The Project Gutenberg eBook of Malay Magic

This ebook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this ebook or online at If you are not located in the United States, you will have to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this eBook.

Title: Malay Magic

Author: Walter William Skeat

Release date: January 4, 2015 [eBook #47873]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Jeroen Hellingman and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at for Project
Gutenberg (This file was produced from images generously
made available by The Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries)



Newly Designed Front Cover.


Original Title Page.




Publisher’s monogram. MM&Co.

All rights reserved






“The cry of hosts [we] humour

Ah! slowly, toward the light.”

Rudyard Kipling. [vii]



The circumstances attending the composition and publication of the present work have thrown upon me the duty of furnishing it with a preface explaining its object and scope.

Briefly, the purpose of the author has been to collect into a Book of Malay Folklore all that seemed to him most typical of the subject amongst a considerable mass of materials, some of which lay scattered in the pages of various other works, others in unpublished native manuscripts, and much in notes made by him personally of what he had observed during several years spent in the Malay Peninsula, principally in the State of Selangor. The book does not profess to be an exhaustive or complete treatise, but rather, as its title indicates, an introduction to the study of Folklore, Popular Religion, and Magic as understood among the Malays of the Peninsula.

It should be superfluous, at this time of day, to defend such studies as these from the criticisms which have from time to time been brought against them. I remember my old friend and former teacher, Wan [viii]ʿAbdullah, a Singapore Malay of Trengganu extraction and Arab descent, a devout and learned Muhammadan and a most charming man, objecting to them on the grounds, first, that they were useless, and, secondly, which, as he emphatically declared, was far worse, that they were perilous to the soul’s health. This last is a point of view which it would hardly be appropriate or profitable to discuss here, but a few words may as well be devoted to the other objection. It is based, sometimes, on the ground that these studies deal not with “facts,” but with mere nonsensical fancies and beliefs. Now, for facts we all, of course, have the greatest respect; but the objection appears to me to involve an unwarrantable restriction of the meaning of the word: a belief which is actually held, even a mere fancy that is entertained in the mind, has a real existence, and is a fact just as much as any other. As a piece of psychology it must always have a certain interest, and it may on occasions become of enormous practical importance. If, for instance, in 1857 certain persons, whose concern it was, had paid more attention to facts of this kind, possibly the Indian Mutiny could have been prevented, and probably it might have been foreseen, so that precautionary measures could have been taken in time to minimise the extent of the catastrophe. It is not suggested that the matters dealt with in this book are ever likely to involve such serious issues; but, speaking generally, there can be no doubt [ix]that an understanding of the ideas and modes of thought of an alien people in a relatively low stage of civilisation facilitates very considerably the task of governing them; and in the Malay Peninsula that task has now devolved mainly upon Englishmen. Moreover, every notion of utility implies an end to which it is to be referred, and there are other ends in life worth considering as well as those to which the “practical man” is pleased to restrict himself. When one passes from the practical to the speculative point of view, it is almost impossible to predict what piece of knowledge will be fruitful of results, and what will not; prima facie, therefore, all knowledge has a claim to be considered of importance from a scientific point of view, and until everything is known, nothing can safely be rejected as worthless.

Another and more serious objection, aimed rather at the method of such investigations as these, is that the evidence with which they have to be content is worth little or nothing. Objectors attempt to discredit it by implying that at best it is only what A. says that B. told him about the beliefs B. says he holds, in other words, that it is the merest hearsay; and it is also sometimes suggested that when A. is a European and B. a savage, or at most a semi-civilised person of another breed, the chances are that B. will lie about his alleged beliefs, or that A. will unconsciously read his own ideas into B.’s [x]confused statements, or that, at any rate, one way or another, they are sure to misunderstand each other, and accordingly the record cannot be a faithful one.

So far as this objection can have any application to the present work, it may fairly be replied: first that the author has been at some pains to corroborate and illustrate his own accounts by the independent observations of others (and this must be his justification for the copiousness of his quotations from other writers); and, secondly, that he has, whenever possible, given us what is really the best kind of evidence for his own statements by recording the charms and other magic formulæ which are actually in use. Of these a great number has been here collected, and in the translation of such of the more interesting ones as are quoted in the text of the book, every effort has been made to keep to literal accuracy of rendering. The originals will be found in the Appendix, and it must be left to those who can read Malay to check the author’s versions, and to draw from the untranslated portions such inferences as may seem to them good.

The author himself has no preconceived thesis to maintain: his object has been collection rather than comparison, and quite apart from the necessary limitations of space and time, his method has confined the book within fairly well-defined bounds. Though the subject is one which would naturally lend itself to a comparative treatment, and though [xi]the comparison of Malay folklore with that of other nations (more particularly of India, Arabia, and the mainland of Indo-China) would no doubt lead to very interesting results, the scope of the work has as far as possible been restricted to the folklore of the Malays of the Peninsula. Accordingly the analogous and often quite similar customs and ideas of the Malayan races of the Eastern Archipelago have been only occasionally referred to, while those of the Chinese and other non-Malayan inhabitants of the Peninsula have been excluded altogether.

Moreover, several important departments of custom and social life have been, no doubt designedly, omitted: thus, to mention only one subject out of several that will probably occur to the reader, the modes of organisation of the Family and the Clan (which in certain Malay communities present archaic features of no common interest), together with the derivative notions affecting the tenure and inheritance of property, have found no place in this work. The field, in fact, is very wide and cannot all be worked at once. The folklore of uncivilised races may fairly enough be said to embrace every phase of nature and every department of life: it may be regarded as containing, in the germ and as yet undifferentiated, the notions from which Religion, Law, Medicine, Philosophy, Natural Science, and Social Customs are eventually evolved. Its bulk and relative importance seem to vary inversely with the [xii]advance of a race in the progress towards civilisation; and the ideas of savages on these matters appear to constitute in some cases a great and complex system, of which comparatively few traces only are left among the more civilised peoples. The Malay race, while far removed from the savage condition, has not as yet reached a very high stage of civilisation, and still retains relatively large remnants of this primitive order of ideas. It is true that Malay notions on these subjects are undergoing a process of disintegration, the rapidity of which has been considerably increased by contact with European civilisation, but, such as they are, these ideas still form a great factor in the life of the mass of the people.

It may, however, be desirable to point out that the complexity of Malay folklore is to be attributed in part to its singularly mixed character. The development of the race from savagery and barbarism up to its present condition of comparative civilisation has been modified and determined, first and most deeply by Indian, and during the last five centuries or so by Arabian influences. Just as in the language of the Malays it is possible by analysis to pick out words of Sanskrit and Arabic origin from amongst the main body of genuinely native words, so in their folklore one finds Hindu, Buddhist, and Muhammadan ideas overlying a mass of apparently original Malay notions. [xiii]

These various elements of their folklore are, however, now so thoroughly mixed up together that it is often almost impossible to disentangle them. No systematic attempt has been made to do so in this book, although here and there an indication of the origin of some particular myth will be found; but a complete analysis (if possible at all) would have necessitated, as a preliminary investigation, a much deeper study of Hindu and Muhammadan mythology than it has been found practicable to engage in.

In order, however, to give a clear notion of the relation which the beliefs and practices that are here recorded bear to the official religion of the people, it is necessary to state that the Malays of the Peninsula are Sunni Muhammadans of the school of Shafi’i, and that nothing, theoretically speaking, could be more correct and orthodox (from the point of view of Islām) than the belief which they profess.

But the beliefs which they actually hold are another matter altogether, and it must be admitted that the Muhammadan veneer which covers their ancient superstitions is very often of the thinnest description. The inconsistency in which this involves them is not, however, as a rule realised by themselves. Beginning their invocations with the orthodox preface: “In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate,” and ending them with an appeal to the Creed: “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Apostle of God,” they are conscious [xiv]of no impropriety in addressing the intervening matter to a string of Hindu Divinities, Demons, Ghosts, and Nature Spirits, with a few Angels and Prophets thrown in, as the occasion may seem to require. Still, the more highly educated Malays, especially those who live in the towns and come into direct contact with Arab teachers of religion, are disposed to object strongly to these “relics of paganism”; and there can be no doubt that the increasing diffusion of general education in the Peninsula is contributing to the growth of a stricter conception of Islām, which will involve the gradual suppression of such of these old-world superstitions as are obviously of an “unorthodox” character.

This process, however, will take several generations to accomplish, and in the meantime it is to be hoped that a complete record will have been made both of what is doomed sooner or later to perish, and of what in all likelihood will survive under the new conditions of our time. It is as a contribution to such a record, and as a collection of materials to serve as a sound basis for further additions and comparisons, that this work is offered to the reader.

A list of the principal authorities referred to will be found in another place, but it would be improper to omit here the acknowledgments which are due to the various authors of whose work in this field such wide use has been made. Among the dead special mention must be made of Marsden, who will [xv]always be for Englishmen the pioneer of Malay studies; Leyden, the gifted translator of the Sĕjarah Malayu, whose early death probably inflicted on Oriental scholarship the greatest loss it has ever had to suffer; Newbold, the author of what is still, on the whole, the best work on the Malay Peninsula; and Sir William Maxwell, in whom those of us who knew him have lost a friend, and Malay scholarship a thoroughly sound and most brilliant exponent.

Among the living, the acknowledgments of the author are due principally to Sir Frank Swettenham and Mr. Hugh Clifford, who, while they have done much to popularise the knowledge of things Malay amongst the general reading public, have also embodied in their works the results of much careful and accurate observation. The free use which has been made of the writings of these and other authors will, it is hoped, be held to be justified by their intrinsic value.

It must be added that the author, having to leave England about the beginning of this year with the Cambridge scientific expedition which is now exploring the Northern States of the Peninsula, left the work with me for revision. The first five Chapters and Chapter VI., up to the end of the section on Dances, Sports, and Games, were then already in the printer’s hands, but only the first 100 pages or so had had the benefit of the author’s revision. For the arrangement of the rest of Chapter VI., and for [xvi]some small portion of the matter therein contained, I am responsible, and it has also been my duty to revise the whole book finally. Accordingly, it is only fair to the author to point out that he is to be credited with the matter and the general scheme of the work, while the responsibility for defects in detail must fall upon myself.

As regards the spelling of Malay words, it must be said that geographical names have been spelled in the way which is now usually adopted and without diacritical marks: the names of the principal Native States of the Peninsula (most of which are repeatedly mentioned in the book) are Kĕdah, Perak, Sĕlangor, Jŏhor, Păhang, Trĕngganu, Kĕlantan, and Pătani. Otherwise, except in quotations (where the spelling of the original is preserved), an attempt has been made to transliterate the Malay words found in the body of the book in such a way as to give the ordinary reader a fairly correct idea of their pronunciation. The Appendix, which appeals only to persons who already know Malay, has been somewhat differently treated, diacritical marks being inserted only in cases where there was a possible ambiguity, and the spelling of the original MSS. being changed as little as possible.

A perfect transliteration, or one that will suit everybody, is, however, an unattainable ideal, and the most that can be done in that direction is necessarily a compromise. In the system adopted in the [xvii]body of the work, the vowels are to be sounded (roughly speaking) as in Italian, except ĕ (which resembles the French e in que, le, and the like), and the consonants as in English (but ng as in singer, not finger; g as in go; ny as ni in onion; ch as in church; final k and initial h almost inaudible). The symbol ʿ represents the Arabic ʿain, and the symbol ’ is used (1) between consonants, to indicate the presence of an almost inaudible vowel, the shortest form of ĕ, and elsewhere (2) for the hamzah, and (3) for the apostrophe, i.e. to denote the suppression of a letter or syllable. Both the ʿain and the hamzah may be neglected in pronunciation, as indeed they are very generally disregarded by the Malays themselves. In this and other respects, Arabic scholars into whose hands this book may fall must not be surprised to find that Arabic words and phrases suffer some corruptions in a Malay context. These have not, as a rule, been interfered with or corrected, although it has not been thought worth while to preserve obvious blunders of spelling in well-known Arabic formulæ. It should be added that in Malay the accent or stress, which is less marked than in English, falls almost invariably on the penultimate syllable of the word. Exceptions to this rule hardly ever occur except in the few cases where the penultimate is an open syllable with a short vowel, as indicated by the sign ˘.

The illustrations are reproduced from photographs [xviii]of models and original objects made by Malays; most of these models and other objects are now in the Cambridge Archæological and Ethnological Museum, to which they were presented by the author.

The Index, for the compilation of which I am indebted to my wife, who has also given me much assistance in the revision of the proof-sheets, will, it is believed, add greatly to the usefulness of the work as a book of reference.





Nature, pp. 1–15        PAGE

(a) Creation of the World 1
(b) Natural Phenomena 5


Man and His Place in the Universe, pp. 16–55

(a) Creation of Man 16
(b) Sanctity of the Body 23
(c) The Soul 47
(d) Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral Souls 52


Relations with the Supernatural World, pp. 56–82

(a) The Magician 56
(b) High Places 61
(c) Nature of Rites 71


The Malay Pantheon, pp. 83–106

(a) Gods 83
(b) Spirits, Demons, and Ghosts 93


Magic Rites connected with the Several Departments of Nature, pp. 107–319

(a) Air
(b) Earth
(c) Water
(d) Fire


Magic Rites as affecting the Life of Man, pp. 320–580

1. Birth-Spirits 320
2. Birth Ceremonies 332
3. Adolescence [xxi] 352
4. Personal Ceremonies and Charms 361
5. Betrothal 364
6. Marriage 368
7. Funerals 397
8. Medicine 408
9. Dances, Sports, and Games 457
10. Theatrical Exhibitions 503
11. War and Weapons 522
12. Divination and the Black Art 532

Appendix        581

Note on the word Kramat        673

List of Chief Authorities quoted        675

Index        677 [xxiii]



1. Selangor Regalia 40
2. Spirits 94
3. The Spectre Huntsman 116
4. Pigeon Decoy Hut 133
5. Rice-Soul Baskets 244
6. Bajang and Pĕlĕsit Charms 321
7. Pĕnanggalan and Langsuir 326
8. Betrothal Gifts 365
10. Curtain Fringe 372
11. Fig. 1.—Bridal Bouquets 375
2.—The Henna Cake, etc. [xiv]
12. Fig. 1.—Bridegroom’s Headdress 378
13. Wedding Procession 381
14. Poko’ Sirih 382
15. Wedding Centrepiece with Dragons, etc. 388
16. Bomor at Work 410
17. Anchak 414
18. Gambor 464
19. Pĕdikir 466
20. Fig. 1.—Musical Instruments 508
2.—Demon Mask
21. Masks of Clowns and Demon 513
22. Kuda Sĕmbrani 514
23. Fig. 1.—Hanuman 516
2.—Pauh Janggi and Crab
24. Fig. 1.—Weather Chart 544
25. Diagrams 555
28. Fig. 1.—Wax Figures 570
2.—Spirit Umbrellas and Tapers




(a) Creation of the World

The theory of the Creation most usually held by Peninsular Malays is summarised in the following passage, quoted (in 1839) by Lieutenant Newbold from a Malay folk-tale:—

“From the Supreme Being first emanated light towards chaos; this light, diffusing itself, became the vast ocean. From the bosom of the waters thick vapour and foam ascended. The earth and sea were then formed, each of seven tiers. The earth rested on the surface of the water from east to west. God, in order to render steadfast the foundations of the world, which vibrated tremulously with the motion of the watery expanse, girt it round with an adamantine chain, viz. the stupendous mountains of Caucasus, the wondrous regions of genii and aerial spirits. Beyond these limits is spread out a vast plain, the sand and earth of which are of gold and musk, the stones rubies and emeralds, the vegetation of odoriferous flowers.

“From the range of Caucasus all the mountains of [2]the earth have their origin as pillars to support and strengthen the terrestrial framework.”1

The Mountains of Caucasus are usually called by Malays Bukit Kof (i.e. Kaf), or the Mountains of Kaf (which latter is their Arabic name). These mountains are not unfrequently referred to in Malay charms, e.g. in invocations addressed to the Rice-Spirit. The Mountains of Kaf are to the Malays a great range which serves as a “wall” (dinding) to the earth, and keeps off both excessive winds and beasts of prey. This wall, however, is being bored through by people called Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog), and when they succeed in their task the end of all things will come. Besides these mountains which surround the earth there is a great central mountain called Mahameru (Saguntang Maha Biru, or merely Saguntang-guntang).2 In many Malay stories this hill Mahameru is identified with Saguntang-guntang on the borders of Palembang in Sumatra.

The account which I shall now give, however, differs considerably from the preceding. It was taken down by me from an introduction to a Malay charm-book belonging to a magician (one ʿAbdul Razzak of Klang in Selangor), with whom I was acquainted, but who, though he allowed me to copy it, would not allow me either to buy or borrow the book:3

“In the days when Haze bore Darkness, and Darkness Haze, when the Lord of the Outer Silence Himself was yet in the womb of Creation, before the existence of the names of Earth and Heaven, of God and Muhammad, of the Empyrean and Crystalline [3]spheres, or of Space and Void, the Creator of the entire Universe pre-existed by Himself, and He was the Eldest Magician. He created the Earth of the width of a tray and the Heavens of the width of an umbrella, which are the universe of the Magician. Now from before the beginning of time existed that Magician—that is, God—and He made Himself manifest with the brightness of the moon and the sun, which is the token of the True Magician.”

The account proceeds to describe how God “created the pillar of the Kaʿbah,4 which is the Navel of the Earth, whose growth is comparable to a Tree, ... whose branches are four in number, and are called, the first, ‘Sajeratul Mentahar,’ and the second ‘Taubi,’ and the third, ‘Khaldi,’ and the fourth ‘Nasrun ʿAlam,’ which extend unto the north, south, east, and west, where they are called the Four Corners of the World.”

Next we read that the word of God Almighty came in secret to Gabriel, saying, “Take me down the iron staff of the ‘Creed’ which dangles at the gate of heaven, and kill me this serpent Sakatimuna.”5 Gabriel did so, and the serpent brake asunder, the head and forepart shooting up above the heavens, and the tail part penetrating downwards beneath the earth.6 The rest of the account is taken up with a description, that need not here be repeated, of the transformation of all the various parts of the serpent’s anatomy, which [4]are represented as turning with a few exceptions into good and evil genii.

The most curious feature of the description is perhaps the marked anthropomorphic character of this serpent, which shows it to be a serpent in little more than name. It seems, in fact, very probable that we have here a reminiscence of the Indian “Naga.”7 Thus we find the rainbow (here divided into its component parts) described as originating from the serpent’s sword with its hilt and cross-piece (guard), grass from the hair of its body, trees from the hair of its head, rain from its tears, and dew from its sweat.

Another account, also obtained from a local magician, contains one or two additional details about the tree. “Kun,” said God, “Payah8 kun” said Muhammad, and a seed was created.

“The seed became a root (lit. sinew), the root a tree, and the tree brought forth leaves.

“‘Kun,’ said God, ‘Payah kun,’ said Muhammad; ... Then were Heaven and Earth (created), ‘Earth of the width of a tray, Heaven of the width of an umbrella.’”

This is a curious passage, and one not over-easy to [5]explain; such evidence as may be drawn from analogy suggests, however, that the “Earth of the width of a tray, and Heaven of the width of an umbrella,” may be intended to represent respectively the “souls” (sĕmangat) of heaven and earth, in which case they would bear the same relation to the material heaven and earth as the man-shaped human soul does to the body of a man.


(b) Natural Phenomena

“Most Malays,” says Newbold, “with whom I have conversed on the subject, imagine that the world is of an oval shape, revolving upon its own axis four times in the space of one year; that the sun is a circular body of fire moving round the earth, and producing the alternations of night and day.”

To this I would add that some Malays, at least, whom I questioned on the subject (as well as some Sakais9 under Malay influence), imagined the firmament to consist of a sort of stone or rock which they called Batu hampar, or “Bed rock,” the appearance of stars being caused (as they supposed) by the light which streams through its perforations.

A further development of the Malay theory of the earth declares it to be carried by a colossal buffalo upon the tip of its horns.10 When one horn begins to tire the buffalo tosses it up and catches it upon the tip of the other, thus causing periodical earthquakes. [6]This world-buffalo, it should be added, stands upon an island in the midst of the nether ocean.11 The universe is girt round by an immense serpent or dragon (Ular Naga), which “feeds upon its own tail.”

The Malay theory of the tides is concisely stated by Newbold:12

“Some Malays ascribe the tides to the influence of the sun; others to some unknown current of the ocean; but the generality believe confidently the following, which is a mere skeleton of the original legend. In the middle of the great ocean grows an immense tree, called Pauh Jangi,13 at the root of [7]which is a cavern called Pusat Tassek, or navel of the lake. This is inhabited by a vast crab, who goes forth at stated periods during the day. When the creature returns to its abode the displaced water causes the flow of the tide; when he departs, the water rushing into the cavern causes the ebb.”

Mr. Clifford gives a slightly different explanation:—

“The Pusat tasek, or Navel of the Seas, supposed to be a huge hole in the ocean bottom. In this hole there sits a gigantic crab which twice a day gets out in order to search for food. While he is sitting in the hole the waters of the ocean are unable to pour down into the under world, the whole of the aperture being filled and blocked by the crab’s bulk. The inflowing of the rivers into the sea during these periods are supposed to cause the rising of the tide, while the downpouring of the waters through the great hole when the crab is absent searching for food is supposed to cause the ebb.”

Concerning the wonderful legendary tree (the [8]Pauh Janggi) the following story was related to me by a Selangor Malay:—

“There was once a Selangor man named Haji Batu, or the Petrified Pilgrim, who got this name from the fact that the first joints of all the fingers of one hand had been turned into stone. This happened in the following manner. In the old days when men went voyaging in sailing vessels, he determined to visit Mecca, and accordingly set sail. After sailing for about two months they drifted out of their course for some ten or fifteen days, and then came to a part of the sea where there were floating trunks of trees, together with rice-straw (batang padi) and all manner of flotsam. Yet again they drifted for seven days, and upon the seventh night Haji Batu dreamed a dream. In this dream one who wore the pilgrim’s garb appeared to him, and warned him to carry on his person a hammer and seven nails, and when he came to a tree which would be the Pauh Janggi he was to drive the first of the nails into its stem and cling thereto. Next day the ship reached the great whirlpool which is called the Navel of the Seas,14 and while [9]the ship was being sucked into the eddy close to the tree and engulfed, Haji Batu managed to drive the first nail home, and clung to it as the ship went down. After a brief interval he endeavoured to drive in the second nail, somewhat higher up the stem than the first (why Haji Batu could not climb without the aid of nails history does not relate), and drawing himself up by it, drove in the third. Thus progressing, by the time he had driven in all the seven nails he had reached the top of the tree, when he discovered among the branches a nest of young rocs. Here he rested, and having again been advised in a dream, he waited. On the following day, when the parent roc had returned and was engaged in feeding its young with an elephant which it had brought for the purpose, he bound himself to its feathers with his girdle, and was carried in this manner many hundreds of miles to the westward, where, upon the roc’s nearing the ground, he let himself go, and thus dropping to the earth, fell into a swoon. On recovering consciousness he walked on till he came to a house, where he asked for and obtained some refreshment. On his departure he was advised to go westward, and so proceeded for a long distance until he arrived at a beautifully clear pool in an open plain, around which were to be seen many stone figures of human beings. The appearance of these stone figures rendering him suspicious, he [10]refrained from drinking the water, and dipped into it merely the tips of his fingers, which became immediately petrified. Proceeding he met a vast number of wild animals—pigs, deer, and elephants—which were fleeing from the pursuit of a beast of no great size indeed, but with fiery red fur. He therefore prudently climbed into a tree to allow it to pass. The beast, however, pursued him and commenced to climb the tree, but as it climbed he drove the point of his poniard (badik) into its skull, and killed it. He then robbed it of its whiskers, and thereafter, on his reaching a town, everybody fled from him because of the whiskers which had belonged to so fierce a beast. The Raja of that country, begging for one of them, and giving him food, he presented him with one of the whiskers in payment. After paying his way in a similar manner at seven successive villages, the Petrified Pilgrim at length reached Mecca.”

“Bores,” or “eagres,” at the mouths of rivers, and floods15 due to heavy rain, are conceived to be caused by the passage of some gigantic animal, most probably a sort of dragon, as in the case of landslips, which will be mentioned later.

This animal, whose passage up rivers is held to cause the tidal wave or bore, is called Bĕnă in Selangor. It is a matter of common report among [11]Malays at Jugra, on the Selangor coast, that a bore formerly “frequented” the Langat river, near its mouth. This was anterior to the severance of the narrow neck of land16 at Bandar that divided the old channel of the Langat river from the stream into which the waters of the Langat now flow, forming the short cut to the sea called the Jugra Passage. In the days when the bore came up the river the Malays used to go out in small canoes or dug-outs to “sport amongst the breakers” (main gĕlombang), frequently getting upset for their pains. Eventually, however (I was told), the bore was killed by a Langat Malay, who struck it upon the head with a stick! It is considered that this must be true, since there is no bore in the Langat river now!

Eclipses (Gĕrhana) of the sun or moon are considered to be the outward and visible sign of the devouring of those bodies17 by a sort of gigantic dragon (rahu)18 or dog (anjing). Hence the tumult [12]made during an eclipse by the Malays, who imagine that if they make a sufficient din they will frighten the monster away.

The following is an excellent description of a lunar eclipse from the Malay point of view:—

“One night, when the Moon has waxed nearly to the full, Pĕkan resounds with a babel of discordant noise. The large brass gongs, in which the devils of the Chinese are supposed to take delight, clang and clash and bray through the still night air; the Malay drums throb and beat and thud; all manner of shrill yells fill the sky, and the roar of a thousand native voices rises heavenwards, or rolls across the white waters of the river, which are flecked with deep shadows and reflections. The jungles on the far bank take up the sound and send it pealing back in recurring ringing echoes till the whole world seems to shout in chorus. The Moon which bathes the earth in splendour, the Moon which is so dear to each one of us, is in dire peril this night, for that fierce monster, the Gĕrhâna,19 whom we hate and loathe, is striving to swallow her. You can mark his black bulk creeping over her, dimming her face, consuming her utterly, while she suffers in the agony of silence. How often in the past has she served us with the light; how often has she made night more beautiful than day for our tired, sun-dazed eyes to look upon; and shall she now perish without one effort on our part to save her by scaring the Monster from his prey? No! A thousand times no! So we shout, and clang the gongs, and beat the drums, till all the animal world joins in the tumult, and even inanimate nature lends its voice to swell the [13]uproar with a thousand resonant echoes. At last the hated Monster reluctantly retreats. Our war-cry has reached his ears, and he slinks sullenly away, and the pure, sad, kindly Moon looks down in love and gratitude upon us, her children, to whose aid she owes her deliverance.”20

The “spots on the moon”21 are supposed to represent an inverted banyan tree (Bĕringin songsang), underneath which an aged hunchback is seated plaiting strands of tree bark (pintal tali kulit t’rap) to make a fishing-line, wherewith he intends to angle for everything upon the earth as soon as his task is completed. It has never been completed yet, however, for a rat always gnaws the line through in time to save mankind from disaster, despite the vigilance of the old man’s cat, which is always lying in wait for the offender.22 It is perhaps scarcely necessary to add that when the line reaches the earth the end of the world will come.

Bujang (‘single,’ ‘solitary,’ and hence in a secondary sense ‘unmarried’) is a Sanskrit word bhujangga, ‘a dragon.’ ‘Bujang Malaka,’ a mountain in Pêrak, is said by the Malays of that State to have been so called because it stands alone, and could be seen from the sea by traders who plied in old days between the Pêrak river and the once flourishing port [14]of Malacca. But it is just as likely to have been named from some forgotten legend in which a dragon played a part. Dragons and mountains are generally connected in Malay ideas. The caves in the limestone hill Gunong Pondok, in Pêrak, are said to be haunted by a genius loci in the form of a snake who is popularly called Si Bujang. This seems to prove beyond doubt the identity of bujang with bhujangga.23 The snake-spirit of Gunong Pondok is sometimes as small as a viper, and sometimes as large as a python, but he may always be identified by his spotted neck, which resembles that of a wood-pigeon (tekukur). Landslips on the mountains, which are tolerably frequent during very heavy rains, and which, being produced by the same cause, are often simultaneous with the flooding of rivers and the destruction of property, are attributed by the natives to the sudden breaking forth of dragons (naga), which have been performing religious penance (ber-tapa)24 in the mountains, and which are making their way to the sea.”25

So, too, many waterfalls and rocks of unusual shape are thought to owe their remarkable character to the agency of demons. This, however, is a subject which will be treated more fully later on.

Palangi, the usual Malay word for the rainbow, means ‘striped.’ The name varies, however, in different localities. In Pêrak it is called palangi minum26 (from a belief that it is the path by which spirits descend to the earth to drink), while in Penang it is known as [15]ular danu (‘the snake danu’). In Pêrak, a rainbow which stretches in an arch across the sky is called bantal (‘the pillow ’), for some reason that I have been unable to ascertain.27 When only a small portion of a rainbow is visible, which seems to touch the earth, it is called tunggul (‘the flag’),28 and if this is seen at some particular point of the compass—the west, I think—it betokens, the Pêrak Malays say, the approaching death of a Raja. Another popular belief is that the ends of the rainbow rest upon the earth, and that if one could dig at the exact spot covered by one end of it, an untold treasure would be found there. Unfortunately, no one can ever arrive at the place.”29

“Sunset is the hour when evil spirits of all kinds have most power.30 In Pêrak, children are often called indoors at this time to save them from unseen dangers. Sometimes, with the same object, a woman belonging to the house where there are young children, will chew kuniet tĕrus (an evil-smelling root), supposed to be much disliked by demons of all kinds, and spit it out at seven different points as she walks round the house.

“The yellow glow which spreads over the western sky, when it is lighted up with the last rays of the dying sun, is called mambang kuning (‘the yellow deity’), a term indicative of the superstitious dread associated with this particular period.”31 [16]

1 Newbold, British Settlements in the Straits of Malacca, vol. ii. pp. 360, 361. 

2 Vide Vishnu Purana, vol. ii. p. 109; trans. by Wilson. 

3 The full Malay text of this introduction will be found in the Appendix. 

4 Lit. “A cube.” The cube-like building in the centre of the Mosque at Makkah (Mecca), which contains the Hajaru ’l-Aswad, or black stone.—Hughes, Dict. of Islam, s.v. Kaʿbah. 

5 Sakatimuna (or “Sicatimuna”) is the name of an enormous serpent, said to have ravaged the country of Menangkabau in Sumatra about the beginning of the 12th century.—Newbold, op. cit. vol. ii. p. 199 n. It is also given as “Icktimani” by Leyden in his trans. of the Malay Annals

6 For the parting asunder of the snake, vide the note on page 11 infra, which gives what may be the origin of this myth as it is known to the Malays. 

7 The Nagas are generally represented in old sculptures as bearing the human form, but with a snake attached to their backs, and the hooded head rising behind their necks.—Nagananda, translated by Palmer Boyd, p. 61; vide also ib. p. 84. This may be the explanation of the Malay k’ris hilt, or dagger hilt, which represents a seated human form with folded arms and a hood at the back of its neck rising over its head. These hilts are called hulu Malayu (the “Malay hilt”), or Jawa dĕmam (lit. the “Fever-stricken Javanese”), in allusion to the attitude of the figure with its folded arms. The pattern of these hilts, which are universally used for the national Malay k’ris or dagger, varies from an accurate representation of the human figure to forms in which nothing but the hood (which is occasionally much exaggerated) is recognisable. Europeans seeing these hilts for the first time sometimes take them for snakes’ heads, sometimes for the heads of birds. 

8 Payah probably stands for supaya, perhaps with the meaning “so also.” Kun in Arabic means “be.” The tree would appear to be identifiable (vide App. i., iii.) with that mentioned in the first account. 

9 Sakais are certain of the non-Malayan heathen (i.e. not Muhammadan) inhabitants of the hills and jungles of the Peninsula. 

10 Some say a bullock (lĕmbu), but the most usual version gives the buffalo. In the Ramayana, which has largely influenced some departments of Malay folk-lore, it is an elephant which supports the earth. So, too, Vishnu in the boar-incarnation raised the earth from the bottom of the sea upon his tusks. 

11 This island (for which a tortoise or the fish “Nun” is occasionally substituted) may be compared with the Batak (Sumatran) belief concerning the raft which was made by Batara Guru for the support of the earth at the creation of the world (J.R.A.S., N. S. vol. xiii. part i. p. 60); and vide Klinkert’s Malay-Dutch Dict., s.v. Nun. 

12 Newbold, op. cit. vol. ii. p. 359. The spelling of “Jangi” is incorrect. It should be spelt “Janggi.” 

13 This tree appears to be a tradition of the Cocos Maldiva, of which Sir H. Yule, s.v. Coco-de-Mer, gives the following interesting account:—

Coco-de-Mer, or Double Coco-nut, the curious twin fruit so called, the produce of the Lodoicea Sechellarum, a palm growing only in the Seychelles Islands, is cast up on the shores of the Indian Ocean, most frequently on the Maldive Islands, but occasionally also on Ceylon and S. India, and on the coasts of Zanzibar, of Sumatra, and some others of the Malay Islands. Great virtues as medicine and antidote were supposed to reside in these fruits, and extravagant prices were paid for them. The story goes that a ‘country captain,’ expecting to make his fortune, took a cargo of these nuts from the Seychelles Islands to Calcutta, but the only result was to destroy their value for the future.

“The old belief was that the fruit was produced on a palm growing below the sea, whose fronds, according to Malay seamen, were sometimes seen in quiet bights on the Sumatran coast, especially in the Lampong Bay. According to one form of the story among the Malays, which is told both by Pigafetta and by Rumphius, there was but one such tree, the fronds of which rose above an abyss of the Southern Ocean, and were the abode of the monstrous bird Garuda (or Rukh of the Arabs). The tree itself was called Pau-sengi, which Rumphius seems to interpret as a corruption of Buwa-zangi, ‘Fruit of Zang,’ or E. Africa. They were cast up occasionally on the islands of the S.W. coast of Sumatra; and the wild people of the islands brought them for sale to the Sumatran marts, such as Padang and Priamang. One of the largest (say about twelve inches across) would sell for 150 rix dollars. But the Malay princes coveted them greatly, and would sometimes (it was alleged) give a laden junk for a single nut. In India the best-known source of supply was from the Maldive Islands.

“The medical virtues of the nut were not only famous among all the people of the East, including the Chinese, but are extolled by Piso and by Rumphius, with many details. The latter, learned and laborious student of nature as he was, believed in the submarine origin of the nut, though he discredited its growing on a great palm, as no traces of such a plant had ever been discovered on the coasts. The fame of the nut’s virtues had extended to Europe, and the Emperor Rudolf II. in his latter days offered in vain 4000 florins to purchase from the family of Wolfert Hermanszen, a Dutch Admiral, one which had been presented to that commander by the King of Bantam, on the Hollander’s relieving his capital, attacked by the Portuguese in 1602.”—Hobson-Jobson, loc. cit.

To this valuable note I would add that Rumphius is evidently wrong if he derives the name of the tree, “Pau-sengi,” from the Malay “Buwa-zangi.” The first part of the word is “Pau” or “Pauh,” which is perfectly good Malay, and is the name given to various species of mango, especially the wild one, so that “Pau-sengi” actually represents (not “Buwa,” but) “Pauh Janggi,” which is to this day the universal Malay name for the tree which grows, according to Malay fable, in the central whirlpool or Navel of the Seas. Some versions add that it grows upon a sunken bank (tĕbing runtoh), and is guarded by dragons. This tree figures largely in Malay romances, especially those which form the subject of Malay shadow-plays, (vide infra, Pl. 23, for an illustration of the Pauh Janggi and the Crab). Rumphius’ explanation of the second part of the name (i.e. Janggi) is, no doubt, quite correct. 

14 The following passage describes how a magic prince visited the Navel of the Seas:—

“Presently he arrived at his destination—the Navel of the Seas—(Pusat tasek). All the monsters of the ocean, the whales and monster fishes, and colossal dragons (naga umbang), and the magic dragons (naga sri naga ka-sak-tian), assembled together to eat and devour him, and such a tumult arose that the Raja Naga, who was superior to all, heard it and came to see. Now when he beheld the Golden Dragon he opened his jaws to their full extent, and made three attempts to seize and swallow him, but failed each time. At length, however, he caught him, and dashed him against the sea bottom with such force that his head was buried in the ground, but the little dragon cared not at all. Then the Raja Naga said: ‘Tell me the truth! from what land hast thou fallen (titek dĕri pada nĕgri ninggua mana), and whose son and offspring art thou?’ To which the Golden Dragon made answer, saying, ‘I have no land nor country, I have neither father nor mother, but I was incarnated from the hollow part of a bamboo!’ When the Raja Naga heard this he sent for his spectacles (chĕrmin mata), and by their aid he was able to see the real parentage of the Golden Dragon and all concerning him, and he at once told him everything concerning his birth (usul asal ka-jadi-an-nya), and informed him that they were close relations, since the Golden Dragon’s mother was a relative of the Raja Naga. Then the Raja Naga kissed and embraced his nephew, and congratulated himself on having seen him before his time came to die, and calling together all his people to feast, installed (tabal) the Golden Dragon as king over them in his own place, since he was very old. Thus the Golden Dragon continued to live in increasing state and prosperity at the Pusat tasek, and was greatly beloved by his uncle, the Raja Naga; and in the course of time his horn (chula) split up and was replaced by six other heads—making seven in all.”—Hikayat Raja Budiman, part ii. pp. 7, 8. Publications of the S. B. of the Royal Asiatic Society, No. 3. 

