SHAMAN, SAIVA AND SUFI
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 of gratitude.
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.