SHAMAN, SAIVA AND SUFI
(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
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 into water.
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
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
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 wrist.
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.