15 “The Malays give the names ‘Bah Jantan’ and ‘Bah Betina,’ viz. the ‘male’ and the ‘female’ floods, respectively to the first rising of a freshet, and to the flood which sometimes ensues after the waters have partially subsided. The latter is generally supposed to be more serious than the former.”—Cliff. and Swett., Mal. Dict. s.v. Bah.

“‘If this be the likeness of the male flood, what will that of the female be?’ ejaculated my head boatman. In common with other Malays, he held the belief that floods, like other moving things, go in couples. The first to come is the male, and when he has passed upon his way the female comes after him, pursuing him hotly, according to the custom of the sex, and she is the more to be feared, as she rushes more furiously than does her fleeing mate.”—Cliff., Stud. in Brown Humanity, p. 213. 

16 This neck of land was called “Pĕnarek Prahu,” or the “Place of the dragging (across) of Boats.” 

17 “The belief (probably borrowed from the Hindoos) of a serpent devouring the sun or moon, whenever they are eclipsed, and the weird lamentations of the people during the continuance of these phenomena, are well known.”—Newbold, op. cit. vol. ii. p. 358. 

18 “During an eclipse they (the Malays) make a loud noise with sounding instruments to prevent one luminary from devouring the other, as the Chinese, to frighten away the dragon.”—Marsden, Hist. of Sum. p. 157. I have not yet met with the explanation given in this passage of Marsden’s work.

Rahu, a daitya or demon who is supposed to seize the sun and moon, and thus cause eclipses (according to the common myth he was a son of Vipra-ʿcitti and Sinhikā, and had four arms, his lower part ending in a tail), he was the instigator of all mischief among the daityas, and when the gods had produced the amrita or nectar from the churned ocean, he disguised himself like one of them and drank a portion of it, but the sun and moon having detected his fraud and informed Vishnu, the latter severed his head and two of his arms from the rest of his body; the portion of nectar he had swallowed having secured his immortality, the head and tail were transferred to the stellar sphere, the head wreaking its vengeance on the sun and moon by occasionally swallowing them for a time, while the tail, under the name of Ketu, gave birth to a numerous progeny of comets and fiery meteors.”—Monier Williams, Skt. Dict. s.v. Rahu. 

19 Gĕrhâna is from a Sanskr. word meaning “eclipse.” The name of the monster is Rahu

20 Clifford, Stud. in Brown Humanity, p. 50. For ceremonies to be observed during an eclipse, more especially by women in travail, vide Birth Ceremonies (infra). 

21 “They (the Malays) observe in the moon an old man sitting under a bĕringin tree (the Banyan, Ficus Indica).”—Maxwell, in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 27, In Sanskrit mythology the spots on the moon are supposed to be caused by a hare or antelope, which being hard pressed by a hunter appealed to the moon for protection, and was taken up by the moon into her arms. This is no doubt the real explanation of the Malay phrase, “Bulan bunting pĕlandok” (“the moon is great with the mouse-deer”), an expression often used when the moon is three-quarters full. 

22 “They tell of a man in the moon, who is continually employed in spinning cotton, but that every night a rat gnaws his thread, and obliges him to begin his work afresh.”—Marsd., Hist. of Sum. p. 187. 

23 It is, however, also possible that there may be two “bujangs,” and that we have here a simple case of what philologists call “confluence,” so that the derivation, though quite possible, must not be accepted without reserve. 

24 Sanskrit tapasya

25 Maxwell, in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 28. 

26 In Selangor I have also heard “Ular minum,” “the snake drinks.” 

27 A Selangor Malay told me that the full phrase was “Ular Danu bĕrbantal,” “the snake Danu is pillowed (in sleep).” 

28 A fuller expression is tunggul-tunggul mĕmbangun. A double rainbow is called palangi sa-k’lamin.

Maxwell points out, in a note, that dhanuk, in Hindustani, means a bow, and is a common term in India, among Hindus, for the rainbow. 

29 Maxwell, J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 21. 

30 So, too, midday, especially when a light rain is falling and the sun shining at one and the same time, is usually regarded as equally dangerous. 

31 Maxwell, loc. cit. Vide infra, Chap. IV. pp. 92, 93. 



Man and his Place in the Universe


(a) Creation of Man

A common feature in Malay romances and legends is a description of the supernatural development of a young child in the interior of some vegetable production, usually a bamboo.

Sir W. E. Maxwell has pointed out the fact of the existence, both in Malay and Japanese legends, of the main features of this story, to which he assigns a Buddhistic origin. He tells the story as follows:—

The Raja of the Bamboo.—Some years ago I collected a number of legends current among Malayan tribes having as their principal incident the supernatural development of a prince, princess, or demi-god in the stem of a bamboo, or tree, or the interior of some closed receptacle.1 I omitted, however, to mention that this very characteristic Malay myth occurs in the “Sri Rama,” a Malay prose hikayat,2 which, as its [17]name betokens, professes to describe the adventures of the hero of the Râmâyana.

“Roorda van Eysinga’s edition of the Sri Rama opens with an account of how Maharaja Dasaratha sent his Chief Mantri,3 Puspa Jaya Karma, to search for a suitable place at which to found a settlement. The site having been found and cleared, the narrative proceeds as follows:—

“‘Now there was a clump of the bĕtong4 bamboo (sa’rumpun buluh bĕtong), the colour of which was like gold of ten touch (amas sapuloh mutu), and its leaves like silver. All the trees which grew near bent in its direction, and it looked like a state umbrella (payong manuwangi5). The Mantri and people chopped at it, but as fast as they cut down a branch on one side, a fresh one shot forth on the other, to the great astonishment of all the Rajas, Mantris, and warriors. Puspa Vikrama Jaya hastened back to King Dasaratha and laid the matter before him. The latter was greatly surprised, and declared that he would go himself the next day and see the bamboo cut down. Next day he set out on a white elephant, attended by a splendid train of chiefs and followers, and on reaching the spot ordered the bamboo clump to be cut down. Vikrama Puspa Jaya pointed it out, shaded by the other forest trees. The king perceived that it was of very elegant appearance, and that an odour like spices and musk proceeded from it. He told Puspa Jaya Vikrama to cut it down, and the latter drew his sword, which was as big as the stem of a cocoa-nut tree, and with one stroke cut down one of the bamboos. But immediately a fresh stem shot forth on the other side, and this happened [18]as often as a stroke was given. Then the king grew wroth, and getting down from his elephant he drew his own sword and made a cut with it at the bamboo, which severed a stem. Then, by the divine decree of the Dewatas, the king became aware of a female form in the bamboo clump seated on a highly ornamented platform (gĕta), her face shining like the full moon when it is fourteen days old, and the colour of her body being like gold of ten touch. On this, King Dasaratha quickly unloosed his girdle and saluted the princess. Then he lifted her on to his elephant and took her to his palace escorted by music and singing.’”6

I myself have heard among the Selangor Malays similar legends to the above, which, as already pointed out, are common in Malay romances. A parallel myth is described in the following words:—

“Now, the Perak river overflows its banks once a year, and sometimes there are very great floods. Soon after the marriage of Nakhodah Kasim with the white Semang,7 an unprecedented flood occurred and quantities of foam came down the river. Round the piles of the bathing-house, which, in accordance with Malay custom, stood in the bed of the river close to the bank in front of the house, the floating volumes of foam collected in a mass the size of an elephant. Nakhodah Kasim’s wife went to bathe, and finding this island of froth in her way she attempted to move it away with a stick; she removed the upper portion of it and disclosed a female infant [19]sitting in the midst of it enveloped all round with cloud-like foam. The child showed no fear, and the white Semang, carefully lifting her, carried her up to the house, heralding her discovery by loud shouts to her husband. The couple adopted the child willingly, for they had no children, and they treated her thenceforward as their own. They assembled the villagers and gave them a feast, solemnly announcing their adoption of the daughter of the river and their intention of leaving to her everything that they possessed.

“The child was called Tan Puteh, but her father gave her the name of Teh Purba.8 As she grew up the wealth of her foster-parents increased; the village grew in extent and population, and gradually became an important place.”9

The usual story of the first creation of man, however, appears to be a Malay modification of Arabic beliefs.

Thus we are told that man was created from the four elements—earth, air, water, and fire—in a way which the following extract, taken from a Selangor charm-book, will explain:—

“God Almighty spake unto Gabriel, saying,

‘Be not disobedient, O Gabriel,

But go and get me the Heart of the Earth.’

But he could not get the Heart of the Earth.

‘I will not give it,’ said the Earth.

Then went the Prophet Israfel to get it,

But he could not get the Heart of the Earth. [20]

Then went Michael to get it,

But he could not get the Heart of the Earth.

Then went Azrael to get it,

And at last he got the Heart of the Earth.

When he got the Heart of the Earth

The empyrean and crystalline spheres shook,

And the whole Universe (shook).

When he got the Heart of the Earth he10 made from it the Image of Adam.

But the Heart of the Earth was then too hard;

He mixed Water with it, and it became too soft,

(So) he mixed Fire with it, and at last struck out the image of Adam.

Then he raised up the image of Adam,

And craved Life for it from Almighty God,

And God Almighty gave it Life.

Then sneezed God Almighty, and the image of Adam brake in pieces,

And he (Azrael) returned to remake the image of Adam.

Then God Almighty commanded to take steel of Khorassan,

And drive it down his back, so that it became the thirty-three bones,

The harder steel at the top, the softer below it.

The harder steel shot up skywards,

And the softer steel penetrated earthwards.

Thus the image of Adam had life, and dwelt in Paradise.

(There) Adam beheld (two ?) peacocks of no ordinary beauty,

And the Angel Gabriel appeared.

‘Verily, O Angel Gabriel, I am solitary,

Easier is it to live in pairs, I crave a wife.’

God Almighty spake, saying, ‘Command Adam

To pray at dawn a prayer of two genuflexions.’

Then Adam prayed, and our Lady Eve descended,

And was captured by the Prophet Adam;

But before he had finished his prayer she was taken back,

Therefore Adam prayed the prayer of two genuflexions as desired,

And at the last obtained our Lady Eve.

When they were married (Eve) bore twins every time,

Until she had borne forty-four children,

And the children, too, were wedded, handsome with handsome, and plain with plain.”

The magician who dictated the above account stated that when Azrael stretched forth his hand to take the Heart of the Earth, the Earth-spirit caught hold of his middle finger, which yielded to the strain, and thus became longer than the rest, and received its Malay name of the “Devil’s Finger” (jari hantu). [21]

A parallel account adds that the Heart of the Earth was white, and gives a fuller description of the interview between Azrael and his formidable antagonist, the Earth. After saluting the latter in the orthodox Muhammadan fashion, Azrael explains his mission, and is met by a point-blank refusal. “I will not give it,” said the Earth (referring to its Heart), “forasmuch as I was so created by God Almighty, and if you take away my Heart I shall assuredly die.” At this brusque, though perhaps natural retort, the archangel loses his temper, and rudely exclaims that he “will take the Earth’s Heart whether it will or no.” Here Azrael “gave the Earth a push with his right hand and his left, and grasping at the Heart of the Earth, got hold of it and carried it back to the presence of God.” God now summons Gabriel and orders him to mould (lit. forge) the image of Adam. Then Gabriel took the lump of earth which was the Earth’s Heart and mixed it first with water to soften it, then, as it was too soft, with fire to harden it, and when the image was made, obtained life from God to put into it.11 [The breaking of the first image which [22]was made, and the making of the second, are here omitted]. Finally, the creation of “our Lady” Eve and the birth of her first-born are described, the latter occasion being accompanied by a thick darkness, which compelled Adam to take off his turban and beat the child therewith in order to dispel the evil influences (badi) which had attended its birth.12

The following extract (from a Malay treatise quoted by Newbold) fairly describes the general state of Malay ideas respecting the constitution of the human body:—

“Plato, Socrates, Galen, Aristotle, and other philosophers affirm that God created man of a fixed number of bones, blood-vessels, etc. For instance, the skull is composed of 5½ bones, the place of smell and sense of 7 bones, between this and the neck are 32 bones. The neck is composed of 7 bones, and the back of 24 bones; 208 bones are contained in the other members of the body. In all there are 360 bones and 360 blood-vessels in a man’s body. The brains weigh 306 miscals, the blood 573. The total of all the bones, blood-vessels, large and small, and gristles, amounts to 1093; and the hairs of the head to six lacs and 4000. The frame of man is divided into 40 great parts, which are again [23]subdivided. Four elements enter into his composition, viz. air, fire, earth, and water. With these elements are connected four essences—the soul or spirit with air, love with fire, concupiscence with earth, and wisdom with water.”13


(b) Sanctity of the Body

In dealing with this branch of the subject I will first take the case of the kings and priestly magicians who present the most clearly-marked examples of personal sanctity which are now to be found among Malays, and will then describe the chief features of the sanctity ascribed to all ranks alike in respect of certain special parts of the ordinary human anatomy. The theory of the king as the Divine Man is held perhaps as strongly in the Malay region as in any other part of the world, a fact which is strikingly emphasised by the alleged right of Malay monarchs “to slay at pleasure, without being guilty of a crime.” Not only is the king’s person considered sacred, but the sanctity of his body is believed to communicate itself to his regalia, and to slay those who break the royal taboos. Thus it is firmly believed that any one who seriously offends the royal person, who touches (even for a moment) or who imitates (even with the king’s permission) the chief objects of the regalia,14 or who wrongfully makes use [24]of any of the insignia or privileges of royalty, will be kĕna daulat, i.e. struck dead, by a quasi-electric discharge of that Divine Power which the Malays suppose to reside in the king’s person,15 and which is called “Daulat” or “Royal Sanctity.” Before I proceed, however, to discuss this power, it will be best to give some description of the regalia in which it resides:—

Of Malacca Newbold says: “The articles of Malay regalia usually consist of a silasila, or book of genealogical descent, a code of laws, a vest or baju, and a few weapons, generally a kris, kleywang, or spear.”16

“The limbing is a sort of lance; the tombak bandrang a spear of state, four or seven of which are usually carried before the chiefs in the interior of the Peninsula. The handle is covered with a substance flowing from it like a horse-tail, dyed crimson, sometimes crimson and white; this is generally of hair.”17

So in Leyden’s translation of the Malay Annals (1821) we read—

“My name is Bichitram Shah, who am raja.... This is the sword, Chora sa mendang kian (i.e. mandakini), and that is the lance, Limbuar (i.e. limbuara); this is the signet, Cayu Gampit, which is employed in correspondence with rajas.”18

“The Chora sa medang kian (i.e. mandakini) is the [25]celebrated sword with which Peramas Cumunbang killed the enormous serpent Sicatimuna, which ravaged the country of Menangkabowe about the beginning of the twelfth century.”19

Of the Perak regalia we read: “Tan Saban was commanded by his mistress to open negotiations with Johor, and this having been done, a prince of the royal house of that kingdom, who traced his descent from the old line of Menangkabau, sailed for Perak to assume the sovereignty. He brought with him the insignia of royalty, namely, the royal drums (gandang nobat), the pipes (nafiri), the flutes (sarunei and bangsi), the betel-box (puan naga taru), the sword (chora mandakini), the sword (perbujang), the sceptre (kayu gamit), the jewel (kamala), the surat chiri, the seal of state (chap halilintar), and the umbrella (ubar-ubar). All these were enclosed in a box called Baninan.”20

In Selangor the regalia consisted of the royal instruments of music—(the big State Drum or naubat, beaten at the king’s coronation; the two small State Drums (gĕndang); the two State Kettle-drums (langkara); the lĕmpiri or State Trumpet, and the sĕrunei or State Flute—to which perhaps a bangsi should be added, as in the Perak list)—which were seldom, if ever, moved, and the following articles which were carried in procession on state occasions:21[26]

  • 1. The royal Betel-box.
  • 2. The Long K’ris—a kind of rapier used for Malay executions.
  • 3. The two royal Swords; one on the right hand and one on the left (all of the articles mentioned hitherto being carried in front of the Sultan).
  • 4. The royal “Fringed” Umbrella (payong ubor-ubor), carried behind the right-hand sword-bearer.
  • 5. The royal “Cuspadore,” carried behind the left-hand sword-bearer.
  • 6. The royal Tobacco-box, carried at the Sultan’s back.
  • 7. The eight royal tufted Lances (tombak bĕndrang or bandangan), whose bearers were followed by two personal attendants, the latter of whom attended, besides, to anything that was broken or damaged; so that the procession numbered seventeen persons in all.22

Of the Pahang regalia I have not been able to obtain a list with any pretensions to completeness, but from a remark by Mr. Clifford (the present Resident) in one of his books, they would appear to be essentially the same as those of the other Federated States.23

A list of the Jĕlĕbu regalia (given me by Ungku Said Kĕchil of Jĕlĕbu) ran as follows:—

  • 1. A single-bladed Sword (pĕdang pĕmanchor).
  • 2. The Long K’ris (k’ris panjang, pĕnyalang), used for executions.
  • 3. The royal Lances (tombak bĕndrang).
  • 4. The royal Umbrella (payong kabĕsaran).
  • 5. The royal Standard and Pennants (tunggul ular-ular). [27]
  • 6. The royal Ceiling-cloth and Hangings (tabir, langit-langit dewangga).
  • 7. The “Moving Mountains” (gunong dua bĕrangkat), perhaps the names of two peaked pillows.
  • 8. The royal Drums (gĕndang naubat); said to be “headed” with the skins of lice (kulit tuma) and to emit a single chord of twelve tones when struck (dua-b’las bunyi sakali di-pukol).
  • 9. The royal Trumpet (lĕmpiri or nĕmpiri). Each of these was also said to emit a single chord of twelve notes.
    10. The royal Gong.
    11. The royal Guitar (kĕchapi).
  • 12. The royal rĕbab or Malay fiddle.

This latter peculiarity (of the multiplication of notes) is quite in accordance with the traditions of the king’s musical instruments in Malay romances. Thus of Raja Donan’s magic flute we are told, “The first time (that he sounded it), the flute gave forth the sounds of twelve instruments, the second time it played as if twenty-four instruments were being sounded, and the third time it played like thirty-six different instruments.” No wonder we are told that “the Princesses Che Ambong and Che Muda dissolved in tears, and the music had to be stopped.”24

My informant declared that these objects came into existence of themselves (tĕrjali sĕndiri), at a spot between the two peaks of a burning mountain (gunong mĕrapi) in the country of Menangkabau in Sumatra. He also averred that “rain could not rot them nor sun blister them,” and that any one who “brushed past them” (di-lintas) would fall to the ground;25 whilst no fewer than seven buffaloes have to be slaughtered [28]before the “moving mountains” (when worn out) can be replaced.26

An enumeration of the writer’s regalia often forms an important part of a letter from one Malay sovereign to another, more especially when the writer wishes to emphasise his importance.27 [29]

But the extraordinary strength of the Malay belief in the supernatural powers of the regalia of their sovereigns can only be thoroughly realised after a study of their romances, in which their kings are credited with all the attributes of inferior gods, whose birth, as indeed every subsequent act of their after life, is attended by the most amazing prodigies.

They are usually invulnerable, and are gifted with miraculous powers, such as that of transforming themselves, and of returning to (or recalling others to) life; in fact they have, in every way, less of the man about them and more of the god. Thus it is that the following description of the dress of an old-time Raja falls easily into line with what would otherwise appear the objectless jargon which still constitutes the preamble of many a Malay prince’s letters, but which can yet be hardly regarded as mere rhetoric, since it has a deep meaning for those who read it:—

“He wore the trousers called bĕraduwanggi, miraculously made without letting in pieces; hundreds of mirrors encircled his waist, thousands encircled his [30]legs, they were sprinkled all about his body, and larger ones followed the seams.”

Then his waistband (kain ikat pinggang) was of “flowered cloth, twenty-five cubits in length, or thirty if the fringe be included; thrice a day did it change its colours—in the morning transparent as dew, at mid-day of the colour of lembayong,28 and in the evening of the hue of oil.”

Next came his coat. It was “of reddish purple velvet, thrice brilliant the lustre of its surface, seven times powerful the strength of the dye; the dyer after making it sailed the world for three years, but the dye still clung to the palms of his hands.”

His dagger was “a straight blade of one piece which spontaneously screwed itself into the haft. The grooves, called rĕtak mayat,29 started from the base of the blade, the damask called pamur janji appeared half-way up, and the damask called lam jilallah at the point; the damask alif was there parallel with the edge, and where the damasking ended the steel was white. No ordinary metal was the steel, it was what was over after making the bolt of God’s Ka’abah (at Meccah). It had been forged by the son of God’s prophet, Adam, smelted in the palm of his hand, fashioned with the end of his finger, and coloured with the juice [31]of flowers in a Chinese furnace. Its deadly qualities came down to it from the sky, and if cleaned (with acid) at the source of a river, the fish at the embouchure came floating up dead.

“The sword that he wore was called lang pĕngonggong,30 ‘the successful swooper,’ lit. the ‘kite carrying off its prey.’

“The next article described is his turban, which, among the Malays, is a square handkerchief folded and knotted round the head.”

“He next took his royal handkerchief, knotting it so that it stood up with the ends projecting; one of them he called dĕndam ta’ sudah (endless love): it was purposely unfinished; if it were finished the end of the world would come. It had been woven in no ordinary way, but had been the work of his mother from her youth. Wearing it he was provided with all the love-compelling secrets. (The names of a number of charms to excite passion are given, but they cannot be explained in the compass of a note).”31

He wore the Malay national garment—the sarong. It was “a robe of muslin of the finest kind; no ordinary weaving had produced it; it had been woven in a jar in the middle of the ocean by people with gills, relieved by others with beaks; no sooner was it finished than the maker was put to death, so that no one might be able to make one like it. It was not of the fashion of the clothing of the rajas of the present day, but of those of olden time. If it were put in the sun it got damper, if it were soaked in water it became drier. A slight tear mended by darning only increased [32]its value, instead of lessening it, for the thread for the purpose cost one hundred dollars. A single dewdrop dropping on it would tangle the thread for a cubit’s length, while the breath of the south wind would disentangle it.”

Finally, we get a description of the way in which the Raja (S’ri Rama) set out upon his journey.

“He adopted the art called sedang budiman, the young snake writhed at his feet (i.e. he started at mid-day when his own shadow was round his feet), a young eagle was flying against the wind overhead; he took a step forward and then two backward, one forward as a sign that he was leaving his country, and two backward as a sign that he would return; as he took a step with the right foot, loud clanked his accoutrements32 on his left; as he put forth the left foot a similar clank was heard on his right; he advanced, swelling out his broad chest, and letting drop his slender fingers, adopting the gait called ‘planting beans,’ and then the step called ‘sowing spinach.’”33

In addition to the sanctity of the regalia, the king, as the divine man, possesses an infinite multitude of prerogatives which enter into almost every act of his private life, and thus completely separate him from the generality of his fellow-men.

These prerogatives are too numerous to be mentioned in detail, but the following extract from Leyden’s translation of the “Malay Annals” will give a general idea of their character and extent:— [33]

“Sultan Muhammed Shah again established in order the throne of his sovereignty. He was the first who prohibited the wearing of yellow clothes in public, not even a handkerchief of that colour, nor curtains, nor hangings, nor large pillow-cases, nor coverlets, nor any envelope of any bundle, nor the cloth lining of a house, excepting only the waist cloth, the coat, and the turban. He also prohibited the constructing of houses with abutments, or smaller houses connected with them; also suspended pillars or timbers (tiang gantong); nor timbers the tops of which project above the roofs, and also summer houses.34 He also prohibited the ornamenting of creeses with gold, and the wearing anklets of gold, and the wearing the koronchong, or hollow bracelets (anklets?) of gold, ornamented with silver. None of these prohibited articles did he permit to be worn by a person, however rich he might be, unless by his particular licence, a privilege which the raja has ever since possessed. He also forbade any one to enter the palace unless wearing a cloth petticoat35 of decent length, with his creese in front;36 and a shoulder-cloth; and no person was permitted to enter unless in this array, and if any one wore his creese behind him, it was incumbent on the porter of the gate to seize it. Such is the order of former time respecting prohibition by the Malayu rajas, and whatever is contrary to this is a transgression against the raja, and ought to incur a fine of five cati. The white [34]umbrella, which is superior to the yellow one, because it is seen conspicuous at a greater distance, was also confined to the raja’s person,37 while the yellow umbrella was confined to his family.”38

A number of other particulars bearing on this subject will be found in other parts of the text, and in the Appendix references are given to other works for additional details, which are too numerous to be recorded here.

“At funerals, whether the deceased has been a great or insignificant person, if he be a subject, the use of the Payong (umbrella) and the Puwadi is interdicted, as also the distribution of alms, unless by royal permission; otherwise the articles thus forbidden will be confiscated.” “Puwadi is the ceremony of spreading a cloth, generally a white one, for funeral and other processions to walk upon. Should the deceased be of high rank, the cloth extends from the house where the corpse is deposited, to the burial-ground.”39

Similar prohibitions are still in force at the courts of the Malay Sultans in the Peninsula, though a yellow umbrella is now generally substituted for the white, at least in Selangor.

A distinction is also now drawn between manufactured yellow cloth and cloth which has been dyed yellow with saffron, the wrongful use of the latter (the genuine article) being regarded as the more especially heinous act.

In addition to the royal monopoly of such objects [35]as have been mentioned, Sir W. E. Maxwell mentions three royal perquisites (larangan raja), i.e. river turtles (tuntong) (by which he no doubt means their eggs); elephants (by which he doubtless means elephants’ tusks);40 and the fruit of the “kĕtiar” from which oil is made by the Perak Malays. He adds, “It used to be a capital offence to give false information to the Raja about any of these. The ‘kĕtiar’ tree is said to affect certain localities, and is found in groves not mixed with other trees. In former days, when the fruit was ripe, the whole of the Raja’s household would turn out to gather it. It is said to yield a very large percentage of oil.”41

The only tree in Ridley’s list42 whose name at all resembles the “kĕtiar” is the katiak, which is identified as Acronychia Porteri, Wall (Rutaceæ).

A description of the gathering of the eggs of river turtles by the royal party in Perak will be found in Malay Sketches.43

Besides the above there are not a few linguistic taboos connected with the king’s person, such as the use of the words santap, to eat; bĕradu, to sleep; bĕrsĕmaiam, to be seated, or to “reside” in a certain place; bĕrangkat, to “progress”; siram, to bathe; g’ring, to be sick; and mangkat, to die; all of which words are specially substituted for the ordinary Malay words when reference is made to the king.44 Moreover, when the king dies his name is [36]dropped, and he receives the title of “Marhum,” the late or “deceased,” with the addition of an expression alluding to some prominent fact in his life, or occasionally to the place of his decease. These titles, strange as it may seem, are often the reverse of complimentary, and occasionally ridiculous.45

It must not be forgotten, too, in discussing the divine attributes of the Malay king, that he is firmly believed to possess a personal influence over the works of nature, such as the growth of the crops and the bearing of fruit-trees. This same property is supposed to reside in a lesser degree in his delegates, and even in the persons of Europeans in charge of districts. Thus I have frequently known (in Selangor) the success or failure of the rice crops attributed to a change of district officers, and in one case I even heard an outbreak of ferocity which occurred among man-eating crocodiles laid at the door of a most zealous and able, though perhaps occasionally somewhat unsympathetic, representative of the Government. So, too, on one [37]occasion when three deaths occurred during a District Officer’s temporary absence, the mere fact of his absence was considered significant. I may add that royal blood is supposed by many Malays to be white, and this is the pivot on which the plot of not a few Malay folk-tales is made to turn.46

Finally, it must be pointed out that the greatest possible importance is attached to the method of saluting the king.

In the “Sri Rama” (the Malay Ramayana) we read, even of the chiefs, that—

“While yet some way off they bowed to the dust,

When they got near they made obeisance,

Uplifting at each step their fingers ten,

The hands closed together like the rootlets of the bakong palm47

The fingers one on the other like a pile of sirih47 leaves.”48

Equals in rank when saluting one another touch49 (though they do not shake) each other’s hands, but a person of humble birth must not touch hands in saluting a great chief. “A man, named Imam Bakar, was once slain at Pasir Tambang, at the mouth of the Tĕmbĕling river. He incautiously touched hands in greeting with a Chief called To’ Gajah, and the latter, seizing him in an iron grip, held him fast, while he was stabbed to death with spears.”50

In saluting a great Chief, like the Dato’ Maharaja Pĕrba Jĕlai, the hands are “lifted up in salutation with the palms pressed together, as in the attitude of Christian prayer, but the tips of the thumbs are [38]not suffered to ascend beyond the base of the chin. In saluting a real Râja, the hands are carried higher and higher, according to the prince’s rank, until, for the Sultân, the tips of the thumbs are on a level with the forehead. Little details such as these are of immense importance in the eyes of the Malays, and not without reason, seeing that in an Independent Native State many a man has come by his death for carelessness in their observance.”51

In the king’s audience hall the formal salutations are performed in a sitting posture, and in this case, too, the greatest attention is paid to the height to which the hands are raised. The chief twice makes salutation in a sitting posture as he advances, and at the third advance bends over the Sultan’s hands, two more salutations being made on his way back to his place.

A flagrant infringement of any of the prerogatives of the Sultan, such as those I have described, is certain, it is thought, to prove fatal, more or less immediately.

Thus the death of Pĕnghulu Mohit, a well-known Malay headman of the Klang district, in Selangor, which took place while I was in charge of that district, was at the time very generally attributed by the local Malays to his usurpation of certain royal privileges or prerogatives on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding. One of these was his acceptance of gift-buffaloes, [39]decorated after the royal fashion, which were presented to him as wedding gifts in his daughter’s honour. These buffaloes had a covering of cloth put over them, their horns covered, and a crescent-shaped breast-ornament (dokoh) hung about their necks. Thus dressed they were taken to Mohit’s house in solemn procession.52 It was, at the time, considered significant that the very first of these gift-buffaloes, which had been brought overland from Jugra, where the Sultan lived, had died on arrival, and whatever the cause may have been, it is a fact that Mohit’s mother died a day or two after the conclusion of the wedding ceremonies, and that Mohit himself was taken ill almost immediately and died only about a fortnight later.

The only person who, in former days, was not in the least affected by the royal taboos which protected the regalia from the common touch was the (now I believe extinct) official who held the post of Court Physician (Maharaja Lela). He, and he alone, might go freely in the royal apartments wherever he chose, and the immunity and freedom which he enjoyed in this respect passed into a proverb, the expression “to act the Court Physician” (buat Maharaja Lela) being used to describe an altogether unwarrantable familiarity or impertinence.

The following story (though I tell it against myself) is perhaps the best illustration I can give of the great danger supposed to be incurred by those who meddle with the paraphernalia of royalty. Among the late Sultan’s insignia of royalty (in 1897) were a couple of [40]drums (gĕndang) and the long silver trumpet which I have already described. Such trumpets are found among the kabĕsaran or regalia of most Malay States, and are always, I believe, called lĕmpiri or nĕmpiri (Pers. nafiri). They are considered so sacred that they can only be handled or sounded, it is believed, by a tribe of Malays called “Orang Kalau,” or the “Kalau men,”53 as any one else who attempted to sound them would be struck dead. Even the “Orang Kalau,” moreover, can only sound this instrument at the proper time and season (e.g. at the proclamation of a new sovereign), for if they were to sound it at any other time its noise would slay all who heard it, since it is the chosen habitation of the “Jin Karaja’an” or State Demon,54 whose delight it would be, if wrongfully disturbed, to slay and spare not.55

Plate 1.—Some of the Selangor Regalia.

Plate 1.—Some of the Selangor Regalia.

Models, representing part of the regalia of H.H. the Sultan of Selangor—two small drums, the tufted (cowtail) lances, the trident, the k’ris (dagger) called B’rok Bĕrayun, and the sacred trumpet (lĕmpiri).

Page 40.

This trumpet and the drums of the Selangor regalia were kept by the present Sultan (then Raja Muda, or Crown Prince of Selangor) in a small galvanised [41]iron cupboard which stood (upon posts about three feet high) in the middle of a lawn outside His Highness’ “garden residence” at Bandar. His Highness himself informed me that they had once been kept in the house itself, but when there they were the source of infinite annoyance and anxiety to the inmates on account of their very uncanny behaviour!

Drops of perspiration, for instance, would form upon the Trumpet when a leading member of the Royal House was about to die (this actually happened, as I was told, at Langat just before the death of Tungku ’Chik, the late Sultan’s eldest daughter, who died during my residence in the neighbourhood). Then one Raja Bakar, son of a Raja ʿAli, during the rethatching of the house at Bandar, accidentally trod upon the wooden barrel of one of the State Drums—and died in consequence of his inadvertence. When, therefore, a hornet’s nest formed inside one of these same drums it was pretty clear that things were going from bad to worse, and a Chinaman was ordered to remove it, no Malay having been found willing to risk his life in undertaking so dangerous an office—an unwillingness which was presently justified, as the Chinaman, too, after a few days’ interval, swelled up and died. Both these strange coincidences were readily confirmed by the present Sultan on an occasion when I happened to question the authenticity of the story, and as His Highness is one of the most enlightened and truthful of men, such confirmation cannot easily be set aside. But the strangest coincidence of all was to follow, for not long afterwards, having never seen that portion of the regalia which was in the Raja Muda’s charge, I happened to mention to a Malay friend of mine at Jugra my wish to be allowed to [42]examine these objects, and was at once begged not to touch them, on the ground that “no one could say what might follow.” But shortly after, having occasion to visit the Raja Muda at his house at Bandar, I took the opportunity of asking whether there was any objection to my seeing these much debated objects, and as His Highness not only very obligingly assented, but offered to show them to me himself, I was able both to see and to handle them, His Highness himself taking the Trumpet out of its yellow case and handing it to me. I thought nothing more of the matter at the time, but, by what was really a very curious coincidence, within a few days’ time of the occurrence, was seized with a sharp attack of malarial influenza, the result of which was that I was obliged to leave the district, and go into hospital at headquarters. In a Malay village news spreads quickly, and the report of my indisposition, after what was no doubt regarded as an act of extraordinary rashness, appears to have made a profound impression, and the result of it was that a Malay who probably considered himself indebted to me for some assistance he had received, bound himself by a vow to offer sacrifice at the shrine of a famous local saint should I be permitted to return to the district. Of this, however, I knew nothing at the time, and nothing could have exceeded my astonishment when I found upon my return that it was my duty to attend the banquet which took place at the saint’s tomb in honour of my own recovery!56

Having shown the wide gulf which divides the [43]“divine man” from his fellows, I have still to point out the extent to which certain portions of the human frame have come to be invested with sanctity, and to require to be treated with special ceremonies. These parts of the anatomy are, in particular, the head, the hair, the teeth, the ears, and the nails, all of which I will take in their order.

The head, in the first place, is undoubtedly still considered by the Malays to possess some modified degree of sanctity. A proof of this is the custom (ʿadat) which regulates the extent of the sacrifice to be offered in a case of assault or battery by the party committing the injury. If any part of the head is injured, nothing less than a goat will suffice (the animal being killed and both parties bathed in the blood); if the upper part of the body, the slaughter of a cock (to be disposed of in a similar way) will be held to be sufficient reparation, and so on, the sacrifice becoming of less value in proportion as the injured part is farther from the head. So, too, Mr. Frazer writes: “The ... superstition (of the sanctity of the head) exists among the Malays; for an early traveller reports that in Java people ‘wear nothing on their heads, and say that nothing must be on their heads, ... and if any person were to put his hand upon their head they would kill him; and they do not build houses with stories in order that they may not walk over each other’s heads.’ It is also found in full force throughout Polynesia.”57

From the principle of the sanctity of the head flows, no doubt, the necessity of using the greatest circumspection [44]during the process of cutting the hair.58 Sometimes throughout the whole life of the wearer, and frequently during special periods, the hair is left uncut. Thus I was told that in former days Malay men usually wore their hair long, and I myself have seen an instance of this at Jugra in Selangor in the person of a Malay59 of the old school, who was locally famous on this account. So, too, during the forty days which must elapse before the purification of a woman after the birth of her child, the father of the child is forbidden to cut his hair, and a similar abstention is said to have been formerly incumbent upon all persons either prosecuting a journey or engaging in war. Often a boy’s head is entirely shaven shortly after birth with the exception of a single lock in the centre of the head, and so maintained until the boy begins to grow up, but frequently the operation is postponed (generally, it is said, in consequence of a vow made by the child’s parents) until the period of puberty or marriage. Great care, too, must be exercised in disposing of the clippings of hair (more especially the first clippings), as the Malay profoundly believes that “the sympathetic connection which exists between himself and every part [45]of his body continues to exist even after the physical connection has been severed, and that therefore he will suffer from any harm that may befall the severed parts of his body, such as the clippings of his hair or the parings of his nails. Accordingly he takes care that those severed portions of himself shall not be left in places where they might either be exposed to accidental injury, or fall into the hands of malicious persons who might work magic on them to his detriment or death.”60

Thus we invariably find clippings of the victim’s hair mentioned (together with parings of his nails, etc.) as forming part of the ingredients of the well-known wax image or mannikin into which pins are stuck, and which is still believed by all Malays to be a most effective method of causing the illness or death of an enemy.61 I was once present at the curious ceremony of cutting the hair of a Malay bride, which had all the characteristics of a religious rite, but the detailed account of it will be reserved for a later chapter.62

The same difficulties and dangers which beset the first cutting of the hair apply, though perhaps in a less degree, to the first paring of the nails (bĕrtobak), the boring of the ears of girls (bĕrtindek tĕlinga), and the filing of the teeth (bĕrasah gigi) of either sex whether at puberty or marriage. One or more of the nails are frequently worn long by Malays of standing, and the women who engage in “nautch” dancing and theatrical performances invariably wear a complete set of artificial nails (changgei). These latter are usually of brass, are often several inches in length, and are made so [46]as to fit on to the tips of the fingers. Occasionally a brass ring with a small peacock, or some such bird, of the same material will be attached to the end of the nail by a minute brass chain. The practice of wearing long nails is sometimes attributed to Chinese influence, but it is hard to see why this particular detail of Malay custom, which is quite in keeping with the general trend of Malay ideas about the person, should be supposed to be derived from China. The borrowing, if any, is much more likely to have been on the part of the Chinese, who undoubtedly imported many Indian ideas along with Buddhism. The custom appears to be followed, moreover, in many places, such as the interior of Sumatra, where Chinese influence is non-existent. In Siam, again, it appears to obtain very strongly;63 but no reason has yet been shown for supposing that this is anything but an instance of the similarity of results independently arrived at by nations starting with similar premisses.

