places, like the Chief of
the mountain Berembun in Perak or Dato Parol, sainted lord of
Gunong Angsi in Negri Sembilan and commander of an army of the
dead who have sprung from their graves as tigers. Most famous
is the fairy Princess of Mount Ledang in Malacca, who married
Nakhoda Ragam, a wandering prince of Borneo. After his death
at sea from the prick of her needle she donned fairy garb and
flew to Gunong Ledang, whence she migrated later to Bukit Jugra
further up the coast with a sacred tiger as her companion. Others
make her consort of the founder of Malacca. But a foreign and
literary origin is suggested for this fairy by the mention of
her flying garb, the account in the seventeenth century Malay
Annals of her garth, her singing birds and her demand, when
a Sultan of Malacca wooed her, for a betrothal present of seven
trays piled with the livers of mosquitoes, seven trays piled
with the livers of fleas, a tub of tears, a basin of royal blood,
and one golden and one silver bridge to be built from Malacca
to her hill top.
There is a mysterious Grannie Kemang, known both in Sumatra
and in the Malay Peninsula. In Perak it is thought that she will
sow tares, a refuge for goblin pests, on the fresh clearing unless
the farmer rise betimes to alleviate with cool offerings; the
smart of the burnt forest. Her cooking-pot is the inexhaustible
widow's cruse of the Malay peasant. She is said to have taught
the art of rice-cultivation. One Perak account speaks of her
as the embodiment of the rice-soul. (In a Kelantan charm she
is described as the nigget vampire and declared to be the product
of the afterbirth.)
There are echo-spirits of the mountains, like men and women
in shape. If one of them visits a mortal woman, she bears an
albino child. A former Dato' of Kinta lived with a female echo-spirit
in a cave in the face of a limestone bluff, a beautiful woman
called the Princess of the Rice-fields by the Hot Spring. One
of his followers took another echo-spirit to wife. In three weeks
she bore him a son, whom no mortal woman could suckle.
There is a vague dream demon, Ma' Kopek, the hag that causes
nightmare. Children playing hide and seek may lose themselves
behind her prodigious breasts and be found days later dazed and
foolish. Sometimes she takes them to a thorn-brake and feeds
them on earth-worms and muddy water, which by her magic look
and taste like delicate cates.
There is a Kitchen Demon, a gray dishevelled hag, who warms
herself before the hearth at night and loves to blow into flame
the embers in a deserted house.
There is the Spook that Drags Himself along. He wears the
shape of an orang-outang, peeps into attics where fair maids
sleep, and once carried a girl off up a tree and lived with her
as his wife.
There are formless spirits that bring colic, cholera, smallpox,
blindness. Most of these are unknown except to the medicine-man,
who diagnoses, for example, one hundred and ninety nine spirits
of smallpox according to the part affected, and names the one
that attacks a patient's tongue after the Muslim Angel of Death!
Formless too are maleficent auras that emanate from the corpses
of murdered men, of slain deer, wild pig, wild dogs, certain
reptiles and birds. "Soon after death the bristles on the
back move, and stand on end with contraction and relaxation of
the muscles; and to come within the range of the aim of these
bristles, which have the position they assume when the living
animal is enraged, is to invite the attack of the bahdi."
A white jungle cock, or indeed any jungle cock of unusual colour,
a jungle cock that does not struggle in the toils but perches
on the rod that suspends the noose, these have bahdi.
"The bahdi have the power of bringing sickness, blindness
or madness upon the hunter, and an attack of fever after unwonted
exertion in a malarial forest is always ascribed to them. The
jinggi can let the deer pass by the unwitting hunter in
the form of a mouse or attack him in the form of a tiger. They
can also give the hunter the appearance of the hunted and thus
expose him to the fire of his friends. The genaling can
kill the hunter outright." In these auras the idea of potent
soul-substance seems to have become merged in the idea of malicious
spirits. The bahdi of a deer can be expelled by sweeping
first a gun, then a branch, and finally the noose in which the
animal was caught, over its carcase from muzzle to hind-legs;
the noose is quickly slipped on to a stake and tightened round
it. Here the magician appears to remove "transmissible properties
of matter" to the stake. In Patani syncretism has given
the aura of a murdered man the shape of a mannikin, and has made
the auras of beasts the slaves of Siva. By some Kelantan magicians
bahdi are said to be one hundred and ninety in number
and are given a name (gana) meaning spirit. All these
evil influences are sometimes classed with jinn.
With jinn, too, are often classed one hundred and ninety goblins
of the soil (jembalang) that creep into the baskets of
the reaper and round the stems of rice-plants, and infest hill
and mountain and plain. Ordinarily their shape, if they have
a shape, is not given. In Patani it is said they are the ghosts
of men and, under Muslim influence, it is alleged that they may
"be seen at night in waste places, leaning on long sticks,
wearing red caps and eating earth. If any one is bold enough
to seize one of their caps and swift enough to escape their pursuit,
he will gain the great art of becoming invisible."
There are numerous nature-spirits; the spirit of the river
bore, that drowns men in its matlike curling wave; the spirit
of the cataract that lies "prone on the water with head
like an inverted copper"; spirits of the sea that settle
on masts in the form of St. Elmo's fire; spirits of the jungle
track; spirits that tamper with the noose and snare of the hunter;
spirits that live in trees especially where wild bees nest; the
spirit of the faded lotus. Many a sacred place in jungle and
grove, supposed now to be the site of some saint's vanished tomb,
is really a relic of primitive worship of the spirits of nature.
(e) ANGELS AND DEVILS OF ISLAM
To-day in every hamlet in Malaya, that has sufficient inhabitants
to form a congregation, there is a mosque where, along with his
fellow villagers, the magician acknowledges that there is no
God but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet. The office of Caliph
or head of the Muslim faith within his own State is the most
cherished prerogative of a Malay ruler. His installation is attended
by the magician, once master of the ceremony but now merely an
onlooker, who listens and hears the court heralds call to the
four archangels to send down upon their new ruler "the divine
majesty of kings by the hands of his angels: the angels of the
rising sun, the angels of the evening, the angels who stand upon
the right and left of the empyrean throne, the angel of the zenith
and the horned princess, angel of the moon." Suckled in
creeds outworn, the magician sits at the feet of the pious and
learns all he can about these angels and the demonology of the
youngest of Malaya's religions. He adds the names of angels and
devils and spirits to his repertory of incantations.
He learns that there are angels, demons (or Shaitan) and jinn,
all higher than man. Actually he has had a Malay account of Muhammadan
mythology for nearly three hundred years in a work called the
Garden of Kings, written in 1638 A.D. by an Indian missionary
of Islam in Acheen. That work tells him of the four angels who
bear the throne Of God, one in the form of a bull, one in the
form of a tiger, one in the form of an eagle, and one in the
form of a man. It tells also of the cherubim who cry incessantly
"Glory to God." But more interesting to him are the
four archangels with individual names, who are concerned with
the welfare of men. There is Gabriel, the angel of revelation,
with six pinions, each composed of one hundred smaller wings;
he is covered with saffron hairs; between his eyes is a sun,
and between every two hairs of his body a moon and stars. Every
day he dives three hundred and sixty times into the Sea of Light,
and every drop of water from his wings creates a spiritual angel
(Ruhaniyun) in his likeness. Two of his pinions he expands
only when God desires to destroy hamlet or town. Two green pinions
he opens only once annually on the night of destiny, when from
the tree that stands by the throne of God the leaves fall inscribed
with the names of those who shall die during the ensuing year.
There is Michael, created five hundred years before Gabriel and
five hundred years after Israfil. His whole body is covered with
saffron hairs, every hair possessing a million faces having a
thousand mouths, each mouth containing a thousand tongues that
entreat the mercy of God, while the tears of his million eyes,
weeping for the sins of the faithful, create cherubim in his
likeness. These cherubim are his servants, who control rain and
plants and fruits, so that there is not a drop of rain falling
on earth or sea that is not watched by one of them. There is
Israfil, whose head is level with the throne of Allah and whose
feet reach lower than the lowest earth. With one pinion he envelopes
the west, with another the east; with a third he covers his person,
and with a fourth he veils himself from mouth to chest. Between
his eyes is the jewelled tablet of fate. His duty it will be
to sound the last trump on the day of judgment. There is 'Azrail,
who according to this version is not (as he should be) the angel
of death but only his warder, and is like Israfil in appearance.
The angel of death, bigger than the seven earths and the seven
heavens, God kept hidden and chained with seventy thousand chains
until the creation of Adam. When he was seen by the angels, they
fell into a faint that lasted a thousand years. He has seven
thousand pinions. His body is full of eyes and tongues, as many
as there are men and birds and living things. Whenever a mortal
dies, an eye closes. He has four faces. When he takes the life
of prophet or angel, he shows the face on his head; the face
on his chest is shown to believers, the face on his back to infidels,
and the face on the soles of two of his feet to jinn. Of his
other two feet one is on the borders of heaven, the other on
the brink of hell. So huge is he that if the waters of all seas
and all rivers were poured upon his head, not one drop would
reach the earth. No living creature shall escape death except
the four archangels and the four angels who bear the throne of
There is also a huge angel called Ruh or the Spirit, with
the face of a man, who will stand beside the throne on the day
of judgment and implore mercy for the faithful.
There are the two inquisitor angels, Munkar and Nakir, who
visit the dead in their graves and enquire if they are believers.
Night and day man is protected from devils and jinn by two
out of four attendant angels, who change guard at sunrise and
sunset. Recorders of his good and evil deeds, they are termed
Kiraman Katibin, the Noble Writers; good deeds are written down
by the angel on his right, bad by the angel on his left.
Nineteen Zabaniah (or Guardian Angels), under Malik their
chief, are in charge of hell.
Finally, Iblis, the fallen rebel angel who refused to prostrate
himself before Adam, is commander of an army of supreme interest
to the magician, the host of infidel genies or jinn.
Jinn or genies sprang from three mangrove-leaves, the green
jinn from a leaf that soared into the green sky, the black from
a leaf that fell at the gate of the forest, the white from a
leaf that fell into the sea. According to another incantation
they were created from the earth of the mountain Mahameru, the
Malay Olympus with the Hindu name. So Malays believe, unless
it is to be supposed that in such charms the magicians were merely
inventing fictitious origins for spirits they wished to control.
According to some incantations the genies of the earth were born
of afterbirth, according to others of the morning star. One magician's
account says that jinn are sprung from the coconut monkey! Another
declares that they were created from Sakti-muna, a great serpent:
the king of the jinn from his life's breath, the white jinn from
the whites of his eyes, the black, blue, green and yellow jinn
from their irises, the genie that lives in the lightning from
his voice. Muslims hold that Jan was the father of all. the jinn,
and Jan in the Quran also signifies a serpent. There is another
legend with a Muslim colouring. When Cain and Abel were still
in the womb they bit their thumbs till the blood came, and along
with them were born jinn, black from the blood that spurted cloud-high,
white from the blood that fell to the ground. So run the discrepant
accounts of the Malay magician, who accepts also the Quran's
version that jinn were created from smokeless fire.
The account of genies in the Garden of Kings is as
follows: Jan, the father of all jinn, was originally an angel,
called firstly Aristotle but later 'Azazil. When 'Azazil refused
to do obeisance to Adam, his name was changed to Iblis or Jan
and his form into that of a genie; of the relation of Iblis to
the genies, however, there are several variant accounts. Begetting
a child every two days, Jan became the ancestor of all the genies,
countless shadowy beings, numerous as the sands of the earth
and filling hill and cave, forest and plain. At first they inhabited
the lowest heaven. Thence they got the permission of Allah to
descend to the earth, seven thousand troops of them. In time
they fought among themselves and disobeyed God. So He sent Prophets
and Angels to quell them and pen them in a corner of the world.
To plague mankind jinn can assume any shape. Some take the form
of men, others of horses or dogs or pigs, others of snakes, others
of insects. Some can fly. Some can eat, drink and marry. One
tradition talks of three classes of jinn, one winged, another
in the form of dogs and insects, another in human form. A few
are good Muslims and will go to heaven; most are infidels doomed
to hell. Their great age is illustrated from the story of the
genie detected by Muhammad under the disguise of a very old man.
Being recognised as a genie, he admitted that he had met Noah
and all the Prophets after him.
Again the Malay has read of jinn in his recension of the story
of Alexander the Great. That world-conqueror meets a descendant
of the genie Sakhr, who stole Solomon's ring, and assuming Solomon's
shape reigned in his stead for forty days. He and his kin are
guarding till the day of judgment a mosque built for Solomon
by Sakhr in retribution for his presumption. He appears to Alexander
in the form of a handsome youth but turns by request into his
proper shape: huge as the mosque, having seven heads, each with
two faces, each face having four eyes like tongues of flame,
a cavernous mouth, teeth like fiery tongues, a nose like the
nose of a bull; on each forehead are two snakey locks, and the
genie has the feet of a duck and the tail of a bull! Near the
border of the world where the sun sinks Alexander finds genies
guarding King Solomon's treasure-house of jewels. They are the
descendants of human men and ten daughters of Iblis. When Alexander
marvels, the Prophet Khidzr quotes the case of the Queen of Sheba,
who had a human father and a genie mother, and showed this origin
by the hair on her calves.
All jinn are the subjects not of Muhammad but of Solomon,
to whom God gave authority over genies, the animal creation and
the wind of heaven.
One Malay charm speaks of "Jin the son of Jan of the
line of the Pharaohs," a pedigree founded on the Arab notion
that the last king of the pre-Adamite jinn was Jan the son of
Jan, and that he built the Pyramids.
According to Malay belief there are jinn inhabiting the sun,
the moon, the sky, the wind, the clouds. There are others whose
homes or hosts are ant-hills, wells, rocks, the hard heartwood
of trees, ravines, fields, swamps, lakes, rivers, mountain or
plain. Others are genies of cape or bay, the sea, the tide, estuaries.
Syncretism has included in these classes Indonesian soul-substance
and nature-spirits and Hindu divinities; but one tradition of
the Prophet also distinguishes three kinds of genies, one in
the air, one on the land, and one on the sea. Malay medical lore,
having borrowed from Arabia Plato's theory of the origin of disease,
differentiates a fourth class, the genies of fire and fiery sunsets.
The colour of a Malay genie varies according to his habitation.
Genies of earth and the dark forests and lowering clouds are
black. Those inhabiting the sky are blue or to the Malay eye
green. The jinn of fire and sunset are yellow. In fleecy clouds
and the shimmering sea they are white.
Just as Plato ascribed disease to disturbance of the balance
of power between the four properties of earth, air, fire and
water, out of which the body is compacted, so the Malay medicine-man
ascribes all diseases to the four classes of genies presiding
over those properties. The genies of the air cause wind-borne
complaints, dropsy, blindness, hemiplegia and insanity. The genies
of the black earth cause vertigo, with sudden blackness of vision.
The genies of fire cause hot fevers and yellow jaundice. The
white genies of the sea cause chills, catarrh and agues.
All these are external genies, visible to lonely wayfarers,
to the magician in a trance or, according to Kelantan belief,
to the gazer upon the finger-nails of small innocent boys. They
can talk among themselves or through the mouth of the shaman
medium. Genies of the earth may appear in human form "floating
in the air and not always remaining the same size," or in
the form of animals or ants or scorpions or in any shape they
please. The manufacture of old Chinese crackle-ware is ascribed
by Malays to genies. Muslim genies haunt two mosques in Negri
Sembilan, flitting to and fro in long white robes and sometimes
chanting the Quran. If a person stand under a ladder and bathe
in water wherein a corpse has been washed, he has only to stoop
and look between his legs to see crowds of genies and demons
sipping the water. Infidel genies of the earth are thought in
Patani to assume the form of dogs and guard hidden treasure.
If they take a fancy to a person, they change into little old
men and leave sacks of gold for their favourites to remove. Peculiar
bubbles on the surface of the water indicate the presence of
jars of treasure placed by genies in pool or well. There is a
genie "supposed to resemble the human form but to dart about
like a will-o'-the-wisp" and daze the man that crosses it.
Seize a genie and hold him, no matter what terrifying aspect
he may assume, and one can wrest from him the secret of invisibility.
"If a man had a tame genie, he could cause the meat from
another man's cooking-pot to come to him." The founder of
a house of great chiefs in Perak was a poor fisherman. His traps
were repeatedly thrown on the bank and his weirs opened. He watched
and saw the offender, a genie clad in the green robes and turban
of a Muslim pilgrim. He seized the genie and refused to let him
go. The genie said "Swallow this," spat in his mouth,
and told him that he would become the greatest chief in the country
and his family prosper for seven generations.
But these external jinn (for whom Malay physicians find yet
another origin suitable to their medical theories, namely wind)
cannot inflict disease without the help of the class of genies
that inhabit the bodies of men. So, at least, it is said in Kelantan.
When the genie, whose host a man's body is, has weakened him
by loss of blood, coughing, dyspepsia, then only can jinn from
outside enter and cause him hurt. There is a yellow genie controlling
a man's five senses. There is a white genie (jin or malaikat),
also called the Light of the Prophet, that "takes up its
abode in the heart of every Muhammadan and prevents him from
being wicked," Even these internal jinn have colour and
shape. False etymology and recollection of the Indonesian bird-soul
make Patani Malays identify a man's white genie with a bird,
one of Muhammad's parrots!
In some genies abstract ideas seem to find a local habitation
and a name.
can both abduct a woman's soul on her lover's behalf.
The moral character of the white genie in man's bosom may
be due to confusion of this spirit with the Light of the Prophet.
Genies, destined for heaven, are moral beings, and belong to
the several schools of Muslim belief. The others are capricious
and do not distinguish between good and evil.
The syncretism that has made the name of Malay jinn legion
is patent in the Perak magician's address to "the procession
of the thousand jinn." In that invocation the evil influence
believed by Malay animists to invest the corpses of deer, Indonesian
goblins of the soil, the Misty Beauty that floats over blind
wells, the Piebald Pony, four spirit guardians of the corners
of the world, Kala or Siva in his destructive form, Sri the Hindu
Ceres, a Hindu Moon Fairy beautiful upon waters, the Herald of
the World that dwells in the clouds with a name half Sanskrit
half Arabic, Jamshid a spirit of the headlands bearing the name
of a Persian king, the spirits of the Muslim dead-these and scores
more are entreated so that the magician may display the wealth
of his uncritical lore, offend none of the spirit world and let
no genie escape the net of his magic.
An equally good example is found in the list of the guardian
jinii of Perak, or, to give them their other name, the genies
of the royal trumpets, whose indwelling spirits were fed and
revived annually centuries before the coming of Islam. These
include the Four Children of the Iron Pestle, Old Grannie from
up-river, the Prince of the Rolling Waves, the Children of the
Gaffer who lives in the sky. Brahma, Vishnu, and Indra are among
them. King Solomon and 'Ali, the fourth Caliph, find a place.
There are royal familiars of the State shaman and his assistant.
There is the Raja of all the jinn, who is throned on the breeze
of heaven. There is the Sultan of the Unsubstantial World (maya),
who condescends to the ear-posies of kings from his throne on
a crystal car that is followed by all the Sultans of the universe.
And there are spirits with royal titles in Persian, and female
fairies with Sanskrit names. The list shows a wide knowledge
of Malay romances, like the Hikayat Shamsu'l-Bahrain and
the Hikayat Indraputra, that are based on Indian models
and full of heroes and genies with Indian names. Acquaintance
with such literature was an esteemed accomplishment at Malay
courts. Among the jinn regarded by Perak commoners is 'Umar Ummaiya,
the Ulysses of the Persian romance of Amir Hamzah!
III. THE MALAY MAGICIAN
ANTHROPOLOGY and history confirm the various stages in the
development of the Malay magician.
First he was the Indonesian animist, requiring no initiation
into his office and no help from a familiar spirit. Hunting,
fishing, planting, and healing the sick demanded merely different
experts acquainted with the practice and customs of the particular
craft. In the ritual of the rice-field, for example, a midwife
or other old woman took the leading part, because her sex had
a beneficent influence on the fertility of the crop, and her
experience with human infants qualified her to handle the rice-baby.
Courtesy and persuasion and diplomatic language were the weapons
of the Malay magician of animism.
Next came the shaman. Comparative study has, revealed that
shamanism was "the native religion of the Ural-Altaic peoples
from Behring Straits to the borders of Scandinavia," and
"probably of the early Mongol-Tartar peoples and others
akin to them, for example, in China and Tibet." Its part
in the religions of Malaysian tribes reminds one that on linguistic
grounds it has been surmised the Malay descended from the continent
of Asia and that anthropologists detect in him a Mongol strain.
The shaman still retains his pride of place among the aboriginal
tribes of the Malay Peninsula, Negrito, Indo-Chinese and Proto-Malay.
One word is used by the Malay both for the magician expert in
some particular line and for the shaman who controls spirits
by the help of a familiar. But a distinction between them is
recognised. "Upon the exercise of the shaman's power every
Malay looks with considerable dread, and the least orthodox shakes
his head when it is mentioned." Islam looks far more askance
at the shaman who calls down spirits at a séance
than at the commoner medicine-man who relies solely on charms
and invocations covered with a veneer of orthodox phraseology.
His brothers in magic respect the shaman more highly. In Kelantan
when a shaman is operating in any district "all other medicine-men
are disqualified for the time being."
Sometimes the Malay shaman wears cords round his wrists and
across back and breast over each shoulder and under the opposite
arm. He can use cloth of royal yellow at a séance.
Rarely he is a Raja. In Perak the State shaman was commonly of
the reigning house and bore the title of Sultan Muda. He was
too exalted to inherit any other office except the Sultanate,
and according to one account could ascend no temporal throne.
He was allotted a State allowance from port dues and the tax
on opium. The twenty-fifth holder of the office was a grandson
on the distaff side of Marhum Kahar, a famous ruler of
Perak in the eighteenth century: on the spear side he was a descendant
of the Prophet! The wife of its holder bore the title of Raja
Puan Muda. His deputy or heir-apparent was styled Raja Kechil
Muda. So, too, in parts of Timor two Rajas are recognised-a civil
raja who governs the people, and another raja who can declare
tabus and must be consulted by his colleagues in all important
At a curative (but not apparently at a State-cleansing) séance
the spirit-raising shaman may be a woman. During the last illness
of Sultan Yusuf, a nineteenth century ruler of Perak, a séance
was conducted by Raja Ngah, a scion of the reigning house on
the female side, "a middle-aged woman dressed as a man"
for the occasion-a device I have seen adopted by Malay midwives
also. In Kelantan the shaman may be a Malay or a Siamese woman.
