SHAMAN, SAIVA AND SUFI
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 burn.
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
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 present feast.
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
Rice−paste without speck!
I'll get gold by the peck!
I charm my rice crushed and in ear!
I'll get full grain within the year.)
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 invocation:−
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
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 of agriculture.
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 down,
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.