SHAMAN, SAIVA AND SUFI
(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 moment.
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 herbs.
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 loris!
A relic of the Malay's fear of the departed survives in the moribund custom of abandoning a house where a
death has occurred.