Negritos and certain northern Sakai placed the bodies of dead
shamans in shelters built among tree-branches. The soul of a
Negrito magician may enter tiger, elephant, or rhinoceros, and
there abide until the animal dies, when the soul at last goes
to its own heaven. Some Kinta Sakai used formerly to leave the
corpses of magicians unburied in the houses where they died.
The Jakun of Rompin put them "on platforms and their souls
go up to the sky, while those of ordinary mortals, whose bodies
are buried, go to the underworld." Other Jakun believe that
great magicians are translated alive to heaven. Clearly it was
the custom of the Peninsular aborigines not to bury a magician.
His soul might inhabit a large animal temporarily, but found
its way in the end to some place in the air that is full of the
unseen spirits he controlled. Malays have long buried their magicians.
"The majority of sacred places in the Patani States are
the reputed graves of great medicine-men." But in two of
the States on the west coast, at least, when a practiser of black
magic is in the throes of death, it is believed that the spirit
of life can escape only if a hole is made in the roof of the
A shaman by inheritance comes into possession of a familiar
spirit, or perhaps he may inherit one from his preceptor. In
Patani it is said that if a shaman does not bequeath his (or
her) art to a pupil before dying, then his clothes, drums, censer,
and other magical appurtenances will generate a savage ghost.
There, too, it is held that hairy persons are especially qualified
to become magicians. The Benua, a Proto-Malay tribe, believe
that the soul of a dead shaman (who has to be left unburied in
the forest) will in the seventh day attack his heir in the form
of a tiger: if the heir betrays no fear and casts incense on
a fire, he will fall into a trance and be visited by two beautiful
female spirits who become his familiars; if the heir fails to
watch by the corpse and observe this ritual, the dead man's soul
enters a tiger for ever. According to the belief of the Jakun
his familiar spirit comes to a shaman by inheritance or in a
dream. In all accounts the shaman must acquire as his familiar
a spirit that has not found rest. This he does in a trance, often
during a vigil beside a grave.
Kelantan Malays prescribe a method of acquiring a shaman's
powers that shows an accretion of Muslim belief on a primitive
idea, akin to the Proto-Malay superstition that round a grave
a ditch must be dug wherein the soul of the deceased may paddle
his canoe. Sitting one at the head and one at the foot of the
grave of a murdered man, the would-be shaman and a companion
burn incense and make believe to use paddles shaped from the
midrib of a royal yellow coconut palm, calling the while upon
the murdered man to grant magical powers. The landscape will
come to look like a sea and an aged man will appear, to whom
the request for magic must be repeated. Now one of the evidences
of Muslim saintship is the ecstatic vision or dream of the Prophet
or of one of the greater saints of Islam. Possibly the "aged
man" was Luqman al-Hakim, the reputed fattier of Arabian
magic. One day, according to Kelantan belief, the Angel Gabriel
was commanded to upset Luqman and his books at sea as a punishment
for his pride, and the finders of the few scattered pages of
those books became medicine-men in their several countries. A
Selangor account corroborates the Kelantan belief that Luqman
was the first magician: he lived in the sky, was descended from
Adam and Eve, was a son (or perhaps brother) of Siva, and so
a link with the Hindu element in the modern Malay medicine-man's
The Malay has always been apt to ascribe greater power to
foreign magic, whether that of a naked illiterate aborigine from
the woods or that of a Hindu trader or an Arab missionary. In
an eighteenth century history of Perak it is recorded how among
the medicine-men in attendance on the daughter of a famous Malay
ruler there were Sakai from the jungle. Magicians, like prophets,
have more honour outside their own borders. It is no wonder,
therefore, that the Malay midwife learnt from the Hindu all the
magic he could teach for the great occasions of birth, adolescence,
and marriage, or that the Malay shaman added gods of the Hindu
pantheon to his demonology and made invocations and offerings
to Siva. Long before the introduction of Islamic mysticism, Hinduism
had encouraged the Malay magician to fortify his powers and command
the wonder of the credulous by ascetic practices. Malay romances,
paraphrased from Indian originals, are full of stories of heroes
who acquire magic, especially for warfare, by retiring into a
hermit's seclusion on a mountain-top. In Patani there is a "curious
belief, perhaps more Siamese than Malay, that no man can become
a really great magician in any country in which the peaks of
the hills are rounded, and that therefore the State of Patalung,
in which there are many conical hills, produces the most powerful
medicine-men in the Malay Peninsula."
When Islam came, the Malay magician sat at the feet of its
pundits, studied their arts of divination, and borrowed their
cabalistic talismans. Before his old incantations he set the
names of Allah and Muhammad, often in impious contexts. He detected
his latest avatar in the living saint of Islam, to whom folk
resort "for advice in legal disputes or as to the success
or failure of an enterprise or as intercessor for the sick or
to get a child or to remove blight or plague or confound enemies."
He will, therefore, seclude himself for certain days of the week
or for a period, the practice being given an Arabic name and
having a religious colour. Sometimes he keeps celibate. Or he
may fast to impress the common herd and enable himself to see
visions. A magician of this type is generally a disciple of a
crude form of Sufism derived from India. A Selangor account,
strongly affected by Neo-Platonic ideas, makes Allah (as Absolute
Being beyond all relations) the first of magicians. "When
haze was still in the womb of darkness and darkness in the womb
of haze, before earth bore the name of earth or sky the name
of sky, before Allah was called Allah or Muhammad was called
Muhammad, before the creation of the Divine Throne and its footstool
and the firmament, the Creator of the worlds was manifested by
Himself and He was the first magician. He made the magician's
universe, a world of the breadth of a tray, a sky of the breadth
of an umbrella.... The magician before time existed was Allah
and He revealed Himself by the light of moon and sun and so showed
Himself to be verily a magician." The first sentence of
this quotation is a Malay paraphrase of the Prophet's simile
for God before the creation: "the dark mist above which
is a void and below which is a void." As Skeat has suggested,
the conception of a miniature universe, Plato's "fixed archetypes,"
would remind the Malay of the relation of the tiny Indonesian
soul to the physical body. It reminds also of Ibn 'Arabi's saying
that all the universe contains lies potential in God like the
tree in the seed. Indeed, one Malay account of the origin of
the magician relates how at the Muslim word of creation (kun)
"the seed was created and from the seed the root, from the
root the stem, and from the stem the leaves," and then in
the same sentence relates how the word of creation brought into
being a miniature earth and sky. So time has changed the Malay
brother of the Siberian shaman into a humble relative of the
Are there traces of the magician in the Malay king? Among
some, at least, of the Proto-Malay tribes of the Peninsula the
commoner chief or Batin is judge, priest, and magician.
Between the old-world commoner chiefs of the matriarchal tribes
of Negri Sembilan and the Raja ruler there are several ties.
Like the magician (and the European district officer!) both can
influence the weather: a wet season will be ascribed to a cold
constitution! Both are chosen from several branches of one family,
theoretically from each branch in rotation, actually from the
branch that happens to possess the candidate most suitable in
years and character. Both, therefore, like the Malay magician
hold "offices hereditary or at least confined to the members
of one family."
Like the Brahmin the Malay magician and the Malay ruler have
a tabu language. A king does not "walk" but "has
himself carried"; he does not "bathe" but is "sprinkled
like a flower"; he does not "live" but "resides";
he does not "feed" but "takes a repast";
he does not "die" but "is borne away." Of
the dozen or more words constituting this vocabulary half are
Malay, half Sanskrit. Shaman and ruler both have felt the influence
Like the magician, the ruler has wonder-working insignia of
office. The tambourine and other appurtenances of the shaman
will generate an evil spirit if not bequeathed to a successor.
To tread on a Malay State drum may cause death: even a Chinaman
has been known to swell up and die after removing a hornet's
nest from this terrific instrument. The regalia of a Malay ruler
were miraculous talismans that controlled the luck of the State.
Quite recently in Malacca a pretender to the chieftainship of
Naning got hold of the insignia of office, refused to surrender
them, and declared that possession of them gave him a good title.
In the old annual ceremony of expelling malignant spirits
from a Malay State, the ruler took a leading part. And in the
ritual of the now obsolete Perak court magician there are two
noteworthy details. At the séance held during his
last illness Sultan Yusuf was placed shrouded on the wizard's
mat with the wizard's grass-switch in his hand to await, as at
an ordinary séance the shaman alone awaits, the
advent of the spirits invoked. Again, after the annual séance
to "revive" the Perak regalia, the State magician bathed
the Sultan and in his person the genies of the State, who would
seem therefore to be regarded as His Highness' familiar spirits.
According to an old account the State shaman of Perak was eligible
for the Sultanate, and the Raja Muda, or heir to the throne,
could become State shaman.
Modern man has forgotten that in appropriating buffaloes with
peculiar horns, albino children, turtles' eggs and other freaks
of nature, the Malay ruler started not as a grasping tyrant but
as a magician, competent above all his people to face the dangers
of the unusual and untried. For under paganism, Hinduism and
Islam magician and raja dead and alive have been credited with
supernatural powers. It is claimed for a modern Malay magician
that he can remain under water for an hour! It was claimed for
a bye-gone ruler of Perak that every Friday he could translate
himself to Mecca and once brought back three green figs as evidence
of his journey. The graves of kings and the graves of magicians
have been alike the object of worship.
IV. THE MALAY CHARM
THERE are three words used by Malays for incantation or charm,
two of them Sanskrit (jampi; mantra), the other
the Arabic word for prayer (do'a). Charms are employed
in agricultural operations, by fishermen, hunters, fowlers and
trappers; to abduct or recall the soul; to revive ore in a mine
or a patient on a bed of sickness; against cramp, poison, snakebite,
enemies, vampires, evil spirits; at birth and at teeth-filing;
to save men from tigers, and crops from rats and boars and insect
pests; for beauty, virility, love; to weaken a rival in a race
or in a fight; to divert a bullet or break a weapon as it is
A Malay charm may form part of a primitive ritual, like that
of the rice-year, conducted by a skilled magician. It may be
merely recited on an appropriate occasion by any layman who has
learnt it. One may buy the words of a love-charm, for example,
from an expert "for three dollars, three yards of white
cloth, cotton and thread, limes and salt, areca-nut, and betel-vine,"
or for "limes and salt, three small coins, five yards of
white cloth and a needle."
The charm may require to be supplemented by contagious and
by homopathic or mimetic magic. Sand from the foot-print
of the woman loved, earth from the graves of a man and woman,
the hair-like filaments of bamboo, black pepper: these are often
steamed in a pot while a love-charm is being recited. Another
method is to "take a lime, pierce it with the midrib of
a fallen coconut palm, leaving one finger's length sticking out
on either side whereby to hang the lime. Hang it up with thread
of seven colours, leaving the thread also hanging loose an inch
below the lime. Take seven sharpened midribs and stick them into
the lime, leaving two fingers' length projecting. The sticking
of the midrib into the lime is to symbolise piercing the heart
and liver and life and soul and gall of the beloved. Put jasmine
on the end of the midrib skewers. Do this first on Monday night,
for three nights, and then on Friday night. Imagine you pierce
the girl's heart as you pierce the lime. Recite the accompanying
charm three or seven times, swinging the lime each time you recite
the words and fumigating it with incense. Do this five times
a day and five times a night in a private place where no one
shall enter or sleep." A woman recites a charm for beauty
over the water in which she bathes or over the coconut oil with
which she anoints her hair.
Sometimes the Malay appears to be indebted to India for a
charm and to have forgotten or purposely omitted the accompanying
ritual. In the Atharva-Veda there is an incantation to
arouse the passionate love of a woman:
May love, the disquieter, disquiet thee; do not hold out
upon thy bed. With the terrible arrow of Kama I pierce thee in
The arrow winged with longing, barbed with love, whose shaft
is undeviating desire, with that well-aimed Kama shall pierce
thee in the heart!
With that well-aimed arrow of Kama which parches the spleen,
whose plume flies forward, which burns up, do I pierce thee in
Consumed by burning ardour, with parched mouth, come to me woman,
pliant, thy pride laid aside, mine alone, speaking sweetly and
to me devoted!
I drive thee with a goad from thy mother and thy father, so that
thou shalt be in my power, shalt come up to my wish!
All her thoughts do ye, O Mitra and Varuna, drive out of her.
Then having deprived her of her will put her into my power alone.
Now turn to the modern Malay equivalent:
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
Burn, burn, sand and earth!
I burn the heart of my beloved
And my fire is the arrow of Arjuna!
If I burnt a mountain, it wouldfall;
If I burnt rock, it would split asunder.
I am burning the heart of my beloved,
So that she is broken and hot with love,
That giveth her no rest night or day,
Burning ever as this sand burns.
Let her cease to love parents and friends!
If she sleeps, awaken her!
If she awakes, cause her to rise and come
Yielding herself unto me,
Devoid of shame and discretion!
By virtue of the poison of Arjuna's arrow,
By virtue of the invocation,
"There is no God but God and Muhammad is His Prophet."
The Malay lover only talks of Arjuna's arrow. But the Hindu
lover pierced the heart of a clay effigy by means of a bow with
a hempen string carrying an arrow whose barb was a thorn and
whose plume was plucked from an owl.
Even in Vedic times, however, often no ritual was required
and the mere recital of the verbal charm sufficed. A Hindu would
mutter in the presence of a hostile witness:-"I take away
the speech in thy mouth, I take away the speech in thy heart.
Wherever thy speech is I take it away. What I say is true. Fall
down inferior to me." So, too, the Malay today without any
ritual recites:-"O God! let the world be blind, the universe
deaf, the earth stretched out dumb; closed and locked be the
desire of my enemy"; or he whispers,
Om! king of genies!
The rock-splitting lightning is my voice!
Michael is with me!
In virtue of my use of this charm
To make heavy and lock,
I lock the hearts of all my adversaries,
I make dumb their tongues,
I lock their mouths,
I tie their hands,
I fetter their feet.
Not till rock moves
Shall their hearts be moved;
Not till earth my mother moves
Shall their hearts be moved.
The voice of the Malay animist is heard in the charm calling
the corn-baby to her embroidered cradle, or in the sailor's invocation
for a breeze: "Come, wind, loose your long flowing tresses,"
or in the Perak raftsman's address to the spirit of a perilous
rapid:-"Accept this offering, granddam! Send our raft safe
through the long rapid, we beseech thee! Cause us no harm in
mid journey. Open like the uncurling blossom of the palm! Open
like a snake that uncoils." But it is not in many incantations
that the Malay roars thus "gently as any sucking dove."
Most of his charms bear all the characteristic marks of the
Indian mantra. They must be kept secret. They are in rude
metrical form. Many are a mixture of prayer and spell. Numerous
spirits are generally invoked so that the particular spirit whose
help is wanted or whose malevolence is to be baulked shall not
escape mention. And as knowledge of a man's name will give another
power over him, so it is sought to influence and control a spirit
by enumerating his various names. 'Take an address to the Earth-Spirit:-
At daybreak thou art called Lord of the Sun-Ray,
In the morning Lord of Fortune,
At mid-day Lord of the World,
At evening Lord of the Evening Light:
In the high forest thy name is the Leafy Orchid,
In mid plain, the Flat One,
In the rivulet, the Flowing One,
In the spring, the Trickler.
Like the Brahmin, the Malay magician will exhaust a series
of possibilities, expelling disease from
Skin and bone and joint and vein,
Flesh, blood, heart, spleen, racked with pain;
For the Malay, too, as for the Hindu the origin of a thing
or spirit gives magical control over them. In the Atharva-Veda
the mention of the names of the father and mother of a plant,
for example, is a typical part of a magic formula. Incense is
hailed by the Malay magician as a product of the brain of Muhammad,
"its smoke the breath of his spiritual life."
The trapper addresses genies -
Sometimes an absurdly base origin is purposely assigned, as
in a charm against tigers:-
The Malay magician under Indian influence threatens and commands,
though he is apt to disclaim responsibility:-
Take this bait, crocodile,
A cake of yellow rice
The gift of thy sister Fatimah!
If thou takest it not,
Thou shalt be cursed by her,
Obey my words, trapped elephant!
If thou obeyest not,
Thou wilt be killed by Sri Rama.
If thou obeyest,
The Great Rishis will keep thee alive.
In a charm to weaken a rival the Malay boasts:-
In a charm against a thunderstorm he outroars the tempest:-
Om! Virgin goddess, Mahadewi! Om!
Cub am I of mighty tiger!
'Ali's line through me descends!
My voice is the rumble of thunder,
Whose bolts strike a path for my seeing;
Forked lightning's the flash of my weapons!
I move not till earth moves!
I rock not till earth rocks!
I quake not till earth quakes,
Firm set as earth's axis.
By virtue of my charm got from 'Ali
And of Islam's confession of faith.
To frighten and capture a male elephant the hunter stands
on one leg at sunrise and vaunts his prowess:-
Sitting on the skin of a tiger was supposed by Hindus to give
invisible strength. But these daring assumptions of power were
very far from the mind of the primitive animist, who addressed
all things in heaven and earth with courtesy and deference.
In Malay as in Hindu charms the curse plays a weighty part:-
Genies of supernatural power!
Your home is at the navel of the sea,
By the tree on the broken rock!
Enter not the line drawn by my teacher!
Else will I curse ye with the words,
"There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet."
Om! I neutralise all evil,
O Solomon! In the name of God.
The mystic Om, symbolical of the Hindu triad, Vishnu, Siva,
and Brahma, still remains a word of power with this Muslim magician,
though almost supplanted by the Arabic kun, "Let
it be," the creative word of Allah:-
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
I fry sand from the foot-print of my beloved;
Nay, I fry her heart and liver
Night and day, as this sand is fried.
"Let it be," says God.
"And it is so," says Muhammad, His Apostle.
Let her body itch with desire
Giving her no rest from longing for me.
"And it is so," says Gabriel.
Islam, coming first from India, introduced the Malay to a
wide field of fresh magic. A woman desiring the love of a man
gets the following charm written down, wrapped in cerements that
have covered the face of a male corpse, and buried where her
lover is bound to step. The charm is interesting, because so,
too, the Moroccan bride will pray to Allah and the Prophet and
Fatimah that her husband may "be fond of her as the dead
is fond of his grave"; and Syro-Christian charms (which
appear to have influenced early Islam) invoke the Father and
the Son to bind the tongues of false witnesses and the navel
of the newly-born child as "the ox in the yoke, the dead
in the grave." The Malay charm runs as follows:-
If Muhammad can be sundered from Allah
And a corpse move in the grave,
Only then shall my lover's desire move to another.
The desire of his heart shall be only for me;
Straying now hither he shall be my mate unto death,
Safe near me like a corpse in the grave.
The Muslim element in Malay magic will form the subject of
a separate chapter. But the final evolution of the spoken charm
in the Malay vernacular may be illustrated here by the incantation
whereby the Kelantan shaman exorcises the demon of disease at
O universe, the world of Adam!
Earth was made from a clod rom Paradise,
Water from a river of Paradise,
Fire from the smoke of Hell,
Air from the four elements.
Skin and hair, flesh and blood,
Bones and sinews, life and seed
Came from four elements of sperm.
Skin and hair were created by Gabriel,
Flesh and blood by Michael,
Bones and sinews by Israfil,
Life and seed by 'Azrail!
Where is this genie lodging and taking shelter?
Where is he lodging and crouching?
Genie! if thou art in the feet of this patient,
Know that these feet are moved by Allah and His Prophet;
If thou art in the belly of this patient,
His belly is God's sea, the sea, too, of Muhammad.
If thou art in his hands,
His hands pay homage to God and His Prophet.
If thou art in his liver, It is the secret place of God and His
If thou art in his heart,
His heart is Abu Bakar's palace.
If thou art in his lungs,
His lungs are 'Omar's palace.
If thou art in his spleen,
His spleen is 'Usman's palace.
If thou art in his gall-bladder,
His gall-bladder is 'Ali's palace.
The heart, the lung, the spleen, the gall-bladder
Are the homestead of life,
Not the homestead of genie or Iblis,
Not the homestead of sickness or suffering.
Ho there, genie! thy origin was from the tonguelike fumes of
I know thy origin,
The name o thy father, thy mother, and of thy child.
V. THE SOUL OF THINGS
THF, primitive Malay looked below the outer aspect of man
and beast and plant and stone and found a veiled power or inner
life for which their exterior is the host or tabernacle. This
animating spirit he called the vital "spark" (semangat),
probably because the dead are cold. For lack of an exact equivalent,
it may be termed soul, despite that word's other connotations.
It is possessed by all things "in widest commonalty spread."
There is no aristocracy among souls, no "rank, condition
or degree," distinguishing the soul of man from the soul
of plant or animal. But souls inhabiting things useful to men,
like rice, arrest the Malay's attention only less than his own
soul. The soul is the personal property of its host. It is also
an impersonal substance, whose deficiency in the sick can be
supplied by soul-substance derived, for example, from proper
diet, rubbing with a bezoar stone, being breathed upon by the
medicine man or brushed with the lush grass of his aspergillum.
This substance, which enters the Malay child the moment the
bamboo knife (or midwife's teeth) severs the umbilical cord,
permeates his whole body and its secretions like an electric
fluid. In some parts of the globe it is believed that there are
separate souls for the head, the blood, the heart, the saliva,
and even the foot-prints. A survival of this idea may be traced
in the Malay shaman's altar piled with morsels representing every
part of the beast sacrificed. According to one Malay account
the soul lives in the belly. His head to a Malay is sacred: he
resents it being touched even in play. All parts of the body
where soul-substance is present must be guarded from the sorcery
of enemies. A woman's blood can be employed to her hurt by a
disappointed lover. Clippings from hair or nails are hidden or
destroyed for fear possession of them may give an enemy control
over their owner's soul and so over his life. Clippings from
finger-nails can turn into fire-flies just as the soul of a whole
man can turn into a firefly. So strong is the soul-substance
in the hair shorn at a girl's first tonsure that it is buried
at the foot of a barren tree to bring fruit as luxuriant as her
tresses. The abundance of this substance in hair and teeth makes
it politic to sacrifice all save a lock of a Malay boy's hair
and to file off part of a child's teeth at puberty: formerly
the stumps were blackened, it has been surmised, to conceal from
the spirits the partial nature of the sacrifice. In old days
warriors especially, like Samson, wore their hair long and uncut.