The ear-boring and tooth-filing ceremonies which still not infrequently take place at the age of puberty in both sexes are of no less religious import than the rite of cutting the first lock. The main details of these ceremonies will be described in a later part of this book.64

To the same category (of sacred things having physical connection with the body) should doubtless be referred such objects as the eyebrows, the saliva, and soil taken from the (naked) footstep, all of which are utilised by the magician to achieve his nefarious ends. [47]


(c) The Soul

The Malay conception of the Human Soul (Sĕmangat)65 is that of a species of “Thumbling,” “a thin, unsubstantial human image,” or mannikin, which is temporarily absent from the body in sleep, trance, disease, and permanently absent after death.

This mannikin, which is usually invisible but is supposed to be about as big as the thumb, corresponds exactly in shape, proportion, and even in complexion, to its embodiment or casing (sarong), i.e. the body in which it has its residence. It is of a “vapoury, shadowy, or filmy” essence, though not so impalpable but that it may cause displacement on entering a physical object, and as it can “fly” or “flash” quickly from place to place, it is often, perhaps metaphorically, addressed as if it were a bird.66

Thus in a charm given in the Appendix we find—

“Hither, Soul, come hither!

Hither, Little One, come hither!

Hither, Bird, come hither!

Hither, Filmy One, come hither!”67

As this mannikin is the exact reproduction in every way of its bodily counterpart, and is “the cause of life and thought in the individual it animates,” it may readily be endowed with quasi-human feelings, and “independently possess the personal consciousness and volition of [48]its corporeal owner.” Thus we find the following appeal addressed to the soul in the charm just quoted:—

“Do not bear grudges,

Do not bear malice,

Do not take it as a wrong,

Do not take it as a transgression.”

These quasi-human attributes of the soul being so complete, it is an easy stretch of the imagination to provide it with a house, which is generally in practice identified with the body of its owner, but may also be identified with any one of its temporary domiciles. Thus in the charm already quoted we read—

“Return to your own House and House-ladder,

To your own House-floor, of which the planks have started,

And your Roof-thatch ‘starred’ with holes.”

The state of disrepair into which the soul’s house (i.e. the sick man’s body) is described as having fallen, is here attributed to the soul’s absence.68 The completeness of this figurative identification of the soul’s “house” with its owner’s body, and of the soul’s “sheath” or casing with both, is very clearly brought out in the following lines:—

“Cluck! cluck! Soul of this sick man, So-and-so!

Return into the Frame and Body of So-and-so,

To your own House and House-ladder, to your own Clearing and Yard,

To your own Parents, to your own Casing.”

And this is no mere chance expression, for in another charm the soul is adjured in these words:— [49]

“As you remember your own parents, remember me,

As you remember your own House and House-ladder, remember me.”69

The soul “appears to men (both waking and asleep) as a phantom separate from the body of which it bears the likeness,” “manifests physical power,” and walks, sits, and sleeps:—

“Cluck! cluck! Soul of So-and-so, come and walk with me,

Come and sit with me,

Come and sleep with me, and share my pillow.”70

It would probably be wrong to assume the foregoing expressions to have always been merely figurative. Rather, perhaps, we should consider them as part of a singularly complete and consistent animistic system formerly invented and still held by the Malays. Again, from the above ideas it follows that if you call a soul in the right way it will hear and obey you, and you will thus be able either to recall to its owner’s body a soul which is escaping (riang sĕmangat), or to abduct the soul of a person whom you may wish to get into your power (mĕngambil sĕmangat orang), and induce it to take up its residence in a specially prepared receptacle, such as (a) a lump of earth which has been sympathetically connected by direct contact with the body of the soul’s owner, or (b) a wax mannikin so connected by indirect means, or even (c) a cloth which has had no such connection whatever. And when you have succeeded in getting it into your power the abducted and now imprisoned soul will naturally enjoy any latitude [50]allowed to (and suffer from any mutilation of) its temporary domicile or embodiment.71

Every man is supposed (it would appear from Malay charms) to possess seven souls72 in all, or, perhaps, I should more accurately say, a sevenfold soul.73 This “septenity in unity” may perhaps be held to explain the remarkable importance and persistency of the number seven in Malay magic, as for instance the seven twigs of the birch, and the seven repetitions of the charm (in Soul-abduction74), the seven betel leaves, the seven nights’ duration of the ceremony, the seven blows administered to the soul (in other magical and medical ceremonies), and the seven ears cut for the Rice-soul in reaping.75

And, finally, it might explain why the lime-branch which is hung up in the mosquito-curtain (in another form of soul-abduction76) is required to possess seven fruits on a single stalk, i.e. to ensure there being a separate receptacle for each one of the seven souls.

At the present day the ordinary Malay talks usually of only a single soul, although he still keeps up the old phraseology in his charms and charm-books. For the rest, it would appear that there may be some method in the selection and arrangement of colours.

The “lump of earth from the victim’s footprint” used in one form of the soul-abduction ceremony77 is to [51]be wrapped up in three thicknesses of cloth, which must be red, black, and yellow respectively, the yellow being outside. Again (in the ceremony of casting out “the mischief” from a sick man), a white cosmetic is assigned for use in the morning, a red cosmetic for mid-day, and black for sundown.78

Now in all, I believe, of what are now called the Federated Malay States, and probably in all Malay States whatsoever, yellow is the colour used by royalty, whereas the more exalted and sacred colour, white (with occasional lapses into yellow), has been adopted by Malay medicine-men as the colour most likely to conciliate the spirits and demons with whom they have to deal. Thus the soul-cloth, which, by the way, is always five cubits long (lima hasta), is sometimes white and (much more rarely) yellow, and hence in the first instance just quoted, the yellow cloth, being, next to white, of the colour which is most complimentary to the demons, is the one which is put outside; and in the second instance, for similar reasons, the white cosmetic is to be used first.

The working out of this system, however, must await fresh evidence, and all I would do now is to emphasise the importance of colour in such investigations, and to urge the collection of fresh material.79 [52]


(d) Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral Souls

Hitherto I have treated of human souls only, but animal, mineral, and vegetable souls will now be briefly discussed. Speaking generally, I believe the soul to be, within certain limits, conceived as a diminutive but exact counterpart of its own embodiment, so that an Animal-soul would be like an animal, a Bird-soul like a bird; however, lower in the scale of creation it would appear that the Tree- or Ore-souls, for instance, are supposed, occasionally at least, to assume the shape of some animal or bird. Thus the soul of Eagle-wood is thought to take the shape of a bird, the soul of Tin-ore that of a buffalo, the Gold-soul that of a deer.80 It has, however, always been recognised that the soul may enter other bodies besides its own, or even bodies of a different kind to its own, and hence these may be only apparent exceptions to the rule that the soul should be the counterpart of its own embodiment.81

“Among races within the limits of savagery, the general doctrine of souls is found worked out with remarkable breadth and consistency. The souls of animals are recognised by a natural extension from the theory of human souls; the souls of trees and plants follow in some vague, partial way, and the [53]souls of inanimate objects expand the general category to its extremest boundary.”82

To the Malay who has arrived at the idea of a generally animated Nature, but has not yet learned to draw scientific distinctions, there appears nothing remarkable or unnatural in the idea of vegetation-souls, or even in that of mineral-souls—rather would he consider us Europeans illogical and inconsistent were he told that we allowed the possession of souls to one half of the creation and denied it to the other.

Realising this, we are prepared to find that the Malay theory of Animism embraces, at least partially, the human race,83 animals84 and birds,85 vegetation86 (trees and plants), reptiles and fishes,87 until its extension to inert objects, such as minerals,88 and “stocks and stones, weapons, boats, food, clothes, ornaments, and other objects, which to us are not merely soulless, but lifeless,” brings us face to face with a conception with which “we are less likely to sympathise.”

Side by side with this general conception of an universally animate nature, we find abundant evidences of a special theory of Human Origin which is held to account not only for the larger mammals, but also for the existence of a large number of birds, and even for that of a few reptiles, fishes, trees and plants, but seems to lose its operative force in proportion to its descent in the scale of creation, until in the lowest scale of all, the theory of Human Origin disappears [54]from sight, and nothing remains but the partial application of a few vague anthropomorphic attributes.89 It is, doubtless, to the prevalence of this theory that we owe the extraordinary persistence of anthropomorphic ideas about animals, birds, reptiles, trees, if not of minerals, in Malay magical ceremonies;90 and it is hard to say which of these two notions—the theory of Human Origin, or the other theory of Universal Animism—is to be considered the original form of Malay belief.

The following tale, which is entitled Charitra Mĕgat Sajobang, and is told by Selangor Malays, will serve as an illustration of the idea of Human Origin:—

“There was a married Sakai couple living at Ulu Klang, and they had a son called Mĕgat Sajobang. When he grew up he said to his mother, ‘Mother, get me a passage, I want to go and see other countries.’ She did so, and he left Ulu Klang; and ten or twelve years later, when he had grown rich enough to buy a splendid ship (p’rahu), he returned with his wife, who was with child, and seven midwives, who were watched over by one of his body-guard with a drawn sword. His mother heard the news of his return, and she made ready, roasting a chika (monkey) and lotong (monkey), and went with his father on board their bark canoe to meet their son.

“As they approached they hailed him by his name; but he was ashamed of their humble appearance, and forbade his men to let them on board. Though his wife advised him to acknowledge them, ‘even if they [55]were pigs or dogs,’ the unfilial son persisted in turning them away. So they went back to the shore and sat down and wept; and the old mother, laying her hand upon her shrivelled breast, said, ‘If thou art really my son, reared at my breast, mayest thou be changed into stone.’ In response to her prayer, milk came forth from her breast, and as she walked away, the ship and all on board were turned into stone. The mother turned round once more to look at her son, but the father did not, and by the power of God they were both turned into trees of the species pauh (a kind of mango) one leaning seawards and the other towards the land. The fruit of the seaward one is sweet, but that of the landward one is bitter.

“The ship has now become a hill, and originally was complete with all its furniture, but the Malays used to borrow the plates and cups, etc., for feast days and did not return them, until at last there were none left.” [56]

1 Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, N.S. vol. xiii. part iv. Cp. also the note to page 8 supra, in which the Golden Dragon is made to say, “I have neither father nor mother, but I was incarnated from the hollow part of a bamboo.” See also J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 9, p. 91. 

2 Hikayat; i.e. “romance.” 

3 Mantri; i.e. “Minister of State.” 

4 Bĕtong; i.e. “big.” 

5 Manuwangi; perhaps a mistake for manuwanggi, cp. bĕraduwanggi, infra

6 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 17. Notes and Queries, No. 4, sec. 94. 

7 Sĕmangs are aboriginal non-Muhammadan inhabitants of the interior of the Peninsula. Their type approximates to that of the Negritos of the Andaman Islands and the Philippines, but the one referred to in this legend had white blood, which is considered by Malays to be the royal colour. 

8 Teh, short for Puteh, “white”; Pûrba, or Pûrva, Sanskrit “first.” This name is also given to the first Malay Raja in the Sajarah Malayu

9 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 9, pp. 90, 91. For a similar story vide Leyden’s Malay Annals, p. 29: “It happened on a certain day that the river of Palembang brought down a foam-bell of uncommon size, in which appeared a young girl of extreme beauty.” She was adopted by the Raja, and “named Putri Tunjong Bui, or the Princess Foam-bell.” 

10 It is Gabriel who performs this office in the account which follows. 

11 “Concerning the creation of Adam, here intimated, the Mohammedans have several peculiar traditions. They say the angels Gabriel, Michael, and Israfil were sent by God, one after another, to fetch for that purpose seven handfuls of earth from different depths, and of different colours (whence some account for the various complexions of mankind); but the Earth being apprehensive of the consequence, and desiring them to represent her fear to God that the creature He designed to form would rebel against Him, and draw down His curse upon her, they returned without performing God’s command; whereupon He sent Azrael on the same errand, who executed his commission without remorse, for which reason God appointed that angel to separate the souls from the bodies, being therefore called the angel of death. The earth he had taken was carried into Arabia, to a place between Mecca and Tayef, where, being first kneaded by the angels, it was afterwards fashioned by God himself into a human form, and left to dry for the space of forty days, or, as others say, as many years, the angels in the meantime often visiting it, and Eblis (then one of the angels who are nearest to God’s presence, afterwards the devil) among the rest; but he, not contented with looking on it, kicked it with his foot till it rung, and knowing God designed that creature to be his superior, took a secret resolution never to acknowledge him as such. After this God animated the figure of clay and endued it with an intelligent soul, and when He had placed him in paradise, formed Eve out of his left side.”—Sale’s Korân, ch. ii. (of translation), p. 4 (note). 

12 “The Creator determined to make man, and for that purpose He took some clay from the earth and fashioned it into the figure of a man. Then He took the Spirit of Life to endue this body with vitality, and placed the spirit on the head of the figure. But the spirit was strong, and the body, being only clay, could not hold it, and was reft in pieces and scattered into the air. Those fragments of the first great Failure are the spirits of earth and sea and air.

“The Creator then formed another clay figure, but into this one He wrought some iron, so that when it received the vital spark it withstood the strain and became Man. That man was Adam, and the iron that is in the constitution of his descendants has stood them in good stead. When they lose it they become of little more account than their prototype the first failure.”—Swettenham, Malay Sketches, p. 199. 

13 Newbold, op. cit. vol. ii. pp. 351, 352. In Selangor, some of the greater bones, at least, have their own mystic nomenclature, e.g. the backbone, which is called tiang ʿarash, or the “Pillar of the Heavens.” 

14 Of the superstition which forbids the imitation of the royal insignia I can speak personally, as when a set of models of the Selangor regalia were being made for me, with the late Sultan’s full permission and knowledge, I found it impossible to get them made really like the originals either in shape or size, the makers alleging their fear of being struck dead in spite of this permission by this Divine Power or “Daulat” if they were to imitate them too accurately. In Perak the custom would appear to be less strict. Thus from Malay Sketches (p. 215) we may gather that in the “silver” state even the most sacred pieces of the regalia accompany the royal party upon their annual expedition to seek for turtles’ eggs. 

15 “The kabesaran or regalia of every petty state is supposed to be endowed with supernatural powers, for instance that of the ex-Panghulu of Naning.”—Newbold, op. cit. vol. ii. p. 193. 

16 Ibid. 

17 Ibid. p. 195. 

18 Leyden, Malay Annals, pp. 22–23. The words in brackets are mine.—W. S. 

19 Newbold, op. cit. vol. ii. p. 199; cp. Leyden, Mal. Annals, pp. 38, 39. Limbuara, limbuana, or sĕmbuana (= singhabuana) is the name given to the lance of the Spectre Huntsman, (vide Chap. V. p. 118), whose k’ris is called salĕngkisa. It has been suggested that singhabuana may be composed of two Sanskrit words meaning “lion” and “world,” but put in the Malay order, which is the opposite of Sanskrit. If this supposition is accepted, the name would mean “lion of the world,” vide App. xxviii.–xxx. 

20 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 9, pp. 91, 92. 

21 It would appear from Malay romances that the full complement of musical instruments forming part of a royal orchestra was, at all events sometimes, twelve. Thus when S’ri Rama is bidden by the astrologers to get up an expedition by water for the amusement of his Princess, “dresses of honour were given to the attendants, and musical instruments of the twelve kinds were got together.”—Maxw., in Sri Rama, J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 17, p. 93. 

22 This list was given me by H. H. Raja Bôt of Selangor. Besides the above there are several royal “properties” not usually included in any list of regalia. These are H. H.’s chain jacket (baju rantei); a species of shield or targe, said to be made of brass, and called otar-otar; H. H.’s seal, and possibly his mat and the dish he ate from. One of the tombak belonging to H. H. was a species of trident, and was called tombak bĕrchĕranggah or the “Branching Lance.” The ordinary lances might be borrowed by the people, and carried, for example, in the procession escorting a bridegroom (by virtue of his supposed “one day’s sovereignty,” Raja sa-hari) to the house of his bride, but the trident never. 

23 “All the insignia of royalty were hastily fashioned by the goldsmiths of Pĕnjum, and whenever To’ Râja or Wan Bong appeared in public they were accompanied by pages bearing betel-boxes, swords, and silken umbrellas, as in the manner of Malay kings.”—Cliff., In Court and Kampong, p. 115. 

24 Maxw. in Raja Donan, J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 18, p. 253. 


“Ta’ lapok de’ hujan,

Ta’ lĕkang de’ panas,

Pĕsaka di toras (? turis) di-tĕladan,

Pĕsaka di-lintas tumbang.”


26 It is usually upon a portion of his insignia (as, for instance, his k’ris, which is dipped into water which he drinks) that a Malay sovereign swears his most solemn oath. Sometimes, however, it is upon a lump of iron called bĕsi kawi, which not unfrequently forms part of the regalia as well.—Vide Klink. s.v. Bĕsi. 

27 The following recital of the titles of a Sumatran Raja will show at least the extraordinary pretensions to sanctity which to this day (with, in some parts, no great diminution) hedge about the person of the Malay king:—

“The Sultan of Menangcabow, whose residence is at Pagarooyoong (after pardon asked for presuming to mention his name), who is king of kings, son of Raja Iscunder-zulcarnainny, ... master of the third of the wood maccummat, one of whose properties is to enable matter to fly; of the lance ornamented with the beard of Jangee, of the palace of the city of Rome; ... of the gold of twelve grains named coodarat coodarattee, resembling a man; ... who is possessed of the sword named Chooree-se-mendong-geree, which has an hundred and ninety gaps, made in the conflict with the arch-devil, Se Cattee-moono, whom it slew; who is master of fresh water in the ocean, to the extent of a day’s sailing; possessed of a lance formed of a twig of ejoo (the gomuti, or sugar-palm); of a calewang (scimitar) wrapped in an unmade chinday (cloth); of a creese (dagger) formed of the soul of steel, which, by a noise, expresses an unwillingness at being sheathed, and shows itself pleased when drawn; of a date coeval with the creation; possessed of a gun brought from heaven, named soubahana hou ouatanalla; of a horse of the race of sorimbor-ahnee, superior to all others; Sultan of the Burning Mountain, and of the mountains goontang-goontang, which divide Palembang and Jambee; who may slay at pleasure without being guilty of a crime; who is possessed of the elephant named settee dewa; who is Vicegerent of Heaven; Sultan of the Golden River; Lord of the Air and Clouds; master of a balli (Audience-Hall), whose pillars are of the shrub jelattang; of gandangs (drums) made of hollowed branches of the minute shrubs pooloot and seelosooree; of the gong that resounds to the skies; of the buffalo named Se Binnooang Sattee, whose horns are ten feet asunder; of the unconquered cock, Sengonannee; of the cocoa-nut tree whose amazing height, and being infested with serpents and other noxious reptiles, render it impossible to be climbed; of the flower named seeree menjeree, of ambrosial scent; who, when he goes to sleep, wakes not till the gandang nobat (state drum) sounds; one of whose eyes is as the sun and the other as the moon.”—Marsden, Hist. of Sum. p. 270.

On the foregoing list I should like to remark (1) that the necessity of asking pardon for mentioning the king’s name is considered by the Peninsular Malays to be as imperative as ever. (2) The expression “who is master of fresh water in the ocean” is explained by a passage in Leyden’s Malay Annals (p. 37), where, all the fresh water being exhausted, “Raja Sang Sapurba directed them to bring rotans and tie them in circles and throw them in the water; then having himself descended into a small boat, he inserted his feet into the water, within the circles of bamboo (sic), and by the Power of God Almighty and the virtue of a descendant of Raja Secander Zulkarneini, the water within these circles became fresh, and all the crews supplied themselves with it, and unto this day the fresh water is mixed with the salt at this place.” (3) The horse, which is usually called “Sĕmbrani,” is a magic steed, “which could fly through the air as well as swim through the water” (Leyd., Mal. Ann. p. 17). (4) For the mountains Goontang-goontang (or Saguntang Mahamiru), cp. Leyden’s Mal. Ann. p. 20 seqq. (5) The privilege of “slaying at pleasure without being guilty of a crime” is a privilege which still belongs to Malay sovereigns of the first rank.

Similar sacred objects, belonging to another Sultan of “Menangcabow” named “Gaggar Allum”(GegarʿAlam), “were a sacred crown from God”; “the cloth sansistah kallah, which weaves itself, and adds one thread yearly of fine pearls, and when that cloth shall be finished the world will be no more”; “the dagger Hangin Cinga (Singa?) which will, at his command, fight of itself”; “the blue champaka flower, which is to be found in no country but his (being yellow elsewhere),” and many others worthy of the Sultan “whose presence bringeth death to all who attempt to approach him without permission,” and of the “Sultan of Indrapore, who has four breasts.”—Marsden, Hist. of Sum. p. 272. 

28 I.e. purple, vide Klinkert, s.v.; cf. the following from J.R.A.S., S.B., No. No. 9 , p. 93: “Tan Saban was frequently to be seen on the outworks of his fort across the river, dressed in garments of conspicuous colours. In the morning he wore red, at mid-day yellow, and in the evening his clothes were green. When he was pointed out to Magat Terawis, it was the morning, and he was dressed in red.”

The foregoing superstitious observance is found among more than one Indo-Chinese nation. “Le général en chef doit se conformer à plusieurs coutumes et observances superstitieuses; par exemple, il faut qu’il mette une robe de couleur différente pour chaque jour de la semaine; le dimanche il s’habille en blanc, le lundi en jaune, le mardi en vert, le mercredi en rouge, le jeudi en bleu, le vendredi en noir, et le samedi en violet.”—Pallegoix, Description de Siam, vol. i. p. 319. 

29 Lit. “corpse grooves.” 

30 The usual form is pĕnggonggong, from gonggong, to carry in the mouth. 

31 Their Malay names are “Si-mulajadi,” “Ashik sa-kampong,” “Si-putar leman,” “Asam garam,” “Ahadan mabuk,” “Sa-palit gila” “Sri gĕgah,” and “Doa unus.”—J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 17, pp. 94–97. 

32 The Malay word is changgei, which means “long nails” (whether natural or artificial); artificial nails are several inches in length, being much affected by Malay actors performing as royalty. 

33 A long step and a slow swing of the arms reminds the Malay of the way a man steps and raises his arm to plant bean-seeds six feet apart; a quicker step and a rounder swing of the arms is compared to the action of scattering small seeds.—J.R.A.S., S.B., loc. cit. 

34 In house-building it is further forbidden to dovetail or make the ends of the timbers (e.g. of the roof) fit accurately together, and also to build two verandahs, one on each side of the house, with their floors on a level with the floor of the main building; if two verandahs are used, the floor of one must be lower than that of the main building (kelek anak). 

35 I.e. the sarong or Malay national garment; for the custom, vide Cliff., In Court and Kampong, p. 158, and for an exception, ib. 27. 

36 The hilt of the creese (k’ris) must, however, be hidden by a fold of the cloth about the wearer’s waist. 

37 “The covered portion of the barge which carries the Sultan’s principal wife is decorated with six scarlet-bordered white umbrellas. Two officers stand, all day long, just outside the state-room, holding open black umbrellas with silver fringes, and two others are in the bows with long bamboo poles held close together and erect.”—Malay Sketches, p. 214. 

38 Leyden, Malay Annals, pp. 94, 95. 

39 Code of Malacca, translated in Newbold, op. cit. vol. ii. pp. 234, 235. 

40 In Selangor this royal right to one of each pair of elephant’s tusks is still a tradition to which an allusion is occasionally made. There are said to have been other perquisites as well as those mentioned, e.g. rhinoceros’ horns (sumbu badak) and bezoar stones (guliga). 

41 Notes and Queries, No. 4, issued with J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 17, sect. 75. 

42 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 30, p. 127. 

43 Swettenham, op. cit. pp. 211–226. 

44 Others are titah (commands); patek (slave); mĕrka or murka (wrath); karnia or kurnia (favour); and nĕgrah or anugrah (permission); the penalty of uttering any of which, except in addressing the sovereign, is death, i.e. should the offender be a royal slave; should he be any other individual, he is struck on the mouth.—Newbold, op. cit. vol. ii. pp. 233–234; vide also Malay Sketches, p. 218, where the same list of linguistic taboos appears to be used in Perak. 

45 Marhum, one who has found mercy, i.e. the deceased. It is the custom of Malays to discontinue after the death of a king the use of the title which he bore during his life. A new title is invented for the deceased monarch, by which he is ever afterwards known. The existence of a similar custom among other Indo-Chinese races has been noticed by Colonel Yule: “There is also a custom of dropping or concealing the proper name of the king. This exists in Burma and (according to La Loubère) in Siam. The various kings of those countries are generally distinguished by some nickname derived from facts in their reign or personal relations, and applied to them after their decease. Thus we hear among the Burmese kings of ‘the king dethroned by foreigners,’ ‘the king who fled from the Chinese,’ ‘the grandfather king,’ and even ‘the king thrown into the water.’ Now this has a close parallel in the Archipelago. Among the kings of Macassar, we find one king known only as the ‘Throat-cutter’; another as ‘He who ran amuck’; a third, ‘The beheaded’; a fourth, ‘He who was beaten to death on his own stair-case.’” Colonel Yule ascribes the origin of this custom to Ancient India. [Journal Anthrop. Institute.] J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 9, p. 98. 

46 Newbold, op. cit. vol. ii. p. 288, note. 

47 The bakong is a kind of lily; the sirih is the Malay betel-vine. 

48 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 17, p. 93. 

49 Touching hands is done with both hands together. If you touch hands with a man who is somewhat your superior in rank, it is proper, in drawing back your hands, to bring them at least as high as your chest; and if the other is decidedly your superior, even as high as your forehead, bending forward somewhat while doing so. 

50 Cliff., Stud. in Brown Humanity, p. 175. 

51 Cliff., In Court and Kampong, p. 113, and compare the following:—“Visitors to Jugra may often in the evening see a party of some 30 or 40 men coming along the road with His Highness” [the late Sultan ʿAbdulsamad of Selangor] “walking a few paces ahead of them. Should a native meet the little procession he will squat down at the side of the road until the Sultan has passed, for according to Malay ideas it shows a want of respect in a subject to remain standing in the presence of his Raja” ... “on replying to His Highness natives place the palms of their hands together and so raise them to their forehead, by way of obeisance, and this is done even by his own children.”—Selangor Journal, vol. i. No. 1, p. 5. 

52 This dressing up of the buffaloes, when taken in conjunction with the suspension of the breast-ornament about their necks, suggests the survival of anthropomorphic ideas about the sacrificial buffalo. 

53 Among the Malays the use of the naubat is confined to the reigning Rajas of a few States, and the privilege is one of the most valuable insignia of royalty. In Perak the office of musician used to be an hereditary one, the performers were called Orang Kalau, and a special tax was levied for their support (J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 9, p. 104). 

54 I was told that these dangerous genii or spirits resided in the naubat or Big State Drum, the two gĕndang or Small State Drums, the two langkara or State Kettle Drums, the lĕmpiri or State Trumpet, the sĕrunei or State Flute, and the k’ris or State Dagger, called (in Selangor) b’rok bĕrayun, or the “Swaying Baboon,” which latter is said to have slain “a hundred men less one” since it was first used. [I learnt this from H.H. the late Sultan himself, and here record it, because it has sometimes been asserted that H.H. the Sultan claimed to have slain these ninety-nine men with his own hand, which H.H. assured me was not the case.] The sanctity of the remaining pieces of the regalia appears to be less marked. They are the payong ubor-ubor or State Umbrella, the State Trident, and the State Lances or tombak bandangan. Of the Selangor State Trumpet I was told that any one who “brushed hastily past it” (siapa-siapa mĕlintas-nya) would be fined one dollar, even if he were the Sultan himself (walo’ Sultan-pun kĕna juga). 

55 But in Malay Sketches (p. 215) we read that in Perak the royal instruments accompany the royal water-parties, and that “the royal bugler sits on the extreme end of the prow, and from time to time blows a call on the antique silver trumpet of the regalia.” 

56 The Malay headman (Haji Brahim), the priest of the local mosque, the Bilal (an inferior attendant at the mosque), and some thirty Malays belonging to the village, took part in this ceremony. A goat had been killed for the occasion, and the party who were paying the vow brought its flesh with them, together with a great heap of rice stained with saffron (turmeric). The men assembled at the tomb, incense was burned, and Arabic prayers read, after which a white cloth, five cubits long, was laid on the saint’s grave. A banquet followed, in which we all took part. 

57 Frazer, Golden Bough, vol. i. p. 189. 

58 For the ideas referred to in this and the preceding paragraph, cp. Frazer, op. cit. vol. i. pp. 187–207. Cp. also for the abstention from hair-cutting at childbirth, Clifford’s Studies in Brown Humanity, p. 48. The idea of long hair is found even in animistic conceptions of natural objects. Thus the wind (Angin) is begged in a wind-charm “to let down its long and flowing locks.” 

59 Raja Bĕrma, son of Raja Jaman of Bandar (Wan Bong). Cp. also Clifford, In Court and Kampong, p. 114, “He wore his fine black hair long, so that it hung about his waist.”

The old custom in Selangor is said to have been for men to wear their hair down to the shoulders (rambut panjang jijak bahu), but they would frequently wear it below the waist (rambut sa-pĕrhĕmpasan), in which case it appears to have been commonly shorn at puberty or marriage. When worn full length by men it was usually, for convenience, coiled up inside the head-cloth or turban (saputangan or tanjak), or was made up into rolls or chignons (sanggul dan siput) like that of the women. It was not infrequently used as a place of concealment for one of the small Malay poniards called “Pepper-crushers” (tumbok lada), not only by men but by women. 

60 Frazer, op. cit. vol. i. p. 193. 

61 Vide infra, Chap. VI. p. 569, seqq., etc. 

62 Vide infra, Chap. VI. pp. 353–355, Adolescence. 

63 “Ces danseurs et ces danseuses ont tous des ongles faux, et fort longs, de cuivre jaune.”—La Loubère, Royaume de Siam, tome i. pp. 148–150 (quoted by Crawf., Hist. Indian Arch. i. p. 131). Cp. “They have a custom to wear their thumb-nails very long, especially that on their left thumb, for they do never cut it, but scrape it often.”—Dampier’s Voyages, vol. i. pp. 325, 326. 

64 Vide infra, Chap. VI. pp. 355–360. 

65 Or Sumangat. The derivation of the word is unknown: possibly it may be connected with sangat, “excessive,” or bangat, “sudden, quick.” The meaning covers both “soul“and “life” (i.e. not the state of being alive, but the cause thereof or “vital principle”). 

66 In calling the soul, a clucking sound, represented in Malay by the word kur or kĕrr, by which fowls are called, is almost always used; in fact, “kur sĕmangat” (“cluck! cluck! soul!”) is such a common expression of astonishment among the Malays that its force is little more than “good gracious me!” (vide infra, p. 534, note). 

67 Vide App. vi

68 In another charm we find the sick man’s body compared to a weather-beaten barque at sea. 

69 Vide App. cclxxi

70 The entire conception of the soul among the Malays agrees word for word with Professor Tylor’s classical definition in Primitive Culture, vol. i. p. 387, and hence I have not hesitated to use his exact words in so far as they were applicable. 

71 Cp. Tylor, Prim. Cult. vol. i. p. 422. 

72 What these seven souls were it is impossible without more evidence to determine. All that can be said is that they were most probably seven different manifestations of the same soul. Such might be the Shadow-soul, the Reflection-soul, the Puppet-soul, the Bird-soul (?), the Life-soul, etc, but as yet no evidence is forthcoming.—Cp. Tylor, op. cit. vol. i. pp. 391, 392. 

73 Professor Tylor calls this “a combination of several kinds of spirit, soul, or image, to which different functions belong” (op. cit. vol. i. pp. 391, 392). 

74 Infra, Chap. VI. p. 569. 

75 Infra, Chap. V. p. 241. 

76 Infra, Chap. VI. p. 575. 

77 Infra, Chap. VI. p. 568. 

78 Infra, Chap. VI. p. 431. 

79 We might then expect to get some such table as the following:—

Colours of Cloths (used to enwrap the lump of earth from the footprint). Colours of Cosmetics (used by the sick man). Colours of Rice (such as may be used by medicine-men).
... white white Highest Color.
yellow ... yellow Medium
... ... blue.
red red red.
... ... purple or orange
... ... green.
black black black. Lowest

Green is not a common colour. Blue appears to be rarely used. It is, however, the colour assigned to a (fabulous (?)) champaka flower, which is supposed to be the rarest of its kind (vide p. 29 n. supra). Orange (jingga) is also extremely rare, though it is occasionally used for certain decorative work (e.g. small wedding-pillows). 

80 Infra, Chap. V. pp. 211, 250, 251. 

81 Or is this phenomenon of a bird-shaped soul inhabiting certain trees to be explained by the “notion of a vegetable soul, common to plants and to the higher organisms, possessing an animal soul in addition”? and are we to take this as only “one more instance of the fuller identification of the souls of plants with the souls of animals”?—Tylor, op. cit. vol. i. pp. 428, 429. 

82 Professor Tylor’s pregnant phraseology in this connection is entirely applicable to the Malays, who “talk quite seriously to beasts alive or dead as they would to men alive or dead, offer them homage, ask pardon when it is their painful duty to hunt and kill them.” Cp. also his remarks upon this subject, ibid. p. 423.—Prim. Cult. vol. i. p. 422. 

83 Infra, Medicine, Divination, etc. 

84 Infra, Hunting charms. 

85 Infra, Fowling charms. 

86 Infra, Vegetation charms. 

87 Infra, Fishing charms. 

88 Infra, Mining charms. 

89 The central idea of this conception appears to be that these animals, birds, and trees were once human beings, but were turned into their present shapes by reason of some wrongful act for which they were not invariably themselves responsible. 

90 Vide introductory remarks to Hunting, Fowling, Fishing, Planting, and Mining charms. 



Relations with the Supernatural World


(a) The Magician

“The accredited intermediary between men and spirits is the Pawang;1 the Pawang is a functionary of great and traditional importance in a Malay village, though in places near towns the office is falling into abeyance. In the inland districts, however, the Pawang is still a power, and is regarded as part of the constituted order of society, without whom no village community would be complete. It must be clearly understood that he has nothing whatever to do with the official Muhammadan religion of the mosque; the village has its regular staff of elders—the Imām, Khatib, and Bilal—for the mosque service. But the Pawang is quite outside this system, and belongs to a different and much older order of ideas; he may be regarded as the legitimate representative of the primitive ‘medicine-man’ or ‘village-sorcerer,’ and his very existence in these days is an anomaly, though it does not strike Malays as such. [57]

“Very often the office is hereditary, or at least the appointment is practically confined to the members of one family. Sometimes it is endowed with certain ‘properties’ handed down from one Pawang to his successor, known as the kabĕsaran, or, as it were, regalia. On one occasion I was nearly called upon to decide whether these adjuncts—which consisted, in this particular case, of a peculiar kind of head-dress—were the personal property of the person then in possession of them (who had got them from his father, a deceased Pawang), or were to be regarded as official insignia descending with the office in the event of the natural heir declining to serve! Fortunately I was spared the difficult task of deciding this delicate point of law, as I managed to persuade the owner to take up the appointment.

“But quite apart from such external marks of dignity, the Pawang is a person of very real significance. In all agricultural operations, such as sowing, reaping, irrigation works, and the clearing of jungle for planting, in fishing at sea, in prospecting for minerals, and in cases of sickness, his assistance is invoked. He is entitled by custom to certain small fees; thus, after a good harvest he is allowed, in some villages, five gantangs of padi, one gantang of rice (bĕras), and two chupaks of ĕmping (a preparation of rice and cocoa-nut made into a sort of sweetmeat) from each householder. After recovery from sickness his remuneration is the very modest amount of tiga wang baharu, that is, 7½ cents.

“It is generally believed that a good harvest can only be secured by complying with his instructions, which are of a peculiar and comprehensive character.

“They consist largely of prohibitions, which are [58]known as pantang. Thus, for instance, it is pantang in some places to work in the rice-field on the 14th and 15th days of the lunar month; and this rule of enforced idleness, being very congenial to the Malay character, is, I believe, pretty strictly observed.

“Again, in reaping, certain instruments are proscribed, and in the inland villages it is regarded as a great crime to use the sickle (sabit) for cutting the padi; at the very least the first few ears should be cut with a tuai, a peculiar small instrument consisting of a semicircular blade set transversely on a piece of wood or bamboo, which is held between the fingers, and which cuts only an ear or two at a time. Also the padi must not be threshed by hitting it against the inside of a box, a practice known as banting padi.

“In this, as in one or two other cases, it may be supposed that the Pawang’s ordinances preserve the older forms of procedure and are opposed to innovations in agricultural methods. The same is true of the pantang (i.e. taboo) rule which prescribes a fixed rate of price at which padi may be sold in the village community to members of the same village. This system of customary prices is probably a very old relic of a time when the idea of asking a neighbour or a member of your own tribe to pay a competition price for an article was regarded as an infringement of communal rights. It applies to a few other articles of local produce2 besides padi, and I was frequently assured [59]that the neglect of this wholesome rule was the cause of bad harvests. I was accordingly pressed to fine transgressors, which would perhaps have been a somewhat difficult thing to do. The fact, however, that in many places these rules are generally observed is a tribute to the influence of the Pawang who lends his sanction to them.”3

“The Pawang keeps a familiar spirit, which in his case is a hantu pŭsaka, that is, an hereditary spirit which runs in the family, in virtue of which he is able to deal summarily with the wild spirits of an obnoxious character.”4

The foregoing description is so precise and clear that I have not much to add to it. There are, however, one or two points which require emphasis. One of these is that the priestly magician stands in certain respects on the same footing as the divine man or king—that is to say, he owns certain insignia which are exactly analogous to the regalia of the latter, and are, as Mr. Blagden points out, called by the same name (kabĕsaran). He shares, moreover, with the king the right to make use of cloth dyed with the royal colour (yellow), and, like the king, too, possesses the right to enforce the use of certain ceremonial words and phrases, in which respect, indeed, his list is longer, if anything, than that of royalty.

He also acts as a sort of spirit-medium and gives oracles in trances; possesses considerable political influence; practises (very occasional) austerities; observes some degree of chastity, and appears quite sincere in his conviction of his own powers. At least he always has a most plausible excuse ready to account for his [60]inability to do whatever is required. An aged magician who came from Perak to doctor one of H.H. the Sultan’s sons (Raja Kahar) while I was at Langat, had the unusual reputation of being able to raise a sandbank in the sea at will; but when I asked if I could see it done, he explained that it could only be done in time of war when he was hard pressed by an enemy’s boat, and he could not do it for the sake of mere ostentation! Moreover, like members of their profession all the world over, these medicine-men are, perhaps naturally, extremely reticent; it was seldom that they would let their books be seen, much less copied, even for fair payment, and a Pawang once refused to tell me a charm until I had taken my shoes off and was seated with him upon a yellow cloth while he repeated the much-prized formula.

The office of magician is, as has been said, very often hereditary. It is not so always, however, there being certain recognised ways in which a man may “get magic.” One of the most peculiar is as follows: “To obtain magical powers (ʿelmu) you must meet the ghost of a murdered man. Take the midrib of a leaf of the ‘ivory’ cocoa-nut palm (pĕlĕpah niyor gading), which is to be laid on the grave, and two more midribs, which are intended to represent canoe-paddles, and carry them with the help of a companion to the grave of the murdered man at the time of the full moon (the 15th day of the lunar month) when it falls upon a Tuesday. Then take a cent’s worth of incense, with glowing embers in a censer, and carry them to the head-post of the grave of the deceased. Fumigate the grave, going three times round it, and call upon the murdered man by name:— [61]

‘Hearken, So-and-so,

And assist me;

I am taking (this boat) to the saints of God,

And I desire to ask for a little magic.’5

Here take the first midrib, fumigate it, and lay it upon the head of the grave, repeating ‘Kur Allah’ (‘Cluck, cluck, God!’) seven times. You and your companion must now take up a sitting posture, one at the head and the other at the foot of the grave, facing the grave post, and use the canoe-paddles which you have brought. In a little while the surrounding scenery will change and take upon itself the appearance of the sea, and finally an aged man will appear, to whom you must address the same request as before.”


(b) High Places

“Although officially the religious centre of the village community is the mosque, there is usually in every small district a holy place known as the kramat,6 at which vows are paid on special occasions, and which is invested with a very high degree of reverence and sanctity. [62]

“These kramats abound in Malacca territory; there is hardly a village but can boast some two or three in its immediate neighbourhood, and they are perfectly well known to all the inhabitants.

“Theoretically, kramats are supposed to be the graves of deceased holy men, the early apostles of the Muhammadan faith, the first founders of the village who cleared the primeval jungle, or other persons of local notoriety in a former age; and there is no doubt that many of them are that and nothing more. But even so, the reverence paid to them and the ceremonies that are performed at them savour a good deal too much of ancestor-worship to be attributable to an orthodox Muhammadan origin.

“It is certain, however, that many of these kramats are not graves at all: many of them are in the jungle, on hills and in groves, like the high places of the Old Testament idolatries; they contain no trace of a grave (while those that are found in villages usually have grave-stones), and they appear to be really ancient sites of a primitive nature-worship or the adoration of the spirits of natural objects.

“Malays, when asked to account for them, often have recourse to the explanations that they are kramat jin, that is, “spirit”-places; and if a Malay is pressed on the point, and thinks that the orthodoxy of these practices is being impugned, he will sometimes add that the jin in question is a jin islām, a Muhammadan and quite orthodox spirit!

“Thus on Bukit Nyalas, near the Johol frontier, there is a kramat consisting of a group of granite boulders on a ledge of rock overhanging a sheer descent of a good many feet; bamboo clumps grow on the place, and there were traces of religious rites having [63]been performed there, but no grave whatever. This place was explained to me to be the kramat of one Nakhoda Hussin, described as a jin (of the orthodox variety), who presides over the water, rain, and streams. People occasionally burned incense there to avert drought and get enough water for irrigating their fields. There was another kramat of his lower down the hill, also consisting of rocks, one of which was shaped something like a boat. I was informed that this jin is attended by tigers which guard the hill, and are very jealous of the intrusion of other tigers from the surrounding country. He is believed to have revealed himself to the original Pawang of the village, the mythical founder of the kampong of Nyalas. In a case like this it seems probable that the name attached to this object of reverence is a later accretion, and that under a thin disguise we have here a relic of the worship of the spirit of rivers and streams, a sort of elemental deity localised in this particular place, and still regarded as a proper object of worship and propitiation, in spite of the theoretically strict monotheism of the Muhammadan creed. Again, at another place the kramat is nothing but a tree, of somewhat singular shape, having a large swelling some way up the trunk. It was explained to me that this tree was connected in a special way with the prospects of local agriculture, the size of the swelling increasing in good years and diminishing in bad seasons! Hence it was naturally regarded with considerable awe by the purely agricultural population of the neighbourhood.

“As may be imagined, it is exceedingly difficult to discover any authentic facts regarding the history of these numerous kramats: even where there is some evidence of the existence of a grave, the name of the [64]departed saint is usually the one fact that is remembered, and often even that is forgotten. The most celebrated of the Malacca kramats, the one at Machap, is a representative type of the first class, that in which there really is a grave: it is the one place where a hardened liar respects the sanctity of an oath, and it is occasionally visited in connection with civil cases, when the one party challenges the other to take a particular oath. A man who thinks nothing of perjuring himself in the witness-box, and who might not much mind telling a lie even with the Korān on his head, will flinch before the ordeal of a falsehood in the presence of the Dato’ Machap.”7

After explaining the difference between beneficent spirits and the spirits of evil, Mr. Blagden continues: “Some time ago one of these objectionable hantus (spirits of evil) had settled down in a kĕrayong tree in the middle of this village of Bukit Sĕnggeh, and used to frighten people who passed that way in the dusk; so the Pawang was duly called upon to exorcise it, and under his superintendence the tree was cut down, after which there was no more trouble. But it is certain that it would have been excessively dangerous for an ordinary layman to do so.

“This point may be illustrated by a case which was reported to me soon after it occurred, and which again shows the intimate connection of spirits with trees. A Javanese coolie, on the main road near Ayer Panas, cut down a tree which was known to be occupied by a hantu. He was thereupon seized with what, from the description, appears to have been an epileptic fit, and showed all the traditional symptoms of demoniac [65]possession. He did not recover till his friends had carried out the directions of the spirit, speaking through the sufferer’s mouth, it seems, viz., to burn incense, offer rice, and release a fowl. After which the hantu left him.

“In many places there are trees which are pretty generally believed to be the abodes of spirits, and not one Malay in ten would venture to cut one down, while most people would hardly dare to go near one after dark. On one occasion an exceptionally intelligent Malay, with whom I was discussing the terms on which he proposed to take up a contract for clearing the banks of a river, made it an absolute condition that he should not be compelled to cut down a particular tree which overhung the stream, on the ground that it was a ‘spirit’ tree. That tree had to be excluded from the contract.”8

The following description, by Sir W. Maxwell, of a Perak kramat may be taken as fairly typical of the kramat, in which there really is a grave:—

“Rightly or wrongly the Malays of Larut assign an Achinese origin to an old grave which was discovered in the forest some years ago, and of which I propose to give a brief description. It is situated about half-way between the Larut Residency and the mining village of Kamunting. In the neighbourhood the old durian trees of Java betoken the presence of a Malay population at a date long prior to the advent of the Chinese miner. The grave was discovered about twenty years ago by workmen employed by the Mĕntri of Perak to make the Kamunting road, and it excited much curiosity among the Malays at the [66]time. The Mĕntri and all the ladies of his family went on elephants to see it, and it has been an object of much popular prestige ever since.

“The Malays of Java were able from the village tradition to give the name and sex of the occupant of this lonely tomb, ‘Toh Bidan Susu Lanjut,’ whose name sounds better in the original than in an English translation. She is said to have been an old Achinese woman of good family; of her personal history nothing is known, but her claims to respectability are evinced by the carved head and foot stones of Achinese workmanship which adorn her grave, and her sanctity is proved by the fact that the stones are eight feet apart. It is a well-known Malay superstition that the stones placed to mark the graves of Saints miraculously increase their relative distance during the lapse of years, and thus bear mute testimony to the holiness of the person whose resting-place they mark.

“The kramat on the Kamunting road is on the spur of a hill through which the roadway is cut. A tree overshadows the grave and is hung with strips of white cloth and other rags (panji panji) which the devout have put there. The direction of the grave is as nearly as possible due north and south. The stones at its head and foot are of the same size, and in every respect identical one with the other. They are of sandstone, and are said by the natives to have been brought from Achin. In design and execution they are superior to ordinary Malay art, as will be seen, I think, on reference to the rubbings of the carved surface of one of them, which have been executed for me by the Larut Survey Office, and which I have transmitted to the Society with this paper. The extreme measurements of the stones (furnished from [67]the same source) are 2′ 1″ × 0′ 9″ × 0′ 7″. They are in excellent preservation, and the carving is fresh and sharp. Some Malays profess to discover in the three rows of vertical direction on the broadest face of the slabs the Mohammedan attestation of the unity of God (La ilaha illa-lla) repeated over and over again; but I confess that I have been unable to do so. The offerings at a kramat are generally incense (istangi or satangi) or benzoin (kaminian); these are burned in little stands made of bamboo rods; one end is stuck in the ground and the other split into four or five, and then opened out and plaited with basket work so as to hold a little earth. They are called sangka; a Malay will often vow that if he succeeds in some particular project, or gets out of some difficulty in which he may happen to be placed, he will burn three or more sangka at such and such a kramat. Persons who visit a kramat in times of distress or difficulty, to pray and to vow offerings, in case their prayers are granted, usually leave behind them as tokens of their vows small pieces of white cloth, which are tied to the branches of a tree or to sticks planted in the ground near the sacred spot. For votary purposes the long-forgotten tomb of Toh Bidan Susu Lanjut enjoys considerable popularity among the Mohammedans of Larut; and the tree which overshadows it has, I am glad to say, been spared the fate which awaited the rest of the jungle which overhung the road. No coolie was bold enough to put an axe to it.”9

Mr. George Bellamy, writing in 1893, thus described the kramat at Tanjong Karang in the Kuala Selangor district:— [68]

“The kramat about which I am now writing is a very remarkable one. It is situated on the extreme point of land at the mouth of the river Selangor, close to where the new lighthouse has been erected. A magnificent kayu ara (a kind of fig-tree) forms a prominent feature of the tanjong (point or cape), and at the base of this tree, enveloped entirely by its roots, is an oblong-shaped space having the appearance of a Malay grave, with the headstones complete.... To this sacred spot constant pilgrimages are made by the Malays, and the lower branches of the tree rarely lack those pieces of white and yellow cloth which are always hung up as an indication that some devout person has paid his vows. The Chinese also have great respect for this kramat, and have erected a sort of sylvan temple at the foot of the tree.” Mr. Bellamy tells how one Raja ʿAbdullah fell in love with a maiden named Miriam, who disappeared and was supposed to have been taken by the spirits (though she was really carried off by an earlier lover named Hassan). Raja ʿAbdullah died and was buried at the foot of the fig-tree. Mr. Bellamy concludes: “If you ever happen to see a very big crocodile at the mouth of the Selangor river, floating listlessly about, be careful not to molest it: it is but the buaya kramat, which shape the spirit of Raja ʿAbdullah sometimes assumes. When walking along the pantai (shore), if you chance to meet a very large tiger let him pass unharmed. It is only Raja ʿAbdullah’s ghost, and in proof thereof you will see it leaves no footmarks on the sand. And when you go to see the new lighthouse at Tanjong Kramat, you may perhaps come face to face with a very old man, who sadly shakes his head and disappears. [69]Do not be startled, it is only Raja ʿAbdullah.”10

In No. 2 of the same volume of the Selangor Journal Mr. Bellamy refers to another kramat—that of ’Toh Kĕtapang—which he appears to localise in Ulu Selangor.

It is by no means necessary to ensure the popularity of a kramat or shrine that the saint to whose memory it is dedicated should be a Malay. The cosmopolitan character of these shrines is attested in the following note which I sent to the Selangor Journal11 about the shrines in the Ulu Langat (Kajang) district of Selangor:—

“The chief kramats in the district are ‘Makam ’Toh Sayah’ (the tomb of a Javanese of high repute); ‘Makam Said Idris,’ at Rekoh, Said Idris being the father of the Pĕnghulu of Cheras; ‘Makam ’Toh Janggut (a ‘Kampar’ man), on the road to Cheras; and ‘Makam ’Toh Gerdu or Berdu,’ at Dusun Tua, Ulu Langat. ’Toh Berdu was of Sakai origin.”

I have never yet, however, heard of any shrine being dedicated to a Chinaman, and it is probable that this species of canonisation is confined (at least in modern times) to local celebrities professing the Muhammadan religion, as would certainly be the case of the Malays and Javanese mentioned in the foregoing paragraph, and quite possibly too in the case of the Sakai.

It is true that Chinese often worship at these shrines—just as, on the same principle, they employ Malay magicians in prospecting for tin; but there appear to be certain limits beyond which they [70]cannot go, as it was related to me when I was living in the neighbourhood, that a Chinaman who had, in the innocence of his heart, offered at a Moslem shrine a piece of the accursed pork, was pounced upon and slain before he reached home by one of the tigers which guarded the shrine.

The shrine of ’Toh Kamarong is one of the most celebrated shrines in the Langat district, the saint’s last resting-place being guarded by a white elephant and a white tiger, the latter of which had been a pet (pĕmainan) of his during his lifetime. In this respect it is exactly similar to the shrine of ’Toh Parwi of Pantei in Sungei Ujong, which is similarly guarded, both shrines having been erected on the seashore, it is said, in the days when the sea came much farther inland than it does at present. The fame of ’Toh Kamarong filled the neighbourhood, and it is related that on one occasion an irate mother exclaimed, of a son of hers who was remarkable for his vicious habits, “May the ’Toh Kramat Kamarong fly away with him.” Next day the boy disappeared, and all search proved fruitless, until three days later ’Toh Kamarong appeared to her in a dream, and informed her that he had carried the boy off, as she had invited him to do, and that if she were to look for his footprints she would be able to discover them inside the pad-tracks of a tiger one of whose feet was smaller than the rest, and which was then haunting the spot. She did so, and discovered her son’s footprints exactly as the saint had foretold. This Ghost-tiger, which no doubt must be identified with ’Toh Kamarong’s “pet,” used to roam the district when I was stationed in the neighbourhood, and both I and, I believe, the then District Engineer (Mr. Spearing), saw this tiger’s [71]tracks, and can vouch for the fact that one footprint was smaller than the rest. This curious feature is thought by the local Malays at least, to be one of the specially distinctive marks of a rimau kramat, or Ghost-tiger, just as the possession of one tusk that is smaller than the other is the mark of a Ghost-elephant.12

Closely connected with the subject of shrines is that of high places, such as those spots where religious penance was traditionally practised. One of these sacred spots is said to have been situated upon the “Mount Ophir” of Malacca, which is about 4000 feet high, and on which a certain legendary Princess known as Tuan Pŭtri Gunong Ledang is said to have dwelt, until she transferred her ghostly court to Jugra Hill, upon the coast of Selangor.13

Such fasting-places are usually, as in Java, either solitary hills or places which present some great natural peculiarity; even remarkable trees and rocks being, as has already been pointed out, pressed into the service of this Malay “natural religion.”


(c) Nature of Rites

The main divisions of the magico-religious ceremonies of the Malays are prayer, sacrifice, lustration, fasting, divination, and possession.

Prayer, which is defined by Professor Tylor as “a request made to a deity as if he were a man,” is still in the unethical stage among the Malays; no request [72]for anything but personal advantages of a material character being ever, so far as I am aware, preferred by the worshipper. The efficacy of prayer is, however, often supposed to be enhanced by repetition.

“As prayer is a request made to a deity as if he were a man, so sacrifice is a gift made to a deity as if he were a man.... The ruder conception that the deity takes and values the offering for itself, gives place, on the one hand, to the idea of mere homage as expressed by a gift, and, on the other, to the negative view that the virtue lies in the worshipper depriving himself of something prized.”14

A general survey of the charms and ceremonies brought together in this volume will, I think, be likely to establish the view that the Malays (in accordance with the reported practice of many other races) probably commenced with the idea of sacrifice as a simple gift, and therefrom developed first the idea of ceremonial homage, and later the idea of sacrifice as an act of abnegation. Evidences of the original gift-theory chiefly survive in the language of charms, in which the deity appealed to is repeatedly invited to eat and drink of the offerings placed before him, as a master may be invited to eat by his servants. The intermediate stage between the gift and homage theories is marked by an extensive use of “substitutes,” and of the sacrifice of a part or parts for the whole. Thus we even find the dough model of a human being actually called “the substitute” (tukar ganti), and offered up to the spirits upon the sacrificial tray; in the same sense are the significant directions of a magician, that “if the spirit craves a human victim a cock may be substituted” and the [73]custom of hunters who, when they have killed a deer, leave behind them in the forest small portions of each of the more important members of the deer’s anatomy, as “representatives” of the entire carcase. In this last case the usual “ritualistic change may be traced from practical reality to formal ceremony.” “The originally valuable offering is compromised for a smaller tribute or a cheaper substitute, dwindling at last to a mere trifling token or symbol.”15

This homage-theory will, I believe, be found to cover by far the greater bulk of the sacrifices usually offered by Malays, and the idea of abnegation appears to be practically confined to votal ceremonies or vows (niat), in which the nature and extent of the offering are not regulated by custom, but depend entirely upon the wealth or caprice of the worshipper, there being merely a tacit understanding that he shall sacrifice something which is of more than nominal value to himself.

Of the manner in which offerings are supposed to be received by the deity to whom they are offered it is difficult to obtain very much evidence. I have, however, frequently questioned Malays upon this subject, and on the whole think it can very safely be said that the deity is not supposed to touch the solid or material part of the offering, but only the essential part, whether it be “life, savour, essence, quality” or even the “soul.”

It will perhaps be advisable, in order to avoid repetition, to describe a few of the special and distinctive sub-rites which form part of many of the more important ceremonies, such as (in particular), rites performed at shrines, the rite of burning incense, the scattering [74]of (or banqueting upon) sacrificial rice, and the application of the “Neutralising” Rice-paste (tĕpong tawar).

Of the rites performed at shrines, Mr. Blagden says: “The worship there, as with most other kramats, consists of the burning of incense, the offering of nasi kunyet (yellow rice), and the killing of goats; but I also noticed a number of live pigeons there which illustrate the practice, common in Buddhist countries, of releasing an animal in order to gain ‘merit’ thereby.” At a shrine on the Langat river I have seen fowls which had (I was told) been similarly released.

Mr. Blagden’s remarks apply with equal force to the services performed at the shrines of Selangor, and I believe also of other States. It should, however, I think, be pointed out that the nasi kunyit (yellow rice) is, usually at all events, eaten by those who take part in the service. At a ceremony which was held on one occasion after my recovery from sickness, and in which, by request, I took part,16 incense was burnt, and Muhammadan prayers chanted, after which the usual strip of white cloth (five cubits in length) was laid upon the saint’s grave (the saint being the father of the present Sultan of Selangor), and the party then adjourned to a shelter some twenty or thirty yards lower down the hill, where, first the men, and then the women and children, partook of the flesh of the slaughtered goat and the saffron-stained rice (pulut). After the meal the Bilal (mosque attendant, who was present with the Malay headman and the local priest of the mosque), returned to the tomb, and making obeisance, recited a Muhammadan prayer, craving permission [75]to take the cloth back for his own use, which he presently did. These Bilals are needy men and live upon the alms of the devout, so I suppose he thought there was no reason why the saint should not contribute something to his support.

The burning of incense is one of the very simplest, and hence commonest, forms of burnt sacrifice. Some magicians say that it should be accompanied by an invocation addressed to the Spirit of Incense, which should be besought, as in the example quoted below, to “pervade the seven tiers of earth and sky respectively.” It would appear that the intention of the worshipper is to ensure that his “sacrifice of sweet savour” should reach the nostrils of the gods and help to propitiate them, wherever they may be, by means of a foretaste of offerings to follow. This invocation, however, is not unfrequently omitted, or at least slurred over by the worshipper, in spite of the contention of the magicians who use it, that “without it the spell merely rises like smoke which is blown away by the wind.” The following is one form of the invocation in question:—

Zabur17 Hijau is your name, O Incense,

Zabur Bajang the name of your Mother,

Zabur Puteh the name of your Fumes,

Scales from the person of God’s Apostle18 were your Origin.

May you fumigate the Seven Tiers of the Earth,

May you fumigate the Seven Tiers of the Sky,

And serve as a summons to all Spirits, to those which have magic powers, and those which have become Saints of God,

The Spirits of God’s elect, who dwell in the Halo of the Sun,

And whose resort is the “Kaʿbah” of God,

At even and morn, by night and day; [76]

And serve as a summons to the Elect of God,

Who dwell at the Gate of the Spaces of Heaven,

And whose resort is the White Diamond

In the Interior of Egypt, at morn and eve,

Who know (how) to make the dead branch live,

And the withered blossom unfold its petals,

And to perform the word of God;

By the grace of (the creed) “There is no god but God,” etc.

The direction taken by the fumes of the incense is observed and noted for the purpose of divination; this feature of the rite will be noticed under the heading of Medicine.19

Another form of sacrifice consists in the scattering of rice. The sacrificial rice (Oryza sativa) used in the ceremonies is always of the following kinds: firstly, parched rice (b’ras bĕrtih); secondly, washed rice (b’ras basoh); thirdly, saffron-stained rice (b’ras kunyit, i.e. rice stained with turmeric);20 and, finally, a special kind of glutinous rice called pulut (Oryza glutinosa), which is also very generally used for sacrificial banquets.

Of these, the parched rice is generally used for strewing the bottom of the sacrificial tray (anchak) when the framework has been covered with banana leaves, but the offerings have not yet been deposited within it.

The washed and saffron rice are generally used for scattering either over the persons to be benefited by the ceremony, or else upon the ground or house-floor.

With reference to the selection of rice for this purpose, it has been suggested that the rice is intended to attract what may be called the “bird-soul” (i.e. the soul of man conceived as a bird) to the spot, or to [77]keep it from straying at a particularly dangerous moment in the life of its owner.

The pulut or glutinous rice is the kind of rice generally used for sacrificial banquets, e.g. for banquets at “high places,” etc.

Lustration is generally accomplished either by means of fire or of water. The best examples of the former are perhaps the fumigation of infants, and the api saleian or purificatory fire, over which women are half-roasted when a birth has taken place, but these being special and distinctive ceremonies, will be described with others of the same nature in Chapter VI.

One of the forms of lustration by water, however, appears rather to take the place of a sub-rite, forming an integral portion of a large class of ceremonies, such as those relating to Building, Fishing, Agriculture, Marriage, and so forth. Hence it will be necessary to give a general sketch of its leading features in the present context.

The ceremony of lustration by water, when it takes the form of the sub-rite referred to, is called “Tĕpong Tawar,” which properly means “the Neutralising Rice-flour (Water),” “neutralising” being used almost in a chemical sense, i.e. in the sense of “sterilising” the active element of poisons, or of destroying the active potentialities of evil spirits.

The rite itself consists in the application21 of a thin paste made by mixing rice-flour with water: this is taken up in a brush or “bouquet” of leaves and applied to the objects which the “neutralisation” is intended to protect or neutralise, whether they be the [78]posts of a house, the projecting ends of a boat’s ribs (tajok p’rahu), the seaward posts of fishing-stakes (puchi kelong), or the forehead and back of the hands of the bride and bridegroom.

The brush must be first fumigated with incense, then dipped into the bowl which contains the rice-water, and shaken out almost dry, for if the water runs down the object to which it is applied it is held to “portend tears,” whereas if it spreads equally all round (benchar) it is lucky. The composition of the brush, which is considered to be of the highest importance, appears to vary, but only within certain limits. It almost invariably, in Selangor, consists of a selection of leaves from the following plants, which are made up in small bouquets of five, seven, or nine leaves each, and bound round with ribu-ribu (a kind of small creeper), or a string of shredded tree bark (daun t’rap).

The following is a list of the leaves generally used:—

1. Leaves of the grass called sambau dara, which is said to be the symbol of a “settled soul” (ʿalamat mĕnĕtapkan sĕmangat), and which hence always forms the core of the bouquet.22

2. The leaves of the sĕlaguri, which appears to be “a shrub or small tree with yellow flowers (Clerodendron disparifolium, Bl., Verbenaceæ; or Sida rhombifolia, L., Malvaceæ, a common small shrub in open country),”23 which is described as one of the first of shrubs (kayu asal), and is said to be used as a “reminder of origin” (pĕringatan asal). [79]

3. The leaves of the pulut-pulut (the exact identity of which I have not yet ascertained, but which may be the Urena lobata, L., one of the Malvaceae), which is said to be used for the same purpose as the preceding.

4. The leaves of the gandarusa (Insticia gandarusa, L., Acanthaceæ), a plant described as “often cultivated and half-wild—a shrub used in medicine.”

The selection of this plant is said to be due to its reputation for scaring demons (ʿalamat mĕnghalaukan hantu). So great is its efficacy supposed to be, that people who have to go out when rain is falling and the sun shining simultaneously—a most dangerous time to be abroad, in Malay estimation,—put a sprig of the gandarusa in their belts.

5. The leaves of the gandasuli (which I have not yet been able to identify, no such name appearing in Ridley’s plant-list, but which I believe to be a water-side plant which I have seen, with a white and powerfully fragrant flower).24 It is considered to be a powerful charm against noxious birth-spirits, such as the Langsuir.

6. The leaves of the sapanggil (which is not yet identified).

7. The leaves of the lĕnjuang merah, or “the common red dracæna” (Cordyline terminalis, var. ferrea, Liliaceæ).25 This shrub is planted in graveyards, and occasionally at the four corners of the house, to drive away ghosts and demons.

8. The leaves of the sapĕnoh (unidentified), a plant with big round leaves, which is always placed outside the rest of the leaves in the bunch. [80]

9. To the above list may be perhaps added the satawar, sitawar or tawar-tawar (Costus speciosus, L., Scitamineæ, and Forrestia, spp. Commelinaceæ); and

10. The satĕbal (Fagræa racemosa, Jack., Loganiaceæ).

Leaves of the foregoing plants and shrubs are made up, as has been said, in small sets or combinations of five, seven, or even perhaps of nine leaves a piece. These combinations are said to differ according to the object to which the rice-water is to be applied. It is extremely unlikely, however, that all magicians should make the same selections even for the same objects—rather would they be likely to make use of such leaves on the list as happen to be most readily available. Still, however, as the only example of such differentiation which I have yet been able to obtain, I will give the details of three separate and distinctive combinations, which were described to me by a Selangor magician:—

(1) For a wedding ceremony sambau dara tied round with a string of shredded tree-bark.
(2) For blessing fishing-stakes gandarusa tied with the creeper ribu-ribu.
lĕnjuang merah
(3) For the ceremony of taking the rice-soul lĕnjuang merah tied with ribu-ribu.

Further inquiry and the collection of additional material will no doubt help to elucidate the general principles on which such selections are made. [81]

Short rhyming charms are very often used as accompaniments of the rite of rice-water, but appear to be seldom if ever repeated aloud. The following is a specimen, and others will be found in the Appendix:26

“Neutralising Rice-paste, true Rice-paste,

And, thirdly, Rice-paste of Kadangsa!

Keep me from sickness, keep me from death,

Keep me from injury and ruin.”

Other not less important developments of the idea of lustration by water are to be found in such ceremonies as the bathing of mother and child after a birth and the washing of the floor (basoh lantei) upon similar occasions, the bathing of the sick, of bride and bridegroom at weddings, of corpses (mĕruang),27 and the annual bathing expeditions (mandi Safar), which are supposed to purify the persons of the bathers and to protect them from evil (tolak bala).

Fasting, or the performance of religious penance, which is now but seldom practised, would appear to have been only undertaken in former days with a definite object in view, such as the production of the state of mental exaltation which induces ecstatic visions, the acquisition of supernatural powers (sakti), and so forth.

The fast always took place, of course, in a solitary spot, and not unfrequently upon the top of some high and solitary hill such as Mount Ophir (Gunong Ledang), on the borders of Malacca territory. Frequently, however, much lower hills, or even plains which possessed some remarkable rock or tree, would be selected for the purpose.

Such fasting, however, did not, as sometimes with [82]us, convey to the Malays the idea of complete abstinence, as the magicians informed me that a small modicum of rice contained in a kĕtupat (which is a small diamond-shaped rice-receptacle made of plaited cocoa-nut leaf) was the daily “allowance” of any one who was fasting. The result was that fasts might be almost indefinitely prolonged, and the thrice-seven-days’ fast of ’Che Utus upon Jugra Hill, on the Selangor coast,28 is still one of the traditions of that neighbourhood, whilst in Malay romances and in Malay tradition this form of religious penance is frequently represented as continuing for years.

Finally, I would draw attention to the strong vein of Sympathetic Magic or “make believe” which runs through and leavens the whole system of Malay superstition. The root-idea of this form of magic has been said to be the principle that “cause follows from effect.”

“One of the principles of sympathetic magic is that any effect may be produced by imitating it.... If it is wished to kill a person, an image of him is made and then destroyed; and it is believed that through a certain physical sympathy between the person and his image, the man feels the injuries done to the image as if they were done to his own body, and that when it is destroyed he must simultaneously perish.”29

The principle thus described is perhaps the most important of all those which underlie the “Black Art” of the Malays. [83]

1 “The titles Pawang and Bomor are given by the Malays to their medicine men. The Pawang class perform magic practices in order to find ore, medicine crops, or ensure good takes of fish, etc. The Bomor usually practise their art for the cure of human disease. Both terms are, however, often used as though they were interchangeable.”—Clifford, Hik. Raja Budiman, pt. ii. p. 28 n. 

2 In Bukit Sĕnggeh the articles subject to this custom are priced as follows:—

Padi (unhusked rice) 3 cents a gantang (about a gallon).
Bĕras (husked rice) 10 cents a gantang.
Kabong (i.e. palm) sugar 2½ cents a “buku” of two pieces and weighing a kati (1⅓ lb. avoir.)
Cocoa-nuts 1 cent each.
Hen’s eggs ¼ cent each.
Duck’s eggs ½ cent each.


3 C. O. Blagden in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 29, pp. 5–7. 

4 Ibid. p. 4. 

5 The Malay version runs:—

Hei angkau Si Anu,

Tolong-lah aku

Aku bawakan kapada aulia Allah,

Aku ’nak minta ʿelmu sadikit.”

This method of getting magic is an exact transcription of the words in which it was dictated to me by a Kelantan Malay (’Che ʿAbas) then residing at Klanang in Selangor. 

6 Cp. Mr. G. C. Bellamy in Selangor Journal, vol. ii. No. 6, p. 90, who says: “The word kramat, as applied to a man or woman, may be roughly translated prophet or magician. It is difficult to convey the real idea, as Malays call a man kramat who is able to get whatever he wishes for, who is able to foretell events, and whose presence brings good fortune to all his surroundings. District officers will be proud to know that in this last sense the word is occasionally applied to them. When the name kramat is applied to a place, I understand it to mean a holy place, a place of pilgrimage; but it does not necessarily mean a grave, as many people think. I can quote the kramat at Batu Ampar, Jugra, and numerous places on river banks where no graves exist, but yet they are called kramats.” [There is, however, a tradition that a saint’s leg was buried at Batu Hampar!—W. S.] 

7 C. O. Blagden in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 29, pp. 1–3. 

8 C. O. Blagden in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 29, pp. 4, 5. 

9 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 2, p. 236. 

10 Selangor Journal, vol. ii. No. 6, p. 90, seqq. 

11 Ibid. vol. v. No. 19, p. 308. 

12 Infra, Chap. V. pp. 153, 163. 

13 The local Malacca tradition represents her as still haunting her original seat. She is said to appear sometimes in the shape of an old woman with a cat, sometimes as a young and beautiful girl dressed in silk. She can transform her cat into a tiger if people molest her. J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 24, pp. 165, 166; No. 32, pp. 213, 214. 

14 Tylor, Prim. Cult. vol. ii. p. 340. 

15 Tylor, Prim. Cult. vol. ii. p. 341. 

16 Vide supra, Chap. II. p. 42. 

17 Zabur is the Arabic for “psalm,” especially for the Psalms of David; but the connection here is not very obvious. 

18 Another account derives the origin of incense from the eye gum of the Prophet Muhammad’s eyes. 

19 Infra, Chap. VI. p. 410, infra

20 This rice is occasionally stained with other colours, e.g. red, green, black (vide pp. 416, 421, infra.) 

21 Sometimes it is “dabbed” on the object, sometimes “painted” on it so as to spread as evenly as possible, more rarely “sprinkled.” 

22 It is not unfrequently used in medicinal and other ceremonies, e.g. it is tied to each corner of the new mat on which the first-fruits of the rice-harvest are spread out to dry, and to the centre of the long wooden pestle which is used for husking them. 

23 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 30, p. 240. 

24 According to Favre and v. d. Wall, Hedychium coronarium

25 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 30, p. 158. 

26 Vide App. xiii., xxxvi., xxxvii., cli., etc. 

27 Vide Birth, Marriage, Funerals, Medicine. 

28 It was on Jugra Hill, according to tradition, that the Princess of Malacca fasted to obtain eternal youth. 

29 Frazer, Golden Bough, vol. i. pp. 9–12. 



The Malay Pantheon


(a) Gods

A careful investigation of the magic rites and charms used by a nation which has changed its religion will not unfrequently show, that what is generally called witchcraft is merely the débris of the older ritual, condemned by the priests of the newer faith, but yet stubbornly, though secretly, persisting, through the unconquerable religious conservatism of the mass of the people.

“There is nothing that clings longer to a race than the religious faith in which it has been nurtured. Indeed, it is impossible for any mind that is not thoroughly scientific to cast off entirely the religious forms of thought in which it has grown to maturity. Hence in every people that has received the impression of foreign beliefs, we find that the latter do not expel and supersede the older religion, but are engrafted on it, blent with it, or overlie it. Observances are more easily abandoned than ideas, and even when all the external forms of the alien faith have been put on, and few vestiges of the indigenous one remain, the latter still retains its vitality in the mind, and powerfully colours or corrupts the former. The actual religion of [84]a people is thus of great ethnographic interest, and demands a minute and searching observation. No other facts relating to rude tribes are more difficult of ascertainment, or more often elude inquiry.”1

“The general principle stated by Logan in the passage just quoted receives remarkable illustration from a close investigation of the folk-lore and superstitious beliefs of the Malays. Two successive religious changes have taken place among them, and when we have succeeded in identifying the vestiges of Brahmanism which underlie the external forms of the faith of Muhammad, long established in all Malay kingdoms, we are only half-way through our task.

“There yet remain the powerful influences of the still earlier indigenous faith to be noted and accounted for. Just as the Buddhists of Ceylon turn in times of sickness and danger, not to the consolations offered by the creed of Buddha, but to the propitiation of the demons feared and reverenced by their early progenitors, and just as the Burmese and Talaings, though Buddhists, retain in full force the whole of the Nat superstition, so among the Malays, in spite of centuries which have passed since the establishment of an alien worship, the Muhammadan peasant may be found invoking the protection of Hindu gods against the spirits of evil with which his primitive faith has peopled all natural objects.”2

“What was the faith of Malaya seven hundred years ago it is hard to say, but there is a certain amount of evidence to lead to the belief that it was a form of Brahmanism, and that, no doubt, had succeeded the original spirit worship.”3 [85]

The evidence of folk-lore, taken in conjunction with that supplied by charm-books and romances, goes to show that the greater gods of the Malay Pantheon, though modified in some respects by Malay ideas, were really borrowed Hindu divinities, and that only the lesser gods and spirits are native to the Malay religious system. It is true that some of these native gods can be with more or less distinctness identified with the great powers of nature: the King of the Winds (Raja Angin) for instance; “Mambang Tali Harus,” or the god of mid-currents (the Malay Neptune); the gods of thunder and lightning, of the celestial bodies, etc.; but none of them appear to have the status of the chief gods of the Hindu system, and both by land and water the terrible Shiva (“Batara Guru” or “Kala”) is supreme. Yet each department of nature, however small, has its own particular godling or spirit who requires propitiation, and influences for good or evil every human action. Only the moral element is wanting to the divine hegemony—the “cockeyed,” limping substitute which does duty for it reflecting only too truthfully the character of the people with whom it passes as divine.

I will first take, in detail, the gods of Hindu origin. “Batara (or Bĕtara) Guru” is “the name by which Siva is known to his worshippers, who constitute the vast majority of the Balinese, and who probably constituted the bulk of the old Javanese.”4

In the magic of the Peninsular Malays we find Vishnu the Preserver, Brahma the Creator, Batara Guru, Kala, and S’ri simultaneously appealed to by the Malay magician; and though it would, perhaps, be rash, [86](as Mr. Wilkinson says), to infer solely from Malay romances or Malay theatrical invocations (many of which owe much to Javanese influence), that Hinduism was the more ancient religion of the Malays, there is plenty of other evidence to prove that the “Batara Guru” of the Malays (no less than the Batara Guru of Bali and Java) is none other than the recognised father of the Hindu Trinity.5

Of the greater deities or gods, Batara Guru is unquestionably the greatest. “In the Hikayat Sang Samba (the Malay version of the Bhaumakavya), Batara Guru appears as a supreme God, with Brahma and Vishnu as subordinate deities. It is Batara Guru who alone has the water of life (ayer utama (atama) jiwa) which brings the slaughtered heroes to life.”6

So to this day the Malay magician declares that ’Toh Batara Guru (under any one of the many corruptions which his name now bears7) was “the all-powerful [87]spirit who held the place of Allah before the advent of Muhammadanism, a spirit so powerful that he could restore the dead to life; and to him all prayers were addressed.”

Mr. Wilkinson, in the article from which we have already quoted, deals with another point of interest, the expression sang-yang, or batara, which is prefixed to guru. After pointing out that yang in this case is not the ordinary Malay pronoun (yang, who), but an old word meaning a “deity,” he remarks, that so far as he has been able to discover, it is only used of the greater Hindu divinities, and not of inferior deities or demi-gods. Thus we find it applied to Shiva and Vishnu, but never to the monkey-god Hanuman, or a deity of secondary importance like Dermadewa. Such inferior divinities have only the lesser honorific “sang” prefixed to their names, and in this respect fare no better than mere mortals (such as Sang Sapurba and Sang Ranjuna Tapa) and animals (such as, in fables, Sang Kanchil, Mr. Mousedeer; and Sang Tikus, Mr. Rat).

“The expression batara is also limited to the greater Hindu divinities (except when used as a royal title), e.g. Batara Guru, Batara Kala, Batara Indra, Batara Bisnu, etc. Thus the expressions sang-yang and batara are fairly coincident in their application.8 But there are a few deities of whom [88]the honorific sang-yang is used, but not batara, e.g. sang-yang tunggal, ‘the only God,’ sang-yang sokma, etc.

“Thus batara would seem to be limited in use to the actual names of Hindu deities as distinct from epithets describing those deities. “Batara Guru” would seem to be an exception—the only one—to this rule, and to point to the fact that the original meaning of guru had been lost sight of, and that the expression had come to be regarded only as a proper name.”

Occasionally, as is only to be expected, the Malays get mixed in their mythology, and of this Mr. Wilkinson gives two examples, one of the identification of Batara Guru (Shiva) with Brahma (Bĕrahmana), and another of the drawing of a distinction between “Guru” (Shiva) and “Mahadewa,” which latter is only another name for the same divinity.

Such slips are inevitable among an illiterate people, and should always be criticised by comparison with the original Hindu tenets, from which these ideas may be presumed to have proceeded. [89]

Mr. Wilkinson quotes an extraordinary genealogy representing, inter alia, “Guru as the actual father of the Hindu Trinity,” and also of “Sambu” (whom he cannot identify), and “Sĕri, who is the Hindu Sri, the goddess of grain, and, therefore, a deity of immense importance to the old Javanese and Malays.”

On this I would only remark that Sambu (or Jambu) is the first portion of the name almost universally ascribed to the Crocodile-spirit by the Peninsular Malays.9

It would be beyond the scope of this work to attempt the identification of Batara Guru (Shiva) with all the numerous manifestations and titles attributed to him by the Malays, but the special manifestation (of Shiva), which is called “Kala,” forms an integral part of the general conception, whether among the [90]Malays or Hindus, and is, therefore, deserving of some attention.

The Malay conception of Batara Guru seems to have been that he had both a good and a bad side to his character. Though he was “Destroyer” he was also “Restorer-to-life,”10 and it would appear that these two opposite manifestations of his power tended to develop into two distinct personalities, a development which apparently was never entirely consummated. This, however, is not the only difficulty, for on investigating the limits of the respective spheres of influence of Batara Guru and Kala, we find that the only sphere, which is always admitted to be under Kala’s influence, is the intermediate zone between the respective spheres of influence of Batara Guru (as he is called if on land, “Si Raya” if at sea) and a third divinity, who goes by the name of “’Toh Panjang Kuku,” or “Grandsire Long-Claws.”

Now Hindu mythology, we are told, knows next to nothing of the sea, and any such attempt as this to define the respective boundaries of sea and land is almost certain to be due to the influence of Malay ideas. Again, the intermediate zone is not necessarily considered less dangerous than that of definitely evil influences. Thus the most dangerous time for children to be abroad is sunset, the hour when we can “call it neither perfect day nor night”; so too a day of mingled rain and sunshine is regarded as fraught with peculiar dangers from evil spirits, and it would be quite in keeping with such ideas that the intermediate zone, whether between high and low water-mark, or between the clearing and primeval [91]forest, should be assigned to Kala, the Destroyer. In which case the expression “Grandsire Long-Claws” might be used to signify this special manifestation of Shiva on land, possibly through the personality of the Tiger, just as the Crocodile-spirit appears to represent Shiva by water.11

We thus reach a point of exceptional interest, for hunting, being among the old Hindus one of the seven deadly sins, was regarded as a low pursuit, and one which would never be indulged in by a god. Yet I was repeatedly told when collecting charms about the Spectre Huntsman that he was a god, and, explicitly, that he was Batara Guru. This shows the strength of the Malay influences which had been at work, and which had actually succeeded in corrupting the character, so to speak, of the supreme god of this borrowed Hindu Trinity.12

The Batara Guru of the Sea, who by some magicians, at all events, is identified with Si Raya (the “Great One”), and, probably wrongly, with the God of Mid-currents13 (Mambang Tali Harus), is of a much milder character than his terrestrial namesake or compeer, and although sickness may sometimes be [92]ascribed to the sea-spirit’s wrath, it is neither so sudden nor so fatal as the sickness ascribed to the wanton and unprovoked malice of the Spectre Huntsman, or Spirit of the Land.

Fishermen and seafarers, on the other hand, obtain many a favour from him, and even hope to make friends with him by means of simple sacrifices and charms.

Si Raya (or Madu-Raya) is said to have a family, his wife’s name being Madu-ruti, and his children “Wa’ Ranai,” and “Si Kĕkas” (the scratcher), all of whom, however, have their own separate spheres of influence. The “Great One” himself (Madu-Raya) rules over the sea from low-water mark (at the river’s mouth) out to mid-ocean; and if his identity with “’Toh Rimpun ʿAlam” is accepted,14 his place of abode is at the navel of the seas, within the central whirlpool (Pusat Tasek), from the centre of which springs the Magic Tree (Pauh Janggi), on whose boughs perches the roc (garuda) of fable, and at whose foot dwells the Gigantic Crab, whose entrance into and exit from the cave in which he dwells is supposed to cause the displacement of water which results in the ebb and flow of the tide.15

The only other divinities (of the rank of “Mambangs”) which are of any importance are the “White divinity,” who dwells in the Sun, the “Black divinity,” who dwells in the Moon, and the “Yellow divinity,” who dwells in the Yellow Sunset-glow, which latter is always considered most dangerous to children.

When there is a decided glow at sunset, any one who sees it takes water into his mouth (di-kĕmam ayer) [93]and dislodges it in the direction of the brightness, at the same time throwing ashes (di-sĕmbor dĕngan abu) saying:—

Mambang kuning, mambang k’labu,

Pantat kuning di-sĕmbor abu.

This is done “in order to put out the brightness,” the reason that it must be put out being that in the case of any one who is not very strong (lĕmah sĕmangat) it causes fever.


(b) Spirits, Demons, and Ghosts

The “Jins” or “Genii,” generally speaking, form a very extensive class of quite subordinate divinities, godlings, or spirits, whose place in Malay mythology is clearly due, whether directly or indirectly, to Muhammadan influences, but who may be most conveniently treated here as affording a sort of connecting link between gods and ghosts. There has, it would appear, been a strong tendency on the part of the Malays to identify these imported spirits with the spirits of their older (Hindu) religion, but the only Genie who really rises to the level of one of the great Hindu divinities is the Black King of the Genii (Sang Gala16 Raja, or Sa-Raja Jin), who appears at times a manifestation of Shiva Batara Guru, who is confounded with the destructive side of Shiva, i.e. Kala. This at least would appear to be the only theory on which we could explain the use of many of the epithets or attributes assigned to the King of the Genii, who is at one time called “the one and only God”; at another, “Bĕntara (i.e. [94]Batara), Guru, the Genie that was from the beginning,” and at another, “the Land Demon, the Black Batara Guru,” etc.

The following is a description of this, the mightiest of the Genii:—

Peace be with you!

Ho, Black Genie with the Black Liver,

Black Heart and Black Lungs,

Black Spleen and tusk-like Teeth,

Scarlet Breast and body-hairs inverted,

And with only a single bone.17

So far as can be made out from the meagre evidence obtainable, the spirit thus described is identifiable with the Black King of Genii, who dwells in the Heart of the Earth, and whose bride, Sang Gadin (or Gading), presented him with seven strapping Black Genii as children.18

Plate 2.—Spirits.

Plate 2.—Spirits.

Models of the White and Black Genii (Jin Puteh and Jin Hitam)

Page 94.

Altogether there are one hundred and ninety of these (Black?) Genii—more strictly, perhaps, one hundred and ninety-three, which coincides curiously with the number of “Mischiefs” (Badi), which reside in “all living things.” The resemblance, I may add, does not end here; for though the Genii may do good, and the “Badi” do not, both are considered able to do infinite harm to mortals, and both make choice of the same kind of dwelling-places, such as hollows in the hills, solitary patches of primeval forest, dead parasites on trees, etc. etc.

As to the origin of these Genii, one magician told me that all “Jins” came from the country “Ban [95]Ujan,” which may possibly be Persia;19 other magicians, however, variously derive them from the dissolution of various parts of the anatomy of the great snake “Sakatimuna,” of the “First Great Failure” to make man’s image (at the creation of man); from the drops of blood which spirted up to heaven when the first twins, Abel and Cain (in the Malay version Habil and Kabil) bit their thumbs; from the big cocoa-nut monkey or baboon (bĕrok bĕsar), and so on.

The theory already mentioned, viz. that the Black King of the Genii gradually came to be identified with Kala, and later came gradually to be established as a separate personality, appears to be the only one which will satisfactorily explain the relations subsisting between the Black and White Genii, who are on the one hand distinctly declared to be brothers, whilst the White Genie is in another passage declared to be Maharaja Dewa or Mahadewa, which latter is, as we have already seen, a special name of Shiva.

This White Genie is said to have sprung, by one account, from the blood-drops which fell on the ground when Habil and Kabil bit their thumbs; by another, from the irises of the snake Sakatimuna’s eyes (bĕnih mata Sakatimuna), and is sometimes confused with the White Divinity (’Toh Mambang Puteh), who lives in the sun.

The name of his wife is not mentioned, as it is in the case of the Black Genie, but the names of three of his children have been preserved, and they are Tanjak [96]Malim Kaya, Pari Lang (lit. kite-like, i.e. “winged” Skate), and Bintang Sutan (or Star of Sutan).20

On the whole, I may say that the White Genie is very seldom mentioned in comparison with the Black Genie, and that whereas absolutely no harm, so far as I can find out, is recorded of him, he is, on the other hand, appealed to for protection by his worshippers.

A very curious subdivision of Genii into Faithful (Jin Islām) and Infidel (Jin Kafir) is occasionally met with, and it is said, moreover, that Genii (it is to be hoped orthodox ones) may be sometimes bought at Mecca from the “Sheikh Jin” (Headman of Genii) at prices varying from $90 to $100 a piece.21 [97]

Besides these subdivisions, certain Genii are sometimes specifically connected with special objects or ideas. Thus there are the Genii of the royal musical instruments (Jin Nĕmfiri, or Lĕmpiri, Gĕndang, and Naubat), who are sometimes identified with the Genii of the State (Jin Karaja’an), and the Genii of the Royal Weapons (Jin Sĕmbuana), both of which classes of Genii are held able to strike men dead. The only other Genie that I would here specially mention is the Jin ʿAfrit (sometimes called Jin Rafrit), from whom the “White Man” (a designation which is often specially used in the Peninsula as a synonym for Englishman) is sometimes said to have sprung, but who belongs in Arabian mythology to a higher class than the mere Genii. Before leaving the subject of Genii, I must, however, point out the extremely common juxtaposition of the Arabic word “Jin” and the Malay “Jĕmbalang.” From the frequency with which this juxtaposition occurs, and from the fact that the two appear to be used largely as convertible terms, we might expect to find that Jin and Jĕmbalang were mere synonyms, both applicable to similar classes of spirits. The process is not quite complete, however, as although the expression Jĕmbalang Tunggal (the only Jĕmbalang), is found as well as Jin Tunggal, the higher [98]honorific Sang Raja or Sa-Raja is never, so far as I am aware, prefixed to the word “Jĕmbalang,” though it is frequently prefixed to “Jin.” Of the other members of the Malay hierarchy who owe their introduction to Muhammadan influences, the only ones of importance are angels (Mala’ikat), prophets (Nabi), and headmen (Sheikh).

I will take them in this order.

Of the angels, unquestionably the most important are Azrael (ʿAzra’il or ʿIjrail), Michael (Mika’il), Israfel (Israfil, Ijrafil, or Serafil), and Gabriel (Jibra’il or ’Jabra’il, often corrupted into Raja Brahil). There can be no doubt that the foregoing are meant for the names of a group of four archangels, the name of Israfel corresponding to Abdiel, who generally occupies the fourth place in our own angelic hierarchy.

Their customary duties are apportioned among the four great angels as follows:—

Azrael is, as with us, the angel of death, who “carries off the lives of all creatures”; Israfel is “lord of all the different airs” in our body; Michael is the “giver of daily bread”; and Gabriel is a messenger or “bringer of news.”

Sometimes, again, a White Angel (Mala’ikat Puteh) is mentioned, e.g. as being in “charge of all things in the jungle,” but what his specific duties are in this connection does not transpire.

In an invocation addressed to the Sea-spirit, however, we find four more such angels mentioned, all of whom hold similar charges:—

Chitar Ali is the angel’s name, who is lord of the whirlpool;

Sabur Ali is the angel’s name, who is lord of the winds;

Sir Ali is the angel’s name, who is lord of the waters of the sea;

Putar Ali is the angel’s name, who is lord of the rainbow.


No doubt the names of many more of the subordinate angels might be collected, as we are repeatedly told that they are forty-four in number.

Of the prophets (Nabi) there are an indefinite number, the title being applied to many of the more prominent characters who figure in our own Old Testament (as well as in the Korān), but who would not by ourselves be considered to possess any special qualifications for prophetic office. Among the more famous of these I may mention (after Muhammad and his immediate compeers) the prophet Solomon (sometimes considered—no doubt owing to his unrivalled reputation for magical skill—as the king of the Genii, whose assistance the hunter or trapper is continually invoking); the prophet David, celebrated for the beauty of his voice; and the prophet Joseph, celebrated for the beauty of his countenance. Besides these (and others of the same type), there is a group of minor prophets whose assistance is continually invoked in charms; these are the prophet Tap (Tĕtap or Kĕtap?), “lord of the earth;” the prophet Khailir (Khaithir or Khizr), “lord of water;” the prophet Noah, “lord of trees;” and the prophet Elias, “planter of trees.”

Khizr is often confounded with Elias. He discovered and drank of the fountain of life (whence his connection with water), and will consequently not die till the last trump.

Next to the prophets comes the “Sultan” (Sultan), or “King” (Malik), both of which Arabic titles, however, are somewhat rarely used by Malay magicians. Still we find such expressions as Sa-Raja (Sang-Raja?) Malik (King of Kings) applied to Batara Guru. [100]

Next to these royal honorifics comes the title of “Headman” or “Sheikh.”

There are, it is usually stated, four of these Sheikhs who are “penned” (di-kandang) in the Four Corners of the Earth respectively, and whose names are ʿAbdul Kadir, ʿAbdul Muri, a third whose name is not mentioned, and ʿAbdul ʿAli.22

Sometimes they are called “Sheikh ʿAlam” (or Si Putar ʿAlam), and are each said to reside “within a ring-fence of white iron.” Hence we obtain a perfectly intelligible meaning for the expression, “Ask pardon of the Four Corners of the World,” i.e. of the Sheikhs who reside therein, though the phrase sounds ridiculous enough without such explanation.

The only other Arabic title which is perhaps worth noticing here23 is that of “Priest” (Imām), which we find somewhat curiously used in an invocation addressed to the sea-spirit. “Imām An Jalil is the name of the ‘Priest of the Sea.’”

In the invocation addressed to the Sea-spirit we find the expression:—

“Jungle-chief of the World is the name of the Old Man of the Sea.”

There can, however, be little doubt that this “Old Man of the Sea” is a mere synonym for Batara Guru.

A set of expressions to which special reference should perhaps be made consists of the titles used by the wild jungle tribes (Sakais), the use of which [101]is important as confirming the principle that the “Autochthones” are more influential with the spirits residing in their land than any later arrivals can be, whatever skill the latter may have acquired in the magic arts of the country from whence they came.

“Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, Munshi, in his Autobiography, has an interesting passage on the beliefs of the Malays on the subject of spirits and demons, beliefs which are much more deeply-rooted than is generally supposed. He does not, however, differentiate between national customs and beliefs, and those which have come in with the Muhammadan religion. And indeed it is not easy to do so. Here, everything is classed under the generic term sheitan, which is Arabic, and we find the rakshasa of Hindu romances and the jin and ʿefrit of the Arabian Nights in the company of a lot of Indo-Chinese spirits and goblins, who have not come from the West like the others:—

“I explained to Mr. M. clearly the names of all the sheitan believed in by Chinese and Malays; all ignorance and folly which have come down from their ancestors in former times, and exist up to the present day, much more than I could relate or explain. I merely enumerated the varieties, such as hantu, sheitan,24 polong,25 pontianak, penanggalan,26 jin,27 pelisit,28 mambang,29 hantu pemburu,30 hantu rimba, jadi-jadian,31 [102]hantu bengkus,32 bota, gargasi, raksaksa,33 nenek kabayan,34 himbasan,35 sawan,36 hantu mati di-bunoh,37 bajang,38 katagoran, sempak-kan, puput-kan,39 ʿefrit,40 jemalang,41 terkena,42 ubat guna.43 Besides all these there are ever so many ilmu-ilmu (branches of secret knowledge), all of which I could not remember, such as gagak,44 penundok,45 pengasih,46 kebal,47 kasaktian,48 tuju,49 ʿalimun,50 pendĕras,51 perahuh,52 chucha,53 pelali,54 perangsang,55 and a quantity of others. All these are [103]firmly believed in by the people. Some of these arts have their professors (guru) from whom instruction may be got. Others have their doctors, who can say this is such and such a disease, and this is the remedy for it, and besides these there are all those arts which are able to cause evil to man. When Mr. M. heard all this he was astonished and wondered, and said, ‘Do you know the stories of all these?’ I replied, ‘If I were to explain all about them it would fill a large book, and the contents of the book would be all ignorance and nonsense without any worth, and sensible persons would not like to listen to it, they would merely laugh at it.’”56

To the foregoing the following list of spirits and ghosts may be added.

The Hantu Kubor (Grave Demons) are the spirits of the dead, who are believed to prey upon the living whenever they get an opportunity. With them may be classed the “Hantu orang mati di-bunoh,” or “spirits of murdered men.”

“The Hantu Ribut is the storm-fiend that howls in the blast and revels in the whirlwind.”57

The Hantu Ayer and Hantu Laut are Water and Sea-spirits, and the Hantu Bandan is the Spirit of the Waterfall, which “may often be seen lying prone on the water, with head like an inverted copper (kawah),” where the water rushes down the fall between the rocks.

The Hantu Longgak58 is continually looking up in [104]the air. Those who are attacked by him foam at the mouth.

The Hantu Rimba (Deep-forest Demon), Hantu Raya59 (“Great” Demon), Hantu Dĕnei (Demon of Wild-beast-tracks), the Hantu-hantuan (Echo-spirits), and I think the Hantu Bakal, are all spirits of the jungle, but are perhaps somewhat less localised than the large class of spirits (such as the Malacca-cane, gharu, gutta, and camphor-tree spirits) which are specially associated with particular trees.

The Hantu B’rok is the Baboon Demon (the B’rok being what is generally called the “cocoa-nut monkey,” a sort of big baboon); it is sometimes supposed to take possession of dancers, and enable them, whilst unconscious, to perform wonderful climbing feats.

The Hantu Bĕlian, according to many Selangor Malays, is a tiger-spirit which takes the form of a bird. This bird is said to be not unlike the raquet-tailed king-crow (chĕnchawi), and to sit on the tiger’s back; whence it plucks out the tiger’s fur and swallows it, never allowing it to fall to the ground.60

The Hantu Songkei61 is the spirit who so often interferes with the toils for catching wild animals and snares for wildfowl (yang kachau jaring dan rachik). He is described as being invisible below the breast, [105]with a nose of enormous length, and eye-sockets stretched sideways to such an extent that he can see all round him.

The following charm is recited in order to “neutralise” his evil influence:—

Peace be with you, grandson of the Spectre Huntsman,

Whose Dwelling-place is a solitary patch of primeval forest,

Whose Chair is the nook between the buttresses (of trees),

Whose Leaning-post the wild Areca-palm,

Whose Roof the (leaves of the) Tukas,

Whose Body-hairs are leaves of the Rĕsam,

Whose Mattress leaves of the Lerek,

Whose Swing the (tree) Mĕdang Jĕlawei,

And whose Swing-ropes are Malacca-cane-plants

The Gift of His Highness Sultan Bĕrumbongan,

Who dwelt at Pagar Ruyong,

In the House whose posts were heart of the Tree-nettle,

Whose threshold a stem of Spinach,

Strewn over with stems of the Purut-purut,

Whose Body-hairs were inverted,

And whose Breasts were four in number,

To whom belonged the Casting-net for Flies,

And whose drum was “headed” with the skins of lice.

Break not faith with me,

(Or) you shall be killed by the Impact of the Sanctity of the Four Corners of the World,

Killed by the Impact of the Forty-four Angels,

Killed by the Impact of the Pillar of the Kaʿbah,

Killed by the Thrust of the sacred Lump of Iron,

Killed by the Shaft of the Thunderbolt,

Killed by the Pounce of Twilight Lightning,

Killed by the Impact of the Thirty Sections of the Korān,

Killed by the Impact of the Saying, “There is no god but God,”


Giants are called Bota (Bhuta), Raksasa, and Gargasi (gasi-gasi or gĕgasi), or sometimes Hantu Tinggi (“Tall Demons”), the first two of these names being clearly derivable from a Sanskrit origin.

In addition to those enumerated we may add the various classes of “good people,” such as the Bidadari [106](or Bĕdiadari) or Pĕri (fairies and elves), which are of foreign origin, and the “Orang Bunyian,” a class of Malay spirits about whom very little seems known. The latter appear to be a race of good fairies, who are so simple-minded that they can be very easily cheated. Thus it is always said of them, that whenever they come into a hamlet, as they may occasionally do, to buy anything, they always pay without bargaining whatever price is asked, however exorbitant it may be. I have been told of their existence at Kapar village (near Klang in Selangor), at Jugra, where it was said they might formerly be heard paddling their boats upon the river when no boat was visible, and elsewhere.

Besides these there are several kinds of bloodsucking (vampire) demons, which are mostly Birth-spirits; and also certain incubi, such as the Hantu Kopek, which is the Malay equivalent of our own “night-mare.” [107]

1 Journal of the Indian Archipelago, vol. iv. p. 573. 

2 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, pp. 11, 12. 

3 Swettenham, Malay Sketches, p. 192. 

4 Mr. R. J. Wilkinson in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 30, p. 308. 

5 The following are the deities most usually inscribed in the “magic square” of five: 1. Kala (black), which is an epithet of Shiva; 2. Maheswara, which means Great Lord, an epithet of Shiva; 3. Vishnu; 4. Brahma; 5. S’ri (the wife of Vishnu); or else the names are mentioned in this order: 1. Brahma; 2. Vishnu; 3. Maheswara (Shiva); 4. S’ri; 5. Kala. Kali, Durga, or Gauri, is the wife of Shiva; Sarasvati is the wife of Brahma. See inf. p. 545, seqq. In the magic word Aum (OM): A = Vishnu, U = Shiva, M = Brahma. 

6 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 30, p. 309. This is the water of life called Amrita, to obtain which, by churning the ocean, Vishnu assumed one of his avatars—that of the tortoise. 

7 Cp. Crawfurd, Hist. of the Ind. Archipelago, vol. ii. p. 219. “From some of the usual epithets bestowed upon Siwa by the pagan Javanese, and still familiar to their posterity, the pre-eminence of this deity is clearly demonstrated.... He is the same personage who acts so distinguished a part in the machinery of Malayan and Javanese romances, under the appellation of Guru, or the instructor, prefixing to it the word Batara, a corruption of Avatara, both in sense and orthography, for with the Indian islanders that word is not used as with the genuine Hindus, to express the incarnation of a god, but as an appellation expressing any deity; nay, as if conferring an apotheosis upon their princes, it has been sometimes prefixed to the names of some of the most celebrated of their ancient kings. When Siwa appears in this character, in the romances of the Indian islanders, he is painted as a powerful, mischievous, and malignant tyrant—a description sufficiently consonant to his character of Destroyer in the Hindu triad”; and, again, “ywang is a Javanese word used in the same sense as batara.... Usually the obsolete relative pronoun sang, which has the sense, in this case, of a definite article, is placed before it. Thus sangywang guru is the same as batara guru.... It is probably the same word also which forms the last part of a word in extensive use, sâmbahayang, ‘worship or adoration.’”—Crawfurd, Mal. Grammar, p. cxcviii. To this I may add that the form ywang, when used by the Peninsular Malays, becomes “yang,” sangyang being also found.

Another (and probably better) etymology of batara is given by Favre and Wilken, viz. Sanskr. bhattara, “lord.” 

8 To these should perhaps be added dewa, mambang (?), and sa-raja (or sang raja), if Mr. Wilkinson’s explanation of this last expression be taken as correct. And in any case its use in combination with guru appears to warrant its classification with the titles applied to the greater deities. It is also, however, used, like sang, of inferior deities and even of animals (e.g. in a “Spectre Huntsman” charm) we find “Lansat, sa-raja anjing, etc.” Dewa is used indiscriminately (occasionally in conjunction with mambang) both of the greater and lesser divinities. Thus we not unfrequently find such expressions as Dewa Bisnu (i.e. Vishnu), dewa mambang, dewa dan mambang, etc.; and we are expressly told that they (the Dewas) “are so called because they are immortal.” Mambang (per se) is said to be similarly used, not only of greater (vide App. xvii.), but of lesser divinities, and “Mambang Tali Harus,” god of mid-currents, has even been explained as referring to Batara Guru (Shiva). This, however, is no doubt an instance of confusion, as it generally appears to be used with the “colour” attributes (e.g. M. puteh, White; M. hitam, Black; M. kuning, Yellow) usually assigned to the inferior divinities; and, moreover, in an invocation addressed to the sea-spirit, the “god of mid-currents” is requested to forward a message to Dato’ Rimpun ʿAlam, which appears to be merely another name for Batara Guru, the reason given for the preferment of this request being that he is in the habit of “visiting the Heart of the Seas” in which ’Toh Rimpun ʿAlam dwells (the title of the latter being perhaps taken from the tree, Pauh Janggi). 

9 Footnote supra. Sambu (Sambhu, the Auspicious One) is merely another name for Shiva (rarely of Brahma), and its application to the crocodile-spirit would appear to indicate that this latter was, formerly, at least, regarded as an embodiment of that supreme god’s manifestation as a water-god. It is worth while to compare this with the expression “’Toh Panjang Kuku,” which is applied to the corresponding manifestation of the supreme god on land, and which strongly suggests the tiger.

“Most of the theological words of this list [printed in App. xiv.] are Sanskrit, and afford proof sufficient, if any were needed, of the former prevalence of the Hindu religion among the Malays and Javanese. Many of them are more or less corrupted in orthography, owing to the defective pronunciation and defective alphabets of the Archipelago. Some, also, are altered or varied in sense. Tapas, ‘ascetic devotion,’ is deprived of its last consonant and becomes tapa. Avatar, ‘a descent,’ is converted into batara; and instead of implying the descent or incarnation of a deity, is used as an appellative for any of the principal Hindu deities. Combined with guru, also Sanskrit, it is the most current name of the chief god of the Hindus, worshipped by the Indian islanders, supposed to have been Vishnu, or the preserving power. It may be translated “the spiritual guide god,” or, perhaps, literally “the god of the spiritual guides,” that is, of the Brahmins. Agama in Sanskrit is “authority for religious doctrine”; in Malay and Javanese it is religion itself, and is at present applied both to the Mahomedan and the Christian religions. With nearly the same orthography, and in the same sense, Sanskrit words, as far as they extend, are used throughout the Archipelago, and even as far as the Philippines.”—Crawfurd, Mal. Grammar, pp. cxcvii.–cxcviii. 

10 Supra, p. 86. 

11 Some confirmation of this view may be found if we admit the explanation given me by a medicine-man, who identified the Spectre Huntsman with ’Toh Panjang-Kuku, and both with Batara Guru. 

12 The supreme god in the State Chamber (balei) is Batara Guru, on the edge of the primeval forest (di-gigi rimba) it is Batara Kala, and in the heart of the forest (di hati rimba) it is ’Toh Panjang Kuku, or “Grandsire Long-Claws.” Similarly “Grandsire Long-Claws” is lord of the shore down to high-water mark; between that and low-water mark Raja Kala is supreme, and Batara Guru di Laut (Shiva of the Ocean) from low-water mark out to the open sea. 

13 It is very difficult to ascertain the exact relation that ’Toh Mambang Tali Harus (God of Mid-currents) bears to Batara Guru di Laut. Most probably, however, the God of Mid-currents, whose powers are less extensive than those of the “Shiva of the Sea,” is an old sea-deity, native to the Malay (pre-Hindu) religion, and that “Shiva of the Sea” was merely the local Malay adaptation of the Hindu deity afterwards imported. 

14 Vide supra, p. 88, note. Yang bĕrulang ka pusat tasek is the expression applied to Mambang Tali Harus. 

15 Vide supra, pp. 6, 7. 

16 It would appear not impossible that Sang Gala may be a corruption of Sangkara, one of the names of Shiva, which would account at once for the higher rank of this particular spirit, and for his possession of the titles enumerated above. 

17 Vide App. ccxxviii. Another account adds (with) “Black Throat and White Blood,” white blood being a royal attribute. 

18 Their names were (1) Sa-lakun darah (“He of the Blood-pool(?))”; (2) Sa-halilintar (“He of the Thunderbolt”); (3) Sa-rukup (= rungkup) Rang Bumi (“World-coverer”); (4) Sa-gĕrtak Rang Bumi (“World-pricker”); (5) Sa-gunchang Rang Bumi (“World-shaker”); (6) Sa-tumbok Rang Bumi (“World-beater”) and (?) (7) Sa-gĕmpar ʿAlam (“Universe-terrifier”). 

19 The magician appears to have interpreted it as Bĕnua ʿajam; but it may be conjectured that this is a mistaken inference from some expression like Jin ibnu Jan, “Jan,” according to some Arabic authorities, being the Father of the Genii, or, according to others, a particular class of them who are capable of being transformed into “Jin.” Vide Hughes, Dict. of Islam, s.v. Genii. 

20 Perhaps a corruption of Sartan, the Crab (Cancer) in the Zodiac. 

21 The following account of Genii (printed in the Selangor Journal, vol. i. No. 7, p. 102) was given me by a Mecca pilgrim or “Haji.” This man was a native of Java who had spent several years in the Malay Peninsula, and as Mecca is the goal of the pilgrimage to all good Muhammadans alike, it is important to know something of the ideas which are there disseminated, and with which the Malay pilgrim would be likely to come in contact. “In the unseen world the place of first importance must be accorded, on account of their immense numbers, to the ‘Jins’ (the ‘Genii’ of the Arabian Nights).”

“The Javanese, drawing a slightly stronger line of distinction (than that of good and bad genii in the Arabian Nights), call these two (separate) classes the Jin Islam and the Jin Kafir, or the Faithful and the Infidel. Of these two classes, the former shrink from whatever is unclean, and the latter only will approach the Chinese, to whom the Jin Islam manifests the strongest repugnance. The good genii are perfectly formed in the fashion of a man, but are, of course, impalpable as air, though they have a voice like mortals. They live in a mosque of their own, which they never leave, and where they offer up unceasing prayers. This mosque is built of stone, and stands beside a lake called ‘Kolam Yamani’; into this lake the whole of the waters from the neighbouring country drain, and the overflow runs down to the sea. In this lake the good genii bathe, and if any wicked or childless mortals bathe in it they carry them off and detain them in the mosque until they (the mortals) have shown proof of their reformed character by continuing for a long while without committing a wrong action, when they are sent back in safety to their native land. I should add that the Jin Islam exact tribute from the unfaithful—e.g. Chinamen—and if they do not receive their due, they will steal it and give it to a son of Islam. [They may be bought from the “Sheikh Jin” at Mecca for prices varying from $90 to $100 each.]

“The Jin Kafir, or bad genii, are invariably deformed, their heads being always out of their proper position; in short, they are Othello’s

Men whose heads

Do grow beneath their shoulders.

Their commonest name, ‘Jin isi-isi didalam Dunia’ (the Genii who Fill the World), is owing to the fact that their enormous numbers fill the whole atmosphere from earth to sky. Like the good Genii, they cannot die before the great day of judgment, but (unlike them) they are dumb.

“Great as their numbers are they are continually increasing, as they are suffered by God to get children after their kind. They are imps of mischief, and their whole time is spent in works of malice. Sometimes when there has been a long drought and a heavy shower of rain is poured down upon the earth by the angels at the bidding of God to cool the parched verdure, they will assemble their legions, bringing with them invisible cocoa-nut shells, one for each drop of rain. In these they catch each rain-drop as it falls, and herbs and trees alike wither for lack of moisture. Then the angels being wroth, cast thunderbolts upon them out of heaven, and these malicious elves take shelter in tall trees, which the thunderbolts blast in their fall. At another time they will climb one upon the other’s shoulders until they reach the sky, when the topmost elf kicks a neighbouring angel, and then they all fall together with a crash like thunder.” 

22 It is probable that the Arabic spirits here mentioned have, as in other cases, taken the place of native (Malay) spirits to whom similar functions were assigned, but whose names are now lost. 

23 There are, besides, one or two partly Arabic expressions which are occasionally used, e.g. Sidang (or Sĕdang) Saleh, Sidang (or Sĕdang) Mumin. It is probable that “Sidang” in these cases is a Malay word implying respectability (v. v. d. W. s.v.), so that Sidang Saleh may be translated “Sir Devout,” and Sidang Mumin, “Sir Faithful.” 

24 Hantu and sheitan are generic terms for evil spirits, the former being the Malay term, the latter Arabic. 

25 The Polong is a familiar spirit. 

26 The Pontianak and Pĕnanggalan are childbirth spirits (vide pp. 327, 328, infra). 

27 The Jin is the genie of the “Arabian Nights” (vide pp. 93–97, supra). 

28 The Pelisit or Pĕlĕsit, like the Polong, is a familiar spirit (vide pp. 329–331, infra). 

29 The Mambangs are inferior Malay divinities (vide pp. 88 n., 91–93, supra). 

30 The Hantu Pĕmburu is the Spectre Huntsman (vide pp. 113–120, infra), for whom Hantu Rimba is probably a mere synonym. 

31 The Jadi-jadian is the Were-tiger (vide pp. 160–163, infra). 

32 The Bengkus I have not yet been able to identify. 

33 The Bota, Gargasi, and Raksasa (not raksaksa) are giants. 

34 The Nenek Kabayan does not appear to be a ghost at all; it may, however, possibly be a rare synonym for some well-known character in Malay folklore (such as the wife of the Man in the Moon). It is not so explained in the best Dutch dictionaries, however, but simply as the village messenger (dorpsbode) who sells flowers and carries lovers’ messages. 

35 The Himbasan I have not yet identified. 

36 The Sawan (i.e. Hantu Sawan) is the demon or devil which is believed to cause convulsions. 

37 The Hantu (orang) mati di-bunoh is the ghost of a murdered man. 

38 The Bajang is a familiar spirit (vide pp. 320–325, infra). 

39 The Hantu katagoran, sempak-kan, and puput-kan I have not been able to identify, and as the two last possess the verbal suffix it is clear that each is the name of a state or process and not of a ghost or demon. In fact, v. d. Wall gives (under sampok), kĕsampokan, which he explains as meaning “door een’ boozen geest getroffen zijn,” to be attacked or possessed by an evil spirit, which is doubtless the correcter form of the word. So with puput-kan, which is also a verbal form meaning (acc. to v. d. W.) “to blow (tr.),” to “sound a wind instrument.” It would seem that ʿAbdullah’s list of “ghosts” is not very systematically drawn up. 

40 The ʿefrit is a spirit of Arabian origin. 

41 The Jĕmalang (Jĕmbalang) is a Malay earth-spirit. 

42 Tĕrkĕna is a past participial form used of people who are thought to be “struck by” or “affected by” one of the foregoing demons. 

43 Ubat guna is a love-philtre. 

44 Gagah (usually pĕnggagah) is the art of making one’s self bold or courageous. 

45 Pĕnundok, the art of making one’s enemy yield (tundok). 

46 Pĕngasih, the art of making one’s self beloved by another. 

47 Kĕbal (pĕngĕbal) the art of making one’s self invulnerable. 

48 Kasaktian, the art of acquiring magic powers. 

49 Tuju (pĕnuju), the art called “sending.” 

50 ʿAlimun, the art of making one’s self invisible. 

51 Pĕndĕras, the art of making one’s self swift-footed. 

52 Pĕrahuh (a misprint for pĕruah = pĕruang?) that of keeping water at a distance from one’s face when diving, and also, it is said, of walking on the water without sinking below the ankles

53 Chucha is, I believe, a love charm. 

54 Pĕlali, is the art of numbing or deadening pain. 

55 Pĕrangsang, the art of exciting or whetting the temper of the dogs when hunting. 

56 Hik. Abdullah, p. 143. [Maxwell in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. ii N. and Q., No. 4, sec. 98.] 

57 Newbold, op. cit. vol.ii. p. 191. 

58 The name of this demon is probably connected with the Malay dongak, which means to “look upwards.” It is sometimes identified with the Hantu Pĕmburu, or wild huntsman, who, after hunting the earth, harked on his dogs through the sky, and whose head, from his continually looking upwards, became fixed in that position. 

59 The Hantu Raya is sometimes said to dwell in the centre of four cross-roads. There is a sea-spirit of the same name, Si Raya, which should, however, probably be identified with Batara Guru. 

60 Malay Sketches, p. 197. 

61 The name of this Demon (songkei = sa-ungkei?) is no doubt connected with the Malay ungkei or rungkei, which means to undo or unloose a knot. The only traps which it is said to interfere with are snares and rope-traps, and as the most obvious way in which they could be “interfered” with would be by untying or loosening their knots, the connection between the name of this spirit and the Malay rungkei to unloose or undo, is sufficiently obvious. The name, therefore, would appear to mean the “Untying” or “Loosening Demon,” naturally a most vexatious spirit to have anywhere near your snares or nooses. 



Magic Rites connected with the Several Departments of Nature


(a) Air


Not the least important attribute of the Malay magician in former days was his power of controlling the weather—a power of which Malay magic incantations still preserve remarkable traces.

Thus when the wind fails and the sails of a boat are flapping (kalau layer k’lepek-k’lepek), a Selangor magician would not unfrequently summon the wind in the following terms:—

“Come hither, Sir, come hither, my Lord,

Let down your locks so long and flowing.”

And if the wind is contrary he would say:—

“Veer round, Wind, a needle or twain (of the compass),

A needle to (let me) fetch Kapar.1

However heavy the merchandise that I carry unassisted,

Let me repair to Klang for the (morning) meal,

And Langat for the (evening) bathe. [108]

Come hither, Sir, come hither, my Lord,

And let down your locks so long and flowing.”

Again, if the wind grew violent he would say:—

“Eggs of the House-lizard, Eggs of the Grass-lizard,

Make a trio with Eggs of the Tortoise.

I plant this pole thus in the mid-stream

(That) Wind and Tempest may come to naught.

Let the White (ones) turn into Chalk,

And the Black (one) into Charcoal.2

Sometimes the magician will fasten a rice-spoon (chĕmcha)3 horizontally to the mast of the vessel, and repeat some such charm as the following:—

“The bird ‘Anggau-anggau’ flies

To perch on the house of Malim Palita.

May you die as you lean, may you die from a push,

May you die by this ‘sending’ of ‘Prince Rice-spoon’s.’”4

Of rain-making ceremonies in Selangor there now remains little but tradition. Yet a Langat Malay told me that if a Malay woman puts upon her head an inverted5 earthenware pan (b’langa), and then, setting it upon the ground, fills it with water and washes the cat in it until the latter is more than half drowned, heavy rain will certainly ensue.6 [109]

On the other hand the recital of the following charm will, it is believed, effectually stop the heaviest downpour:—

“Though the stem of the Mĕranti tree7 rocks to and fro (in the storm),

Let the Yam leaves be as thick as possible,8

That Rain and Tempest may come to naught.”

With the foregoing should be classed such charms as are used by the Malays to dispel the yellow sunset glow.9


The chief features of the Bird-lore of the Peninsular Malays, which, as will appear in the course of this chapter, is strongly tinged with animism, have been thus described by Sir William Maxwell:—

“Ideas of various characters are associated by Malays with birds of different kinds, and many of their favourite similes are furnished by the feathered world. The peacock strutting in the jungle, the argus pheasant calling on the mountain peak, the hoot of the owl, and the cry of the night-jar, have all suggested comparisons of various kinds, which are embodied in the proverbs of the people.10 The Malay [110]is a keen observer of nature, and his illustrations, drawn from such sources, are generally just and often poetical.

“The supernatural bird Gerda (Garuda, the eagle of Vishnu), who figures frequently in Malay romances, is dimly known to the Malay peasant. If, during the day, the sun is suddenly overcast by clouds and shadow succeeds to brilliancy, the Pêrak Malay will say “Gerda is spreading out his wings to dry.”11 Tales are told, too, of other fabulous birds12—the jintayu, which is never seen, though its note is heard, and which announces the approach of rain;13 and the chandrawasi, which has no feet. The chandrawasi [111]lives in the air, and is constantly on the wing, never descending to earth or alighting on a tree. Its young even are produced without the necessity of touching the earth. The egg is allowed to drop, and as it nears the earth it bursts, and the young bird appears fully developed. The note of the chandrawasi may often be heard at night, but never by day, and it is lucky, say the Malays, to halt at a spot where it is heard calling.

“There is an allusion to this bird in a common pantun—a kind of erotic stanza very popular among the Malays:—

Chandrawasi burong sakti,

Sangat berkurong didalam awan.

Gonda gulana didalam hati,

Sahari tidak memandang tuan.14

“Nocturnal birds are generally considered ill-omened all over the world, and popular superstition among the Malays fosters a prejudice against one species of owl. If it happens to alight and hoot near a house, the inhabitants say significantly that there will soon be [112]‘tearing of cloth’ (koyah kapan) for a shroud. This does not apply to the small owl called punggok, which, as soon as the moon rises, may often be heard to emit a soft plaintive note. The note of the punggok is admired by the Malays, who suppose it to be sighing for the moon, and find in it an apt simile for a desponding lover.

“The baberek or birik-birik, another nocturnal bird, is a harbinger of misfortune. This bird is said to fly in flocks at night; it has a peculiar note, and a passing flock makes a good deal of noise. If these birds are heard passing, the Pêrak peasant brings out a sĕngkalan (a wooden platter on which spices are ground), and beats it with a knife, or other domestic utensil, calling out as he does so: “Nenek, bawa hati-nia” (“Great-grandfather, bring us their hearts”). This is an allusion to the belief that the bird baberek flies in the train of the Spectre Huntsman (hantu pemburu), who roams Malay forests with several ghostly dogs, and whose appearance is the forerunner of disease or death. “Bring us their hearts” is a mode of asking for some of his game, and it is hoped that the request will delude the hantu pemburu into the belief that the applicants are raʿiyat, or followers of his, and that he will, therefore, spare the household.

“The baberek,15 which flies with the wild hunt, bears a striking resemblance to the white owl, Totosel, the nun who broke her vow, and now mingles her “tutu” with the “holloa” of the Wild Huntsman of the Harz.16 [113]

“The legend of the Spectre Huntsman is thus told by the Pêrak Malays:—

“In former days, at Katapang, in Sumatra, there lived a man whose wife, during her pregnancy, was seized with a violent longing for the meat of the pelandok (mouse-deer). But it was no ordinary pelandok that she wanted. She insisted that it should be a doe, big with male offspring, and she bade her husband go and seek in the jungle for what she wanted. The man took his weapons and dogs and started, but his quest was fruitless, for he had misunderstood his wife’s injunctions, and what he sought was a buck pelandok, big with male offspring, an unheard-of prodigy. [114]

“Day and night he hunted, slaying innumerable mouse-deer, which he threw away on finding that they did not fulfil the conditions required.

“He had sworn a solemn oath on leaving home that he would not return unsuccessful, so he became a regular denizen of the forest, eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the animals which he slew, and pursuing night and day his fruitless search. At length he said to himself: ‘I have hunted the whole earth over without finding what I want; it is now time to try the firmament.’ So he holloa’d on his dogs through the sky, while he walked below on the earth looking up at them, and after a long time, the hunt still being unsuccessful, the back of his head, from constantly gazing upwards, became fixed to his back, and he was no longer able to look down at the earth. One day a leaf from the tree called Si Limbak fell on his throat and took root there, and a straight shoot grew upwards in front of his face.19 In this state he still hunts through Malay forests, urging on his dogs as they hunt through the sky, with his gaze evermore turned upwards.20

“His wife, whom he left behind when he started on the fatal chase, was delivered in due time of two children—a boy and a girl. When they were old enough to play with other children, it chanced one day that the boy quarrelled with the child of a neighbour with whom he was playing. The latter reproached him with his father’s fate, of which the child had hitherto [115]been ignorant, saying: ‘Thou art like thy father, who has become an evil spirit, ranging the forests day and night, and eating and drinking no man knows how. Get thee to thy father.’

“Then the boy ran crying to his mother and related what had been said to him. ‘Do not cry,’ said she, ‘it is true, alas! that thy father has become a spirit of evil.’ On this the boy cried all the more, and begged to be allowed to join his father. His mother yielded at last to his entreaties, and told him the name of his father and the names of the dogs. He might be known, she said, by his habit of gazing fixedly at the sky and by his four weapons—a blow-pipe (sumpitan), a spear, a kris, and a sword (klewang). ‘And,’ added she, ‘when thou hearest the hunt approaching, call upon him and the dogs by name, and repeat thy own name and mine, so that he may know thee.’

“The boy entered the forest, and, after he had walked some way, met an old man who asked him where he was going. ‘I go to join my father,’ said the lad. ‘If thou findest him,’ said the old man, ‘ask him where he has put my chisel which he has borrowed from me.’ This the boy promised to do, and continued his journey. After he had gone a long way he heard sounds like those made by people engaged in hunting. As they approached, he repeated the names which his mother had told him, and immediately found himself face to face with his father. The hunter demanded of him who he was, and the child repeated all that his mother had told him, not forgetting the message of the old man about the chisel. Then the hunter said: ‘Truly thou art my son. As for the chisel, it is true that when I started from home I was in the middle of shaping some bamboos to make steps for the house. [116]I put the chisel inside one of the bamboos. Take it and return it to the owner. Return now and take care of thy mother and sister. As for him who reproached thee, hereafter we will repay him. I will eat his heart and drink his blood, so shall he be rewarded.’

“From that time forward the Spectre Huntsman has afflicted mankind, and many are those whom he has destroyed. Before dismissing his son, he desired him to warn all his kindred never to use bamboo for making steps for a house, and never to hang clothes to dry from poles stuck in between the joists supporting the floor, and thus jutting out at right angles with a house, ‘lest,’ said he, ‘I should strike against such poles as I walk along. Further,’ he continued, ‘when ye hear the note of the bird birik-birik at night, ye will know that I am walking near.’

Plate 3.—The Spectre Huntsman.

Plate 3.—The Spectre Huntsman.

The Spectre Huntsman (Wild Huntsman) of Malay legend—taken from a model made by a Selangor Malay. The model shows the Spectre Huntsman himself carrying his spear in the right hand, and one of his hounds, which is lame, in a wallet at his side. The remainder of his dogs (all differently coloured) precede him in his search for his quarry.

Page 116.

“Then the boy returned to his mother and delivered to her and all their kindred the injunctions of the lost man. One account says that the woman followed her spectre husband to the forest, where she joins in the chase with him to this day, and that they have there children born in the woods. The first boy and girl retained their human form, according to this account, but some Pawangs say that the whole family are in the forest with the father.21

“Numerous mantra, or charms, against the evil influence of the Wild Huntsman are in use among the [117]Pawangs, or medicine-men of Pêrak. These are repeated, accompanied by appropriate ceremonies, when the disease from which some sick person is suffering has been traced to an encounter with the hantu pemburu.22

“The following may serve as a specimen:—


Es-salamu ʿaleykum Hei Si Jidi laki Mah Jadah.

Pergi buru ka-rimba Ranchah Mahang.

Katapang nama bukit-nia,

Si Langsat nama anjing-nia,

Si Kumbang nama anjing-nia,

Si Nibong nama anjing-nia,

Si Pintas nama anjing-nia,

Si Aru-Aru nama anjing-nia,

Timiang Balu nama sumpitan-nia,

Lankapuri nama lembing-nia,

Singha-buana nama mata-nia,

Pisau raut panjang ulu

Akan pemblah pinang berbulu.

Ini-lah pisau raut deripada Maharaja Guru,

Akan pemblah prut hantu pemburu.

Aku tahu asal angkau mula menjadi orang Katapang.

Pulang-lah angkau ka rimba Ranchah Mahang.

Jangan angkau meniakat-meniakit pada tuboh badan-ku.

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,

Peace be on thee, O Si Jidi, husband of Mah Jadah.

Go thou and hunt in the forest of Ranchah Mahang.

Katapang is the name of thy hill,

Si Langsat is the name of thy dog,

Si Kumbang is the name of thy dog,

Si Nibong is the name of thy dog,

Si Pintas is the name of thy dog,

Si Aru-Aru is the name of thy dog,

Timiang Balu is the name of thy blow-pipe [118]

Lankapuri is the name of thy spear,

Singha-buana is the name of its blade,

The peeling-knife with a long handle

Is to split in twain the fibrous betel-nut.

Here is a knife from Maharaja Guru,

To cleave the bowels of the Hunter-Spirit.

I know the origin from which thou springest,

O man of Katapang.

Get thee back to the forest of Ranchah Mahang.

Afflict not my body with pain or disease.

“In charms intended to guard him who repeats them, or who wears them written on paper, against the evil influences of the Spectre Huntsman, the names of the dogs, weapons, etc., constantly vary. The origin of the dreaded demon is always, however, ascribed to Katapang23 in Sumatra. This superstition strikingly resembles the European legends of the Wild Huntsman, whose shouts the trembling peasants hear above the storm. It is, no doubt, of Aryan origin, and, coming to the Peninsula from Sumatra, seems to corroborate existing evidence tending to show that it is partly through Sumatra that the Peninsula has received Aryan myths and Indian phraseology. A superstitious prejudice against the use of bamboo in making a step-ladder for a Malay house and against drying clothes outside a house on poles stuck into the framework, exists in full force among the Pêrak Malays.

“The note of the birik-birik at night, telling as it does of the approach of the hantu pemburu, is listened to with the utmost dread and misgiving. The Bataks in Sumatra call this bird by the same name—birik-birik. It is noticeable that in Batak legends regarding the creation of the world, the origin of mankind is ascribed [119]to Putri-Orta-Bulan, the daughter of Batara-Guru, who descended to the earth with a white owl and a dog.”24

To the information contained in the foregoing passage I would add the following observations:—

Charms for neutralising the power of the Spectre Huntsman are by no means uncommon, and though they almost invariably differ in unimportant details, such as the names of his dogs and weapons, they still bear strong and unmistakable family likeness. Still there are some versions which contain important divergencies (two or three of these versions will be found in the Appendix), and it will only be after the diligent collation and compilation of a great many versions that the real germ or nucleus of the myth as known to the Malays will be clearly apparent.

One of the charms given in the Appendix evidently alludes to a different version of the story; the lines which contain the allusion being as follows:—

“I know your origin, O man of penance,

Whose dwelling was upon the hill of Mount Ophir,

[You sprang] from a son of the Prophet Joseph who was wroth with his mother,

Because she would eat the hearts of the birds of Paradise.”

Yet even here, if we except the obvious interpolation of the reference to the “son of the Prophet Joseph,” the task of reconciling the conflicting versions may be easier than would appear at first sight.25

A still more curious deviation occurs in another version,26 where the Spectre Huntsman’s poniard and k’ris are declared to be the insignia of the great Spirit-King Rama. The passage is as follows:— [120]

“With a blind crow as his guide,

The giant demon, Si Adunada,

Carries (his weapons) slung over his shoulder with back bent double.

Salampuri is the name of his poniard (sĕkin),

Silambuara the name of his k’ris,

The insignia of the Demon Rama.”

That it is his weapons which the Spectre Huntsman’s son (Adunada) carries on his back appears from a passage below, which runs:—

“O Si Adunada, with the sword slung at your back,

Bent double you come from the lightwood swamps,

We did not guess that you were here.”

This reference to Rama opens up a long vista of possibilities, but for the present it will be sufficient to remark that the Spectre Huntsman himself is almost universally declared by the Malays to be the King of the Land-folk (Raja orang darat). It is on account of this kingship that his weapons receive distinguishing titles such as are given to royal weapons. This, too, is the reason that he is so much more dreaded by Malays than ordinary spirits of evil; his mere touch being considered sufficient to kill, by the exercise of that divine power which all Malay Rajas are held to possess.27

To return from the foregoing digression: there are many other curious legends connected with Birds. Thus, in 1882, Captain Kelham wrote as follows:— [121]

“From Mr. W. E. Maxwell, H.M. Assistant Resident, of Lârut, I hear that the Malays have a strange legend connected with one of the large Hornbills; but which species I was not able to find out. It is as follows:—

“‘A Malay, in order to be revenged on his mother-in-law (why, the legend does not relate), shouldered his axe and made his way to the poor woman’s house, and began to cut through the posts which supported it. After a few steady chops the whole edifice came tumbling down, and he greeted its fall with a peal of laughter. To punish him for his unnatural conduct he was turned into a bird, and the tebang mentuah (literally, He who chopped down his mother-in-law) may often be heard in the jungle uttering a series of sharp sounds like the chop of an axe on timber, followed by Ha! ha! ha!’”28

The following account of the bird-lore of the Malay Peninsula was compiled by me from notes supplied to the Selangor Journal29 by the late Sir William Maxwell:—

The Night-jar (Burong chĕroh30) takes its name from the word applied to the second stage in the operation of husking rice. Malay women husk rice by pounding it in a mortar with a wooden pestle. The husked grain is then commonly winnowed in a sieve, and [122]the unhusked rice (antah) which remains has to be separated from the husked rice and pounded over again. The second process, which is called ckĕroh, is that from which the night-jar derives its name, the quick fancy of the Malay hearing in the note of the bird the slow measured stroke of a pestle (antan) descending in a mortar (lĕsong). This is possibly the foundation of the legend that the Night-jar is a woman who, while engaged in husking rice by moonlight, was turned into a bird in consequence of a quarrel with her mother. Another name for the night-jar is burong chempak.

The Burong sĕpah putri (“Princess’s betel-quid”) belongs to the Honey-birds or Bee-eaters, of which there are several species, remarkable chiefly for their brilliant metallic plumage. [A quaint story is told in explanation of its name: once upon a time the Owl (ponggok) fell in love with the Princess of the Moon (Pŭtri Bulan) and asked her to marry him. She promised to do so, if he would allow her first to finish her quid of betel undisturbed; but before finishing it she threw it down to the earth, where it took the form of the small bird in question. The Princess then requested the Owl to make search for it, but as, of course, he was unable to find it, the proposed match fell through. This is the reason why the Owl, to quote the Malay proverb, “sighs longingly to the Moon,” and is the type of the plaintive lover.31]

The Burong tinggal anak (lit. “Good-bye, children” bird) is a small bird whose note is to be heard at the season when the young rice is sprouting (musim padi pĕchah anak). As soon as her young are hatched out this bird dies in the nest, repeating the words [123]Tinggal anak” (“Good-bye, children”), and the maggots which breed in her corpse afford an unnatural nourishment to her unsuspecting offspring.

Burong diam ’kau Tuah, or “Hold your peace, Tuah,” is the name of a small bird which is said to repeat the words—

Diam ’kau, Tuah,

K’ris aku ada,”


“Hold thy peace, Tuah,

My k’ris (dagger) is with me.”

The story runs that once upon a time there was a man who had a slave called Tuah, who answered him back, and with whom he accordingly found fault, using the words given above. In the transport of his rage he was turned into a bird.

The bird called Kuau in Perak (kuau is the name given in Malacca and Selangor to the argus pheasant, which in Perak is called kuang) is about the size of the mynah (gambala kĕrbau), and is said to have been metamorphosed from a woman, the reason of whose transformation is not known. It is said to be unknown on the right bank of the Perak River.

The “‘Kap-kap’ bird” is the name of a night-bird of evil omen, whose note heard at night prognosticates death.

The Tearer of the shroud (Burong charik kapan) is also a night-bird, with a slow, deliberate note which the Malays declare sounds exactly like the tearing of cloth.32 This signifies the tearing of the shroud, and unerringly forebodes death. Yet another night-bird ominous of approaching dissolution is the Tumbok larong. This bird, like the two preceding, [124]is probably a variety of owl; the first and third are only found inland at a distance from the sea.

’Toh katampi (“Old-man-winnow-the-rice-for-the-burial-feast,” as Sir Frank Swettenham calls him,33) is a species of horned owl, which derives its name from a word meaning to winnow (tampi, mĕnampi). Malays say that this bird has a habit of treading upon the extremities of its own wings, and fluttering the upper part while thus holding them down. This singular habit produces a sound resembling that of winnowing.

The ’Toh katampi is larger than the Jampuk, another species of owl, which is popularly supposed to enter the fowl-house and there live on the intestines of fowls, which it extracts during life by means of a certain charm (ʿelmu pĕlali, a charm similar to those used by the Malays for filing teeth, etc.) which it uses in order to perform the operation painlessly.

The “Luck-bird” (Burong untong) is a very small white bird about the size of a canary. It builds a very small white nest, which if found and placed in a rice-bin possesses the valuable property of securing a good harvest to its owner. As, however, the nest is built on branches in places difficult of access it is but rarely found, and Malays will give $10 for a genuine specimen, while sellers are known to ask as much as $25.

The Ruwak-ruwak is a kind of Heron whose nest if discovered would give the possessor the power of becoming invisible (alimun). But as neither nest nor eggs can usually be found it is held to be childless. Yet, however, if it is possible to approach sufficiently near, when the bird is heard calling in the swamps, it may be seen dipping a twig or else [125]its bent leg into the water, and accompanying its action with its call, as if it were bathing a child on its knee; hence the Malay who hears its note says mockingly, “the Ruwak-ruwak is bathing its young one.”

Tukang is the name given in Kedah to a kind of Hornbill, which is believed to be the same as the langlin of Perak. The horn is of a yellow tinge, and is made into buttons, which, the Malays say, turn to a livid colour whenever the wearer is about to fall sick, and black when he is threatened by the approach of poison.34

The Mĕrbu (? mĕrbok) is a variety of Dove which brings good luck to its owner. Instances have been known where all the houses in a village have been burnt except that which contained a mĕrbu; indeed, treatises have been written on the subject of keeping them. When the mĕrbu dies its body merely shrivels up instead of breeding worms, which, it is added, would be worth keeping as curiosities should any appear.35

The bird called Pĕdrudang is a diver which has the power of remaining under water for a very long time. It is only to be found where the fish called kĕlĕsah exist in large quantities. The eggs of the kĕlĕsah are of great size, and the Malays say, [126]therefore, that it cohabits with the pĕdrudang. These eggs are considered a delicacy by the Malays, who make them into a sort of custard pudding (s’ri-kaya).

To the Ground-pigeon (Tĕkukur) belongs the following story:—“Once upon a time there was a maiden who lived in the forest with her parents and little sister. When she grew up she was troubled by an anxiety to accompany her father in his expeditions to the forest, where he was engaged in clearing the ground for a rice-plantation. Her parents, however, persuaded her to stay at home; first until the trees were felled, then until the fallen timber had been burnt off, then till the rice had been planted, and then again till it was cut. When, however, they attempted to put her off yet once more, until the rice should be trodden out, she could bear it no longer, and taking off her bracelets and earrings, which she left behind the door, and placing her little sister in the swinging-cot, she changed herself into a ground-dove and flew away to the clearing. [She retained her necklace, however, and this accounts for the speckled marks on this dove’s neck.] On arriving at the spot where her parents were engaged at work, she alighted on a dead tree stump (changgong), and called out thrice to her mother, ‘Mother, mother, I have left my earrings and bracelets behind the door, and have put my little sister in the swing.’ Her mother, amazed at these words, hastened home, and found her daughter gone. She then returned to the bird, which repeated the same words as before, this time, however, concluding with the coo of a dove. In vain the distressed parents endeavoured to recapture her, by cutting down the tree on which she had perched; before [127]they had done so she flew to another, and after following her from tree to tree for several miles they were obliged to desist, and she was never recaptured.”36

The following notes on birds are taken from a reprint37 of “Museum Notes” by Mr. L. Wray, jun., the official curator of the Perak Museum. Mr. Wray says:—

“The Weaver-bird, which makes the long hanging bottle-shaped nests occasionally seen hanging from the branches of a low tree, is said to use a golden needle in the work; and it is affirmed that if the nest is carefully picked to pieces, without breaking any part of it, the needle will be found; but if it is pulled ruthlessly apart, or if even a single piece of the grass of which it is made is broken in unravelling it, the golden needle will disappear. The makers of these curious and beautiful nests are said to always choose trees that are infested with red ants or wasps, or which grow in impassable swamps.”

The Weaver-bird (Ploceus Baya, Blyth) is called (in Selangor) Burong Tĕmpua or Chiak Raya. It is said to use only the long jungle grass called lalang for making its nest, which latter is called buah rabun, and is used by the Malays for polishing sheaths and scabbards. When an infant keeps crying, one of the parents takes the weaver-bird’s nest, reduces it to ashes, and fumigates the child by thrice moving it round in a circle over the smoke. Whilst doing so, the parent either stands up with the right toe resting upon the toe of the left foot, or else squats [128]upon the left heel, bending the right knee, and saying, ‘As the weaver-bird’s young in its nest, so rest and weep not’ (Bagimana anak tĕmpua dalam sarang-nya, bagitu-lah ’kau diam jangan mĕnangis). To the above I may add that besides the ordinary bottle-shaped nest, the weaver-birds also occasionally make a hood-shaped, or rather a helmet-shaped nest, which is alleged by the Malays to be the male bird’s ‘swing’ (buayan). This ‘swing’ resembles the upper half of an ordinary bottle-shaped nest, with a perch across it, which latter is also woven of grass. On the walls of the swing, just over each end of the perch, is a small daub of clay. The Malays allege that the male bird swings in it while the hen bird is sitting, and that the young too ‘take the air’ in it as soon as they are able to fly so far. Into the two daubs of mud over the perch the male bird (say the Malays) sticks fire-flies to give itself light at night.

“The King crow38 is called by the Malays the Slave of the Monkeys (Burong hamba kra). It is a pretty, active, noisy little bird, incessantly flying about with its two long racquet-shaped tail feathers fluttering after it. They say that when it has both of these feathers it has paid off its debt and is free, but when it is either destitute of these appendages, or has only one, it is still in bondage.

“The Gray Sea-eagle39 is called Burong hamba siput ‘the Slave of the Shell-fish,’ and its office is to give warning by screaming to the shell-fish of the changes of the tide, so that they may regulate their movements, and those species which crawl about on the mud at low water may know when to take refuge [129]in the trees and escape the rising tide, or when the tide is falling, that they may know when to descend to look for food.

“The Burong dĕmam, or ‘Fever bird,’ is so called from its loud, tremulous note, and the Malays say that the female bird calls in its fever-stricken voice to its mate to go and find food, because it has fever so badly that it cannot go itself. This bird is probably one of the large green barbets. The note is often heard, and doubtless the bird has been collected, but it is one thing shooting a bird and another identifying it as the producer of a certain note.

“Another bird, the White-breasted Water-hen, a frequenter of the edges of reedy pools and the marshy banks of streams, is reputed to build a nest on the ground which has the property of rendering any one invisible who puts it on his head. The prevailing idea among the Malays is that the proper and legitimate use to put it to is to steal money and other species of property.”

The next few notes on Malay bird-lore were collected by the writer in Selangor:—

The Toucan or small Hornbill (Ĕnggang) was metamorphosed from a man who, in conjunction with a companion, broke into the house of an old man living by himself in the jungle, and slew him for the sake of his wealth. When life was extinct they threw a sheet over the body, and proceeded to ransack the house, throwing the loot into a second sheet close to the corpse. Day was about to dawn, when a false alarm induced them to make a hurried departure, so that they picked up the sheet with their loot and made off with it, carrying it slung hastily upon a pole between them. As they proceeded on their way day commenced [130]gradually to dawn, and the man behind noticing something unexpected about the bundle, and divining the cause, called out to his companion “Orang!” (pr. o rang) “The man!” His companion, misunderstanding his exclamation, thought he meant that they were pursued by “a man,” and only went all the faster, until, on hearing his comrade repeat the cry a second and a third time, he turned round, and there saw the feet of the man he had murdered protruding from the sheet, a sight which startled him to such a degree that he turned into a bird upon the spot, and flew away into a tree, repeating as he went the fatal cry of “O’Rang! ’Rang!” which had caused the transformation. And to this day, whenever the Malay hears among the tree-tops the cry of “’Rang! ’rang!” he knows that he is listening to the cry of the murderer.40

The Argus-pheasant41 and the Crow42 in the days of King Solomon were bosom friends, and could never do enough to show their mutual friendship. One day, however, the argus-pheasant, who was then dressed somewhat dowdily, suggested that his friend the crow should show his skill with the brush by decorating his (the argus-pheasant’s) feathers. To this the crow agreed, on condition, however, that the arrangement should be mutual. The argus-pheasant agreed to this, and the crow forthwith set to work, and so surpassed himself that the argus-pheasant became, as it is now, one of the most beautiful birds in the world. When the crow’s task was done, however, the argus-pheasant [131]refused to fulfil his own part of the bargain, excusing himself on the plea that the day of judgment was too near at hand. Hence a fierce quarrel ensued, at the end of which the argus-pheasant upset the ink-bottle over the crow, and thus rendered him coal-black.43 Hence the crow and the argus-pheasant are enemies to this day.

The bird called “Barau-barau” is said to have once been a bidan (midwife) whose employers (anak bidan) refused to pay her for her services, and kept constantly putting her off. Her patience, however, had its limits, and one day, after experiencing the usual evasion, she broke out into a torrent of intemperate language, in the midst of which she was changed into a bird, whose querulous note may be recognised as the voice of the aged woman as she cries out for the payment of her just wages.

About the big Kingfisher (Pĕkaka) an amusing parallel to the fable of the Fox and the Crow is related. It is said that this kingfisher once caught a fish, and flew to a low branch just overhanging the water to devour it. The fish, seeking for a means to save his life, decided to try the effect of a speech, and accordingly addressed his captor in the following verses, judiciously designed to appeal at once to her vanity and compassion:—

“O Kingfisher! Kingfisher!

What a glistening, glittering beak!

Yet while you, Big Sister, are filling your maw,

Little Brother will lose his life.”

At this critical juncture the Kingfisher opens her beak [132]to laugh, and the fish slips back into his native element and escapes!

Fowling Ceremonies

Ideas of sympathetic magic run very strongly through all ceremonies connected with the taking of wild birds, such for instance as jungle-fowl or pigeon.

The commonest method of snaring jungle-fowl is to take a line (called rachik), with a great number of fine nooses attached to it, and set it so as to form a complete circle, enclosing an open space in the forest. You must bring a decoy-bird with you, and the instructions which I collected say that you should on arriving enter the circle, holding the bird like a fighting cock, and repeat these lines:—

“Ho, Si Lanang, Si Tĕmpawi,

Come and let us play at cock-fighting

On the border-line between the primary and secondary forest-growth.

Your cock, Grandsire, is spurred with steel.

Mine is but spurred with bamboo.”

Here deposit the bird upon the ground. The challenge of the decoy-bird will then attract the jungle-fowl from all directions, and as they try to enter the circle (in order to reach the decoy), they will entangle themselves in the nooses.

As often as you succeed, however, in catching one, you must be careful to cast the “mischief” out of it, using the same form of words as is used to drive the “mischief” out of the carcase of the deer.

The method of catching wild pigeon is much more elaborate, and brings the animistic ideas of the Malays into strong relief, the “souls” of the wild pigeon being repeatedly referred to.

Plate 4.—Pigeon Decoy Hut.

Plate 4.—Pigeon Decoy Hut.

Used in snaring wild pigeon.

Page 133.


First you build a small sugar-loaf (conical) hut (called bumbun) in a carefully selected spot in the jungle. This hut may be from four to five feet high, is strongly built of stakes converging to a point at the top, and is thickly thatched with leaves and branches. The reason for making it strong is that there is always an off-chance that you may receive a visit from a tiger. At the back of the hut you must leave a small square opening (it can hardly be dignified with the name of a door), about two feet high and with a flap to it, through which you can creep into the hut on your hands and knees. [I may remark, parenthetically, that you will find the hut very damp, very dark, and very full of mosquitoes, and that if you are wise you will take with you a small stock of cigarettes.] In front of the hut, that is to say, on the side away from the door, if you want to proceed in the orthodox way, you will have to clear a small rectangular space, and put up round it on three sides (right, left, and front opposite the hut) a low railing consisting of a single bar about 18 inches from the ground. This is to rail off what is called “King Solomon’s Palace-yard,” and will also be useful from a practical point of view, as it will serve as a perch for your “decoy.”44

The instructions proceed as follows:—

Before entering the hut the wizard must go through what is called the “Neutralising Rice-paste” [134](tĕpong tawar) ceremony, first in the centre of the enclosed space, and then in each corner successively, beating each of the forked sticks (uprights) at the corners with a bunch of leaves. He must then take the decoy-tube, and after reciting the appropriate charm, sound a long-drawn note in each corner successively, and then insert the mouth-end of it into the hut through a hole in the thatch, supporting the heavy outer end upon a forked upright stick. Then entering the hut, he slips the noose at the end of the decoy-bird’s rod on to the decoy-bird’s feet, and pushing the bird out through the front door of the hut, makes it flutter on to one of the horizontal rods, where it will sit, if well trained, and call its companions. After a time the decoy-bird’s challenge is met by first one and then many counter challenges, then the wild pigeon approach, there is a great fluttering of wings, and presently one of the first arrivals flies down and commences to walk round and round the hut. Then the wizard awaits his opportunity, and as the pigeon passes in front of the door he pushes out one of the rods with a noose at the end, slips the noose over the bird’s neck or feet, and drags it into the hut.

The hut must be used, if possible, before the leaves with which it is thatched have faded, as the wild pigeon are less likely to be suspicious of the hut when its thatch is green.

In the way just described any number of pigeon can be taken, a bag of twenty or thirty being a fair average for a day’s work under favourable conditions.

The “call” will occasionally, for some unexplained reason, attract to the spot wild animals such as deer [135](especially mouse-deer) and tigers. Is it not possible that the story of the lute of Orpheus may have had its origin in some old hunting custom of the kind?

The following are specimens of the charms used by the wizard:—

When you are about to start (to decoy pigeons) say—

“It is not I who am setting out,

It is ’Toh Bujang Sibor45 who is setting out.”

Then sound the decoy-tube (buluh dĕkut) thrice loudly, and say—

“I pray that they (the pigeons) may come in procession, come in succession,

To enter into this bundle46 of ours.”

Now set out, and when you reach the conical hut (bumbun) say—

“My hut’s name is the Magic Prince,

My decoy’s name is Prince Distraction,

Distraught be ye, O Kapor47 (pigeon),

Distraught be ye, O Puding47 (pigeon),

Distraught be ye, O Sarap47 (pigeon),

Distraught (with desire) to enter our bundle.”

Or else when you first reach the hut, “take the (leaves of) the branch of a tree which is as high as your head, the leaves of the branch of a tree which is as high as your waist, the leaves of the branch of a tree which is as high as your knee, and the leaves of a tree which is only as high as your ankle-joint. Make them [136]all into a bunch, and with them “flick” the outside of the hut, saying these lines—

Dok Ding [stands for the] ‘Do’ding’ Pigeon,

Which makes three with the Madukara Pigeon,

The twig breaks, and the twig is pressed down,

And our immemorial customs are restored.”

When scattering the rice, say—

“Sift, sift the broken rice-ends,

Sift them over the rush-work rice-bag,

As one disappears another is invited,

Invited and brought down.

If you descend not, the Bear-cat (Binturong) shall devour you,

If you come not, wild beasts shall devour you,

And if you perch on a twig, you shall fall headlong,

If you perch on a bough, you shall be killed by a woodcutter,

If you perch on a leaf, you shall be bitten by the leaf-snake,

If you descend to the ground, you shall be bitten by a venomous serpent,

If you fly upwards, you shall be swooped upon by kites and eagles,

(That is) if you descend not.

Cluck, cluck! souls of Queen Kapor, of Princess Puding, and Handmaid Sarap.

Come down and assemble in King Solomon’s audience-hall,

And put on King Solomon’s breast-ornaments and armlets.”

When sprinkling the rice-paste (tĕpong tawar) on the uprights at each corner of the railed-off enclosure, say—

“Neutralising rice-paste, genuine rice-paste,

Add plumpness to plumpness,

Let pigeon come down to the weight of thousands of pounds,

And alight upon the Ivory Hall,

Which is carpeted with silver, and whose railings are of amalgam,

Unto the dishes of Her Highness Princess Lebar Nyiru (Broad-sieve).

Come in procession, come (in succession),

The ‘assembly-flower’ begins to unfold its petals,

Come down in procession, come down as stragglers,

King Solomon’s self has come to call you. [137]

Sift, sift (the rice) over the rice-bag,

King Solomon’s self bids you haste.

Sift, sift the rice-ends,

Sift them over the rush-work bag.

As one disappears another is invited,

Is invited and escorted down.

Sift, sift the rice-ends,

Sift them over the salt-bag,

As one disappears another is invited,

And escorted inside (the hut).”

When you are sounding the call (mĕlaung), stand in the middle of the enclosure and say:—

“Cluck, cluck! soul of Princess Puding, of Queen Kapor, and Queen Sarap,

Enter ye into our Bundle,

And perch upon the Ivory Railing.

Come in procession, come in succession,

The assembly-flower unfolds its petals.

Come down in procession, come down in succession,

King Solomon’s self is come to call you.

If you do not come down, the Bear-cat shall eat you,

If you do not appear, wild beasts shall devour you,

If you perch upon a twig, you shall fall headlong

(All over) the seven valleys and seven knolls of rising ground.

If ye go to the hills, ye shall get no food;

If ye go to the forest-pools, ye shall get no drink.”

Or else the following:—

“Cut the mĕngkudu48 branch,

Cut it (through) and thrust it downwards.

Let those which are near be the first to arrive,

And those which are far off be sent for,

Let those which have eggs, leave their eggs,

And those which have young, desert their young,

Let those which are blind, come led by others,

And those which have broken limbs, come on crutches.

Come and assemble in King Solomon’s audience-hall.

Cluck, cluck! souls of Queen Kapor, Princess Puding, Handmaid Sarap, [138]

Come down and assemble in King Solomon’s audience-hall,

And put on King Solomon’s necklace (breast-ornaments) and armlets.”49

When about to enter the hut say—

“[Hearken], O Hearts of Wild Doves,

Cut we the Rod of Invitation,

This hut is named the Magic Prince,

This tube is named Prince Distraction,

Distraught (be ye) by day, distraught by night,

Distraught (with longing) to assemble in King Solomon’s Hall,

Cluck, cluck! souls of Queen Kapor,” etc. (as before).50

When you have just entered, and before you seat yourself, say—

“Sift, sift the rice-ends,

Sift them over a rush-work rice-bag,” etc. (as before).

Put your lips to the decoy-tube, and sound the call, saying—

“Cut the mĕngkudu stem;

Cut it (through) and thrust it downwards,” etc. (as before).

(or else some longer version, such as one of those given in the Appendix). When the wild pigeon have arrived and have entered the enclosure or “Palace-yard,” wait till they are in a good position, and then push out one of the rods with the fine noose at the end, slip the noose over the bird’s neck, and drag it into the house, saying as you do so— [139]

Wak-wak [stands for] a heron on the kitchen shelf,

Covered over with the top of a cocoa-nut shell,

Do you move aside, Sir Bachelor, Master of the Ceremonies,

I wish to ensnare the necks of the race of wild doves.”

Now that you understand the process of decoying pigeon with a pigeon-call, I must explain something of the curious nomenclature used by the wizard; for during the ceremony you must never call a spade a spade. In the first place, the hut must not on any account be mentioned as such: it is to be called the Magic Prince—why so called, it is hard to say, but most likely the name is used in allusion to the wizard who is concealed inside it. The name given to the calling-tube itself is more appropriate, as it is called “Prince Distraction” (Raja Gila), this name of course being an allusion to the extraordinary fascination which it evidently exercises on the pigeon. Then the decoy (or rather, perhaps, the rod to which it is linked) is called Pŭtri Pĕmonggo’, or the Squatting Princess. Next to these come three Princesses which prove to be merely the representatives of three important species of wild pigeon. Their names, though variously given, are perhaps most commonly known as Princess “Kapor,” Princess “Sarap,” and Princess “Puding.”

Finally, even the rod used for ensnaring the pigeon has its own special name, Si Raja Nyila (Prince Invitation).

“King Solomon’s necklaces” and armlets are of course the nooses with which they are to be snared, and which will catch them either by the neck or by the leg.

The Princesses are invited to enter a gorgeous palace:— [140]

“Come down, pigeons, in your myriads,

And perch upon the ‘Ivory Hall,’

(That is) carpeted with silver, and railed with amalgam,

(Come down) to the dishes of Her Highness Princess Lebar Nyiru (Broad-sieve).”51

The “dishes of Her Highness Princess Broad-sieve” cleverly suggest an abundance of provender such as is likely to appeal to a hungry bird!

In another version the three Princesses are invited to enter the “Palace Tower” called “Fatimah Passes” (Mahaligei Fatimah Lalu).

Moreover those who issue the invitation are no respecters of persons:—

“Let those which are near, arrive the first,

Let those which are far off be sent for,

Let those which have eggs, leave their eggs,

Those which have young, leave their young,

Those which are blind, be led by others,

Those which have broken limbs, come on crutches;

Come and assemble in King Solomon’s Audience-Chamber.”52

And a similar passage in another charm says—

“Let those which are near, arrive the first,

Let those which are far off be sent for,

Cluck! cluck! souls of the children of forest doves,

Come ye down and assemble together

In the fold of God and King Solomon.”

If blandishments fail, however, there is to be no doubt about the punishments in store for their wilful Highnesses: thus, a little later, we find the alternative, a thoroughgoing imprecation calculated to “convince” the most headstrong of birds:—

“I call you, I fetch you down,

If you come not down you shall be eaten by the Bear-cat, [141]

You shall be choked to death with your own feathers,

You shall be choked to death with a bone in your throat.

If you perch on a creeper you shall be entangled by it,

If you settle on a leaf you shall be bitten by the ‘leaf snake,’

Come you down quickly to God’s fold and King Solomon’s.”

And an imprecation of similar import says—

“[If you do not come down, the Bear-cat shall eat you],

If you perch on a bough, you shall slip off it,

If you perch on a creeper, you shall slide off it,

If you perch upon a leafless stump, the stump shall fall;

If you settle on the ground, the ground-snake shall bite you,

If you soar up to heaven, the eagle shall swoop upon you.”


(b) Earth


The first operation in building is the selection of the site. This is determined by an elaborate code of rules which make the choice depend—firstly, upon the nature of the soil with respect to colour, taste, and smell; secondly, upon the formation of its surface; and, thirdly, upon its aspect:—

“The best soil, whether for a house, village, orchard, or town, is a greenish yellow, fragrant-scented, tart-tasting loam: such a soil will ensure abundance of gold and silver unto the third generation.53

“The best site, whether for a house, village, orchard, or town, is level.54

“The best aspect (of the surface) is that of land which is low upon the north side and high upon the south side: such a site will bring absolute peacefulness.”55 [142]

When you have found a site complying with more or less favourable conditions, in accordance with the code, you must next clear the ground of forest or undergrowth, lay down four sticks to form a rectangle in the centre thereof, and call upon the name of the lords of that spot (i.e. the presiding local deities or spirits). Now dig up the soil (enclosed by the four sticks), and taking a clod in your hand, call upon the lords of that spot as follows:—

“Ho, children of Mĕntri56 Guru,

Who dwell in the Four Corners of the World,

I crave this plot as a boon.”

(Here mention the purpose to which you wish to put it.)

“If it is good, show me a good omen,

If it is bad, show me a bad omen.”57

Wrap the clod up in white cloth, and after fumigating it with incense, place it at night beneath your pillow, and when you retire to rest repeat the last two lines of the above charm as before and go to sleep. If your dream is good proceed with, if bad desist from, your operations. Supposing your dream to be “good,” you must (approximately) clear the site of the main building and peg out the four corners with dead sticks; then take a dead branch and heap it up lightly with earth (in the centre of the site?); set fire to it, and when the whole heap has been reduced to ashes, sweep it all up together and cover it over while you repeat the charm (which differs but little from that given above). Next morning uncover it early in the morning and God will show you the good and the bad. [143]

The site being finally selected, you must proceed to choose a day for erecting the central house-post, by consulting first the schedule of lucky and unlucky months, and next the schedule of lucky and unlucky days of the week.58

[The best time of day for the operation to take place is said to be always seven o’clock in the morning. Hence there seems to be no need to consult a schedule to discover it, though some magicians may do so.]

The propitious moment having been at last ascertained, the erection of the centre-post will be proceeded with. First, the hole for its reception must be dug (the operation being accompanied by the recital of a charm) and the post erected, the greatest precautions being taken to prevent the shadow of any of the workers from falling either upon the post itself or upon the hole dug to receive it, sickness and trouble being otherwise sure to follow.59

[The account in the Appendix, of which the above is a résumé, omits to describe the sacrifice which has to be made before the erection of the centre-post, which has therefore been drawn from the instructions of other magicians.]

“When the hole has been dug and before the centre-post is actually erected, some sort of sacrifice or offering has to be made. First you take a little brazilwood (kayu sĕpang), a little ebony-wood (kayu arang), a little assafœtida (inggu), and a little scrap-iron (tahi bĕsi), and deposit them in the hole which you have dug. Then take a fowl,60 a goat, or a buffalo [according to [144]the ascertained or reputed malignity of the locally presiding earth-demon (puaka)], and cut its throat according to Muhammadan custom, spilling its blood into the hole. Then cut off its head and feet, and deposit them within the hole to serve as a foundation for the centre-post to rest upon (buat lapik tiang s’ri). Put a ring on your little finger out of compliment to the earth-spirit (akan mĕmbujok jĕmbalang itu), repeat the charm61 and erect the post.”62

Another form of the above ceremony was described to me by a magician as follows:—

“Deposit in the hole a little scrap-iron and tin-ore, a candle nut (buah k’ras or buah gorek), a broken hatchet head (b’liong patah), and a cent (in copper). Wait till everybody else has returned home, and, standing close to the hole, pick up three clods (kĕpal) of earth, hold them (gĕnggam) over the incense, turn ‘right-about-face’ and repeat the charm.63 Then take the three clods home (without once turning round to look behind you till you reach home), place them under your sleeping pillow and wait till nightfall, when you may have either a good or a bad dream. If the first night’s dream be bad, throw away one of the clods and dream again. If the second night’s dream be [145]bad, repeat the process, and whenever you get a good dream deposit the clod or clods under the butt-end of the centre-post to serve as a foundation.”

A magician gave me this specimen of a charm used at this ceremony (of erecting the centre-post):—

“Ho, Raja Guru, Maharaja Guru,

You are the sons of Batara Guru.

I know the origin from which you spring,

From the Flashing of Lightning’s spurs;

I know the origin from which you spring,

From the Brightening of Daybreak.

Ho, Spectre of the Earth, Brains of the Earth, Demon of the Earth,

Retire ye hence to the depths of the Ocean,

To the peace of the primeval forest.

Betwixt you and me

Division was made by Adam.”

Another rule of importance in house-building is that which regulates the length of the threshold, as to which the instructions are as follows:—

“Measure off (on a piece of string) the stretch (fathom) of the arms of her who is to be mistress of the proposed house. Fold this string in three and cut off one third. Take the remainder, fold it in eight and cut off seven-eighths. Take the remaining eighth, see how many times it is contained in the length of the threshold, and check off the number (of these measurements) against the “category” (bilangan) of the “eight beasts”64 (bĕnatang yang d’lapan). This category runs as follows:—(1) The dragon (naga); (2) the dairy-cow (sapi); (3) the lion (singa); (4) the dog (anjing); (5) the draught-cow (lĕmbu); (6) the ass (kaldei); (7) the elephant (gajah), and (8) the crow (gagak), all of which have certain ominous significations. [146]If the last measurement coincides with one of the unlucky beasts in the category, such as the crow (which signifies the death of the master of the house), the threshold is cut shorter to make it fit in with one that is more auspicious.”65

The names of the “eight beasts,” coupled with the events which they are supposed to foreshadow, are often commemorated in rhyming stanzas.

Here is a specimen:—

I.—The Dragon (naga).

“A dragon of bulk, a monster dragon,

Is this dragon that turns round month by month.66

Wherever you go you will be safe from stumbling-blocks,

And all who meet you will be your friends.”

II.—The Dairy-Cow (sapi).

“There is the smoke of a fire in the forest,

Where Inche ʿAli is burning lime;

They were milking the young dairy-cow,

And in the midst of the milking it sprawled and fell down dead.”

III.—The Lion (singa).

“A lion of courage, a lion of valour,

Is the lion gambolling at the end of the Point.

The luck of this house will be lasting,

Bringing you prosperity from year to year.”

IV.—The Dog (anjing).

“The wild dog, the jackal,

Barks at the deer from night to night;

Whatever you do will be a stumbling-block;

In this house men will stab one another.”


V.—The Draught-Cow (lĕmbu).

“The big cow from the middle of the clearing

Has gone to the Deep Forest to calve there.

Great good luck will be your portion.

Never will you cease to be prosperous.”

VI.—The Ass (kaldei).

“The ass within the Fort

Carries grass from morn to eve;

Whatever you pray for will not be granted,

Though big your capital, the half will be lost.”

VII.—The Elephant (gajah).

“The big riding elephant of the Sultan

Has its tusks covered with amalgam.

Good luck is your portion,

No harm or blemish will you suffer.”

VIII.—The Crow (gagak).

“A black crow soaring by night

Has perched on the house of the great Magic Prince;

Great indeed is the calamity which has happened:

Within the house its master lies dead.”

In close connection with the ceremonies for the selection of individual house sites are the forms by which the princes of Malay tradition selected sites for the towns which they founded. The following extract will perhaps convey some idea of their character:—

“One day Raja Marong Maha Podisat went into his outer audience hall, where all his ministers, warriors, and officers were in attendance, and commanded the four Mantris to equip an expedition with all the necessary officers and armed men, and with horses and elephants, arms and accoutrements. The four Mantris did as they were ordered, and when [148]all was ready they informed the Raja. The latter waited for a lucky day and an auspicious moment, and then desired his second son to set out. The Prince took leave after saluting his father and mother, and all the ministers, officers, and warriors who followed him performed obeisance before the Raja. They then set out in search of a place of settlement, directing their course between south and east, intending to select a place with good soil, and there to build a town with fort, moat, palace, and balei.67 They amused themselves in every forest, wood, and thicket through which they passed, crossing numbers of hills and mountains, and stopping here and there to hunt wild beasts, or to fish if they happened to fall in with a pool or lake.

“After they had pursued their quest for some time they came to the tributary of a large river which flowed down to the sea. Farther on they came to a large sheet of water, in the midst of which were four islands. The Prince was much pleased with the appearance of the islands, and straightway took a silver arrow and fitted it to his bow named Indra Sakti, and said: ‘O arrow of the bow Indra Sakti, fall thou on good soil in this group of islands; wherever thou mayest chance to fall, there will I make a palace in which to live.’ He then drew his bow and discharged the arrow, which flew upwards with the rapidity of lightning, and with a humming sound like that made by a beetle as it flies round a flower, and went out of sight. Presently it came in sight again, and fell upon one of the islands, which on that account was called Pulau Indra Sakti. On that spot was erected a town with fort, palace, and [149]balei, and all the people who were living scattered about in the vicinity were collected together and set to work on the various buildings.”68

Even in the making of roads through the forest it would appear that sacrificial ceremonies are not invariably neglected. On one occasion I came upon a party of Malays in the Labu jungle who were engaged in making a bridle-track for the Selangor Government. A small bamboo censer, on which incense had been burning, had been erected in the middle of the trace; and I was informed that the necessary rites (for exorcising the demons from the trace) had just been successfully concluded.


All wild animals, more especially the larger and more dangerous species, are credited in Malay folklore with human or (occasionally) superhuman powers.

In the pages which now follow I shall deal with the folklore which refers to the more important animals, first pointing out their anthropomorphic traits, then detailing some of the more important traditions about them, and finally, where possible, describing the methods of hunting them.

The Elephant

Of the Elephant we read:—

“The superstitious dread entertained by Malays for the larger animals is the result of ideas regarding [150]them which have been inherited from the primitive tribes of Eastern Asia. Muhammadanism has not been able to stamp out the deep-rooted feelings which prompted the savage to invest the wild beasts which he dreaded with the character of malignant deities. The tiger, elephant, and rhinoceros69 were not mere brutes to be attacked and destroyed. The immense advantages which their strength and bulk gave them over the feebly-armed savage of the most primitive tribes naturally suggested the possession of supernatural powers; and propitiation, not force, was the system by which it was hoped to repel them. The Malay addresses the tiger as Datoh (grandfather), and believes that many tigers are inhabited by human souls. Though he reduces the elephant to subjection, and uses him as a beast of burden, it is universally believed that the observance of particular ceremonies, and the repetition of prescribed formulas, are necessary before wild elephants can be entrapped and tamed. Some of these spells and charms (mantra) are supposed to have extraordinary potency, and I have in my possession a curious collection of them, regarding which, it was told me seriously by a Malay, that in consequence of their being read aloud in his house three times all the hens stopped laying! The spells in this collection are nearly all in the Siamese language, and there is reason to believe that the modern Malays owe most of their ideas on the subject of taming and driving elephants to the Siamese. Those, however, who had no idea of making use of the elephant, but [151]who feared him as an enemy, were doubtless the first to devise the idea of influencing him by invocations. This idea is inherited, both by Malays and Siamese, from common ancestry.”70

To the above evidence (which was collected by Sir W. E. Maxwell no doubt mainly in Perak) I would add that at Labu, in Selangor, I heard on more than one occasion a story in which the elephant-folk were described as possessing, on the borders of Siam, a city of their own, where they live in houses like human beings, and wear their natural human shape. This story, which was first told me by Ungku Said Kĕchil of Jĕlĕbu, was taken down by me at the time, and ran as follows:—

“A Malay named Laboh went out one day to his rice-field and found that elephants had been destroying his rice.

“He therefore planted caltrops of a cubit and a half in length in the tracks of the offenders. That night an elephant was wounded in the foot by one of the caltrops, and went off bellowing with pain.

“Day broke and Laboh set off on the track of the wounded elephant, but lost his way, and after three days and nights journeying, found himself on the borders of a new and strange country. Presently he encountered an old man, to whom he remarked ‘Hullo, grandfather, your country is extraordinarily quiet!’ The old man replied, ‘Yes, for all noise is forbidden, because the king’s daughter is ill.’ ‘What is the matter with her?’ asked Si Laboh. The old man replied that she had trodden upon a caltrop. Si Laboh then asked, ‘May I see if I can do anything to help her?’ [152]

“The old man then went and reported the matter to the king, who ordered Si Laboh to be brought into his presence.

“[Now the country which Si Laboh had reached was a fine open country on the borders of Siam. It is called ‘Pak Hĕnang,’ and its only inhabitants are the elephant-people who live there in human guise. And whoever trespasses over the boundaries of that country turns into an elephant.]

“Then Si Laboh saw that the king’s daughter, whose name was Princess Rimbut, was suffering from one of the caltrops which he himself had planted. He therefore extracted it from her foot, so that she recovered, and the king, in order to reward Si Laboh, gave him the Princess in marriage.

“Now when they had been married a long time, and had got two children, Si Laboh endeavoured to persuade his wife to accompany him on a visit to his own country. To this the Princess replied ‘Yes; but if I go you must promise never to add to the dish any young tree-shoots at meal-time.’71

“On this they started, and at the end of the first day’s journey they halted and sat down to eat. But Si Laboh had forgotten the injunctions of his wife, and put young tree-shoots into the dish with his rice. Then his wife protested and said, ‘Did I not tell you not to put young tree-shoots into your food?’ But Si Laboh was obstinate, and merely replied, ‘What do I care?’ so that his wife was turned back into an elephant and ran off into the jungle. Then Si Laboh wept and followed her, but she refused to return as she had now become an elephant. Yet he followed her for a whole day, but [153]she would not return to him, and he then returned homewards with his children.

“This is all that is known about the origin of elephants who are human beings.”

A Malay charm which was given me (at Labu) to serve as a protection against elephants (pĕndinding gajah) gives the actual name of the Elephant King—

“O Grandfather Moyang Kaban,

Destroy not your own grandchildren.”

Ghost elephants (gajah kramat) are not uncommon. They are popularly believed to be harmless, but invulnerable, and are generally supposed to exhibit some outward and visible sign of their sanctity, such as a stunted tusk or a shrunken foot. They are the tutelary genii of certain localities, and when they are killed the good fortune of the neighbourhood is supposed to depart too. Certain it is, that when one of these ghost elephants was shot at Klang a year or two ago, it did not succumb until some fifty or sixty rifle-bullets had been poured into it, and its death was followed by a fall in the local value of coffee and coffee land, from which the district took long to recover.72

A ghost elephant is very often thought to be the guardian spirit of some particular shrine—an idea that is common throughout the Peninsula.

Other general ideas about the elephant are as follows:—

“Elephants are said to be very frightened if they see a tree stump that has been felled at a great height [154]from the ground, as some trees which have high spreading buttresses are cut, because they think that giants must have felled it, and as ordinary-sized men are more than a match for them they are in great dread of being caught by creatures many times more powerful than their masters. Some of the larger insects of the grasshopper kind are supposed to be objects of terror to elephants, while the particularly harmless little pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) is thought to be able to kill one of these huge beasts by biting its foot. The pangolin, by the bye, is quite toothless. Another method in which the pangolin attacks and kills elephants is by coiling itself tightly around the end of the elephant’s trunk, and so suffocating it. This idea is also believed in by the Singhalese, according to Mr. W. T. Hornaday’s Two Years in the Jungle.”73

The foregoing passage refers to Perak, but similar ideas are common in Selangor, and they occur no doubt, with local variations, in every one of the Malay States. Selangor Malays tell of the scaring of elephants by the process of drawing the slender stem of the bamboo down to the ground and cutting off the top of it, when it springs back to its place.

The story of the “pangolin” is also told in Selangor with additional details. Thus it is said that the “Jawi-jawi” tree (a kind of banyan) is always avoided by elephants because it was once licked by the armadillo. The latter, after licking it, went his way, and “the elephant coming up was greatly taken aback by the offensive odour, and swore that he would never go near the tree again. He kept his oath, and his example has been followed by his descendants, so that [155]to this day the ‘Jawi-jawi’ is the one tree in the forest which the elephant is afraid to approach.”74

The following directions for hunting the elephant were given me by Lĕbai Jamal, a famous elephant hunter of Lingging, near the Sungei Ujong border:—

“When you first meet with the spoor of elephant or rhinoceros, observe whether the foot-hole contains any dead wood, (then) take the twig of dead wood, together with a ball of earth as big as a maize-cob taken from the same foot-hole (if there is only one of you, one ball will do, if there are three of you, three balls will be wanted, if seven, seven balls, but not more). Then roll up your ball of earth and the twig together in a tree-leaf, breathe upon it, and recite the charm (for blinding the elephant’s eyes), the purport of which is that if the quarry sees, its eyesight shall be destroyed, and if it looks, its eyesight shall be dimmed, by the help of God, the prophet, and the medicine-man, who taught the charm.

“Now slip your ball of earth into your waistband just over the navel, and destroy the scent of your body and your gun. To do this, take a bunch of certain leaves75 (daun sa-chĕrek), together with stem-leaves of the betel-vine (kĕrapak sirih), leaves of the wild camphor (chapa), and leaves of the club-gourd (labu ayer puteh), break their midribs with your left hand, shut your eyes, and say ‘As these tree leaves smell, so may my body (and gun) be scented.’

“When the animal is dead, beat it with an end of black cloth, repeating the charm for driving away the [156]‘mischief’ (badi) from the carcase, which charm runs as follows:—

“Badiyu, Mother of Mischief, Badi Panji, Blind Mother,

I know the origin from which you sprang,76

Three drops of Adam’s blood were the origin from which you sprang,

Mischief of Earth, return to Earth,

Mischief of Ant-heap, return to Ant-heap,

Mischief of Elephant, return to Elephant,77

Mischief of Wood, return to Wood,

Mischief of Water, return to Water,

Mischief of Stone, return to Stone

And injure not my person.

By the virtue of my Teacher,

You may not injure the children of the race of Man.”

The perquisites of the Pawang (magician) are to be “a little black cloth and a little white cloth,” and the only special taboo mentioned by Lĕbai Jamal was “on no account to let the naked skin rub against the skin of the slain animal.”

Before leaving the subject of elephants, I may add that Raja Jaʿfar (of Beranang in Selangor) told me that Lĕbai Jamal, when charged by an elephant or rhinoceros, would draw upon the ground with his finger a line which the infuriated animal was never able to cross. This line, he said, was called the Baris Laksamana, or the “Admiral’s Line,” and the knowledge of how to draw it was naturally looked upon as a great acquisition. [157]

The Tiger

“The Tiger is sometimes believed to be a man or demon in the form of a wild beast, and to the numerous aboriginal superstitions which attach to this dreaded animal Muhammadanism has added the notion which connects the Tiger with the Khalif Ali. One of Ali’s titles throughout the Moslem world is ‘the Victorious Lion of the Lord,’ and in Asiatic countries, where the lion is unknown, the tiger generally takes the place of the ‘king of beasts.’”78

But the anthropomorphic ideas of the Malays about the Tiger go yet farther than this. Far away in the jungle (as I have several times been told in Selangor) the tiger-folk (no less than the elephants) have a town of their own, where they live in houses, and act in every respect like human beings. In the town referred to their house-posts are made of the heart of the Tree-nettle (t’ras jĕlatang), and their roofs thatched with human hair—one informant added that men’s bones were their only rafters, and men’s skins their house walls—and there they live quietly enough until one of their periodical attacks of fierceness (mĕngganas) comes on and causes them to break bounds and range the forest for their chosen prey.

There are several of these tiger-villages or “enclosures” in the Peninsula, the chief of them being Gunong Ledang (the Mount Ophir of Malacca), just as Pasummah is the chief of such localities in Sumatra.79 So too, from Perak, Sir W. E. Maxwell writes in 1881:— [158]

“A mischievous tiger is said sometimes to have broken loose from its pen or fold (pĕchah kandang). This is in allusion to an extraordinary belief that, in parts of the Peninsula, there are regular enclosures where tigers possessed by human souls live in association. During the day they roam where they please, but return to the kandang at night.”80

Various fables ascribe to the tiger a human origin. One of these, taken down by me word for word from a Selangor Malay, is intended to account for the tiger’s stripes. The gist of it ran as follows:—

“An old man picked up a boy in the jungle with a white skin, green eyes, and very long nails. Taking the boy home his rescuer named him Muhammad Yatim (i.e. ‘Muhammad the fatherless’), and when he grew up sent him to school, where he behaved with great cruelty to his schoolfellows, and was therefore soundly beaten by his master (’Toh Saih Panjang Janggut, i.e. ’Toh Saih Long-beard), who used a stick made of a [159]kind of wood called los81 to effect the chastisement. At the first cut the boy leapt as far as the doorway; at the second he leapt to the ground, at the third he bounded into the grass, at the fourth he uttered a growl, and at the fifth his tail fell down behind him and he went upon all fours, whereat his master (improvising a name to curse him by), exclaimed, ‘This is of a truth God’s tiger! (Harimau Allah). Go you,’ he added, addressing the tiger, ‘to the place where you will catch your prey—the borderland between the primeval forest and the secondary forest-growth, and that between the secondary forest-growth and the plain—catch there whomsoever you will, but see that you catch only the headless. Alter no jot of what I say, or you shall be consumed by the Iron of the Regalia, and crushed by the sanctity of the thirty divisions of the Korān.’” Hence the tiger is to this day compelled to “ask for” his prey, and uses divination (bĕrtĕnung), as all men know, for the purpose of discovering whether his petition has yet been granted.

Hence, too, he carries on his hide to this very day the mark of the stripes with which he was beaten at school.

The method of divination said to be practised by the tiger is as follows: The tiger lies down and gazes (bĕrtĕnung) at leaves which he takes between his paws, and whenever he sees the outline of a leaf take the [160]shape of one of his intended victims, without the head, he knows it to be the sign that that victim has been “granted” to him, in accordance with the very terms of his master’s curse.

I once asked (at Labu) how it was known that the tiger used divination, and was told this story of a man who had seen it:—

“A certain Malay had been working, together with his newly-married wife, in the rice-fields at Labu, and on his stepping aside at noon into the cool of the forest, he saw a tiger lying down among the underwood apparently gazing at something between its paws. By creeping stealthily nearer he was able at length to discern the object at which the tiger was gazing, and it proved to be, to his intense horror, a leaf which presented the lineaments of his wife, lacking only the head. Hurrying back to the rice-field he at once warned the neighbours of what he had seen, and implored them to set his wife in their midst and escort her homeward. To this they consented, but yet, in spite of every precaution, the tiger broke through the midst of them and killed the woman before it could be driven off. The bereaved husband thereupon requested them to leave him alone with the body and depart, and when they had done so, he took the body in his arms, and so lay down embracing it, with a dagger in either hand. Before sunset the tiger returned to its kill, and leapt upon the corpse, whereupon the husband stabbed it to the heart, so that the points of the daggers met, and killed it on the spot.”

The power of becoming a man- or were-tiger (as it has sometimes been called), is supposed to be confined to one tribe of Sumatrans, the Korinchi Malays, many of whom are to be met with in the Malay Native States. [161]This belief is very strongly held, and on one occasion, when I asked some Malays at Jugra how it could be proved that the man really became a tiger, they told me the case of a man some of whose teeth were plated with gold, and who had been accidentally killed in the tiger stage, when the same gold plating was discovered in the tiger’s mouth.82

Of the strength of the Malay belief in were-tigers Mr. Clifford writes:—

“The existence of the Malayan Loup Garou to the native mind is a fact, and not a mere belief. The Malay knows that it is true. Evidence, if it be needed, may be had in plenty; the evidence, too, of sober-minded men, whose words in a Court of Justice would bring conviction to the mind of the most obstinate jurymen, and be more than sufficient to hang the most innocent of prisoners. The Malays know well how Haji ʿAbdallah, the native of the little state of Korinchi in Sumatra, was caught naked in a tiger trap, and thereafter purchased his liberty at the price of the buffaloes he had slain while he marauded in the likeness of a beast. They know of the countless Korinchi men who have vomited feathers, after feasting upon fowls, when for the nonce they had assumed the forms of tigers; and of those other men of the same race who have left their garments and their trading packs in thickets whence presently a tiger has emerged. All these things the Malays know have happened, and are [162]happening to-day, in the land in which they live, and with these plain evidences before their eyes, the empty assurances of the enlightened European that Were-Tigers do not, and never did exist, excite derision not unmingled with contempt.”83

Writing on the same theme, Sir Frank Swettenham says:—

“Another article of almost universal belief is that the people of a small State in Sumatra called Korinchi have the power of assuming at will the form of a tiger, and in that disguise they wreak vengeance on those they wish to injure. Not every Korinchi man can do this, but still the gift of this strange power of metamorphosis is pretty well confined to the people of the small Sumatran State. At night when respectable members of society should be in bed, the Korinchi man slips down from his hut, and, assuming the form of a tiger, goes about ‘seeking whom he may devour.’

“I have heard of four Korinchi men arriving in a district of Perak, and that night a number of fowls were taken by a tiger. The strangers left and went farther up country, and shortly after only three of them returned and stated that a tiger had just been killed, and they begged the local headman to bury it.

“On another occasion some Korinchi men appeared and sought hospitality in a Malay house, and there also the fowls disappeared in the night, and there were unmistakable traces of the visit of a tiger, but the next day one of the visitors fell sick, and shortly after vomited chicken-feathers.

“It is only fair to say that the Korinchi people strenuously deny the tendencies and the power ascribed to them, but aver that they properly belong to the [163]inhabitants of a district called Chenâku in the interior of the Korinchi country. Even there, however, it is only those who are practised in the elĕmu sĕhir, the occult arts, who are thus capable of transforming themselves into tigers, and the Korinchi people profess themselves afraid to enter the Chenâku district.”84

There are many stories about ghost tigers (rimau kramat), which are generally supposed to have one foot a little smaller than the others (kaki tengkis). During my stay in the Langat district I was shown on more than one occasion the spoor of a ghost tiger. This happened once near Sepang village, on a wet and clayey bridle-track, where the unnatural smallness of one of the feet was very conspicuous. Such tigers are considered invulnerable, but harmless to man, and are looked upon generally as the guardian spirits of some sacred spot. One of these sacred spots was the shrine (kramat) of ’Toh Kamarong, about two miles north of Sepang village. This shrine, it was alleged, was guarded by a white ghost elephant and ghost tiger, who ranged the country round but never harmed anybody. One day, however, a Chinaman from the neighbouring pepper plantations offered at this shrine a piece of pork, which, however acceptable it might have been to a Chinese saint, so incensed the orthodox guardians of this Muhammadan shrine that one of them (the ghost tiger) fell upon the Chinaman and slew him before he could return to his house.

By far the most celebrated of these ghost tigers, however, were the guardians of the shrine at the foot of Jugra Hill, which were formerly the pets of the Princess of Malacca (Tuan Pŭtri Gunong Ledang). [164]Local report says that this princess left her country when it was taken by the Portuguese, and established herself on Jugra Hill, a solitary hill on the southern portion of the Selangor coast, which is marked on old charts as the “False Parcelar” hill.

The legend which connects the name of this princess with Jugra Hill was thus told85 by Mr. G. C. Bellamy (formerly of the Selangor Civil Service).

“Bukit Jugra (Jugra Hill) in its isolated position, and conspicuous as it is from the sea, could scarcely escape being an object of veneration to the uneducated Malay mind. The jungle which clothes its summit and sides is supposed to be full of hantus (demons or ghosts), and often when talking to Malays in my bungalow in the evening have our discussions been interrupted by the cries of the langswayer (a female birth-demon) in the neighbouring jungle, or the mutterings of the bajang (a familiar spirit) as he sat on the roof-tree. But the ‘Putri’ (Princess) of Gunong Ledang holds the premier position amongst the fabulous denizens of the jungle on the hill, and it is strange that places so far apart as Mount Ophir and Bukit Jugra should be associated with one another in traditionary lore. The story runs that this estimable lady, having disposed of her husband by pricking him to death with needles,86 decided thenceforth to live free from the restrictions of married life. She was thus able to visit distant lands, taking with her a cat87 of fabulous dimensions as her sole attendant. This cat appears to have been a most amiable and accommodating creature, for on arriving at Jugra he carried the Princess on [165]his back to the top of the hill. Here the lady remained for some time, and during her stay constructed a bathing-place for herself. Even to this day she pays periodical visits to Jugra Hill, and although she herself is invisible to mortal eye, her faithful attendant, in the shape of a handsome tiger, is often to be met with as he prowls about the place at night. He has never been known to injure any one, and is reverently spoken of as a rimau kramat (ghost tiger).”

To the above story Mr. C. H. A. Turney (then Senior District Officer and stationed at Jugra) added the following:—

“The Princess and the stories about her and the tiger are well known, and the latter are related from mother to daughter in Langat.

“There are, however, they say, one or two omissions; instead of one tiger there were two, the real harimau kramat and an ambitious young tiger who would also follow the Princess in her round of visits. This brute came to an untimely and ignominious end (as he deserved to) at the hands of one Innes, who was disturbed whilst reading a newspaper, and this can be verified by Captain Syers.

“The other tiger jogged along gaily with his phantom mistress, and made night hideous with his howlings and prowlings all about the Jugra Hill. He was really kramat, and was said to have been shot at by several Malays, and the present Sergeant-Major Allie, now stationed at Kuala Lumpur, can vouch for this.”88 [166]

I myself collected at the time the following extra details:—

“The local version of the legend about the kramat at the foot of Jugra Hill runs somewhat as follows:—Once upon a time one Nakhoda Ragam was travelling with his wife (who is apparently to be identified with the Princess of Malacca, Tuan Pŭtri Gunong Ledang) in a boat (sampan), when the latter pricked him to death with a needle (mati di-chuchok jarum). His blood flooded the boat (darah-nya hanyut dalam sampan), and presently the woman in the boat was hailed by a vessel sailing past her. ‘What have you got in that boat?’ said the master of the vessel, and the Princess replied: ‘It is only spinach-juice’ (kuah bayam). She was therefore allowed to proceed, and landed at the foot of Jugra Hill, where she buried all that yet remained of her husband, which consisted of only one thigh (paha).89 She also took ashore her two cats, which were in the boat with her, and which, turning into ghost tigers, became the guardians of this now famous shrine.”90

Tigers are naturally too fierce to be tracked by the Malays, and are usually caught in specially constructed traps (pĕnjara rimau), or killed by a self-acting [167]gun or spear-trap (b’lantek s’napang, b’lantek tĕrbang, b’lantek parap, etc.); but even in this case the Pawang explains to the tiger that it was not he but Muhammad who set the trap. There are, however, as might be expected, a great number of charms intended to protect the devotee in various ways from the tiger’s claws and teeth. Of these I will give one or two typical specimens.

Sometimes a charm is used to keep the tiger at a distance (pĕnjauh rimau):—

“Ho, Bĕrsĕnu! Ho, Bĕrkaih!

I know the origin from which you sprang;

(It was) Sheikh Abuniah Lahah Abu Kasap.

Your navel originated from the centre of your crown,

Your breasts are [to be seen] in [the spoor of] your fore-feet.91

May you go wide (of me) as the Seven Tiers of Heaven,

May you go wide (of me) as the Seven Tiers of Earth;

If you do not go wide,

You shall be a rebel unto God,” etc.

Sometimes the desired effect is expected to be obtained by a charm for locking the tiger’s jaws:—

“Ho, Sir Cruncher! Ho, Sir Muncher!

Let the twig break under the weight of the wild goose.

Fast shut and locked be (your jaws), by virtue of ʿAli Mustapah,

OM. Thus I break (the tusks of) all beasts that are tusked,

By virtue of this Prayer from the Land of Siam.”92


The next specimen is described as a “charm for fascinating” (striking fear into) a “tiger and hardening one’s own heart”:—

“O Earth-Shaker, rumble and quake!

Let iron needles be my body-hairs,

Let copper needles be my body-hairs!

Let poisonous snakes be my beard,

A crocodile my tongue,

And a roaring tiger in the dimple of my chin.

Be my voice the trumpet of an elephant,

Yea, like unto the roar of the thunderbolt.

May your lips be fast closed and your teeth clenched;

And not till the Heavens and the Earth are moved

May your heart be moved

To be wroth with or to seek to destroy me.

By the virtue of ‘There is no god but God,’” etc.

To which may be added—

Kun! Payah Kun!

Let (celestial) splendour reside in my person.

Whosoever talks of encountering me,

A cunning Lion shall be his opponent.

O all ye Things that have life

Endure not to confront my gaze!

It is I who shall confront the gaze of you,

By the virtue of ‘There is no god but God.’”

When tigers were wounded, it was said (in Selangor) that they would doctor themselves with ubat tasak, which is the name generally given to a sort of poultice used by those who have just undergone circumcision. And when a tiger was killed a sort of public reception was formerly always accorded to him on his return to the village.

Though I have not seen the actual reception (generally miscalled a “wake”), I once saw near Kajang in Selangor a tiger which had been prepared for the ceremony. The animal was propped up on all fours as if alive, and his mouth kept open by propping [169]the roof with a stick. It was unfortunately impossible for me to wait for the ceremony, but from a description which I received afterwards, it was evidently regarded as a sort of “reception” given by the people of the village to a live and powerful war-chief or champion (hulubalang) who had come to pay them a visit, the dancing and fencing which takes place on such occasions being intended for his entertainment.

One of these ceremonies, which took place in Jugra in Selangor, was thus described:—

A Tiger’s Wake

“At 10 A.M. a great noise of rejoicing, with drums and gongs, approaching Jugra by the river, was heard, and on my questioning the people, I was told Raja Yakob had managed to shoot a tiger with a spring gun behind Jugra Hill, and was bringing it in state to the Sultan. I went over to the Sultan’s at Raja Yakob’s request to see the attendants on the slaughter of a tiger. The animal was supported by posts and fastened in an attitude as nearly as possible approaching the living. Its mouth was forced open, its tongue allowed to drop on one side, and a small rattan attached to its upper jaw was passed over a pole held by a man behind. This finished, two swords were produced and placed crosswise, and a couple of Panglimas93 selected for the dance; the gongs and drums were beaten at a quick time, the man holding the rattan attached to the tiger’s head pulled it, moving the head up and down, and the two Panglimas, after making their obeisance to the Sultan, rushed at their swords, and holding them in their hands commenced a most wild and exciting dance. [170]They spun around on one leg, waving their swords, then bounded forward and made a thrust at the tiger, moving back quickly with the point of the weapon facing the animal; they crawled along the ground and sprung over it uttering defiant yells, they cut and parried at supposed attacks, finally throwing down their weapons and taunting the dead beast by dancing before it unarmed. This done, Inas told me the carcase was at my disposal.

“The death of the tiger now establishes the fact of the existence of tigers here, for asserting which I have been pretty frequently laughed at. However this is not the Jugra pest, a brute whose death would be matter for general rejoicing, the one now destroyed being a tigress 8 feet long and 2 feet 8 inches high.”94

I may add that both the claws and whiskers of tigers are greatly sought after as charms, and are almost invariably stolen from a tiger when one is killed by a European. I have also seen at Klang a charm written on tiger’s skin.

The Deer95

Anthropomorphic ideas are held by the Malays almost as strongly in the case of the Deer as of any other animal.

The Deer is, by all Malays, believed to have sprung from a man who suffered from a severe ulcer or abscess (chabuk) on the leg, (which is supposed to have left its [171]trace on the deer’s legs to this day). Of the Perak form of this legend Sir William Maxwell writes as follows:—

“The deer (rusa) is sometimes believed to be the metamorphosed body of a man who has died of an abscess in the leg (chabuk), because it has marks on the legs which are supposed to resemble those caused by the disease mentioned. Of course there are not wanting men ready to declare that the body of a man who has died of chabuk has been seen to rise from the grave and to go away into the forest in the shape of a deer.”96

The Selangor legend is practically identical with that current in Perak.

The deer are frequently addressed, in the charms used by the hunters, exactly as if they were human beings, e.g.

“If you wish to wear bracelets and rings

Stretch out your two fore-feet.”

These rings and bracelets are of course the nooses which depend from the toils.

In a charm of similar import we find:—

“Ho, Crown Prince (Raja Muda) with your Speckled Princess (Pŭtri Dandi),

Rouse you quickly (from your slumbers)

And clasp (round your neck) King Solomon’s necklace.”

I may add that in some places the Pawang (magician) will himself first enter the toils, probably with the object of deceiving the stag as to their nature and purpose.

The ceremonies for hunting deer are somewhat [172]intricate, and it will perhaps be best to commence by giving a general description of deer-catching as practised by the Malays.

“This pastime”97 (deer-catching) “is one the Malay delights in. After a rainy night, deer may be easily traced to their lair by their footprints, and as they remain stationary by day the hunters have ample time to arrange their apparatus. When the hiding-place is discovered all the young men of the kampong98 assemble, and the following ceremony is performed before they sally out on the expedition: Six or eight coils of rattan rope, about an inch in diameter, are placed on a triangle formed with three rice-pounders, and the oldest of the company, usually an experienced sportsman, places a cocoa-nut shell filled with burning incense in the centre, and taking sprigs of three bushes, viz. the jellatang, sapunie, and sambon99 plants (these, it is supposed, possess extraordinary virtues), he walks mysteriously round the coils, beating them with the sprigs, and erewhile muttering some gibberish, which, if possessing any meaning, the sage keeps wisely to himself. During the ceremony the youths of the village look on with becoming gravity and admiration. It is believed that the absence of this ceremony would render the expedition unsuccessful, the deer would prove too strong for the ropes, and the wood demons frustrate their sport by placing insurmountable obstacles in their way. Much faith appears to be placed in the ceremony. Each coil referred to above is sixty to seventy fathoms long, and to the rope running nooses, made also of rattan rope, are attached about three feet [173]apart from each other. On reaching the thicket wherein the deer are concealed, stakes are driven into the ground a few feet apart in a straight line, the coils are then opened out, and the rope attached to the stakes, two or three feet above the ground, with the nooses hanging down, and two of the party conceal themselves near the stakes armed with knives for the purpose of despatching the deer when entangled in the nooses. The remainder of the hunters arrange themselves on the opposite side of the thicket and advance towards it, shouting and yelling at the top of their voices. The deer, startled from their rest, spring to their feet and naturally flee from the noise towards the nooses, and in a short time are entangled in them. As they struggle to escape, the concealed hunters rush out and despatch them. Occasionally the flight is prolonged till the major party arrives, and then the noble creatures soon fall beneath the spears and knives of their assailants. The animal is divided between the sportsmen.”100

The “gibberish” employed by the deer Pawangs when the latter enter the jungle is intended to induce the wood demons and earth demons to recede, or at least to dissuade them from active interference with the proceedings. Charms are also employed by the Pawang, as he proceeds, from time to time, to “ask for” a tree (to which the toils may be fastened); to “ask for” a deer; to unroll and suspend the toils; to call upon the spirits (who are the herdsmen of the deer) to drive the latter down to meet the dogs; to turn back the deer when they have got away; to [174]“prick” or urge on the dogs, or make them bark; to stop wild dogs from barking in the jungle, or those of the pack from barking at the wrong moment; to deceive the deer as to the reality of the toils used by the hunters; to deceive the spirits as to the identity of the hunting-party; and, finally, to drive out the “mischief” (badi) from the carcase of the slain animal; examples of all of which will be found in the course of the next few pages.

The first charm which I give is one used in “asking for deer”:—

“Ho! master of me your slave, Sidi the Dim-eyed,

Si Lailanang and Si Laigan his brother,

Si Dĕripan, Si Baung, Si Bakar,

Si Songsang (Sir Topsy Turvy), Si Bĕrhanyut (Sir Floater),

Si Pongking, Si Tĕmungking!

I demand Deer, a male and a female,

Blunt-hoofed, hard-browed,

Long-eared, tight-waisted,

Shut-eyed, shaggy-maned, spotted;

If not the shut-eyed, the shaggy-maned and the spotted,

The “rascal,” the starveling, the mere skeleton.

Most fervently we beg this boon, by the light of this very same day,

By virtue of the ‘kiraman katibin.’101

And here is the token of my petition.”102

The directions proceed:—

“On first entering the jungle, say—

“Ho, Hantu Bakar, Jĕmbalang Bakar,

Turn a little aside,

That I may let loose my body-guard.”

(By which the “pack” is no doubt intended.) [175]

“When you meet the slot, examine the slot. If it is a little shortened on one side, the quarry is in some danger; if it has gone lame of one hoof, it is a sign that it will be killed within seven days.

“After entering the jungle, and finding the dogs, wait for the dogs to bark, and then give out this ‘cooee’—

“Ho! Si Lanang, Si Lambaun,

Si Kĕtor, Si Becheh!

Ye Four Herdsmen of the Deer,

Come ye down to meet the dogs.

And refuse not to come down

Or ye shall be rebels unto God, etc.

It is not I who am huntsman,

It is Pawang Sidi (wizard Sidi) that is huntsman;

It is not I whose dogs these are,

It is Pawang Sakti (the ‘magic wizard’) whose dogs these are;

Let Dang Durai cross the water,

It is only a civet-cat that is left for me.

Grant this by virtue of my teacher, ’Toh Raja—

May his art be yet more powerful in my hands.103

By virtue of ‘There is no god but God,’” etc.

A deer Pawang (’Che Indut) also gave me this charm for recital when the support (lit. “shoulder”) of the noose is being cut (for which purpose it would appear that a young tree of the kind called “Delik” is usually taken).

“The Delik’s branches spread out horizontally (at the top),104

Chop at it, and it will produce roots.

Though its bark is destroyed, a cudgel is still left for people’s bones,

Even though it be worked on by the charm Kalinting Bakar.”105


From the same source I obtained this charm, addressed to the Deer, but intended for fixing the scent (mĕnĕtapkan bau), and for suspending the toils (mĕmasang jĕrat):—

Teng106 [stands for] the satengteng flower,

Ascend ye the twin stream.

If you delight in bracelets and rings

Push forward your two fore-feet.

“When setting the nooses (bubohkan pĕrindu jĕrat) say, addressing the deer as before:—

“Be filled with yearning, be filled with longing,

As the Holy Basil grows even to a rock,

Be filled with yearning as you sit, be filled with yearning as you go,

Fast-bound by love of this noose of mine.”

The directions given me by another Pawang commenced with a charm for emboldening the dogs, after which the account proceeds:—

“When you have finished (the charm referred to), take seven steps forward, leaving the toils behind you, and standing erect, look forward and call as follows:—

“O all ye Saids (lawful descendants of the Prophet),

Unto you, my Lords, belong the Deer,

Si Lambaun was the origin of the Deer,

Si Lanang is their Herdsman,

Drive ye the Deer into our toils. [177]

This causeway of rock (titian batu) is your high road and market-square,

The resort of innumerable people.

Follow, follow in long procession,

And let the “Assembly”-Flower unfold its petals.

Come in procession, come in succession,

Our toils have come to summon you to the spot.

Ho, Deer that are unfortunate, Deer that are curst,

Enter this path of mine which is empty of men.

On the left stand spearmen,

On the right stand spearmen,

And whichever of (those two) ways you go,

By that self-same way will you be turned back.

“Now proceed till you meet the stag, and as he rouses himself from slumber, say:—

“Ho, Crown Prince with your Speckled Princess,

Rouse you in haste and slip on King Solomon’s royal breast ornament.

Receive it, receive it in your turn,

And do ye (huntsmen) shout ‘Bi’ again and again.

“[Here the spearmen right and left shout in concert.]

“So, too, when spearing the deer, say—

“It is not I who spear you,

It is Pawang Sidi who spears you.

“When you have secured a deer, flick (kĕbaskan) the carcase thrice in a downward direction with a black cloth or with a leafy spray (if you will), such as the deer feed upon, for instance with the sĕndayan (or sĕndĕreian, a kind of sedge), or with fern-shoots, and call out:—

“O Si Lanang, Si Lambaun,

Si Kĕtor, Si Becheh, who are Four Persons,

Take back your own share (of the carcase).107


“Here ‘take the representative parts, pierce them with a rattan line, and suspend them from a tree.’”

But the fullest account of this ceremony (of driving out the mischief from the carcase) runs as follows:—

“When you have caught the deer, cast out the mischief from it (buang dia-punya badi). To effect this, take a black jacket such as can cast out this mischief (if no black jacket is obtainable, take the branch of any tree), and stroke (the carcase) from the head downwards to the feet and the rump, saying as you do so:—

“Ho Badi Serang, Badi Mak Buta,

Si Panchor Mak Tuli,

It is not I who cast out these mischiefs,

It is the Junior Dogboy who casts them out.

It is not I who cast out these mischiefs,

It is the Dogboy Rukiah who casts them out.

It is not I who cast out these mischiefs,

It is Mukaël108 (Michael) who casts them out.

It is not I who cast out these mischiefs,

It is Israfel who casts them out.

It is not I who cast out these mischiefs,

It is Azrael who casts them out.

It is not I who cast out these mischiefs,

It is Mukarael (?) who casts them out.

I know the origin of these mischiefs,

They are the offspring of the Jin Ibni Ujan,109

Who dwell in the open spaces and hill-locked basins.

Return ye to your open spaces and hill-locked basins,

And do me no harm or scathe.

I know the origin from which you spring,

From the offspring of the Jin Ibni Ujan do ye spring.

“Here take small portions of his eyes, ears, mouth, nose, hind-feet, fore-feet, hair (of his coat), liver, heart, spleen and horns (if it be a stag), wrap them up in a leaf, and deposit them in the slot of his approaching tracks, saying: ‘O Mĕntala (Batara) Guru, one a month, two a month, three a month, four a month, five a month, six a month, seven a month (be the deer which fall) by night to you, by day to me. One deer I take with me, and one I leave behind.’”

A deer Pawang named ’Che Indut gave me a charm [179]for turning the deer back upon their tracks, “though their flesh was torn to rags and their bones well-becudgelled.” It concluded with the following appeal to the spirits:—

“Ho (ye Spirits) turn back my Deer!

If you do not turn them back,

At sea ye shall get no drink,

Ashore ye shall find no food.

By virtue of the word of God,” etc.

I will conclude with the following charm, believed to be a means of bringing the stag low:—

“Measure off three sticks (probably dead wood taken from the slot of the deer, as in the case of the elephant), their length being measured by the distance from the roof of your mouth to the teeth of the lower jaw. Lay these sticks in a triangular form inside the slot of the stag, press the left thumb downwards in the centre of the triangle, and humble your heart. This will humble the deer’s heart too.”

The Mouse-deer or chevrotin is the “Brer Rabbit” of the Malays. It figures in many proverbial sayings and romances, in which it is credited with extraordinary sagacity, and is honoured by the title of “Mĕntri B’lukar,” the “Vizier of the (secondary) Forest-Growth.”110

It is generally taken by means of a snare called tapah pĕlandok, but sometimes by tapping on the ground with sticks (mĕngĕtok pĕlandok), the sound of which is supposed to imitate the drumming of the buck’s fore-feet upon the ground in rutting-time, by which the attention of the doe is attracted. Whatever the reason may be, there is no doubt that the method is often successful.

When this “tapping” method is adopted, the [180]charms used are similar to those used for calling the big deer, e.g.

“Arak-arak iring-iring

Kĕmbang bunga si Panggil-Panggil,

Datang bĕrarak, datang bĕriring,

Raja Suleiman datang mĕmanggil.

Follow in procession, follow in succession,

The Assembly-flower has opened its petals.

Come in procession, come in succession,

King Solomon comes to summon you.”

But at the end of the charm is added, “Ini-lah gong-nya,” i.e. “This is his (King Solomon’s) gong.”

The stick which is used may be of any kind of wood except a creeper, and the best place for the operation is where the ground sounds hollow when tapped. Either three, five, or seven leaves must, however, be laid on the spot before the tapping is commenced.

The directions for setting the snare (jĕrat or tapah pĕlandok) were taken down by me as follows:—

First look for a tree whose sap is viscid, and chop at it thrice (with a cutlass). If the splinters fall, one the right and the other the wrong way up (lit. one prone and the other supine), it is a bad sign (though it is a good sign when one is setting a trap); for in the case of a snare they must fall the wrong way up (supine).

When this is done, commence to set the snare near the foot of a tree, at about a fathom’s distance, and say:—

“As a cocoa-nut shell rocks to and fro

When filled with clay,

Avaunt ye, Jĕmbalang and Badi,

That I may set this snare.”


Next you say:—

“Ho, Sir ‘Pointed-Hoof,’

Sir ‘Sharp-Muzzle,’

Do you step upon this snare that I have spread

Within two days or three.

If you do not step upon this snare that I have spread

Within two days or three,

You shall be choked to death with blood in your throat,

You shall be in sore straits within the limits of your own Big Jungle.

At sea you shall get no drink,

Ashore you shall get no food,

By virtue of,” etc.


Hunting-dogs are spoken to continually as if they were human beings. Several examples of this occur in the deer charms.

Thus we find the following passage addressed to the dogs:—

“Let not go the scent,

Formidable were you from the first;

Hot-foot, hot-foot, do you pursue,

If you do not pursue hot-foot,

I will minimise my benediction (lit. my ‘Peace be with you’).

If it (the deer) be a buck, you shall have him for a brother;

If it be a doe, you shall have her for a wife.”

So too, again, after calling several dogs by name, the Pawang gets together the accessories (leaves of the tukas and lĕnjuang, a brush of leaves (sa-chĕrek) and a black cloth), and exclaims:—

“Bark, Sir Slender-foot; bark, Sir Brush-tail.”

The Pawang generally tries to deceive the deer as to his ownership of the hunting-dogs. Thus he will say:— [182]

“It is not I whose dogs these are,

It is the magical deer Pawang whose dogs these are.”

So, too, they are called by certain specific names (according to their breed and colour), which are in several cases identical with the names of the dogs with which the wild Spectre Huntsman (the most terrible of all personified diseases in the Malay category) hunts down his prey.111

Ugliness is by no means looked upon as a disadvantage, but rather the opposite. An ugly dog is apparently formidable. Thus we find a dog addressed as follows:—

“Let not go the scent (of the quarry)

As you were formidable (lit. ugly)112 from the first.”

Again, the description of the “good points” of some of these dogs which is given in the Appendix would, if ugliness and formidability are convertible terms, satisfy the most exacting whipper-in, the so-called good points being for the most part a mere list of deformities. These points, however, are merely the external sign of the Luck to which dogs, as well as human beings, are believed to be born. In a fine passage we are told:—

“From the seven Hills and the seven Valleys

Comes the intense barking of my Dogs.

My Dogs are Dogs of Luck,

Not Luck that is adventitious,

But Luck incarnate with their bodies.

Go tread upon the heaped and rotting leaves,

And never desert the scent.”

Speaking of dog-lore generally, it may be remarked that though dogs are very frequently kept by the [183]Malays, it is considered unlucky to keep them. “The dog ... is unlucky. He longs for the death of his master, an event which will involve the slaying of animals at the funeral feast, when the bones will fall to the dogs. When a dog is heard howling at night, he is supposed to be thinking of the broken bones (niat handak mengutib tulang patah).”113

Even the wild dogs in the jungle114 are warned not to bark, and are addressed as if they were human:—

“If you bark your windpipe shall burst,

If you smack your lips your tongue shall be docked.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If you come nearer, you shall break your leg;

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Return to the big virgin jungle,

Return to your caverns and hill-locked basins,

To the stream which has no head-waters,

To the pond which was never dug,

To the waters which bear no passengers,

To the fountain-head which is [never] dry.

If you do not return, you shall die,

Cursed by the First Pen (i.e. the Human Tongue),

Pierced by the twig of a gomuti-palm,115

Impaled by a palm thatch-needle,

Transfixed by a porcupine’s quill.”

Bears and Monkeys

“The Bear116 is believed to be the mortal foe of the Tiger, which he sometimes defeats in single combat. [184](Bruang, the Malay word for ‘bear,’ has a curious resemblance to our word ‘Bruin.’117) A story is told of a tame bear which a Malay left in charge of his house and of his sleeping child while he was absent from home. On his return he missed his child, the house was in disorder, as if some struggle had taken place, and the bear was covered with blood. Hastily drawing the conclusion that the bear had killed and devoured the child, the enraged father slew the animal with his spear, but almost immediately afterwards he found the carcase of a tiger, which the faithful bear had defeated and killed, and the child emerged unharmed from the jungle, where she had taken refuge. It is unnecessary to point out the similarity of this story to the legend of Beth-Gelert. It is evidently a local version of the story of the Ichneumon and the Snake in the Pancha-tantra.”118

Monkeys and men have always been associated in native tradition, and Malay folklore is no exception to the rule. Thus we get the tradition of the great man-like ape, the Mawas (a reminiscence of the orang-outang or mias of Borneo), which is said to make shelters for itself in the forks of trees, and to be born with the blade of a cutlass (woodknife) in place of the bone of the forearm, so that it is able to cut down the undergrowth as it walks through the jungle. It [185]is believed, moreover, occasionally to carry off and mate with human kind.119

The Siamang (Hylobates lar),120 which walks on its hind-legs, is, however, the species which is most commonly associated in legend with the human race; in fact, it is not impossible that there may sometimes have been a confusion between its name (siamang) and Sĕmang, which is the name of one of the aboriginal (Negrito) races of the interior. The following Malay legend, which I took down at Labu in Selangor is believed to explain its origin, and also that of the Bear:121

Once upon a time her Highness the Princess Telan became the affianced bride of Si Malim Bongsu. After the betrothal Si Malim Bongsu sailed away and did not return when the period of the engagement, which was fixed at from three to four months, came to an end.

Then Si Malim Panjang, elder brother of Si Malim Bongsu, decided to take the place of his younger brother, and be married to the Princess Telan. The latter, however, repelled his advances, and he therefore attacked her savagely; but she [186]turned herself into an ape (siamang) and escaped to the jungle, so that Si Malim Panjang desisted from pursuit. Then the ape climbed up into a pagar-anak tree which grew on the sea-shore, and leaned over the sea, and there she chanted these words:—

“O my dear Malim Bongsu,

You have broken your solemn promise and engagement,

And I have to take upon myself the form of an ape.”

Now Si Malim Bongsu was passing at the time, and on recognising the voice of the Princess Telan he took a blow-gun and shot her so that she fell into the sea. Then he took rose-water and sprinkled it over her, so that she resumed her natural shape, and they started to go home together. Still, however, Si Malim Bongsu would not wed her, but promised that he would do so when he came back from his next voyage, whereupon the Princess chanted these words:—

“If you do not return within three months

You will find me turned into an ape.”

The same course of events, however, happened as before. Malim Bongsu did not return at the time appointed; his elder brother, Malim Panjang once more attacked her, and, leaping towards an areca palm, she once more became an ape, whereupon she chanted as before:—

“O my dear Malim Bongsu,

You have broken your solemn promise and engagement,

And I am forced to become an ape.”

Again Malim Bongsu, as he passed by, heard and recognised her voice; but upon learning that he had been for the second time the cause of his Princess’s troubles, he exclaimed, “Better were it for me were [187]I nothing but a big fish”; and leaping into the water he disappeared, and was changed into a big fish as he desired.

Now the Princess’s nurse (who was called “The Daughter of Sakembang China”) was at the same time transformed into a bear, and as they were bathing at the time when they were surprised, and had not time to wash off all the soap (rice-cosmetic), the white marks on the breast and brows of the bear and on the breast and brows of the ape (siamang) have remained unto this day.

Occasionally the opposite transformation is believed to take place, some species of the monkey tribe being supposed to turn into fish.

Thus the k’ra (Macacus cynomolgus) is believed to develop into a species of fish called sĕnunggang, and of the fish called kalul (kalui or kalue), Sir W. E. Maxwell writes: “The ikan kalul (is believed) to be a monkey transformed. Some specially favoured observers have seen monkeys half through the process of metamorphosis—half-monkey and half-fish.”122 The species of monkey which is believed to turn into the ikan kalul is, as I was told in Selangor, the b’rok or “cocoa-nut monkey.”

Berhakim kapada brok” is a Malay proverbial expression which means, “‘To make the monkey judge,’ or, ‘to go to the monkey for justice.’ A fable is told by the Malays of two men, one of whom planted bananas on the land of the other. When the fruit was ripe each claimed it, but not being able to come to any settlement they referred the matter to the arbitration of a monkey (of the large kind called brok). The judge decided that the fruit must be [188]divided; but no sooner was this done than one of the suitors complained that the other’s share was too large. To satisfy him the monkey reduced the share of the other by the requisite amount, which he ate himself. Then the second suitor cried out that the share of the first was now too large. It had to be reduced to satisfy him, the subtracted portion going to the monkey as before. Thus they went on wrangling until the whole of the fruit was gone, and there was nothing left to wrangle about. Malay judges, if they are not calumniated, have been known to protract proceedings until both sides have exhausted their means in bribes. In such cases the unfortunate suitors are said to berhakim kapada brok.”123

The Wild Pig and Other Animals

There are several superstitions about the Wild Boar which prove that it was not always regarded as an unclean animal.

Of these the following recipe, which was given me by a Jugra (Selangor) Malay, for turning brass into gold is the most remarkable:—

“Kill a wild pig and rip open its paunch. Sew up in this a quantity of old ‘scrap’ brass, pile timber over it, burn it, and then leave it alone until the grass has grown right over it. Then dig up the gold.” Again, certain wild boars are believed to carry on their tushes a talisman of extraordinary power, which is called rantei babi, or “Wild Boar’s Chain.” This chain consists, it is asserted, of three links of various metals (gold, silver, and amalgam), and is hung up on a shrub by the wild boar when he is [189]enjoying his wallow, so that it is occasionally stolen by Malays who know his habits. I may add that, according to a Malay at Langat, the “were-tiger” (rimau jadi-jadian) occasionally appears in the shape of a wild boar escaping from a grave, in the centre of which may be afterwards seen the hole by which the animal has escaped.

“Among the modern Malays avoidance of the flesh of swine and of contact with anything connected with the unclean animal is, of course, universal. No tenet of El-Islam is more rigidly enforced than this. It is singular to notice, among a people governed by the ordinances of the Prophet, traces of the observance of another form of abstinence enjoined by a different religion. The universal preference of the flesh of the Buffalo to that of the Ox in Malay countries is evidently a prejudice bequeathed to modern times by a period when cow-beef was as much an abomination to Malays as it is to the Hindus of India at the present day. This is not admitted or suspected by ordinary Malays, who would probably have some reason, based on the relative wholesomeness of buffalo and cow-beef, to allege in defence of their preference of the latter to the former.”124

To the above I may add that it is invariably the flesh of the Buffalo, and not that of the Ox, which is eaten sacrificially on the occasion of festivities.125 But the flesh of the so-called White (albino) Buffalo (kĕrbau balar) is generally avoided as food, though I have known it to be prescribed medicinally (as in the case of Raja Kahar, a son of H.H. the Sultan of [190]Selangor, the circumstances of whose illness will be detailed elsewhere).126 As might be expected, a story is told by the Malays to account for this distinction. The general outline of the tale is to the effect that a Malay boy (a mere child) fell into the big rice-bin (kĕpok) in his parents’ absence and was suffocated by the rice. After some days the body began to decompose, and the ooze emanating from the rice-bin was licked up by a buffalo belonging to the boy’s parents. The attention of these latter being thus attracted to the rice-bin, they found therein the remains of their child, and thereupon cursed the buffalo, which (we are led to infer) became “white,” and has remained so ever since. According to one version, a ground-dove (tĕkukur) was implicated both in the offence and the punishment which followed it. Wherefore to this day no man eats of the flesh of either of the offenders.

Perhaps the most extraordinary transformation in which the Malays implicitly believe is that of the Squirrel, which is supposed to be developed from a large caterpillar called ulat sĕntadu.127

About the Cat there are many superstitions which show that it is believed to possess supernatural powers. Thus it is supposed to be lucky to keep cats because they long for a soft cushion to lie upon, and so (indirectly) wish for the prosperity of their [191]master.128 On the other hand, cats must be very carefully prevented from rubbing up against a corpse, for it is said that on one occasion when this was neglected, the badi or Evil Principle which resides in the cat’s body entered into the corpse, which thus became endowed with unnatural life and stood up upon its feet. So too the soaking of the cat in a pan of water until it is half-drowned is believed to produce an abundance of rain.129 It is, besides, believed to be extremely unlucky to kill cats. Of this superstition Mr. Clifford says:—

“It is a common belief among Malays that if a cat is killed he who takes its life will in the next world be called upon to carry and pile logs of wood, as big as cocoa-nut trees, to the number of the hairs on the beast’s body. Therefore cats are not killed; but if they become too daring in their raids on the hen-coop or the food rack, they are tied to a raft and sent floating down stream, to perish miserably of hunger. The people of the villages by which they pass make haste to push the raft out again into mid-stream, should it in its passage adhere to bank or bathing-hut, and on no account is the animal suffered to land. To any one who thinks about it, this long and lingering death is infinitely more cruel than one caused by a blow from an axe; but the Malays do not trouble to consider such a detail, and would care little if they did.”130

Before leaving the subject of cats, I must mention the belief that the “fresh-water fish called ikan belidah” was “originally a cat.” Sir W. E. Maxwell says that many Malays refuse to eat it for this reason, and [192]adds, “They declare that it squalls like a cat when harpooned, and that its bones are very white and fine like a cat’s hairs.”131 A story is also sometimes told to account both for the general similarity of habits of the cat and the tiger and for the fact that the latter, unlike most of the Felidæ, is not a tree-climber. It is to the effect that the cat agreed to teach the tiger its tricks, which it did, with the exception of the art of climbing trees. The tiger, thinking it had learnt all the cat’s tricks, proceeded to attack its teacher, when the cat escaped by climbing up a tree; so the tiger never learnt how to climb and cannot climb trees to this day.

Even the smallest and commonest of mammals, such as Rats and Mice, are the objects of many strange beliefs. Thus “clothes which have been nibbled by rats or mice must not be worn again. They are sure to bring misfortune, and are generally given away in charity.”132

So too on the Selangor coast a mollusc called siput tantarang or mĕntarang is believed to have sprung from a mouse; and many kinds of charms, generally addressed to the “Prophet Joseph” (Nabi Yusuf), are resorted to in order to drive away rats and mice from the rice-fields.

The following passage describes the general ideas about animal superstitions which prevail on the east coast of the Peninsula:—

“The beliefs and superstitions of the Fisher Folk would fill many volumes. They believe in all manner of devils and local sprites. They fear greatly the demons that preside over animals, and will not willingly mention the names of birds or beasts while [193]at sea. Instead, they call them all chêweh133—which, to them, signifies an animal, though to others it is meaningless, and is supposed not to be understanded of the beasts. To this word they tack on the sound which each beast makes in order to indicate what animal is referred to; thus the pig is the grunting chêweh, the buffalo the chêweh that says ‘uak,’ and the snipe the chêweh that cries ‘kek-kek.’ Each boat that puts to sea has been medicined with care, many incantations and other magic observances having been had recourse to, in obedience to the rules which the superstitious people have followed for ages. After each take the boat is ‘swept’ by the medicine man with a tuft of leaves prepared with mystic ceremonies, which is carried at the bow for the purpose. The omens are watched with exact care, and if they be adverse no fishing-boat puts to sea that day. Every act in their lives is regulated by some regard for the demons of the sea and air, and yet these folk are nominally Muhammadans, and, according to that faith, magic and sorcery, incantations to the spirits, and prayers to demons, are all unclean things forbidden to the people. But the Fisher Folk, like other inhabitants of the Peninsula, are Malays first and Muhammadans afterwards. Their religious creed goes no more than skin deep, and affects but little the manner of their daily life.”134


The Vegetation Spirit of the Malays “follows in some vague and partial way,” to use Professor Tylor’s [194]words, from the analogy of the Animal Spirit. It is difficult to say, without a more searching inquiry than I have yet had the opportunity of making, whether Malay magicians would maintain that all trees had souls (sĕmangat) or not. All that we can be certain of at present is that a good many trees are certainly supposed by them to have souls, such, for instance, as the Durian, the Cocoa-nut palm, and the trees which produce Eagle-wood (gharu), Gutta Percha, Camphor, and a good many others.

What can be more significant than the words and actions of the men who in former days would try and frighten the Durian groves into bearing; or of the toddy-collector who addresses the soul of the Cocoa-nut palm in such words as, “Thus I bend your neck, and roll up your hair; and here is my ivory toddy-knife to help the washing of your face”;135 or of the collectors of jungle produce who traffic in Eagle-wood, Camphor, and Gutta (the spirits of the first two of which trees are considered extremely powerful and dangerous) or, above all, of the reapers who carry the “Rice-soul” home at harvest time?

A special point in connection with the Malay conception of the vegetation soul perhaps requires particular attention, viz. the fact that apparently dead and even seasoned timber may yet retain the soul which animated it during its lifetime. Thus, the instructions for the performance of the rites to be used at the launching of a boat (which will be found below under the heading “The Sea, Rivers, and Streams”)136 involve an invocation to the timbers of the boat, which would therefore seem to be conceived as capable, to some extent, of receiving impressions and communications [195]made in accordance with the appropriate forms and ceremonies.

So, too, a boat with a large knot in the centre of the bottom is considered good for catching fish, and in strict conformity with this idea is the belief that the natural excrescences (or knobs) and deformities of trees are mere external evidences of an indwelling spirit. So, too, the fruit of the cocoa-nut palm, when the shell lacks the three “eyes” to which we are accustomed, is believed to serve in warfare as a most valuable protection (pĕlias) against the bullets of the enemy, and the same may be said in a minor degree of the joints of “solid” bamboo (buluh tumpat) which are occasionally found, whilst to a slightly different category belong the comparatively numerous examples of “Tabasheer” (mineral concretions in the wood of certain trees), which are so highly valued by the Malays for talismanic purposes. Such trees as the Mali mali, Rotan jĕr’nang (Dragon’s-blood rattan), Buluh kasap (rough bamboo), etc., are all said to supply instances of the concretions referred to, but the most famous of them all is without doubt the so-called “cocoa-nut pearl,” of which I quote the following account from Dr. Denys’s Descriptive Dictionary of British Malaya.

Cocoa-nut Pearls

The following remarks concerning these peculiar accretions are extracted from Nature:—

“During my recent travels,” Dr. Sidney Hickson writes to a scientific contemporary, “I was frequently asked by the Dutch planters and others if I had ever seen ‘a cocoa-nut stone.’ These stones are said to be rarely found (1 in 2000 or more) in the perisperm [196]of the cocoa-nut, and when found are kept by the natives as a charm against disease and evil spirits. This story of the cocoa-nut stone was so constantly told me, and in every case without any variation in its details, that I made every effort before leaving to obtain some specimens, and eventually succeeded in obtaining two.

“One of these is nearly a perfect sphere, 14 mm. in diameter, and the other, rather smaller in size, is irregularly pear-shaped. In both specimens the surface is worn nearly smooth by friction. The spherical one I have had cut into two halves, but I can find no concentric or other markings on the polished cut surfaces.

“Dr. Kimmins has kindly submitted one-half to a careful chemical analysis, and finds that it consists of pure carbonate of lime without any trace of other salts or vegetable tissue.

“I should be very glad if any of your readers could inform me if there are any of these stones in any of the museums, or if there is any evidence beyond mere hearsay of their existence in the perisperm of the cocoa-nut.”137

On this letter Mr. Thiselton Dyer makes the following remarks:—“Dr. Hickson’s account of the calcareous concretions occasionally found in the central hollow (filled with fluid—the so-called ