SHAMAN, SAIVA AND SUFI

(d) DEATH

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 in
jars!
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 influences.
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 from
Jelebu.
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.




Shaman, Saiva and Sifu

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