And after a death relatives used to sacrifice some or all of
their locks so that the dead might not revisit them. The history
of Pasai tells of a Malay princess born from a bamboo whose life
was bound up with one golden hair that glittered among her raven
tresses: when her consort pulled it out, white blood gushed forth
and she died.
The Malay's respect for saliva is shown by the deputing of
a courtier to take charge of the royal cuspidore on ceremonial
occasions. The midwife spits on the baby she welcomes into the
world. This is a gift of a portion of one's self, a pledge of
union and good-will, a diluted form of blood-covenant. Religious
teachers of piety and learning are invited by parents to spit
upon a child's head or into his mouth to endow him with intelligence
and facility for learning to recite the Quran. The saliva of
a living saint brings benefits to the credulous. For medicinal
purposes saliva is often reinforced by scarlet betel juice. At
a sacrifice in Malacca to the earth spirit before the planting
out of the young rice a man walked round the field, spitting
rice from his mouth, probably not a mere offering of food but
a bond of union between himself and the earth to which his rice-plants
were to be entrusted.
After-birth is full of soul-substance, and dropping on the
earth can generate evil spirits. In many charms the magician
threatens such spirits with knowledge of their origin:-
I know the origin whence ye sprang!
When the discharge before birth began,
A drop of blood fell to the earth,
Creating genies of the earth, goblins of the soil.
The soul may be attacked through objects that have come into
contact with its owner. One way to abduct a girl's soul is to
"take sand or earth from her foot-print or from her garden
path or the front of her door or from her carriage wheels or
her pony's hooves." Frying this soul-substance in oil, one
recites a charm:-
I am burning the liver, the heart, the lusts and passions
of my beloved,
So that she is broken and hot with love,
Madly in love with me and restless,
Burning as this sand burns.
The personal soul may depart in sleep "what it sees the
man dreams." A well-known Malay quatrain tells how a girl
pats her pillow and calls upon her lover's soul, which comes
to her in dreams. Sudden awakening, fright or sorcery may separate
soul from body for ever. Then the house of life will fall into
disrepair and, unless the shaman or medicine-man can recall the
wanderer, the body will die. The shaman's personal soul quits
his body in a trance to hold intercourse with spirits. The soul
may leave the human frame and enter that of a tiger to prey upon
The Negrito of the Malay Peninsula conceives a man's soul
to have human shape, to be red like blood, and no bigger than
a grain of maize. A Besisi legend finds it in a person's shadow.
Both these conceptions of the soul in its personal aspect recur
in the beliefs of the Malay.
The soul is in the shadow of the physical body. One should
not walk upon a person's shadow, the agriculturist must not hack
his own shadow and the magician, to establish and vaunt his invulnerable
strength, will declare his shadow to be "the shadow of one
beloved by Allah and the Prophet and angels forty-and-four."
The personal soul is in one's name. The Malay is reluctant
to utter his own name lest breathing it he may part with a piece
of his soul-substance: a third party must be asked to divulge
the secret. A child receives a tentative name before the umbilical
cord is cut, but if the infant falls sick the name will be regarded
as unlucky and changed to mislead the spirits of disease. A name
like 'Abdu'l-Qadir may offend the Muslim saint who founded the
great religious order. Some parents even call their children
by such names as "Ugly" or "Fool" in order
to persuade demons that they are unattractive prey. It is desirable
always to disguise one's real name. An adult Malay is often known
as "father (or mother) of so-and-so." A neighbour calls
her friend's husband "your house." A Perak man refers
to his wife as "the person at home" or "my rice-bag,"
a Perak woman to her husband as "my chopper." The Malay
seldom mentions the names of close relations, alluding to them
as "elder brother," "younger sister," "grandad,"
"mother-in-law," and so on. Of the dead person he speaks
as "that soul," using an Arabic word. To his ruler
he refers as "Lord" or "He-under-whose-feet-we-are":
and the life name of a dead Sultan is always dropped for a new
Arabic title, "The Deceased on whom Allah have mercy",
"Allah's Great Saint," "The Friend of Allah,"
"The Deceased who was strong." The mention of Siva
is rare in Malay charms, the god was invoked as the "Supreme
Teacher"; and the worldly Malay Muslim in ordinary talk
speaks of Allah simply as "Lord," both practices suggestive
of a tabu of divine names. The Malay is afraid even to attract
the spirits of beasts. In the jungle the dreaded tiger is "grandfather."
On a mine the elephant, whose heavy feet and roving trunk can
undo the work of puny men, must be called "the tall one,"
the blundering water-buffalo "the unlucky one,"the
poisonous snake "the live creeper." In Patani Bay fishermen
call a crocodile the "gap-toothed thingummy-bob," a
goat or sheep "the baabaa," a buffalo "moo,"
a sea-snake "the weaver's sword," a tiger "stripes,"
a monkey "Mr. Long Tall," a vulture "bald-head,"
a Buddhist monk "the yellow one," and sea-spirits "thingummies."
Smallpox in many places is termed "the complaint of the
good folk." The mention of the real name may attract the
capricious attention of the lords of the sea, the spirit of a
disease, a human ghost, a king, a mammal or a mother-in-law:
it may also frighten away such elusive things as ore in a mine
or camphor in a tree. So on a tin-mine the ore must be called
"grass-seed " and the metal "white stone."
Collectors of camphor use an elaborate tabu vocabulary of aboriginal,
rare and artificial words: the bamboo is called "the drooper,"
bananas "the fruit in rows," bees "seeds on branches,"
blood "sap," a cat "the kitchen tiger," a
fire-fly "a torch for the eyes," the nose "the
smeller," the jaws "the chewers," a bed "the
cuddling place," and so on. Not only is the name of camphor
itself avoided, but no words are uttered which might lead the
tree to suspect that Malays were in search of its treasures.
So human in anger and fear are trees and minerals and beasts.
For there is no difference between the soul of man and the
soul of beasts and plants and objects. As the soul of man can
take the form of insect or bird, it is easy to figure him re-incarnated
in animal form. The deer was a man who died of abscess on the
leg. The tiger wears the stripes he earned as a naughty school-boy.
The elephants have a city where they live in the shape of men.
Limes can be used to abduct the soul of an elephant as well as
the soul of a girl. The solid-casqued hornbill was a malicious
son-in-law, the argus pheasant once a woman. In using dogs to
hunt deer, the magician reminds them of that common kinship which
in a Malay folk-tale makes the house-dog a fitting bridegroom
for his master's daughter, and he urges them by promise of relationship
or marriage with the quarry
Dogs, like rice, are close friends of man and have personal
names and souls.
To make it bear fruit the durian tree is beaten like a naughty
child. "There are plants to which a particularly strong
soul-substance is attributed, on account of their tough vital
power. Among all Indonesians, Dracoena terminalis stands
foremost. It is the sacred plant, which is used by magicians
in all their proceedings, and whose strong soul-substance they
try to transfer to man." Moreover, plants, like men, have
this substance in every part of them. Take the tree, where wild
bees nest. Its root is called the Seated Raja, its stem the Trailing
Raja, its branch the Pendent Raja, its leaf the Soaring Raja-in
Malay the word Raja denotes either sex. Similar names are given
to the parts of the lime tree, and the spirits of the parts of
the eagle-wood tree are called expressly princesses. The aesthetic
side of such nomenclature is a side issue to the Malay. To the
coconut palm he ascribes definitely seven souls, named after
princesses whose "neck" the tapper seizes, whose blossom-like
"hair" he rolls up, for whose juice he holds an ivory
"bath," where the princesses may "clap their hands
and chase one another." Like rajas and spirits, the camphor
tree is addressed with a special tabu vocabulary. Formerly there
were seven experts required to take camphor, as there are seven
midwives required to bring a raja into the world.
The camphor princess lives in the tree, which is her house.
Once she was wooed in her human form by a man. When he broke
her command and recited to his ruler the magical chants his bride
had taught him, she became a cicada and flew up into a coconut
palm. So the soul-substance of a camphor tree may appear in either
shape, as the soul of rice may appear as a grasshopper or be
treated as a human baby. The soul of the rattan is in its tiny
mimic, the stick-insect. The soul-substance of eagle-wood, the
coconut palm and of man is conceived as a bird. Therefore, souls
are summoned by the burring call of the housewife to her chicken,
and rice is sprinkled over a man to retain his soul in his body.
Stress was laid rather on the soul's power of flight than on
any definition of this symbol until the Malay philologist studying
the Muslim cosmogony discovered the soul in the Nur-i-Muhammad
(the Radiance of Muhammad) and identified the bird in his bosom
as the Prophet's parrot (nuri Muhammad)!
The flutter of the heart, the vital spark in the firefly,
the stridulous telegraphy of the cicada in a tree, the rustling
flight of a bird from its branches, an uncanny likeness and the
anthropomorphic learnings of men explain the origin of these
conceptions. Possibly association of colour has led to the soul
of tin-ore being detected in the buffalo and the soul of gold
in the barking deer, an animal often described in Malay romance
as golden and stamped on the obverse of the tiny gold dinar
minted in Kelantan. A Besisi legend speaks of a bright snake
with seven souls in the form of iridescent rainbows. The ascription
of seven souls to men and trees, when the soul-substance has
so many hosts and so many shapes, is a moderate estimate based
on the worldwide regard for the number seven.
In Negri Sembilan the soul of a house is said to appear as
a cricket. The Patani fishermen think that even a boat has an
individual soul (maya), generally invisible, to keep it
from dissolution. It is lucky to hear the chirping sound of this
soul. It is luckier still to see the soul. That of a dug-out
manifests itself as a fire-fly, that of a large boat as a snake,
that of a ship as a person either male or female according to
the qualities of the vessel. If ill fortune at sea reveals that
the soul of his boat is weak, the fisherman engages a magician
to feed it with offerings laid on each rib. There is no soul
until all planks have been fitted and the hull can be properly
called a boat. It is dangerous to keep a perfect neolithic celt
(which the Malay takes to be a meteorite), as it has life and
will attract lightning to disappear in the flash, but chipped
or damaged the stone is dead and harmless.
Hard objects have strong soul-substance, of which magic makes
good use. The sick are rubbed with bezoar-stones. A candle-nut,
a stone and an iron nail are employed both at the birth of a
child and at the taking of the rice baby. The drinking of water
in which iron has been put strengthens an oath, for the soul
of the metal will destroy a perjurer. Applied to the wound, the
blades of some daggers can extract the venom from a snake-bite,
and the mere invocation of magnetic steel will help to join parted
VI. THE RITUAL OF THE RICE-FIELD
IN the magic safe-guarding rice from seed-time to harvest
survives the primitive ritual of the Indonesian race. Strip away
the obvious accretions, the names of Hindu deities, the thin
Muslim veneer, and the essence of the ritual remains intact in
Malaya to-day. It deals with the soul-substance, human, animal,
vegetable, with the spirits of dead magicians, nature-spirits
and Father Sky and Mother Earth. Except for Sky and Earth the
spirits invoked lack the omnipresence and individuality of gods,
bear generic names and are indefinite in number. Their sphere
is a particular district. They inhabit the rice-field, the thick
jungle, the rays of the setting sun. No temples are erected in
their honour. The customary and symbolic rites that persuade
them to friendly relations with man can be enacted in a forest
clearing, in the corner of a rice swamp, on the floor of a village
barn. No shaman or priest of Siva or Muslim elder presides. The
magician has the narrow scope of the spirits he serves. He belongs
to one small village or humble district. Often the rites controlling
the growth of rice are conducted by an old Malay woman, relic
of the far distant past when man hunted and killed, and woman,
the bearer of young, delved, lending the benign influence of
her motherhood to make crops prolific. Among many aborigines
this older custom is observed and the rites are celebrated not
by a man but by a woman, fitting midwife for the rice-baby. Still
in parts of the country agricultural implements are given by
the Malay groom to his bride as a wedding present.
Before starting to fell a clearing for rice, the farmer takes
a lump of benzoin on a plate wrapped in a white cloth as a present
to the local magician, a survivor in Malay culture whose trust
is "first in God, next in His Prophet, and then in the magicians
of old, the ancestral spirits who own the clumps and clods "
of the locality. This expert recites charms over the benzoin
and returns it to the planter with traditional instructions.
First he is to burn the benzoin in a bamboo conch and fumigate
his adzes and choppers, praying to the guardian spirits, male
and female, newly dead and dead long since, to be cool and propitious.
Then he is to stand erect facing eastward and look round at the
four quarters of the heavens; he is to notice at which quarter
his breath feels least faint and begin to fell in that
[1. Except where acknowledgment is made to
other sources, the following account is based on two manuscripts
written for me by Perak Malay headmen twelve years ago. It contains
certain interesting details hitherto not noted in the Peninsula.]
direction. After one or two hacks at the trees he must cease
work for the day.
When the time comes to burn the clearing, the man gets more
benzoin from the magician, furnigates his torches, lights them
and cries thrice to spirits of all sorts, Indonesian, Indian,
Persian, Arabian, to goblins with a Sanskrit name, to indigenous
vampires, and goblins of the soil, saying that the magician has
duly informed them of his desire to burn, that he himself has
paid them due respect, and that trusting to the luck of his instructor
he hopes for a favourable breeze. Very early in the morning after
the burn he and his wife and children must hurry to mitigate
the smart of the half-burnt clearing with water in which are
steeped cold rice from last night's meal, a slice from the cool
heart of a gourd, and other vegetable products chosen for their
natural frigidity or appropriately cool names. Also a little
maize should be planted. All this must be done before Grannie
Kemang can get up and sow rank weeds that will flourish and provide
hiding places for goblin pests. Before quitting the clearing,
one should pile and singe three rows of the unburnt brushwood.
Then one must go home and wait three days before completing the
The next important occasion is the planting of the rice-seed.
In Perak and Kedah the time for this is taken from observation
of the Pleiades. "When at 4.30 a.m. or thereabouts a few
grains of rice slip off the palm of the hand, the arm being outstretched
and pointed at the constellation, or when, the arm being so directed,
the bracelet slides down the wrist, it is considered to be time
to put down the rice nursery." In some places the planter
is guided by observation of the sun, calculating from the time
when it is thought to be exactly overhead at noon. Others "keep
the seed-grain in store for a certain definite period, that varies
with the character of the grain and may be anything between four
and seven months.... This period of rest is vital to the productive
power of the seed." The flooding of some stream, the fruiting
of certain trees also afford rough local indications to supply
the defect of the misleading Muhammadan lunar calendar.
A seed plot is chosen where the soil smells sweet. It is partitioned
off by four sticks into a square of a prescribed size. Here both
Sakai and Malays sometimes practise a method of divination. Water
in a coconut shell and leaves are placed within the square. If
the next morning finds the leaves undisturbed, the water unspilt
and the frame unmoved, the spot is auspicious; it remains only
to plant rice-seed in seven holes within the square as custom
A stick, if possible of a special kind of wood (termed the
"tortoise's chest") which has grown on an anthill,
must be cut fresh on the morning of the ceremony to make the
"mother dibble." It must be in length thrice the span
between a woman's thumb and ring-finger and it must be peeled.
A match or "twin" for the mother dibble must also be
prepared, of any wood, unpecled, three cubits and three ring-fingers
long. Another dibble is selected by the magician from the heap
of dibbles brought by the planters. A pretty leafy shrub is got
ready to make a " plaything " for the seed. The leader
of the village mosque chants prayers for all souls. Then those
Next, with a white cloth about his head the magician squats,
facing the east. The big toe of his right foot is above the big
toe of his left, and he recites charms over benzoin. He fumigates
the mother dibble, her "match" and the other dibble,
and sprinkles them with rice-paste, does the same to the other
tools, and the same thrice to the earth in the middle of the
chosen square. He holds out to the four quarters of heaven seven
packets of sweet rice, seven sugar-canes, seven bamboos containing
rice cooked in them, the Malay's most primitive cooking-pot,
and rice parched, yellow and white. He lifts the mother dibble
in both hands, holds it across his head, its point towards the
right. After reciting charms he holds it above his shoulder point
to earth, and digs it into the middle of the square, withdraws
it and then plants it firm and erect in the hole. Next he plants
the twin or duplicate, and then the leafy shrub. He ties the
mother dibble, her "twin" and the shrub together with
bark, and decorates the mother dibble with a creeper whose name
denotes increase. At the foot of the mother dibble he sets a
bamboo containing rice from the freak ears most favoured for
the rice-baby as certain to contain the rice soul, a rod of iron,
a stone worn smooth in a waterfall, and three quids of betel.
On the shrub he hangs seven packets of sweet rice, seven sugar
canes, seven kinds of banana, seven sorts of jungle fruit, apparently
to attract and keep the seven souls of the rice. He charms the
third dibble and, before planting it also by the side of the
mother dibble, uses it to make seven holes, saying as he makes
them: "Peace be unto thee, Solomon, Prophet of Allah, prince
of all the earth! I would sow rice for seed. I pray thee protect
it from all danger and mischance."
After fumigating two handfuls of rice he holds it with his
right hand above his left and sprinkles it with cool rice-water
of the kind made for his burnt clearing and with the rice-paste
used in all magical ceremonies. (In Negri Sembilan as he does
this he recites a verse
The rice-paste is taken from a coconut shell (or in modern
days from a soap-dish!), in which there have also been steeped
a nail and husked rice. It is applied with a brush of herbs whose
vigorous growth or lucky names ("the reviver", "the
full one") are calculated to benefit the seed, body and
soul. Going to the first hole the magician cries: "Peace
be unto thee, Solomon, Prophet of God, prince of all the earth!
Peace be unto you, genies and goblins of the soil! Peace be unto
my father the Sky and my mother the Earth! Peace be unto you,
guardian father, guardian mother! I would send my child, daughter
of Princess Splendid to her mother. I would bid her sail on the
sea that is black, the sea that is green, the sea that is blue,
the sea that is purple. For six months I send her, and in the
seventh I will welcome her back. It is not seed I plant: it is
rice-grain." Holding his breath, he puts the seed into the
seven holes. When he releases his breath, he does it gently and
with averted face.
The rice-paste he buries beside the mother dibble and turns
the coconut shell, its receptacle, upside down on the surface
of the ground, fumigating it and passing a censer three times
round it. Then he rises from his task.
Children rush to pick the sweet offerings from the shrub,
though one offering at least must be left on its branches. The
leader of the mosque intones prayers in honour of the Prophet.
Men seize the dibbles, women the seed. With shouts and laughter
the sexes strive to outdo one another in speed at their respective
tasks. Before he goes home the owner of the field removes from
the square the bamboo filled with rice. This cereal is eaten
for the evening meal by himself and his family, but no stranger
may partake of it.
If it is dry hill rice, the seed has been sown over the field
from the first and no transplanting is required. If the rice
is to be planted in an irrigated field, the seed is sown in a
nursery and forty-four days later the young shoots are transplanted.
That wet rice cultivation is less primitive is perhaps shown
by the omission in many districts of all charms at this function,
though again seven bunches are planted first, along with a banana
plant and three stems of the Clinogyne grandis, and a fence is
built round them. (In Negri Sembilan the following invocation
is addressed to spirits:-
O Langkesa! O Langkesi!
Spirits of the field ye are four!
Counting me we are five!
Hurt not nor harm my child!
Break faith and ye shall be stricken
By the iron that is strong,
By the majesty of Pagar Ruyong
(Home of our royal house),
By the thirty chapters of the Quran.
Allah fulfil my curse!)
After this preliminary rite no work is done for the rest of
the day. On the morrow the seedlings are planted out by women,
who must neither drop the young plants nor speak. A wooden dibble
is used in remote districts; elsewhere a dibble with a steel
point that bears the euphemistic name of "the goat's hoof."
"This instrument carries from five to nine seedlings at
once and is used seven times in quick succession." While
each of seven bunches of seedlings are being planted the tongue
must be "pressed against the roof of the mouth." At
this season a propitiatory sacrifice is sometimes offered to
the earth spirits. If dry rice is being cultivated, this is done
about the time the rice begins to swell. From about the fourth
month of its growth no stranger may enter the field.
As soon as the ear has swollen large, the farmer cooks sweet
rice in a bamboo and invites the magician, the leader of the
mosque, and other worthies to the feast of "splitting the
bamboo." Nightly now rubbish and stinking herbs are burnt
to scare evil spirits.
When the crop is ripe for harvest, the magician has to "take
the souls of the rice." For two evenings he walks round
the edge of the field, coaxing and collecting them. On the third
he enters the field to search for their host, looking about for
ears of royal yellow, certain types of freak ear reminding one
of a veiled or laughing princess, ears on stalks interlaced,
ears from stalks with a lucky bird's nest at the root. When he
has found a suitable host, he ties seven stalks with bark and
fibre and many coloured thread having a nail attached to it,
and slips the nail into the middle of the bunch. Thrice before
the cutting of the seven stalks is performed the magician walks
round them bidding malicious earth spirits avaunt:-
"Goblins of latter days! Goblins of the beginning! Goblins
one hundred and ninety! Goblins under my feet and subjection!
Goblins that creep into baskets and round stalks! Goblins of
hill and mountain and plain! Goblins mine! Get ye back and aside
or I will curse ye."
Early the next morning the leader of the mosque mounts a covered
shelter in the field and intones prayers in honour of the Prophet.
A feast follows. When evening is about to fall, the magician
and an assistant and the farmer walk up to the plant chosen the
day before. A puzzle ring is carried to hang on the stalks. The
magician, his head covered with a white cloth, draws near. Taking
care lest his shadow fall on the seven stalks, he fumigates them
and, sprinkling rice-paste, grasps them gingerly, hiding in his
palm a tiny blade, whose handle is carved in the shape of a bird
for disguise. He bows his head to the ground and mutters a traditional
Soul of my child, Princess Splendid!
I sent you to your mother for six months, to receive you growing
tall in the seventh month.
The time is fulfilled, and I receive you.
I told you to sail to the sea that is black, the sea that is
green, the sea that is blue, and the sea that is purple,
To the land of Rome, to India, China, and Siam.
Now I would welcome you up into a palace hall, To a broidered
mat and carpet.
I would summon nurses and followers,
Subjects and soldiers and court dignitaries for your service;
I would assemble horses and elephants, ducks and geese, buffaloes
and goats and sheep with all their din.
Come, for all is ready I would call you hither,
Soul of my child, Princess Splendid!
Come., my crown and my garland, flower of my delight!
I welcome you up to a palace-hall,
To a broidered mat and carpet.
Soul of my child, Princess Splendid!
Come! I would welcome you!
Forget your mother and wet-nurse.
White and black and green and blue and purple get ye aside!
Brightness of genie and devil begone!
The real brightness is the brightness of my child.
Clearly the four seas must symbolize the black earth of the
newly-tilled fields, and the carpet of green rice-plants changing
tint from light to dark until the harvest.
The magician lifts his head. Skyward and all around he gazes
for the advent of the rice-soul. With the sound of a breeze it
appears either in the form of a grasshopper or other insect or
in the shape of a girl, Grannie Kemang. If it fails at first
to come, the repetition of the most coaxing lines of the invocation
three times is certain to fetch it. The magician holds his breath,
shuts his eyes, sets his teeth, and with one cut severs the ears
from the seven stalks. Like a midwife holding a new-born child,
he puts the ears in his lap and swaddles them in a white cloth.
This rice baby he hands to the owner of the land to hold. He
cuts seven more clusters of grain from round the plant whence
"she" was taken and puts them along with an egg and
a golden banana into the basket prepared for the baby. The rice-baby
is cradled among brinjal leaves, a stone and a piece of iron,
and under a canopy of cool creepers and bark and fibre and coloured
thread. The magician smears the seven stalks from which the ears
were cut with clay, "as medicine for their hurt from the
knife," and hides them under neighbour stalks that are whole.
Then facing the east, he touches the maimed stalks and cries:-
Ho ancestresses whose rice-fields shone at the coming of
our first king!
Grow here, maidens, in clumps!
Establish your home here!
If the seven tiers of heaven are shaken,
Then only shall my child, Princess Splendid, be shaken;
If the seven layers of earth are shaken,
Then only shall my child, Princess Splendid, be shaken;
Else shall she be established as rock, firm as iron
From this world unto the world hereafter,
Established in limbs and body with father and mother.
Only if the Prophet be parted from Allah
Shall you be parted from me.
The magician kisses the rice-stalks and heads the procession
carrying the rice-baby home. The farmer is addressed as the father
of the baby and his wife as the mother. She and her children
are waiting and, as she takes the basket from her husband, the
woman exclaims:-"Dear heart! My life! My child! How I have
longed for your return from your voyage! Every day of your absence,
every month, all the year I've missed you. Now you've returned
safe and sound! Come! Your room is ready." She kisses the
rice-baby three times. The magician fumigates and sprinkles a
spot for the cradle. Then he takes the egg out of the cradle
and breaks it. If there is an empty space at the top of the egg,
it is a poor omen; if at either side of it, a good; but if the
shell is quite full, the omen is so good that it must be greeted
with an offering of yellow rice and a spatchcock. The egg and
the golden banana must be eaten by the farmer and his family,
and no one else may taste them. For three days the household
must keep vigil, the fire may not be quenched, the food in the
cooking-pots may not be finished, no one may go down from the
house or ascend to it. Thus all the precautions fitting for a
new-born child must be observed. During the three days following
these birth tabus, one small basket of ears a day may be reaped,
and the reaper must work silently, not gaze around, and guard
against his shadow falling on the plants as he would guard against
another's shadow falling on his own. On the seventh day reaping
may begin in earnest, but the yield for that day is devoted to
a feast in honour of the spirits of dead magicians, the forebears
who have charge of the district.
The rice won on the seventh day is trodden out on a mat, and
winnowed in a sieve. Then the grain is placed on a mat in the
middle of the garden along with brinjal leaves, a stone from
a waterfall, an iron nail, a candle-nut, three cockle-shells,
a creeper and the inverted rattan stand of a cooking-pot on which
is put a coconut shell full of water (to quench the thirst of
the parching grain). Around this stand the grain is spread, nor
may it be left unwatched until the sun has dried it.
In some parts of the Peninsula there is a "harvest dance
that forms part of the procedure of gathering in the rice. The
performers are a band of some fifteen or twenty young children,
both boys and girls, who carry winnowing-sieves and other tools
of the harvester. The troop is invited forward by an old woman
taking up her position on the threshing screen and singing to
the children, who respond by dancing and putting questions for
the old lady to answer in verse. When the spectators are weary
of the dancing and singing the performance is brought to an end
in the following very curious way. The girl-leader of the children's
chorus sings a verse that purports to be a charm ' making all
things brittle.' Having done so (doubtless with the idea of making
the threshing easier) she leads her band of dancers to the screen
by way of testing the efficacy of the magic. The children tramp
and stamp on the screen; and when a lath has shown its brittleness
by breaking, the charm is supposed to have done its work and
the dance ends."
The next process is to pound the rice in a wooden mortar.
Again the mortar must be hung with bark, black fibre, coloured
thread and cool-named leaves. Allah and the Prophet are invoked.
The pestle crushes the grain slowly three, five or seven times,
and then may work at ordinary speed. The rice crushed, the "eldest
child of the year," is cooked in a spray-hung pot and eaten
at a feast.
The last and biggest feast of the rice year is "the Malay
harvest home. Each planter keeps open house in turn, when all
his friends come to help him tread out his grain. Even the reverend
elders assume for the time the manner of children and verses
are bandied with the gentle licence characteristic of Malay junketings."
Games, theatricals (and formerly buffalo-fights) formed part
of the celebrations. Tithes are paid to the mosque and fees to
The magician presides over the first storing of the grain
in the barn. Again, brinjal leaves, a stone from a waterfall,
a piece of iron, a candle-nut or better three candle-nuts, a
plant with a fine healthy name, three cockle-shells, a piece
of torch, all covered with the ancestral rice-measure and the
measure covered with the rattan stand of a cooking-pot hung with
bark and fibre and coloured thread-on these solid soul-strengthening
foundations he pours the grain from the three basketfuls of rice
cut near the sheaf whence the rice-baby was taken. The shepherd
of souls has performed his final task and the remainder of the
grain is left for the farmer to pile.
Some of the ears that go to make up the rice-baby will be
mixed with next year's seed and some with next year's magic rice-paste
used at all functions by the Malay magician.
This account of the ritual of the rice-year in the Malay Peninsula
can be supplemented from other sources. Nearly a century ago
in Province Wellesley the seed was twice measured before being
sown in the nursery "in order to ascertain that none had
escaped preternaturally." There, too, sometimes seven stalks
were cut for the rice-baby, sometimes two only, a male and a
female, on each side of which a gold or silver ring was tied
before they were wrapped together in a white cloth. The most
notable point in the Perak account is that the farmer and his
wife are regarded as the father and mother of the rice-soul.
In Malacca the sheaf from which the baby is cut is called the
mother, treated like a woman after childbirth and reaped by the
farmer's wife. In ancient Greece there was confusion as to the
moment when Demeter, the corn-mother, changed into Persephone,
the corn-daughter, and in many other countries the bucolic mind
has glozed over this difficulty.
The charming of hatchets, the dibble cut from a special tree
likely by sympathetic magic to influence the quality of the rice-plant,
the dibbling of seven holes in a special plot, the holidays prescribed
after felling and sowing and reaping, the seven ears for the
rice-soul, the various communal feasts throughout the rice-year,
all these are found among the Proto-Malay tribes of Malaya.
In Negri Sembilan, where matrilineal custom laughs at the
proscriptions of Islam, girls and men bandy Malay pantun,
half verse half riddle, one with another as they work in the
fields. Comparison with planting rites in other lands has suggested
that riddles are a survival of a tabu language, employed not
to frighten the soul of a cereal by direct reference to the processes
The symbolism of the ritual will be clear to any one who has
grasped the primitive Malay notion of the soul. The soul of the
rice in the field is of the same stuff that villagers' are made
of and, figured in anthropomorphic form, is treated with the
care lavished on a new-born child.
The recognition by the animist of souls that may inhabit stock
or stone, man or plant, and quit its host to assume the shape
of tiger, grasshopper or girl, leads naturally to belief in disembodied
spirits that may enter man and make him sick, enter drum or stone
and make it a fetish, and act as capriciously as animals or human
beings. The idea of the survival of the soul apart from the body
leads also to the worship of ancestors. So in the ritual of the
rice-field there is continual reference to ancestral spirits
and goblins of the soil, the hill, the plain. Accordingly, every
three or four years before clearing their fields for planting
Malay husbandmen have a mock-combat to expel evil spirits. Sometimes
banana stems are the weapons wielded. Sometimes the two opposing
parties hurl thin rods with pared flat ends like that of an old-fashioned
stethoscope across a gully until a blow makes the face of one
of the combatants bleed and ends the fray. It has been suggested
that originally one of the parties in such mimic battles represented
the forces of evil. In Negri Sembilan the magician opens the
proceedings with this conjuration:-
In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
Ancestors that inhabit the layers of the earth!
Genies of the soil! Idols of iron!
Get ye aside, genies and devils!
Make way for the might of Allah!
You who thrust up to peer
Bow down, for as a tiger I pass by.
Genies and devils and goblins!
Trespass not where Allah hath forbidden,
Else are ye traitors to Him whose Being exists of necessity.
I know the origin whence ye sprang:
From the soil of Mount Meru ye were born,
In the clouds, called the Beautiful Billowy Ones!
In the sky, the Pendent Ones!
In the fig-tree, the Peerers!
In the water, the Crawlers!
In the paths, the Up-Stickers!
I have Allah's mandate!
His Prophet is my prop:
The recording angels fight for me;
The four archangels are my brethren;
I live in a fort with seven walls of steel.
Descend angels and protect me.
And cause my enemies to bow down;
Locked be the teeth and heart and spleen
Of all who purpose evil against me.
I know the origin of ye spirits of evil:
Ye were sprung from the serpent Sakti-muna!
May ye be afflicted and distressed;
When ye gaze, may your eyes be blinded,
And may your going be shameful and grovelling.
Grandsire! thou who dwellest in bay and reaches, upstream and
Dwellest on mountain and in forest and on mound,
In ravine and valley and spring and tree and rock!
Take thy soldiery, thy people and thy children
To the shady tree at the land's end
At the foot of Mount Kaf.
Keep me from harm and destruction
Or thou shalt be smitten by the majesty of God's word.
For God and Muhammad and His saints and Prophets
And the angels forty-and-four and the four archangels
Are with me.
Noah, guardian of earth!
Jacob, guardian of rock!
Luqman, guardian of iron!
Solomon, guardian of all living things!
I crave earth, water, wood and stone,
A place to build houses and hamlets and a country.
Ho! all living creatures,
We are all of one origin, all servants of God!
If ye harm or destroy me,
Ye shall be smitten by the word of God,
The miraculous power of Muhammad,
The sanctity of His saints and prophets,
By the four-and-forty angels,
The four archangels and the thirty chapters of the Quran!
Grandsire, save me from harm!
If thy eye offend me, God shall blind thee;
If thy hand molest me, God shall break it;
If thy heart purpose evil towards me,
It shall be crushed by the Apostle of God.
Another incantation follows to open the doors of the seven
heavens and the seven earths:-
Genies infidel and Muslim!
You and I are of one origin, both servants of God.
But ye are born of hell-fire,
And I of the light of the Prophet
Ye are children of Sakti-muna the serpent,
I am descended from the Prophet Adam;
Ye are followers of the Prophet Solomon,
I am a follower of the Prophet Muhammad.
You and I are servants of God.
Plague not the followers of Muhammad,
Else ye will be traitors to God,
To His Prophet and the four archangels
And the angels forty-and-four.
Genies and devils and goblins!
Get hence to the big leafy tree at the land's end
At the foot of Mount Kaf,
Else ye will be traitors to Him who was from the beginning
To God's house at Jerusalem, the primal land.
My altar is strewn with clods red and black:
Jinn! goblins! hence! and come ye not back.
This expulsion of demons, these incantations, this reference
to an altar introduces the shaman with his confident control
of the spirit world, his séances and periodical
sacrifices for the public welfare.
VII. THE MALAY SHAMAN'S SÉANCE
THE main tasks of the Siberian shaman are healing and divination.
His familiar spirit or spirits, possessing him their medium,
descend at a séance to cure the sick, avert evil,
foretell the future or answer enquiries. By auto-suggestion the
shaman falls or pretends to fall into a trance and is possessed
by spirits who speak through his mouth. All these are features
of the Malay séance, which resembles very closely
that of the Mongol shaman even in details of ritual: the beating
of a tambourine, wild singing, the rustle and voices of invisible
spirits, the expulsion or sucking out of the spirit of disease,
the medium on return to consciousness oblivious of what has passed,
the offerings made to spirits.
Information about the ritual of the aboriginal shaman of Malaya
is scanty but accords generally, so far as it goes, with what
might be expected. He performs mostly inside a round hut or circle
of some kind. He wears on his head a wreath of leaves with a
tuft, and he carries a switch of leaves. Often his hut is darkened.
Invocations are chanted to the sound of bamboo stampers clashed
on logs. One account states that the shaman strokes the evil
spirit out of a patient with his switch, and that he shouts and
shrieks to drive it into a cage or network of loops to be imprisoned
by his magic. Perhaps this is a vague description of the frenzy
The Malay séance is used to cure sickness; to
divine the whereabouts of lost or stolen property; to discover
if a princess shall bear a son or what the future holds for a
Mecca-bound pilgrim! There is a record of a séance
where earth spirits were entreated to allow a sacred rhinoceros
to be hunted. The object of the most famous séance
in the history of Perak remains obscure. Either it was to enquire
from the spirits of the State if a plot against the British Resident
would succeed or to ask their leave and help to take his life.
Sir Frank Swettenham has described how a spirit-raising séance
was conducted by a royal female shaman during the illness of
a ruler of Perak some thirty years ago. The magician, dressed
like a man, sat with veiled head before a taper, in her right
hand a sheaf of grass cut square at top and bottom. This sheaf
she took convulsively. The taper flared, a signal that the spirit
invoked was entering the candle. The magician, now supposed to
be in a trance, bowed to the taper "and to each male member
of the reigning family present!" After many spirits had
been invoked, the sick raja was brought out and seated on a sixteen-sided
stand (an improvement on the double pentacle called Solomon's
seat) to await, with shrouded head and a square bunch of grass
in his hand, the advent of the spirits of the State. Conducted
back to bed, His Highness fell later into a swoon attributed
to possession by those spirits! At this royal séance
the magician's daughter led an orchestra of "five or six
girls holding native drums, instruments with a skin stretched
over one side only" and beaten with the fingers.
At a humbler séance held in Perak there was
only one musician, the shaman's wife, a "wild-looking Moenad."
Her husband held a bunch of leaves in either hand. The musician
beat a one-sided drum and screamed out interminable chants. Her
husband began to nod drowsily, sniffed at his leaves, waved them
over his head, struck them together, and became possessed of
the shaman's usual familiar, a tiger-spirit, as shown by growls
and sniffing and crawling under a mat. Between the incantations
he accepted a cigarette and talked to the patient's family, using,
however, an aboriginal Sakai dialect. Possessed again of the
tiger-spirit he executed weird dances and sprinkled the sufferer
with rice-paste. Finally his tiger-spirit identified as the cause
of the patient's illness a dumb vampire (Langsuyar), to
be expelled neither by invocations nor the sprinkling of ricepaste.
Another magician accompanied by a male tambourine-player then
took his place. He held convulsively a single sheaf of grass
and became possessed by four spirits in succession but to no
purpose. Finally both magicians waved all evil spirits away from
the patient on to a miniature revolving model of a mosque, and
set it, filled with the flesh of a fowl and other delicacies,
adrift upon the river.
In an account of yet another séance in Selangor,
where to cure an ailment the magician became possessed by the
tiger-spirit, it is said that the ceremony usually took place
on three nights and that the same odd number of persons should
be present each time. For the reception of the spirit an artificial
bouquet of flowers, doves and centipedes, all made of palm-leaf,
was prepared. After an invocation the magician bathed himself
in incense, suffered spasmodic convulsions, spoke a spirit language,
became possessed, sat with shrouded head, lit tapers on the edges
of three jars of water, and rubbed the patient with a bezoar
stone. Then donning a white coat and head-cloth, he fumigated
a dagger, dropped silver coins into the three jars, and gazed
to see their position under the three tapers, declaring that
it indicated the gravity of the patient's illness. Scattering
handfuls of charmed rice round the jars, he put into them improvised
bouquets of areca-palm. blossom, and plunged his dagger into
each bouquet to dispel lurking spirits of evil. Another sheaf
of palm-blossom he anointed with oil and used for stroking the
patient from head to heel. Next he was possessed by the tiger-spirit,
scratched, growled and licked the naked body of the patient.
He drew blood from his own arm, with the point of his dagger
and fenced with his invisible spirit foe. Once more he stroked
the patient with the sheaf of blossom and with his hands. Again
he stabbed the bouquets, stroked the patient, and after lying
still for an interval recovered consciousness.
In Perak a séance is known as "possession
by spirits": in Kelantan as "the play of the fairy
princess." This Kelantan ceremony is performed for three
or sometimes seven nights in succession. It is repeated after
a week or so if the sick person's condition improves. Besides
the shaman there are three musicians, one to strum on a three-stringed
viol, one to beat a brass bowl with pieces of bamboo, one a drummer.
The shaman recites a long invocation to the four archangels,
the friends of the Prophet, the seven miracle-workers, and the
father of all genies, explaining that not he but Luqman al-Hakim
is offering them a little rice and water and a quid of betel.
Next the musician with the viol chants a song with an orthodox
introduction but ending with an invocation to the spirits of
the village, various nature-spirits, the Spectre Huntsman and
Siva, begging them to recall any of their followers plaguing
the sick man. The shaman shrouds and fumigates himself and falls
into a trance. The orchestra plays frantically. A chant, disguised
by the phrases of Muslim medico-religious lore, invites the spirit
of the fairy princess to enter the medium. The shaman nods and
whirls his head violently; his eyes are closed and he is possessed
by spirit after spirit until he has chosen the one he desires
to retain. Gazing at the flame of a candle he reports the cause
of the patient's illness. He sucks or pretends to suck the body
of the sick man and starts another chant full of pantheistic
Muslim lore declaring that man's body is God's house and no place
for spirits of evil. This exorcism eventually transfers the spirit
from the patient into the shaman, who has to dispel it thence
with the help of one of his familiars.
Should the patient recover, a final séance takes
place at which there is a sacrificial offering. The patient is
bathed in charmed water from three jars and has three rings of
thread drawn over him from head to heel. "At Penpont, in
Dumfriesshire, the emissary of a patient, when he reached the
(holy) well, I had to draw water in a vessel which was on no
account to touch the ground, to turn himself round with the sun,
to throw his offering to the spirit over his left shoulder, and
to carry the water without ever looking back to the sick person.
All this was to be done in absolute silence, and he was to salute
no one by the way.'" In Pahang when a Malay woman fetches
water from the river for a sick person's séance,
she must let it trickle into her vessel slowly without gurgling,
she must cover the mouth of the full vessel with leaves and she
must not speak to any one while carrying it.
In Kelantan there are several milder forms of exorcism, practised
by traffickers with special spirits, such as the nature spirits
of yellow sunsets and the echo spirits. In one, where, however,
there is no music and recitations take the place of chants, the
shaman becomes possessed and waves over the sufferer a leather
puppet figure of Smar from the Javanese shadow-play! If
recovery ensues, among the final sacrificial offerings a model
of a wayside resting-place is reserved with dainties for Siva.
The séance to "revive" (memuleh)
the Perak regalia has never been described. The duties of the
Sultan Muda or State magician were to be chief of all magicians
and to know their merits, to attend royalty in sickness, to pay
homage to the genies presiding over the destinies of Perak, and
to give annually a feast to the spirits inhabiting the regalia.
At the séance preceding this feast the palace would
be full of shrouded magicians, each invoking his or her familiar.
The Sultan Muda sat veiled, a bunch of grass in his hand, while
the chief musician called upon the genies in order of precedence
to descend and bring their thousand attendant spirits. "Come
down to the gate of this world! Pass in procession to the posy,
your place to alight. In your might lies the might of our Sultan.
Come around, pass into the posy, your place to alight, and enter
your jewelled curtain." As each spirit entered the posy,
the chant ceased and the sound of the tambourines was stilled.
Meanwhile some humble musician would be crying on the tiger-spirit:-"Warrior!
Son of a warrior! Matchless in might! Come, my lord! Come, my
life! Descend into this posy, your alighting place, and pass
into your jewelled curtain. Come by the blessing of 'Ali, the
spirit who hangs at the door of the sky." And as the tiger-spirit
came, the village magician who had invoked him would turn about
seven times and leap and growl, as his familiar asked why he
had been summoned. The magician would answer:-"You have
been invited because our lord has got ready a hall and is inviting
the Sultan of the Impalpable Air and all his followers to a feast
upon the morrow and he hopes that no harm may befall them on
the way." Speaking through the magician, the spirit answers:-"It
is well. I and my subjects can be present. The bad I will not
bring." So spirit after spirit was raised and invited until
the Sultan Muda gave the signal to retire.
The next morning the Sultan Muda, the Raja Kechil Muda and
their tambourine players went with rice-paste and turmeric and
censers to superintend the building of a nine-storeyed hall,
surmounted by a model of a fabulous bird, Jatayu (offspring of
Vishnu's Garuda) that lives on dew. It was adorned with palm-streamers
from which hung woven boxes of rice, cakes, sugar-cane and bananas:
on the topmost tier was the severed head of a pink buffalo, surrounded
by water-vessels. An altar on sixteen posts was erected with
offerings for spirits not connected with the destinies of the
State. Two bamboo conches served to hold food for hungry spirits
of the dead (karamat). At dusk the Sultan Muda mounted and waved
from the nine-storeyed hall. The others waved beside the altar
and the conches. Then the Raja Kechil Muda fell into a trance
and with shouts ascended to the mat prepared for him. Twelve
musicians beat tambourines and chanted invocations to the genies
to leave the pools and plains of spirit-land and enter the jewelled
curtains and posies prepared for them. After a rest and refreshment
the magicians renewed their invocations. The tambourines and
drums of their assistants were answered by the thud of all the
royal drums and the blare of the royal trumpets. On the right
of the presiding magicians sat virgin princesses holding sacrificial
offerings on their laps, on the left young unmarried princes
supporting the regalia. Then the two chief magicians did obeisance
to the regalia, offered delicacies to "the thousand gcnies"
and poured upon the royal drums and into the royal trumpets drink,
which vanished miraculously as though imbibed. Finally, towards
dawn the Sultan Muda and his magicians fetched the ruler of the
State, and bathing His Highness bathed in his sacred person the
genies that presided over the destinies of his kingdom.
In Kelantan also when a feast was prepared to propitiate the
spirits of a district or to banish evil spirits from the countryside
a séance formed part of the ritual.
Exactly how the spirits visit the medium is not expressly
stated. They enter the flame of candles and cause them to flicker.
At the installation of a Sultan of Perak the guardian genies
of the State may inhabit the State sword and make it press upon
the ruler's shoulder. In the regalia ritual they are invited
to descend on posies (jinjang malai), perhaps flowers
stuck behind the ear of the magician, as the yellow chempaka
blossom is still stuck behind the ear of a ruler at his installation.
The convulsive shaking of the shaman's grass switch may indicate
that they enter there. Sweet jasmine attracts them. A Perak chief,
who knew how to make from the shroud and coffin of a murdered
man powder rendering spirits visible, enabled a friend at a séance
to see two women with streaming hair descend through the roof
and alight on the flower-vase, the artificial garden prepared
for their advent!
All the evidence points to the make-believe of the Malay shaman's
trance. One magician possessed by a spirit remembers court etiquette
sufficiently to bow to members of the royal family, and falls
down before a dish-cover the sight of which was anathema to the
spirit possessing her. Another toothless shaman asked why the
betel-nut has not been pounded, as the genie possessing him is
stricken with years. One possessed by a female spirit impersonates
a woman in his gait, and by arranging his dress to suit the part
is said to cause amusement to the spectators. Another showed
an anxious husband a hollow bamboo stopped up at either end.
"Therein he declared, recovered by his magic, was hair and
a fingernail of my wife, which some enemy had stolen. On no account
was the bamboo to be opened. But I was unbelieving, risked the
harm which old folks prophesied and broke the seals. Now my wife's
hair was fine as silk and this was as coarse as the hair of a
horse's tail; my wife's finger-nail was curved like the young
moon and delicate as pearl, and this nail was thick as the nail
on a man's thumb. It is a pity the white man has not made a law
to clap such rogues in gaol, but they shall be shut in Allah's
gaol hereafter, which is much worse."
There are parallels to the indication by a familiar of this
cause of a disease, but the two related to me were both examples
of a shaman's roguery. As a rule the object of a séance
for the sick is to expel or coax an evil spirit out of the sufferer's
body, sometimes into the shaman's own but usually on to a receptacle
VIII. THE SHAMAN'S SACRIFICE
AT "the primitive annual nocturnal rite" of feasting
the spirits of the regalia and State of Perak the head of a pink
buffalo was set on the topmost tier of the altar, the royal princesses
held bits of the sacrifice on their laps, and there was a feast
on the spot while drink was being poured upon the royal drums
and trumpets. The ceremony recalls Westermarck's theory that
the origin of sacrifice was the idea that supernatural beings,
having human wants and human needs, might suffer privation and
become feeble if offerings were not made to them. This account
of an annual feast to the guardian spirits of a Malay State can
be supplemented by records of parallel rituals to propitiate
beneficent spirits and expel evil influences from State, district
and sick men.
One account of the ritual to feast the spirits of a district
comes from Upper Perak. When the people of the place are agreed
as to the time of the celebration, each brings a measure of rice
and two coconuts. Candles are lit and the shaman burns incense,
invoking it as "born of the brain of Muhammad, the breath
of his spiritual life"! Next he calls upon "the ancestor
spirits, genies and goblins to whom the earth and water of the
district belong," and informs them that he is slaughtering
a pink buffalo, without blemish and with horns the size of a
man's closed fist, in order to invite the countryside to a feast.
He prays that they may cherish all from danger and hurt. The
buffalo is slaughtered and its blood caught in a bamboo. The
shaman removes and sets aside nose, eyes, ears, mouth, hooves,
legs and shoulders, tongue, tall, heart and liver, representative
of every part of the body. From the flesh of the carcase seven
kinds of food are prepared; soused, fried, boiled, toasted, and
so on, and one portion is left raw. In ancient China, also, offerings
were "of blood, of raw flesh and of sodden flesh."
A four-sided seven-tiered altar is built of palm stems. On the
topmost tier are placed the blood of the buffalo, the pieces
of the carcase set aside by the shaman, the seven kinds of meat,
seven cooked and seven raw eggs, and seven vessels of water.
On the five central tiers are spread sweetmeats; on the lowest
tier twenty-five cigarettes and twenty-five quids of betel. The
food not offered on the altar is eaten by those present. If there
is a surplus, it may not be removed: those who wish to eat it
must resort to the spot on the following day. At dusk the Muslim
audience depart, all except the shaman and one or two hardy assistants.
Circumambulating the altar, Malaya's primitive celebrant then
invoked the spirits to the feast and summoned them by burning
incense and waving a white cloth. Seven times he cried hail to
the spirits and then went away. For seven days no stranger might
enter the parish, no one might throw anything into it or take
anything forth, no one might use abusive language or cause leaf
or branch to wither.
In this and the Perak regalia feast have survived the elements
of one of the world's oldest ceremonies: the victim without spot,
the feast in which all partake before the altar, the blood that
is not left to fall upon the ground, the offering that must be
utterly consumed and that no stranger may approach, the celebration
by night or before dawn. Decay has marred the ritual. The Upper
Perak ceremony the Muslim villagers regard as an occasion for
junketing and, afraid or ashamed to be present, depart before
the most tremendous moment has arrived. Again, it is not a totem
but spirits who are approached, nature-spirits, spirits of the
dead, Arabian genies and the Prophet addressed as a shaman! Upon
them all the celebrant cries the peace of Allah.
In the regalia ritual there are four altars or receptacles
for the sacrifice, and their modern significance is explained.
In Kelantan, too, when a sick person recovers after the "play
of the princess," it is the custom to offer a sacrifice
on four altars or receptacles. On the model of a square five-storeyed
platform are placed "fish-a bit of skate, of shark, a crab,
a prawn; flesh-pieces of chicken, duck, goat and beef, both cooked
and raw; vegetables-various, both cooked and uncooked; boiled
rice of seven different colours; two kinds of intoxicating liquors
(arrack and toddy); some bananas; various kinds of cake, the
blood of a fowl, and parched rice. . . . . One silver dollar
is placed on each storey." This money is intended for "
the princess." Three tiny collections of the same things
in miniature, with a silver dollar to each, are put, one on a
square mat, another into a cradle-shaped basket termed "the
raja's hall," and the third upon a little platform half
way up a bamboo splayed into a conch. The princess descends and
proceeds to taste the offerings, beginning with those on the
small mat, going next to the model platform, and ending at the
cradle-like basket. The model platform is taken to the neighbouring
jungle and left there, but the small mat and the cradle, both
designedly appropriate for the princess, are kept in the village
for a few days'. The flat platform and the bamboo posts splayed
into conches may possibly be connected with the widespread evolution
of the altar proper and the idol, developed from a post or monolith
beside the altar on which the sacred blood of the totem was splashed
to keep it off the ground. In Polynesia, also, "beside the
larger temple altars there were smaller altars some resembling
a small round table, supported by a single post fixed in the
ground: occasionally the carcase of the hog presented in sacrifice
was placed on the large altar, while the heart and some other
internal parts were laid on the smaller."
Eating together marks the tribal bond among Malays. In Negri
Sembilan a newly elected chief invites all his people, men, women
and children, "the cocks that lay not eggs, the hens that
cackle and the chicks that chirp," to a public feast called
"the sprinkling of the broken grain." He sprinkles
the grain as a symbol of gathering them under his wing, and the
bond of tribal unity is acknowledged in old-world sentences:-"Together
we skin the heart of the elephant; together dip the heart of
the louse. What we drop is common loss: what we gain is common
profit." No one can slaughter a buffalo without permission
of the tribal chief. No tribal chief can refuse to be present
at a feast for which a buffalo is slaughtered: the heart, the
liver, and a slice off the rump are his perquisites. A buffalo
(never an Indian bull or cow) is slaughtered at all big Malay
feasts, secular, magical or Muslim. At certain secular festivals
the animal is caparisoned with cloth and has round its neck the
three-tiered gold ornament, modelled after its horns and worn
at weddings. The Yamtuan or overlord of Negri Sembilan used to
claim all buffaloes with abnormal horns as perquisites of royalty.
To spirits a pink buffalo must be offered. The roof-trees of
the Bataks, a Proto-Malay people of Sumatra, are decorated with
buffalo-horns. This domestic animal was imported into the Malayan
region ages ago from India.
In ceremonies conducted to coax away patently maleficent spirits,
the risk of a bond between the spirits and their propitiators,
if both partook of the same sacrificial meal, seems to be consciously
shunned. A banana-leaf tray or model house or boat is often filled
with offerings for the spirits plaguing a sick Malay, and hung
up in the jungle or set adrift on the river to bear them away.
Among the offerings on one such tray was observed a faked quid,
the betelnut replaced by nutmeg, the gambier by mace, and the
lime by oil. But the quid prepared along with it to be chewed
and ejected by the magician upon the patient's back was genuine.
Again, there is a notable record from Selangor of a wave offering
for a sick Malay. A hanging frame-work or tray was filled with
the usual three kinds of rice, parched, saffron and washed, an
egg, bananas from one comb, pieces of uncooked flesh making up
a whole fowl. The blood of the fowls was placed in one of five
miniature palm-spathe buckets, two of the other four containing
water and two the juice of cane. Five waxen tapers were placed
on the tray and lighted to guide the spirits to their meals,
and five lighted cigarettes for them were added. The tray was
waved slowly above the patient, waved seven times before him,
held for him to spit on, and carried out and hung from a tree
in the jungle. It is significant that the cooked and uncooked
flesh each made up a whole fowl and that all the bananas were
plucked from one comb. No meal was taken by those present.
The precaution not to eat of the food presented to spirits
is not however observed in the ritual to "cleanse"
a country or district. Perhaps like the coconut, betel and cigarette
offered outside a village quarantined for smallpox, the buffaloes
sacrificed at the cleansing of a countryside are offered not
to maleficent spirits but to the spirits invoked to combat them.
Until recent years Perak used to be "cleansed" periodically
by the propitiation of friendly spirits and the expulsion of
malignant influences:-"The main line of development in ritual
is from the propitiation or insulation of evil influences to
the conciliation of beneficent powers." The royal state
shaman, his royal assistant, and the chief magicians from the
river parishes assembled at a village at the foot of the rapids
below which the habitations of Perak Malays began. Séances
occupied seven days. A pink buffalo was killed and a feast was
held. The head and other pieces of the victim were piled on one
of the rafts, which then set out down-stream. The four leading
rafts were prepared for the four great classes of spirits and
were manned by their appropriate magicians. The foremost raft
carried a branching tree, erect and supported by stays, and was
for the shaman's familiars. The fifth raft bore Muslim elders!
Next came the royal band with its sacred drums and trumpets,
and then the Raja Kechil Muda (the title of the assistant State
shaman) and his followers. As they floated down the river, the
magicians waved white cloths and invoked the spirits of the districts
passed to come aboard and consume the offerings. Whenever they
reached a mosque, they halted for one night while a séance
was held and the villagers slaughtered a buffalo, placing its
head on one of the spirit rafts and eating the rest of the carcase.
At the mouth of the river the rafts were abandoned and allowed
to drift to sea. The State shaman did not accompany the procession
downstream, leaving the escort of the spirit rafts with their
grisly freight to his assistant. So, too, the magicians of the
different parishes of the river-banks stayed behind in turn,
each of them supplying a substitute to go downstream with the
assistant State shaman.
In Kelantan a similar ceremony took seven days and seven nights,
pink buffaloes were sacrificed, and the shaman conducted the
séance called "the play of the princess."
The communal sacrifices for state or district described in
this chapter all follow a shaman's séance and may
be surmised to be part of the most primitive ritual in Malaya.
They reveal the early attitude of the Malay mind towards sacrifice.
With human wants, kind spirits may become feeble through hunger.
With human weakness and fallibility, evil spirits will desert
a person or country for offerings of food and be decoyed by greed
on to waste waters. The partaking of a sacrifice establishes
communion. It is necessary therefore to eat of the offering to
friendly spirits. Food offered to spirits of disease one should
be chary of tasting. By a gift, as in the shaman's invocations
a sacrifice is so often termed, spirits can be conciliated. Finally,
when a patient recovers there is the offering to the spirits
for their beneficence, actuated no doubt by fear of punishment
for omission but containing also the germ of the freewill sacrifice
Sacrifices were made to spirits either at the uncertain times
of epidemics or at periods more or less defined. The sacrifice
to revive the spirits of the Perak regalia was annual. The "cleansing"
of the States of Perak and Kelantan is said to have been triennial.
One account indeed states that Perak was cleansed once in seven
years or once in a Sultan's reign, but this is probably a native
explanation of the gradual lapse of the custom. The ritual to
feast the spirits of the Upper Perak district took place "when
the grain in the rice-fields was beginning to swell." In
most places where rice is grown elaborate propitiatory ceremonies
of a communal character are celebrated in the spring of every
third or fourth year.
IX. MAGIC AND MAN
To protect the soul-substance of his staple food-plant the
Malay peasant, conservative as agriculturists all the world over,
is content with the primitive ritual of the animist, covered
for decency's sake with a thin veneer of his later religions.
Courts and ports, where new faiths first found acceptance, are
more open to liberal influences, and to safeguard the body and
soul of man the Malay has added to the practices of the animist
all the magic that Hindu and Muslim could teach him. Like all
primitive peoples, he believes that evil spirits are especially
active on the abnormal occasions of life, so that birth, puberty
and marriage are invested with the most lavish ceremonial. For
the dead he accepts Muhammadan rites almost unalloyed.
(a) BIRTH AND INFANCY
As soon as a Malay woman is with child, she and her husband
have to observe certain rules and abstentions, so that no vampire
may injure the expectant mother, no prenatal influence affect
the unborn, and nothing impede or mar a safe delivery.
To frustrate evil spirits the woman must carry a knife or
iron of some sort as a talisman, whenever she ventures abroad.
If her husband stir out of his house after dark, he may not return
direct but must visit a neighbour's house first to put any chance
vampire following him off the scent. At the time of an eclipse
when spirits prowl, the woman must hide under the shelf in the
kitchen, armed with a wooden spoon and wearing as a helmet of
repulsion the rattan basket-stand that is used for the base purpose
of supporting the round-bottomed cooking pots. Every Friday she
must bathe with limes, a fruit distasteful to devils, and drink
the water that drops off the ends of her tresses.
To avert untoward prenatal influences great circumspection
is required. In the event of an eclipse the Malacca or Singapore
woman will bathe under the house-ladder, so that she may not
give birth to a parti-coloured child, half black half white.
If a Malay husband blinds a bird or fractures the wing of a fowl,
his offspring runs the risk of being born sightless or with a
deformed arm. As this last prohibition would involve a vegetarian
diet in humble homes, modern husbands get over it by the convenient
fiction that, if the death of an animal is compassed deliberately,
there is no startling of the child in the womb and so no fear
of harm. Before the end of the sixth month, when the foetus acquires
personality, and especially before the third month, the Patani
husband may not even cut down a creeper, and if he slits the
mouth of a fish to remove a hook, the child will have a hare-lip.
At a Perak house where there is a pregnant woman, no one may
enter by the front door and pass out at the back or contrariwise,
probably because there is one exit only from the womb, the house
of birth. Guests may not remain only one night, perhaps because
any form of hurry is likely to induce miscarriage. Neither husband
nor wife may sit at the top of their house-ladder, a rule wide-spread
in the Malay Archipelago, for any blocking of a passage protracts
delivery. An unplaned house-pillar indented by the pressure of
a parasitic creeper that twined round it when it was a living
tree will exercise a like obstructive influence. After the engagement
of the midwife in the seventh month, the Malay husband (like
the Brahmin) may not have his hair cut, for fear the afterbirth
In Upper Perak another rite precedes the customary lustration
in the seventh month of a first pregnancy. Apparently it is an
example of imitative magic, designed to facilitate delivery.
A palm-blossom is swathed to represent a baby with a child's
brooch on the bosom. This doll, adorned with flowers, is laid
on a tray and the tray placed in a cradle made of three, five
or seven layers of cloth according to the rank of the prospective
parents. Midwife and magician sprinkle rice-paste on doll and
cradle. The midwife rocks the cradle, crooning baby songs. Then
she gives the doll to the future mother and father and all their
relatives to dandle. Finally the doll is put back into the cradle
and left there till the next day, when it is broken up and thrown
Everywhere when a woman has gone seven months with her first
child there is performed a ceremony, observed also by Indian
Muslims. In Malaya, today, it is begun with chants in praise
of the Prophet. Next morning husband and wife, arrayed in holiday
attire, are escorted down to the river. Incense is burnt. Toasted,
saffron and white rice and a cooling rice-paste are sprinkled
as at every momentous business of Malay life, at seed-time and
harvest, at birth, at the shaving of a child's head, at circumcision,
in sickness, on return from a long journey, at a chief's installation,
at a warrior's preparation for battle. Now it is sprinkled on
water for lustration. The couple are bathed, a white cloth is
stretched above their heads, coconut palms are waved over them
seven times, and they are drenched with water specially charmed
to avert evil and procure wellbeing, as at the lustration after
marriage. Two candles are lit and carried thrice about their
heads, and they must face the light with direct glances to avoid
any chance of their child being squint-eyed. Then the procession
returns to the house, where the couple sit together in state
as at a wedding. Shawls are spread on the floor (seven if the
patient is a raja), and the expectant mother lies on her back
with the shawls under her waist. The midwife seizes the ends
of the first shawl and rocks the woman slowly as in a hammock,
removes it, seizes the ends of the next shawl and repeats the
performance seven times. Among the presents given to the midwife
as her retaining fee on this occasion is a betel-tray. The contents
of this she empties: if all of them drop together, it is a sign
that delivery will be easy. In Negri Sembilan betel-nuts are
cut into pieces and thrown like dice, inferences being drawn
as to the sex of the unborn child according as more flat or rounded
surfaces lie uppermost.
The magician "chooses an auspicious place for the birth
and surrounds it with thorns, nets, rays' tails, bees' nests,
dolls, bitter herbs and a rattan cooking-pot stand, to keep the
spirits of evil from molesting mother and child in the perilous
hour of their weakness. He selects the suitable spot by dropping
a chopper or axe-head and marking the place where it first sticks
upright in the ground. Thorns and rays' tails are thought to
be dangerous to the trailing entrails of the vampire; bitter
herbs are unpalatable to every one; dolls may be mistaken for
the baby; nets and bees' nests are puzzling to spirits because
of their complexity, and sometimes a much perforated coconut
is hung over the door to bewilder ghosts by the multiplicity
of its entrances and exits." Most of these demon-traps are
set under the floor of the house. But over the patient's head
is hung a fisherman's net and a bunch of the red Dracoena,
whose tough vital power denotes its strong soul-substance. By
some midwives imitation weapons of lathe are suspended from the
roof. The midwife may dress as a man. All locks on door or box
are opened, the sufferer's hair is unbound, and any knot in her
clothes is untied.
If delivery is difficult, the magician may be called to lift
the end of the woman's tresses and blow down them. Or he may
recite charms or write a text from the Quran on paper and tie
it round waist or thigh. The husband will be summoned to step
to and fro across his wife or kiss her, thus condoning any sins
she may have committed against him. If the woman is a Raja, chiefs
will make vows of a goat or other offering for her recovery.
To register each vow, the midwife ties a ring round the wrist
of the patient. Should the throes be prolonged, husband or mother
puts dollars under the sufferer's back to be distributed in charity
when her peril is past. If the afterbirth will not follow, a
portion of the umbilical cord is cut from the child and tied
to the patient's thigh as a kind of sympathetic attraction. A
boy born with a caul is considered very lucky. Immediately after
birth the umbilical cord is tied with seven circles of black
fibre and severed with a bamboo knife: later, when the cord falls
off, a poultice is applied, mixed with pepper to make the child
brave. In Negri Sembilan it is believed that if the severed cords
of a woman's successive children are preserved together, these
children will not quarrel or be disunited when they grow up.
Her trouble over, the mother is laid on a platform and toasted
frequently during forty-four days of seclusion. The toasting
is a primitive and widely spread custom, still surviving in Hindu
ritual with invocations to Agni. As for the seclusion, "the
contagion of woman during the sexual crises of menstruation,
pregnancy, childbirth, is simply intensified, because these are
occasions when woman's peculiar characteristics are accentuated,
these are feminine crises when a woman is most a woman."
The savage dreads the contagion of her effeminacy, weakness,
timidity and hysteria. And survivals of this dread may be traced
in the observance of continence by Malay warriors and fishermen,
in the notion that menstrual blood can cause leprosy, in the
custom of husband and wife feeding separately except on the occasion
of their marriage.
A baby's first cradle is a tray on which are placed a bit
of iron and a peck of unhusked rice. In Perak "when the
baby is promoted from this tray, the rice whereon he has lain
is measured to foretell his future; if the measure is brimming,
he will be rich; if it is short, poor; the balance of the rice
is thrown to the chicken to avert ill-luck."
A brush is dipped in a black mixture made of burnt coconut
shell, and the eyebrows and outlines of the nose, chin, and other
features are marked in black so that demons may not recognise
or desire the infant. A cross is put on the forehead and a spot
on the nose. In Selangor a girl's forehead is marked with a cross,
a boy's with a mark recalling the caste mark of the Hindu. The
mother, also, is daubed on nose and bosom.
In some parts the moulding of the child's head, due to the
process of birth, is reduced by massage or a constricting cap.
A tentative name is given to a child before the umbilical
cord is cut. "In Upper Perak names suggested by some local
circumstances are given at birth, and girls, for example, are
called after a butterfly, a fish, a plant. Later the parents
will consult a religious elder to take a horoscope and select
a Muhammadan name for the child according to the date of the
birth. This name may be adopted temporarily or permanently. The
original pagan name may be used still but will be changed for
another in the event of sickness. . . . In Kelantan five or seven
bananas are dubbed with persons' names: they are laid before
the infant and he is given the name allotted to the particular
banana he grabs first." The Perak Malays have a series of
conventional names for their children in order of seniority.
A Malay, as we have seen, will often drop his own name and be
called "Father of Awang," or whatever is the name of
his first-born. Like the Brahmin, he refers to his wife never
by name but as "the person in my house," or, when she
is older, as "the mother of Awang or so-and-so."
If the child is a raja, young mothers of good family suckle
him or her in turn, their own children thus becoming foster brothers
or sisters of the infant. The royal mother may confirm this by
suckling the infant of the foster mother.
Muslim custom prescribes the seventh day for the formal naming
of the child, the shaving of its hair, and the sacrifice of two
goats for a boy and of one for a girl. This is followed in Malaya.
One lock of hair is left on a boy's head as on the head of Brahmin
children and of Egyptian Muslims, but it is a custom of primitive
Malays also to leave a lock unshorn as a refuge for the child's
soul. Sometimes this tonsure ceremony may be deferred for girls
until marriage. At one such deferred ceremony the headman and
the girl's nearest relatives clipped the ends of seven locks
with seven strokes of the scissors, an exact though unconscious
imitation of Brahmin ritual. When the head of a royal baby is
shaved, the wives of the great Perak chiefs each snip a few hairs
in turn according to their rank. Notable, too, is the opening
of the child's mouth by a ceremony performed also in Arabia and
Egypt, but perhaps dating back to Brahminical India. A gold ring
is dipped in a mixture of betel-juice and sugared and salted
water, and an elder utters a Muslim adjuration of which the original
occurs in the Rig-Veda: "In the name of Allah, the Merciful,
the Compassionate! May he lengthen your life! May he teach you
to speak fittingly in the court of kings! May he give to your
words the attractiveness of betel, the sweetness of sugar and
the savour of salt!" The gold ring is tied to the child's
When the forty-four days of purification are complete, the
midwife throws away the platform on which the young mother has
been roasted and the ashes of the fire that has burnt without
cease by her side. And now, just as the Brahmin takes a child
out formally to see the sun, so the Malay introduces his child
to "Mother Earth and Father Water." The midwife carries
the baby to the top of the stair or house-ladder, recites incantations
and marks a cross on the soles of the infant's feet with lime.
She descends and puts the child's feet first on iron (the blade
of a wood-knife or the head of a hoe), then into a tray containing
gold and silver (usually a ring of each metal) and lastly on
the earth. That is the custom in Upper Perak, but details vary
in different places. In Kelantan a raja's child has to be taken
down from the house by three steps, no more, no fewer. He is
carried through a line of women holding lighted candles to a
spot where seven gold plates are placed. The first plate contains
herbs, the second unhusked rice, the third husked rice, the fourth
rice-paste, the fifth yellow turmeric rice, the sixth earth from
a grave, and the seventh sand from the sea. Into each of these
plates the child's feet are pressed before they are allowed to
tread the earth. Then the baby raja is carried up a seven-tiered
stand and bathed. After the lustration, the stand is thrown,
with the spirits attaching to it, into the sea.
Next the Malay infant is carried down to the river. A candle
is lit and stuck on a boulder or bamboo staging. Mother and midwife
descend into the stream. The mother bathes the hair of the midwife
and then the midwife performs the same service for the mother.
An offering is made to the water-spirits: an egg, a quid of betel,
seven long and seven square rice-packets. The usual three kinds
of rice and rice-paste are sprinkled over the surface of the
river. The child is passed through the smoke of incense. Then
a live fowl is placed in the water and the child made to tread
on it, so that he may have power over all domestic animals. Next
a sprouting coconut seedling is set afloat and the infant's feet
are placed on it, so that he may have power over all food plants.
Lastly a jungle sapling, usually a rattan creeper, roots and
all, is put in the stream and the setting of the little feet
upon it gives the child dominion over the forest. A palm-spathe
bucket and a banana-flower are turned adrift. If the baby is
male, a boy catches a fish with a casting-net; if the baby is
female, a girl should throw the net. Finally a man casts the
net over a group of the midwife, mother and infant, and a crowd
of tiny children representing fish.
After this ritual introduction to earth and water, the infant
is laid for the first time in a swinging cot fashioned of black
cloths hung from a rafter. Into the bunt of the cot are put a
cat, a curry-stone, and an iron blade to mislead and terrify
evil spirits. Then the midwife lifts the baby into his new home.
Pious old ladies croon lullabies. Muslim prayers are recited.
There is a feast on curry and rice.
In the water for a baby's ablutions arc steeped the same collection
of strong-souled substances that are put beside the garnered
grain of the rice fields. If the attacks of spirits have made
him sickly, the leaves of a plant called the Genie's Tongue (Hedyotis
congesta) may be infused in his bath. If the baby cries continually,
he may be "smoked over a fire made of the nest of a weaver-bird,
the skin of a bottle-gourd, and a piece of wood that has been
struck by lightning." It is unlucky to praise the health
or beauty of a child.
Great care is taken of the placenta, the child's "younger
brother" (or sister), which is kept for a while and then
buried, generally under a tree. If the new born child is royal,
boys of good family, five to seven years old, are chosen for
this function. Their leader envelopes his head in a black cloth
and on it carries the placenta in a new earthen pot to a place
selected for the burial. Sometimes the boys ride there on elephants.
In Perak the coconut seedling used at the infant's introduction
to water is planted to mark the site. Head and face still enveloped,
the leader of the band returns to the royal cot, greets its occupant
with the Hindu Om and hails him as brother of himself
and his followers.
Magical precautions accompany circumcision, teeth-filing and
the boring of girls' ears. Even the observances at handing a
child over to the care of a religious teacher and at the conclusion
of his studies, Muslim as they now are, may be a survival of
Hindu ritual or some more primitive initiation ceremony.
Circumcision is regarded as a Muslim obligation. A boy undergoes
it at any lucky and convenient age between six and twenty. Often
it is done immediately after the celebrations at the conclusion
of his religious studies. At the Perak court, amid great festivities,
a young raja is clothed like a bridegroom in State dress. The
State magician pours oil upon water in which the acid juice of
limes has been mixed. From the pools of oil that float in the
shape of moon and stars, he tells if the moment is propitious
for the ceremony, and if the boy will later marry a girl of his
own class. Then he rubs the mixture on the forehead, hands and
feet of the boy and of his companions who will undergo the operation
at the same time. Feasting may last for days. Royal candidates
are borne in procession-in Perak on painted elephants or men's
shoulders, in Negri Sembilan in the ruler's processional car,
in Patani on a huge coloured model of a mythical bird. In Patani,
too, sham weapons of wood are carried in front of them. In Kelantan
a torchlight procession goes seven times round the house of the
chief where the function is to be held; wooden or palm-leaf walls
are removed and the procession perarnbulates the house without
descending to the ground. In Perak sometimes the boy is seated
on a bridal dais, has a dance with lighted candles performed
before him and his fingers stained with henna. There, too, a
raja is covered with a silk cloth, his body sprinkled with saffron
rice and cooling rice-paste, and his mouth stuffed with a lump
of glutinous rice and three grains of parched rice. A hen is
placed on his body and encouraged to peck up any of the grains
of rice that may be sticking to his mouth. If she is slow to
peck, it will be long before the boy marries. Two coconuts and
a small bag of rice are rolled over him from head to heel. Just
before the operation the boy is escorted to river or well, where
the same offerings are thrown to the spirits of the water as
when he was first introduced to that element. The boy bathes
along with his parents, and the one long lock of hair that has
been a symbol of childhood is shorn by his mother or nurse or
the man who later is to circumcise him. During this tonsure a
mock fight is started with bundles of rice, till the water resounds
as if buffaloes were fighting in it, a custom recalling the mock
combat to clear the rice-fields of demons. The final ceremony
then takes place indoors. The boy is seated on the stem of a
banana or on a sack of rice, and at the Perak court a swordsman
stands beside him so that if aught goes wrong "the plug
for the wound and the dressing may be taken from the operator's
corpse." At the same court throughout the various stages
of the ritual, at the taking of the omens, at the procession
to the river, and at the operation, the royal drums are beaten
and the royal flutes and trumpets blown. The sufferer's food
consists of dry fish or buffalo meat and his plate is lined with
a parched banana-leaf, the dryness of diet and leaf having a
hornoeopathic effect on his unhealed wound. Till the wound is
well, he may not wear a cap. For months before the operation
he is warned not to eat tough meat. These and other rules are
dictated by mimetic magic. If he was born with a caul, a piece
of it preserved from his birth is often given him to eat in a
An analogous but merely nominal ceremony of a very private
nature is observed for girls also, either in infancy or early
youth, a midwife being the surgeon.
Puberty brought also for both sexes the practice of filing
and blackening the teeth in order to substitute for sharp white
fangs, "like those of a dog," an even row of teeth,
black "like the wings of a beetle." One of the incantations
recited is for personal charm and pre-eminence and shows signs
of travestying the Sufi's "perfect man." In a folktale
called "Awang Sulong" the operation was done with one
rasp of the file a day and one a night for nine days and nights,
and the beauty of the glossy black stumps of the hero made folk
Whose the cock that struts so bravely,
His lips a shore beset with bridges,
Bridges of black shining palm-spikes,
Teeth as stems so sharp and knitted,
Mouth a boatful of red nutmegs,
Ebon teeth like bracelet circle?
The object of this practice, as of circumcision, was, it has
been surmised, to sacrifice a part to save the whole. Blackening
of the teeth has died out, but filing is still practised, even
after marriage, to beautify the teeth and prevent their decay.
Girls' ears are bored either in early childhood or at puberty,
with the usual magic ritual to worst evil spirits. At the Perak
court in the eighteenth century two nights were devoted to henna-staining
before the ears of a ruler's daughter were pierced, and on the
second night she was escorted on an elephant seven times round
the palace. The needle employed is threaded with cotton of many
colours, having at the ends turmeric cut in the shape of a floweret;
two of these flowerets adorn the thread left in each ear. just
as the boring begins, those present throw money into a silver
bowl, perhaps to drown any cry or murmur. After this, large ear-studs
used to be worn during a girl's maiden days but are now donned
only at her wedding to be discarded formally on the consummation
of the marriage. At the Perak court the ceremony is concluded
with a feast and prayers in honour of the Prophet and of the
parents and ancestors of the ruler.
(c) BETROTHAL AND MARRIAGE
There is little or no magic about a Malay betrothal. It is
a contract to be ratified before headman or elder, and to be
published abroad by the despatch to the girl's relatives of two
elaborate betel boxes, one of them containing one, or in Negri
Sembilan two, rings wrapped in betel-leaf. If the youth is guilty
of breach of promise, the girl's people keep the ring or rings:
if the girl is guilty, her parents return them with cash their
equal in value. In parts of Perak the betel boxes are replaced
by trays, one of which is adorned with a paper tree; and, when
the bearers arrive, yellow rice is strewn. The boxes or trays
are proffered only if negotiations for the marriage are successful.
Nowadays girls are seldom married before they are fourteen or
fifteen, or boys before the age of seventeen: often both are
older. Like the Hindu, the Malay considers a hairy person unlucky.
The Brahmin student may not feed "the husband of a younger
sister married before the elder, the husband of an elder sister
whose younger sister was married first, a younger brother married
before an elder, an elder brother married after a younger,"
and in Malaya, also, the request for a younger sister's hand
before her elder sisters are wedded is universally disliked.
In the figurative language of Malay betrothal verses the suitor
comes, like the Esth wooer, "in search of a lost calf,"
just as among the Finns he wants to buy a bird, and among the
Sardinians to ask for a white dove or a white calf. The suitor
accepted, his mother is invited within, where she slips the ring
(or two rings) on the finger of her future daughter-in-law. Songs
and feasting conclude these preliminaries.
Seven days later the suitor and his friends resort to the
girl's house and stay singing and feasting for two days and two
nights. Before leaving, the suitor does obeisance to his future
mother-in-law. When harvest time comes, he and his friends are
invited to help, and the rice that will be eaten at the marriage
is trodden out to the accompaniment of songs bandied between
men and women, the two parties of groom and bride. But in Negri
Sembilan a youth is ashamed to meet either of the parents of
his future bride, even accidentally on the road.
Favourite times for weddings are after the harvest or after
the season of rice planting, not only because those are days
of leisure but probably because so the child in the womb and
the grain in mother earth are likely to develop simultaneously.
The festivities may occupy two or four or five days if the contracting
parties are humble peasants, seven or forty days or even months
if they are rajas. Astrological tables are consulted to determine
a lucky time to begin them.
On the first day the magician takes steps to protect the groom,
and a matron to protect the bride from all jealous spirits. In
Upper Perak this preludes a most elaborate marriage ritual. The
magician ties a ring on a white thread round the bridegroom's
neck; lights a candle on cup or tray; burns incense and invokes
all spirits and the sacred dead to be kind. He scatters saffron
rice, sprinkles the groom with the usual cooling rice-paste and
dresses his hair. A matron does the same service for the bride.
If her shorn fringe lies close to the forehead, it is a sign
that she is a virgin; if it sticks up, then "the flower
has been sipped by a bee." At the Perak court the midwife
first waxed and clipped seven long hairs: if the stumps moved
or the tips fell towards the girl, she had been deflowered. On
either side of the house-door a red and a white flag are stuck.
The magician descends the house-ladder, sprinkles the earth with
yellow rice and rice-paste, and offers betel. to the spirits
of the soil. The bride is bathed in her house. The groom is conducted
down to the river. A white flag with a candle fixed on its shaft
is planted on the bank. Near by, two large candles are put on
the ground. Incense is burnt in three bamboo cressets, to which
are tied three candles, three quids of betel, and three native
cigarettes. On a vertical frame is fastened a palm-blossom. Again
rice is scattered with appeals to all the spirits of earth and
water. The palm-blossom is broken open that the dew in its heart
may be mixed with limes and rice-powder for bathing the bridegroom.
During the lustration he stands in the river facing downstream
and has water thrown into his mouth. The white thread is broken
from his neck and he is dressed in a raja's garb: a scion of
the Perak royal house will be lent the armlets and jewellery
used at the installation of the ruler. Then, mounted on elephants
with painted foreheads, the procession wends its way with religious
chanting and song to the house of the bride. An umbrella is held
over the bridegroom's head and his attendant fans him. On arrival
the groom steps down into a tray of water, in which are a stone,
a ring, a razor, and a dollar. He is sprinkled with saffron rice
and seated on a dais. For three nights, singing and firing crackers,
youths encircle a "henna tree" in a bowl containing
henna and stuck with lighted candles. The experts seize and dance
with it in turn until one of them carries it up the house-ladder,
where girls receive the "tree" and take up the dance.
To extinguish the candles during inversions and gyrations is
the sign of a boor. On this first night both bride and groom
are stained with henna in private, and the formal marriage before
an authority from the mosque may now take place. All the fingers
of the girl are stained; three of the man's, counting from the
little fingers. On the second day a Perak princess of the highest
rank used to be taken in procession with flags, umbrellas and
music, seven times round the palace. On that night the fingers
and palms and toes and the sides of the feet of the married pair
are stained with henna in public. Dramatic shows, dancing girls,
and feasting entertain the guests. The rice for the confarreatio
on the morrow is brought out, piled in tiers on an octagonal
platter, topped with a tinsel tree and stuck with dyed eggs on
skewers. The couple sit in state, and guests pay homage to the
bride now and to the husband at the sitting in state on the following
On the third day there are chants in praise of Allah and the
Prophet. A buffalo is slaughtered. The girl's relatives escorted
by music present decorated rice, coconuts and firewood to the
relatives of the groom. The bridegroom is escorted thrice each
way round a circular dome-shaped frame containing incense, that
is, in a passage between its mat sides and a white cloth held
up by those present. Afterwards he is placed inside the frame
and censed for the space it takes a dancer with a branched candlestick
to circle the structure three times. Next the bride is brought
out to undergo the same ordeal. The bride goes to her room. A
duenna guards the door. There is a mock combat between the sexes.
The magician demands entrance for the bridegroom, and is admitted
after presenting a betel-box that contains a ring and some cash.
His instructor lifts the groom's left hand and puts it on the
bride's head. The couple have to feed one another with betel.
Then three, five or seven old people paint the palms of the couple's
hands with henna and sprinkle them with rice. After that they
are stripped of their finery, led three times in each direction
round an inverted rice-mortar and seated upon this symbol of
sex and fecundity. They are lifted thrice before they arc declared
duly seated. The magician pours fresh coconut oil into a bowl
of water, and after throwing five grains of rice on the oil,
drops the wax of a lighted candle on to the mixture. The pair
are bathed with this compound, together with water from blossoms
of the areca and coconut palms. Coconut fronds are waved seven
times above their heads. Bathing accomplished, vari-coloured
string is dropped round and over the heads of the pair three
times while they step forward, and then under their feet and
upwards three times while they step back. After that the string
is lowered to their chests and severed over the right rib of
the groom and the left of the bride. If the front piece is longer,
the wife will obey her husband; if the back piece is longer,
the "rudder will be at the bows," that is, the wife
will rule the roost if the two pieces are equal, both will hold
their own. The next ceremony obtains everywhere. Husband and
wife don royal costume (or nowadays the man may wear Arab dress)-this,
it has been surmised, "shows both the tabu character of
bride and bridegroom, and also an attempt at disguising them
by fictitious change of identity." The couple then sit in
state on a dais, the husband on the right of the wife. Sumptuary
custom fixes the number and colour of mats and pillows allowed,
according to the rank of the contracting parties. There is an
exercise in Swedish drill, where the performer has to sink slowly
down into a squatting posture, straighten his knees and stand
erect. This exercise the embarrased pair have virtually to fulfil,
until after three efforts they are seated simultaneously as custom
ordains. The floral pyramid of rice on the octagonal platter
is broken and the pair have to feed one another three times with
clots of the rice held in their fingers. After that they must
remain motionless, like a ruler at his installation, while those
present do obeisance to the "royalty for a day." Guests
throw money into a bowl. Muslim prayers may be read. At last
the principals are allowed to retire. Each guest is given a dyed
egg out of the rice pyramid to take home.
On the following days there is more lustration and feasting.
Throughout all these ceremonies bride and groom remain silent
and no glances are exchanged between their downcast eyes.
If a husband is disappointed in the virtue of his bride, he
may advertise his disillusionment by appearing without headdress
or creese and he can claim back half the dowry. But a marriage
is not consummated for three nights or more. So it is not usually
till the seventh day that, with little fingers interlaced or
both holding one handkerchief, the couple are bathed again with
all the precautions described for the bathing on the third day.
The seven fronds waved over them are dropped for bride and groom
to step to and fro across them three times, after which the fronds
are cast out of the house taking ill-luck. A censer is passed
about the pair and a cord of vari-coloured thread is tied around
their necks joining them. At this ceremony the guests, also,
are drenched with water from buckets and bamboo squirts. (At
royal weddings, before they are bathed, the pair are carried
in procession three or seven times round a storeyed pavilion
built for the lustration.) After being bathed, both don finery
once more and sit in state.
Sometimes on the night before this final lustration the groom's
friends tear him from the dangerous fascination of his wife's
arms by lighting a smoking fire to bring him to the door, whereupon
he is carried off to his parents' home and only escorted back
next day for the bathing ceremony.
Everywhere it is usual for the husband to live in his bride's
home for some while after the marriage. Among the matrilineal
Minangkabau colonists of Negri Sembilan he lives in it permanently.
The ritual of Upper Perak on the border of the Siamese Malay
States contains some novel details. The circumambulation of a
structure containing incense and the lustration of the couple
before the day when the big sitting in state takes place have
not yet been recorded from the south.
The order of marriage ceremonies varies according to locality
and the means of the parties. Sometimes the Muslim service is
performed just before the sitting in state. Sometimes the mimic
combat for the bride's person, a custom practised in ancient
India and in Europe, takes place on arrival at her house and
is repeated before the bridal dais.
The throwing of rice over the head of a bridegroom is commonly
observed by Indo-Germanic peoples. Confarreatio, or eating
together, is a worldwide usage. In many parts of India and Europe
and in Muslim Morocco the bridegroom is treated as a king on
his wedding day.
The Code of Manu lays down that among the elements of a Brahmin's
wedding are the leading of the bride three times round the sacred
fire, each time with seven steps, and the binding together of
the wedded pair by a cord passed round their necks. Again, "On
the second or third day of Brahmin marriage ceremonies,"
says Thurston, "sacrifices are performed in the morning
and evening and the nalagu ceremony. The couple are seated
on two planks covered with mats and cloth, amidst a large number
of women assembled within the pandal. In front of them
betel leaves, areca nuts, fruit, flowers and turmeric paste are
placed on a tray. The women sing songs they have learnt from
childhood. Taking a little of the turmeric paste rendered red
by the addition of lime, the bride makes marks by drawing lines
on her feet. The ceremony closes with the waving of water coloured
red with turmeric and lime, and the distribution of betel leaves
and areca nuts. The waving is done by two women who sing appropriate
songs." In many parts of India bridegroom and bride are
seated on mortar or pestle or grinding stone.
A custom of Hindu origin is for a Malay raja to remain away
and send his creese or his handkerchief to represent him when
he marries a wife of humble birth. An obsolete raja custom was
to send a creese to parents who were reluctant to give their
daughter in marriage, with a message that the suitor was ready
with dower and presents doubled: if they remained obdurate, the
creese had to be returned with double the dower offered. Another
method, with a Sanskrit name, was for the suitor to force entry
into the house, secure the girl, and drawing his creese defy
resistance. If the ruse succeeded, the man had to give twice
the usual dower, present two garments instead of the customary
one and pay double the ordinary fines for trespass. These two
ways of wooing are probably of Indian origin.
The painting of the couple with henna to fend off evil influences,
the first night in private, the second in public; the dance with
the henna bowl and lighted candles-these ceremonies occur at
Muslim marriages even as far away as in Morocco. Islam has added
items to the ritual of Malay marriage but has failed to banish
others incompatible with its tenets. The sitting in state and
the lustration of the pair before mixed audiences of men and
women offend the strict, but retain so strong a hold on the Malay
imagination that a bigoted chief, whom I knew, reluctantly observed
them, but in a loft under the roof, where guests could not scale!
It should be added that when the bride is a widow, particularly
a childless widow, the marriage rites are greatly curtailed and
often confined merely to the short legal service before the Kathi.
It is no part of the plan of this book to describe the ordinary
Muslim rites for the disposal of the dead. But certain Malay
superstitions require notice.
In Selangor and Negri Sembilan, when a practiser of black
magic lies dying, dissolution of the powerful soul from the wasted
body is helped by the making of a hole in the roof. Everywhere
a dagger or a pair of betel scissors or some other symbol of
iron is placed on the chest of a corpse, and watch is kept especially
to prevent a cat from touching the body and electrifying it to
an awful travesty of life. Lights must be lit and incense burnt
and the bed where the deceased slept in life arranged for seven
days after a death. In the neighbourhood of the house no rice
may be ground, shots fired or music or dancing performed. After
the demise of an important member of a royal family no gong or
musical instrument may be struck for forty days. It is forgotten
that originally silence was kept in order not to guide the deceased
back to his temporal home, and such silence is now regarded only
as a mark of respect.
The body of an important person is escorted under umbrellas
to the place of ablution where men or women, according to the
sex of the deceased, support it on their extended legs. The corpse
of the chief of Jelebu is "washed by all the mosque officials
in the district together with the Hajis." This chief's retainers
hold his insignia round his corpse, which is laid upon a dais
of the type prepared for all formal functions. As the corpse
is being shrouded, forty Hajis offer prayers. For it is believed
that among every forty who offer the prayers there will be a
saint whose request will be heard.
A chief's bier is a huge platform, which it may take a hundred
men to lift. At the obsequies of the last Sultan of Singapore
eighty hired bearers and numerous volunteers carried this structure,
at the corners of which stood four men scattering yellow rice
and flowers mixed with pieces of gold and silver. A bier may
be of several storeys. The bier of the commoner chief of Jelebu,
for example, is of five storeys; the bier of a raja is of seven.
At the Jelebu rites a lad chosen from a particular tribe scatters
coin from the topmost bier; nine maidens of the same tribe are
seated on the litter, eight keeping the corpse in position with
their extended hands and the ninth holding a young plantain tree
as a symbol that "the broken grows again " and the
chieftainship of Jelebu never dies. At the funeral of royalty
sixteen girls used to support the body. Outside the Minangkabau
colonies of Negri Sembilan the tree symbol is not found in the
Peninsula. Children are made to pass under a parent's bier before
it is carried to the grave, not only as a token of respect but
to prevent them from pining for the deceased.
In many places strips are torn from the pall and worn by relatives
of the dead on arm or wrist to keep them from undue longing for
the departed. This is the practice in Negri Sembilan and at the
obsequies of a Sultan of Perak. The Malay Annals record an instance
where the pall of a tributary prince was despatched to his suzerain
with the news of his demise. Generally Malay mourners wear workaday
shabby clothes, a custom still followed at the Sri Menanti court.
But in some places, like Malacca, European influence has led
to the adoption of black garments. Again, the old custom was
for mourners to go without headdress and with dishevelled hair,
and at a royal funeral it was expected that all a ruler's subjects
should exhibit these signs of grief. For three days after the
death of the chief of Jelebu no man may wear any headdress except
a white cap, Hajis must discard their turbans and women their
veils. When the most famous ruler of Perak in the eighteenth
century came to the throne, for seven days the royal drums and
trumpets were silent in honour of his predecessor, and on the
eighth the new raja's headdress was brought on an elephant by
the Bendahara, the chief who rules temporarily during the interregnum
between ruler and ruler; Sultan Iskandar 'Inayat Shah donned
it. and only then did his courtiers cover their heads. (The new
Sultan dismissed from office and broiled in the sun many persons
who had failed to arrive for the obsequies!) Sometimes for forty
days after a ruler's death no headdress is worn. But in place
of the baring of the head, Perak Malays have introduced a very
popular fashion of wearing a white band round the hat.
At a ruler's funeral the State drums are beaten and the state
trumpets blown. Then for seven or even twenty or forty days they
are silent. After the death of a great chief his royal master
may order that they keep silent for five or seven days. This
custom also was probably designed to avoid guiding and recalling
the departed to his earthly home.
It is considered unlucky to attend the funeral of one who
has died a bad death, or of one whose corpse turns a dark livid
hue, and mourners hurry away. There are some who will not partake
of a funeral feast, especially on the third and seventh days
after the death, because demons have often been seen pouring
into rice and curry water that has run off the corpse at the
final ablution. Take a strip of the shroud, a chip of the coffin-plank,
and a broad leaf to hide behind, and one can see them, some with
children on their backs, like human beings, catching the water
Temporary wooden posts are often planted at a grave, until
permanent stones can be got. If the deceased has left a child
frantic with grief, then every night for three or seven successive
nights a vessel of water is tied to the temporary tombstone by
a shred of the shroud, and every morning the child is bathed
in the water. In Perak, on the hundredth day the temporary posts
are cleansed with limes and rice-paste, thrown into the river
and have water sprinkled over them thrice to drive away evil
Sometimes over the tomb of a saint or ruler there is fixed
a mosquito-net or a light frame and canopy or a palm-thatched
roof under which lamps and candles are lit.
Everywhere Muslim burial is the rule now, though there survive
shadowy traditions of older rites. Cremation was practised in
mediaeval Malacca. The Dayaks of Borneo carry into the forests
the bodies of those who have met a violent death, and lay them
on the ground; their priests they honour by exposure on a raised
platform. In the Malay Annals and the tale of the Malacca
hero, Hang Tuah, there are allusions to leaving bodies on the
ground, but only those of traitors or enemies. In the north of
the Malay Peninsula suspension of the dead between trees is practised
by the Buddhist Malayo-Siamese, both as a permanent form of burial
and as a preliminary to cremation, and the northern Sakai dispose
of the bodies of their magicians in the same way. "Among
some of the Sakai-Jakun tribes of Pahang it appears that not
only is a settlement deserted when a death occurs but the corpse
is left unburied . . . in the abandoned house, for, if they put
a corpse into the ground, the spirit would not be able to make
its escape upwards."
Are there signs of former aerial burial among the civilised
Malays? Many of the grave-stones of rulers of Perak are on raised
platforms. And it was not uncommon in the past for rajas and
chiefs to be left unburied for days, their successors having
to be elected before the interment. Sultan 'Ali of Perak, who
died in 1871, was left unburied for forty days, because his lawful
successor feared to come upriver, "and the presence and
proclamation of the new Sultan are essential features of the
burial ceremonies of the old." A similar case is recorded
The Proto-Malays of the Peninsula have perhaps been influenced
by the civilised Muslim Malay. Anyhow they bury their dead. "The
body lies about three feet underground, the tomb, which is made
of earth beaten smooth, rising about the same height above the
surface. A little ditch runs round the grave, wherein the spirit
may paddle his canoe. The body lies with the feet pointing towards
the west. The ornamental pieces at each end of the grave answer
to tombstones " and have a Malayo-Arabic name. "On
the other side of them are seen the small, plain, upright sticks,
called soul-steps, to enable the spirit to leave the grave when
he requires. There are four horizontal beams on each side of
the grave, joined in a framework, making sixteen in all, laid
on the top of the grave and so forming a sort of enclosure, in
which are placed, for the use of the deceased, a coconut shell,
a torch in a stand, an axe-handle and a cooking-pot, while outside
this framework hangs a shoulder-basket for the deceased to carry
his firewood in." Thus is described the grave of a Johore
aboriginal chief who died in 1879.
Expensive and well-built houses are killing the ancient custom
of abandoning a home where a death has occurred. But Sultan Iskandar
'Inayat Shah of Perak removed from Brahmana Indra and built a
new palace at Chempaka Sari because he "disliked hearing
the royal music near the grave of his predecessor," and
Sultan Mahmud, his successor, removed from Chempaka Sari to the
Big Island Indra Mulia. Nowadays a wooden house is sometimes
taken to pieces and erected on a site more lucky.
(e) INSTALLATION CEREMONIES
The selection of a ruler is supposed to be made before his
predecessor's body is consigned to the grave. In one Malay folk-tale,
where a king has died childless and his successor is chosen by
a sagacious elephant (as in many Indian stories), the prince
selected is bidden to sit beside the corpse of the deceased,
while guns are fired and the drums and trumpets of the royal
band are sounded seven times. In Naning and in many parts of
Negri Sembilan, a chief's successor must mount the bier; failure
to achieve this is regarded as a bar to election and, if there
are more claimants than one, they scramble on to the hearse together
or one after another. At his installation a new commoner chief
of Jelebu has to sit on the dais on which the body of the last
chief was washed for burial.
The formal installation of a ruler is made some while after
the obsequies of his predecessor. There are festivities for seven
days or forty days. Then the prince is bathed ceremonially and
dons robes of state. A Perak Sultan wears a gold neck-chain,
dragon-headed armlets of gold, and a creese in his belt; in his
head-kerchief is thrust the royal seal, and from his shoulder
hangs a sword with an Arabic inscription, reputed to have been
the weapon of his ancestor, Alexander the Great! Seven times
he is taken in procession round the royal domain, to the thud
and blare of the state drums and trumpets, escorted by courtiers
carrying flags and pennons, creeses, lances and swords. On his
return to the palace, he listens to a herald reading a proclamation
from an unintelligible version of an old Sanskrit formula. He
is cooled with rice-paste and sprinkled with rice. About him
clusters a retinue, holding umbrellas, weapons, and betel-caskets.
The Sultan's pages rest swords and creeses on the right shoulder;
the pages of the heir to the throne may not lift his insignia
above their arms. His Highness enters the hall of audience, mounts
the throne, and has to sit motionless " while the royal
band plays a certain number of times. . . . The number should
not exceed nine or be less than four. Any movement by the Sultan
would be extremely inauspicious." At this moment the genies
of the State are apt to make the sword of Alexander the Great
press on the royal shoulder. Into the Sultan's ear, the king's
secret, namely, the real Indian names of the divine founders
of his house, is whispered by a descendant of the herald who
came out of the mouth of a bull when first the bearers of those
Indian names alighted on earth and required a pursuivant. His
subjects in the hall bow to the earth seven times in homage.
In Negri Sembilan the Yamtuan's regalia comprise sets of eight,
eight weapons of each kind, eight umbrellas, eight betel-boxes,
eight tapers, eight water-vessels, eight handfuls of ashes, and
a bowl with one strand of human hair. When all is ready for the
installation, chamberlains invoke the archangels to send down
the divine power of kings by the hand of angels. "The weapons
are taken out of their yellow wrappings, the royal umbrellas
are opened, the royal candles lit, the water-vessels and betel-boxes
are lifted up on high for all to see. A copy of the Quran is
set down before these mighty regalia, and ewers filled with every
kind of holy water are arranged before them. One ewer contains
water mingled with blood; another contains water with a bullet
in it; another may have water mixed with the pure rice-paste
that sterilizes all evil influences. A censer is waved. . . .
The great chiefs are about to swear allegiance to the king. The
presence of the holy regalia, the water crimsoned with blood,
the water that washes the lead or iron of war-all these things
lend additional terror to perjury." The herald who proclaims
the election of a new Yamtuan "is expected to stand on one
leg with the sole of his right foot resting against his left
knee, with his right hand shading his eyes, and with the tip
of the fingers of his left hand pressing against his left cheek!"
The chiefs sweep forward on their knees, raise folded hands seven
times to their brows, kiss their overlord's hand thrice and retire.
Again incense is burnt, "and the word of God as written
in the Quran is believed to come down and is repeated in Arabic
in the hearing of the people, 'Lo, I have appointed a Caliph
to be My vicegerent on earth.'"
When a commoner chief is installed by the Sultan of Perak,
he stands at the entrance to the palace under a large banana
leaf, while a herald reads over him the chiri, that unintelligible
Sanskrit formula "in the language of the genies." Then
the oath of allegiance is taken. Drums clash. An old man steps
forward, and using a grass brush sprinkles rice-paste down the
banana leaf that covers the candidate's head. The brush and the
leaf are cast away and the rice is scattered over his body. When
the new chief has doffed his creese and crawled up to the throne
to do homage, the Sultan moistens his brow with rice-paste, tucks
a bunch of yellow chempaka bloom under his head-kerchief
and sprinkles him with rice. The chief retires backwards, doing
obeisance as when he came. A curtain is dropped midway across
the hall and he goes out. He must cross water and may not look
upon the Sultan or his palace or his elephants or anything that
is his for one week. Violation of this rule may cause death to
chief or ruler.
To the primitive patriarchal and matriarchal communities of
the Malay race kings and royalty were foreign. The description
in Malay romance of royalty's silks, seamless, fast of dye, iridescent,
of gossamer muslins tangled by a dewdrop, and of other wonderful
raiment, are only the hyperbole of village rhapsodists marvelling
at the luxurious novelties of the court and winning favour by
lauding them. The yellow umbrella of the Malay ruler was imported
from China. Court sumptuary laws for cloths, weapons, and houses
came from India. Among Malay regalia, the sword and the seal
are foreign, and the names of half the drums and trumpets are
Persian. The idea that a ruler can slay at pleasure without being
guilty of crime is not Malayan. The word Raja is Sanskrit; the
word Sultan introduced with the religion of Muhammad. The divinity
that hedges a modern ruler is Muslim and conferred by Allah during
the recital of the text: "Lo! I have appointed a Caliph
to be My Vicegerent on earth." The white blood of Malay
princes is that ascribed by Muhammadan mystics to certain saints.
X. MAGICIAN AND MUSLIM
A rough granite monolith inscribed with Muslim laws in the
Malay language and Arabic lettering, recently discovered in Trengganu,
is evidence that Islam had reached the east coast of the Malay
Peninsula as early as the fourteenth century. At the beginning
of the next century it became the State religion of Malacca.
Barbosa ascribed this change of creed from Hinduism to the presence
of many Indian Muslim traders at that port. An Achinese account
gives 1474 A.D. as the date of the conversion of the first ruler
of Kedah to embrace the religion of the Arabian Prophet. The
royal house of Malacca gave rulers to Johore, Pahang and Perak,
dominated Selangor and Negri Sembilan and so spread the new faith
throughout the Peninsula.
The early missionaries came from the Coromandel Coast and
Malabar, and therefore made the Malays Sunnis of the school of
Shafe'i. Later arrived missionaries from the Hadramaut. In the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Sayids of the great Hadramaut
house, descendants of 'Alawi, grandson of 'Isa al-Mohajir, gained
enormous influence at the Perak court, one of them marrying a
sister of Perak's most famous ruler and becoming the father of
a Sultan of that State.
The Malays of the Peninsula have been Muslims for some five
hundred years. No zealots, they are orthodox and convinced believers.
But in their beliefs and their magic the influence of the early
Indian missionaries of their latest faith is marked.
There is a book called the Crown of Kings, of which
several editions have been printed in Egypt and at Mecca. It
is on sale at most native bookshops in the Peninsula. Its author
was an Achinese, prominent in the war against the Dutch, Shaikh
'Abbas, who died in 1895. The book is especially interesting
because, like "the majority of Muslim philosophers and authors
of bibliographical and encyclopaedic works," the compiler
"keeping to the classification of the sciences given by
the Aristotelians, considers astrology as one of the seven or
nine branches of the natural sciences, placing it with medicine,
physiognomy, alchemy, the interpretation of dreams, and so on."
The work is not free from Malay and Indian influence. There are
given, for example, five divisions of a five-day cycle, presided
over by Siva the Supreme Lord, Siva the Destroyer, Sri, Brahma,
and Vishnu! Still, the treatise is a fair example of what Islam
has taught the Malay to regard as science, and it is, in effect,
a repertory of his latest magical lore.
The author begins by saying that the science of astrology
as first taught by Enoch was simple, and became complex and difficult
only at the prayer of Jesus, whose whereabouts before His arrest
by the Jews were betrayed by astrological calculations. This
part of the book quotes among its authorities Abu Ma'shar, an
Arab astrologer known to Christendom in the Middle Ages as Albumasar,
and Ja'far al-Sadik, the sixth of the twelve Imams, reported
by the Shilahs to have been the author of a book of infallible
astrological prognostications for the information of the House
of the Prophet. A manuscript work on "Prognostications by
Ja'far al-Sadik" came into my hands from Malacca, and in
Acheh and Java also fortune-tellers' manuals are ascribed to
Crude astrology divorced from all knowledge of astronomy enters
largely into the Muslim element in Malay magic. It determines
lucky and unlucky times for begetting children, fighting, house
building and planting. At the Perak court the moment propitious
for the circumcision of a prince is divined from pools of oil
floating on water "in the shape of moon and stars."
There are charms that must be written only when the constellation
of the Scorpion is invisible. The meaning of a dream may depend
on the day of the week on which it came to the sleeper; the omen
to be drawn from an eclipse on the month and year of its occurrence.
Astrology is employed to trace a thief or recover stolen property,
and is part and parcel of most forms of divination. For example,
there are several ways of ascertaining how long one shall live,
ways different according to the month of the Muhammadan year.
In the first month one has to close one's eyes at midnight, recite
"Say, 'God is One!'" ten times, and then open one's
eyes and gaze at the moon; if it looks black, in that month one
will die. In the fifth and sixth months one must gaze not at
the moon but at a lamp and that only on a Wednesday night. In
the seventh and eighth months one recites "Say, 'I seek
refuge in the Lord of the daybreak!'" seven times and gazes
at water in a bowl; if it looks red, in that month one will die.
In the Fasting month one recites "Praise be to God"
nine times and gazes at the moon; if one's shadow is there, in
that month one will die. In the last two months of the year the
eyes have to be closed, the passage "Say, 'God is One!'"
recited thrice and the creed once, and one's gaze directed at
a cloudless sky either at dawn or at eve; if it looks red like
blood, assuredly in that month one will die.
All Malay treatises on divination from dreams bear an Arabic
title and are of Muslim origin. A popular poem on the subject
begins by explaining the omens to be drawn from dreaming that
one sees Allah, meets an angel, beholds the Throne of God or
Paradise or the Razor Bridge across hell-fire or the Guarded
Tablet of Fate. Then it interprets the meaning of dreams about
the Four Friends of the Prophet, the Quran, Iblis, being banished
by a Shaikh, riding a camel, eating horse-flesh, seeing a date
tree or a fig tree! Needless to say, none of this theology, zoology
and botany is Malayan. Local fauna often takes the place of alien
fauna in native translations of Muslim manuals, but otherwise
their contents are foreign and it is futile to look for an indigenous
theory of dreams among Muslim Malays. All these dream manuals
are divided into chapters according to the class of object about
which one dreams: men, beasts, flora, clothes, birds, insects,
countries and roads, stones, fruits, musical instruments, traps
for fish and game.
The Crown of Kings devotes several pages to the omens
to be drawn from involuntary convulsive movements of the left
eyebrow, the right eyelid, the left nostril, the upper lip, the
shoulder-blades, the left ring-finger, and every part of the
body. When the Malacca hero, Hang Tuah, was in Java, one day
he donned his magic creese because an involuntary twitch of his
right shoulder led him to expect a brawl. But few modern Malays
heed these niceties or have read of them. Divination by the values
attached to the letters of men's names is best known from a "Poem
on Affinities" to determine if a marriage will be happy:
the abjad or alphabet of letters representing numerical
values is employed. This Malay poem has been translated into
English. Divination by possession is known to the Malays as to
the Arabs, but belongs to the primitive, impious, and decried
practices of the shaman, who on demand will use it even to foretell
the outcome of a pilgrimage to Mecca! Geomancy, or divination
from sand, is mentioned in Malay literature under its Arabic
name, but is never practised by the Malays. Nor do they observe
the entrails of animals for omens.
Malay treatises enumerate many animals, pigs, the rhinoceros,
wild dogs, deer of all kinds, whose entrance into a garden forebodes
calamity, unless the evil portent is averted by the offering
of prayers to the Prophet and of cash, cloth, and a feast to
the pious expert who recites the prayers. Butterflies, bees,
hawks, woodpeckers alighting on a roof, frogs, monkeys, snakes,
and geckoes invading house or garden, a tortoise under the floor,
fungus growing in a kitchen, coconuts two on a stem, nests of
wasps or mason-bees in one's clothes-all these are variously
portents of poverty, divorce, disease or death, which the recital
of an appropriate passage from the Quran can change into omens
of riches, health and happiness. When a mat belonging to the
second Caliph of the Abbaside dynasty was gnawed by a mouse,
it was sent to a diviner who foretold a quiet and prosperous
reign for its owner. The Malay manuscript from which the above
list of portents is taken concludes with a dissertation on the
omens to be drawn from the gnawing by mice of mats or pillows
or of the neck, the right arm or the left arm, or the bottom
or side or back of a man's coat!
A Kelantan magician, whose lore was full of Muslim borrowings,
claimed that he could reflect genies on the finger nails of innocent
little boys. Sir Frank Swettenham met an Arab in Malaya who declared
that he could see a robbery re-enacted in the surface of water,
but that first of all he would see a little old genie by whose
help the scene of the crime would be reflected. The same writer
saw a bowl of water, with a cotton lid tied taut across it, used
as a planchette to discover a thief. A chapter of the
Quran was read, two men supported the bowl by the rim, and when
at last a slip of paper containing the name of one of the suspects
was laid on the lid, the bowl began to revolve. (The author explains
that the bowl failed to respond to the first four names, that
the names were written in English characters unintelligible to
the Malays present and that the experiment succeeded twice!)
Among the regalia of the ruler of Negri Sembilan is a bowl and
a hair. Divination with this apparatus is done by Malays to discover
a thief. The bowl is divided by lines of Indian ink into eight
compartments, each inscribed with the name of the possible culprit.
A blind man holds the hair, to which a gold ring is tied above
the centre of the bowl, and intones a Muslim prayer, whereupon,
if the name of the culprit is there, the ring swings violently
into the compartment containing it.
Arab diviners, the recitation of passages from the Quran,
the description of methods of divination in magico-religious
tracts, the observance of astrological times, all suggest that
the forms of divination popular with the modern Peninsular Malay
are derived from Muslim sources.
A notable contribution from Islam to Malaya was a new type
of amulet. The animist found a fetish in every object possessed
of potent soul-substance, stones from a water-fall, candle-nuts,
cockle-shells, the hardy grass (Eleusine coracana) that
survives even on the trodden path. A strange knot in a Malacca
cane, a curious whorl on the wooden sheath of a dagger, a mark
on the damascene of a creese that no smith designed to fashion,
the rare celt, the Perak "ball of petrified dew," all
these attracted his attention and awe and trust. The bezoar stone
secreted in fish or monkey or coconut he kept in rice-grain for
fear that it should vanish offended and an article of great medicinal
value be lost. Then, India introduced a fresh stock of charms.
The tinsel marriage crown protecting bride and groom, the thread
tied round the newly-wedded and on the wrist of a child, the
incense burnt to scare demons, the waving of charmed water over
a married pair and over the sick, and perhaps the rubbing of
those in ghostly peril and the frail and ill with yellow turmeric,
red betel, and black ashes may be traced to this source. Last
of all, Islam trafficked in amulets inscribed with magic squares,
cabalistic letters, the signs of the planets and the signs of
the zodiac, the names of the angels and the Excellent Names of
Allah. The hexagonal star of Solomon's seal is used by Malays
to cure madness and possession by devil, familiar spirit, ghost
or genie. In Perak three such stars are drawn on paper that is
steeped in water for washing the face of one afflicted with dizziness.
A magic square scratched on leaf or paper and buried in the middle
of a rice-field or at its four corners will keep away rats and
pests from the plants. Arabic characters representing K, M, 7,
D, 3, ALA if traced in oil on the palm of the hand and furtively
rubbed on one's face in the presence of one of the opposite sex
will attract that person's love. Another such formula will bring
the Perak fisherman a good catch. Yet another is hung round the
neck of an infant that refuses its mother's breast. One is inscribed
on lead and planted under the house-ladder of a woman one loves
illicitly. Another is put under a patient's pillow to induce
sleep. A text from the Quran is hung in a child's locket to save
it from convulsions or tied in a woman's waist-belt to save her
from demons, or fastened to an aching limb or written on paper
to be dissolved in a patient's drinking water. Printed or manuscript
texts are pasted over the door of house or room to scare evil
spirits. There is a translation by a Kelantan Malay of a treatise
popular with Indian Sunnis, the Mujarrabati-i-Dirbi, or
"Prescriptions," which cites among its sources works
by al-Buni, a celebrated Arabian writer on the Cabbala, divination,
magic squares, and the virtues of the Basmala. The Basmala is
a name for the Arabic formula translated "In the Name of
God, the Merciful, the Compassionate." The Malay translation
of the "Prescriptions" relates as follows:-"When
God sent down the Basmala the hills shook. Its Arabic letters
are nineteen, the number of the angels in charge of hell; whosoever
recites them shall not be damned. It was the Basmala that set
up Solomon's kingdom. Whoever writes down the phrase six hundred
times and wears it shall be honoured by men. Whoever recites
it seven hundred and eighty-six times for seven consecutive days
shall gain whatever he desires. Read fifty times over the face
of a tyrant it will bring him low. Written down sixty-one times
and worn it will make the barren fruitful. Written on tin and
put in a fishing net it will attract shoals from all the seas."
Similar virtues attach to the opening chapter of the Quran and
many texts used by Muslims to ward off physical and spiritual
Incantations are frowned upon by strict theologians but, as
we have seen, they are the breath of the Malay magician's life.
Recited for a lawful object they do not strike the vulgar as
unorthodox. Illicit charms for the seduction of women the Malay
has inherited from the Hindu. And if there is reason to suspect
the efficacy of his appeal to "Allah, the Merciful, the
Compassionate" and to Muhammad to make a girl yield to her
lover, then "it is better if possible" to add a conclusion
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
Friend of mine, Iblis! and all ye spirits and devils
That love to trouble man!
I ask you to go and enter the body of this girl,
Burning her heart as this sand burns,
Fired with love for me.
Bring her to yield herself to me!
By virtue of this rice and steam
Place her here by my hearth
Or else take ye heed!
In a charm against the Will o' the Wisp a Kelantan magician,
with pantheism perhaps unconscious, vaunts, "I am Iblis,
the son of Pharaoh! "
To destroy an enemy, there is prescribed in Malay versions
of Muslim treatises a world-wide method of sorcery. A cabalistic
symbol is inscribed on wax. The wax is moulded in the form of
a man. Then the eyes of the figure are pierced with a needle
or its belly stabbed, while a purely Arabic charm is recited
to call down upon the victim the anger of Allah! To rob an enemy
of power to harm, it suffices to draw his portrait in the dust
of crossroads, grind one's heel on his navel, tread on his pictured
heart, beat the face with a stick, and recite a short imprecation.
Symbolic charms and Arabic formulae are also prescribed to cause
impotency. Every good Malay Muslim views with horror these black
practices and Satanic incantations.
The contribution of Islam to Malay magic is not interesting.
Flotsam and jetsam from the Talmud, the works of the Gnostics,
the science of Indian astrologers and the practices of Hindu
sorcerers, it came to Malaya third-hand.
XI. MAGICIAN AND MYSTIC
ONCE more the Malay magician sat at the feet of Indian teachers,
this time as a student of Muslim pantheism.
To India have been traced the first use of the Sufi term fana
for loss of the individual self in God, and the Sufi's acquaintance
with the practice of "watching the breaths" as a means
of worship. The Sufi legend of Ibrahim bin Adham, the hunter
prince of Balkh who gave up his throne for the beggar's bowl,
is modelled upon the story of Buddha.
The Malay has two versions of the tale of Ibrahim, prince
of Balkh. Long before he got them, India had taught him to fast
and practise austerities in order to acquire invulnerability
and other magical arts. Brahminical mantra, to which even the
gods were subject, would have prepared his mind for the audacities
of popular Sufism. Like the mantra, too, Sufi secrets and charms
were fascinatingly esoteric, to be revealed only to the initiated.
The doctrines that the disciple must honour and obey his teacher
above all men and pass through several initiatory stages were
not new to a race that had been under Hindu influence for centuries.
Teachers of Sufisrn came to the Malay Peninsula more than
four hundred years ago. Before the end of the fifteenth century
a Sultan of Malacca sent an embassy to Pasai, a small Sumatran
port famous as a religious centre, offering a present of gold
and two slave girls to any theologian who could say if those
in heaven and those in hell remain in their respective places
for ever. A Pasai pundit replied openly that they did, quoting
the authority of the Quran. But the Sultan of Pasai summoned
him, hinted that an embassy could not have come for such an obvious
answer and suggested giving in private an interpretation of the
problem, communicable only to the chosen few. The pundit took
this advice and won the prize offered by Malacca. There is little
doubt that his answer was on lines suggested by a work that has
left its impress on many Malay charm books, the Insanu'l-kamil
or "Perfect Man" of al-Jili. "You may say, if
you like," writes al-Jili, "that hell-fire remains
as it was, but that the torment of the damned is changed to pleasure,"
or, again, "the power of endurance of the sufferers in hell
continues to grow-God never takes back His gifts and these powers
come from God-until there appears in them a Divine power which
extinguishes the fire, because no one is doomed to misery after
the Divine attributes become manifest in him." The author
of the Malay Annals, writing at a learned court, was not
so indiscreet as to reveal this mystery to all and sundry. Nor
does he give the Sufi answer to another problem propounded by
Malacca to Pasai, the paradox that both the man who believes
and the man who disbelieves that God created and bestowed His
gifts from all eternity is an infidel. Theological discussions
like these are above the head of the magician. Moreover, he has
left to the foreigner to practise occasionally in Malaya that
orgiastic Sufism which degrades the famous cry of Abu Sa'id,
"There is nothing inside this coat except Allah." Village
magicians that refrain from the black art are popular, while
the Arab teacher is respected, feared and disliked, and the Indian
often despised. The Malay Annals cynically record how
when the Sultan of Malacca took his Arab teacher into battle
against the Portuguese in 1511 A.D., the theologian clung with
both hands to the howdah and exclaimed, "Let us return!
This is no place to study the unity of God. "
The Shi'ah heresies and the "rash mystic pantheism"
to be detected in many Malay charms has not received the attention
of English students. "Such mysticism," remarks Snouck
Hurgronje, "is found also in Arabian lands but only in small
circles of the initiated as half secret doctrines of the Sufis,
cautiously concealed on account of the hunt of official theologians
for heresy and of the suspicious fanaticism of the vulgar. In
the East Indies, however, it formed woof and warp not only of
learned speculation but of popular belief. Tracts with drawings
and tables were used in the endeavour to realise the idea of
the Absolute. The four elements, the four winds, the four righteous
Caliphs, the four founders of the schools of law, the four attributes
of God in dogma, the four grades of progress in mysticism, the
four extremities of the human body, and many other sets of four
were for popular mysticism revelations of the one indivisible
self of man. Through the names of Muhammad and Allah, each in
Arabic spelt with four letters, were symbolised the One Being."
Every Sufi who is one with God is a saint with supernatural
powers, and already it has been said that Malaya is strewn with
the graves of miracle-workers. An eighteenth century history
of Perak records how when a Sultan of that State fell ill vows
were paid to "prophets and saints and the Poles," who
stand at the head of the Muslim hierarchy and are each in his
generation the axis whereon the sphere of existence revolves.
The founder of the orthodox Qadiri order was among the saints
invoked, but while the invocation of saints is allowed to Sunnis,
it is commonest in India and among the Shi'ahs. Again, the Sufi
holds that the esoteric teaching of the Quran was revealed by
the Prophet to 'Ali, his son-in-law, to whom according to the
Shi'ahs was transmitted the Light of Muhammad. The name of 'Ali,
our "Lord 'Ali," occurs in innumerable Malay charms.
It has been remarked that the conception of the tears of the
Archangel Michael creating countless cherubim in his likeness
to control the rain and guard the fruits and plants of the earth
exhibits a pantheistic tendency. The same may be said of the
diagnosis of the Kelantan medicine-man, who finds a hundred and
ninety demons for smallpox, each operating on a selected part
of the body, His Lordship Buzz on the ear, His Lordship Peg on
the joints, and so on. In Patani there are elders and midwives
who believe that all evil "spirits were really one, pervading
the whole world, only called by different names according to
the environment in which the universal spirit of evil was considered
for the moment. . . . As one old man expressed it, ' It may be
hot here and at Mecca at the same time, and the spirit is the
same.' He went on to explain that the spirit could break itself
into one hundred and ninety parts, and that the great medicine-man
was the person who could cause it to do this and could keep all
the different parts under his control. "
Elsewhere it has been noted how the Malay magician's idea
of an archetypal "world of the breadth of a tray and a sky
of the breadth of an umbrella" reminds one of Ibn 'Arabi's
saying that all the universe lies potential in God like the tree
in the seed.
Drums and wild singing of interminable chants helped the shaman
to fall into a trance wherein he trafficked with the world of
spirits, just as Malay village mystics seek union with Allah
by roaring His praises in chorus and swaying head and body in
giddy contortions. The Brahmin ascetic attained hypnotic slumber
by counting his inhalations and exhalations and concentrating
his gaze on some object. Before completely losing consciousness
and gaining deliverance from the cycle of existence with power
(like Habib Noh of Singapore) to transport himself anywhere at
will, he "hears within his body (in the heart and throat,
between the eyebrows and in other parts) various sounds, those
of a drum, the roaring sea, the thunder, a bell, a shell, a reed,
a lyre and a bee."
The religious ascetic uses his trance to lose himself in God;
the Kelantan magician to discover if a warrior will win a fight
or a villager live another year. The warrior is to invoke thrice
the four Shaikhs at the corners of the world, the four first
Caliphs of Islam and the four archangels, the blessed saints,
all miracle-working rulers dead and alive, and pray them to intercede
with God to reveal the issue of the coming battle. Then he gazes
at his followers. If he sees them headless, they will perish.
If he sees them armless, they will suffer greatly in the fight.
Or he may listen three times. If he hears no sound, his men will
perish; and so on. Again: the four Caliphs have their seats in
the human frame, Abu Bakar in the liver, 'Omar in the spleen,
'Usman in the lungs, 'Ali in the gallbladder. Each of them passes
to his seat along different parts of the right or left nostril.
"If one wants to cross a river without a boat, one consults
Abu Bakar through one's breath, inhaling and then exhaling; if
there is a heavy sensation, the water is deep and a boat required;
if there is a feeling of lightness in the inhalation, the water
is shallow." There are a number of ways of divination from
observing the breaths. One more charm of which breathing forms
a part must suffice:-
"To marry body and spirit draw all your breath into your
heart and recite the following:- "I am the true Muhammad.
It is not I that say it. It is Muhammad. First spirit was created,
then the body. Only if this night be destroyed, can I be destroyed.
My being is thy being. My being is one with thy being. I vanish
in the fold of the attestation, 'There is no God but Allah-He!'
in the fold of my mother the Light of Muhammad until dawn."
If the charm is for protection by day, then it commits the reciter
to the fold of his "father the Light of Allah." "Between
the two eyebrows," said Hamzah of Barus, a famous heterodox
mystic of Sumatra, " that is the spot where the servant
meets his God," and unconsciously he was quoting yogi
ritual. Hamzah visited Pahang on the east coast of the Peninsula
about the beginnning of the seventeenth century. So it is less
surprising to find in a Kelantan charm book the above assertion
by the Malay villager of his participation in the Islamic Logos,
though it is only a mundane expedient for protecting his skin!
Less learned but equally pantheistic is the magician who,
forgetting the terrific appearance of the archangels for the
I attest there is no God but Allah!
I attest that Muhammad is His Prophet!
Ho my brethren, Gabriel, Michael, Israfil and 'Azrail!
Ye are four but with me five!
I sit on the Seat of Allah!
I lean against the pillar of His Throne!
Is this a debased interpretation of al-Jili's description
of the Perfect Man? "his heart stands over against the Throne
of God, his mind over against the Pen, his soul over against
the Guarded Tablet, his nature over against the elements, his
capability of receiving forms over against matter. He stands
over against the angels with his good thoughts, over against
the genies and devils with the doubts that beset him, over against
the beasts with his animality. . . . To every type of existence
he furnishes from himself an antitype." A literal interpretation
of mysteries is all that a mind utterly untrained in metaphysics
can compass. An extraordinary mixture of Hindu sentiment and
imagery and of Sufi metaphysical speculations on the Perfect
Man occurs in an old Perak charm for giving a person a dominant
I sit beneath the Throne of Allah;
Muhammad my shelter is beside me,
Gabriel on my right, Michael on my left,
All the company of Angels following me.
Vicegerent of Allah . . .
Only if Allah suffer harm,
Can I suffer harm:
Only if His Prophet suffer harm,
Can I suffer harm.
A hooded snake is my loin-cloth,
A musty elephant my steed:
My ear-posy the lightning,
My shadow is that of a fierce tiger.
By virtue of this charm of Awang the Preeminent
In seated assembly
Erect, walking or talking
I, lord of all mortals,
Precious stone of the Prophet,
Pearl of God.
The same manuscript contains a tremendous love-charm to be
recited over seven blossoms, that must then be handed to the
object of one's passion:- "There is no God but God. I
am God, the Divine Reality, ruler who blesseth all the worlds.
There is no God but God, the King, the Divine Reality, the Revealed.
There is no God but Allah, lord of the heavens and the earth
and of the great Throne." Thirty years ago a Perak Malay
was sentenced to gaol for teaching an obscene form of pantheism
based on the creed-"There is no God but God. I am God. God
Most High is only this self of mine."
The claim of the magician that he is God or that he is the
brother of the four archangels seems hideously blasphemous to
the orthodox Malay villager, a claim allied with the blackest
magic of the spirit-raising shaman. But to the disciple the Malay
exponent of this crude popular pantheism explains and establishes
his doctrine by many far-fetched analogies. The invocations used
by the Kelantan magician are full of them. He calls, for example,
upon four winds of disease to go forth from the patient's body
by the four doors of the organs of the mystical life. Wind in
skin and pores corresponds with the first of the four steps towards
union with God, that is, with the observance of the law, which
is the outer mark of the religious and about which there is no
secrecy. Wind in sinews and bones corresponds with the second
stage, that is, the mystic path enjoined by his spiritual guide
for the Sufi novice. Wind in the flesh and blood corresponds
with a third stage, the plane of truth. Wind in the breath of
life and the seed of man corresponds with the plane of perfect
gnosis. Or again, analogies are discovered between the worlds
of Sufi metaphysics and parts of the physical frame. The material
world is in the tongue; the invisible intelligible world in the
windpipe; the world of power (wherein lie hidden the processes
of the divine nature) in the first stomach of ruminants! All
this is abracadabra to civilised men, even metaphysicians. But
the process of thought is clear. The archangels are four; the
first Caliphs were four; the elements out of which the human
body is composed are four; the limbs of the body are four. Therefore
man and the archangels are one! Adam, Muhammad, and Allah can
each be spelt in Arabic with four letters. Still the ever recurring
number four! Therefore God and man are identical! Other mystic
numbers are three, founded on Sufi speculations on the trinity
of the lover, the beloved and love, and seven, the number of
the stages in the Neo-Platonic theory of the emanation process
of being, exemplified also in the number of the Pleiades and
the days of the week. All this is puerile, but a charm from the
Kelantan manuscript tract already quoted so largely, a charm
called "The Fortress of the Unity of God," will show
that it is wrong to suppose the Malay had no serious intellectual
interests until European protection provided him with schools
and colleges. The charm should be recited four times a night
from one Friday to the next "with a sincere vowing of the
heart to unity with Allah and the vision of Him implanted in
one's heart, until His Being permeates one and one has faith:
'I am lost in the universal and absolute Essence of God'; and
one is lost to self and one's self becomes absolute and universal
"In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Oh God! grant peace to our lord Muhammad and the household of
Muhammad who watcheth over my self and my friends and all my
children and all the contents of my house and my property and
the possessions of my hands with a sevenfold fortress from the
fortress of God Most High; its roof-'There is no God but God,'
and my wall 'Muhammad the Apostle of God,' and my key 'the might
of God,' which may not be opened for ever save with His permission.
Muhammad is like man and unlike man; he is like a chrysolite
"Now the meaning of the term 'fortress' is that we know
we come from not-being and to not-being shall return. For there
is nothing evidently save the Being of God. And of a surety the
Being of God never parts from His absolute essence, which carries
out all His will, according to His word: ' His desire is accomplished
by Himself and goes forth to no other than Himself save to not-being.'
"The meaning of the term self is 'spirit,' one of the
attributes of God Most High, which parts not from His essence
and it becomes an individualized idea and is called man. Now
the spirit is particularized and fettered. Always the spirit
yearns towards God.
"The meaning of 'the house ' is the body. The body is
the place of the spirit and so the veritable place that reveals
God according to the saying of the Prophet, on whom be the peace
of God: 'Whosoever knows himself, knows his Lord.' The house
was built of itself and though it will pass away, yet He Whose
house it is, is the Reality Who with His absolute essence is
"The meaning of our 'property' is the liver and heart
and lungs and gall and all that God Most High has created: according
to His word:-'There is no strength in any one save the strength
of Allah, lord of all the worlds both as regards things revealed
and things hidden.'
"The meaning of our 'possessions' is the ten senses,
firstly the outward and secondly the inner. The outward arc five:
the sight of the eyes, the hearing of the ears, the taste of
the tongue, the smelling of the nose, and the touch of the hand.
The inner also are five: consciousness, faith, memory, perception
"The meaning of the sevenfold 'fortress' is the creation
by God Most High of man with seven attributes: life, knowledge,
power, will, hearing, sight and speech. And seven parts of the
body must be bowed to God in prayer: the forehead, the palms
of the hands, the knees and the soles of the feet.
"The meaning of the 'lock' is because we have utter trust
and union by surrendering ourselves to God Most High, according
to His word: 'Hold yourselves fast to the cord of God which breaks
not neither is there concealment of His will from mystical knowledge';
as said the Prophet on whom be God's peace:-'Nothing at all moves
save by permission of Allah.' For we cannot behold aught if the
cord break and it cannot break save by the will of God Most High,
and there is no substitute for that cord.
"And the meaning of the 'key' is Muhammad Apostle of
God. For God is utterly hidden; none knoweth Him save in His
own person. Therefore to cherish His glory, God Most High was
revealed in the spirit of Muhammad our Prophet and from that
spirit God Most High created all this universe, and all the attributes
of His secret wisdom were revealed. So it is that Muhammad is
called the 'key,' because he opened the treasure-house that was
hidden, according to His word:-'I opened that which was closed.'
"And the meaning of the protection of God is according
to His word: 'God Most High is with thee wheresoever thou art,'
according to His word:
God is nearer to thee than the muscles of thy neck.' "And
the meaning of 'roof' is the power of God to cover any of His
servants with mercy according to His will, so that he be locked
away from all enemies and danger in this world and the next,
neither shall the lock be opened by genie or man save with the
permission of God Most High."
Was it to test the efficacy of some such charm as this that
that novice on the Sufi path, Sultan Mahmud of old Malacca, took
his spiritual guide with him into battle against the "white
Bengalis," descendants of genies, the first European invaders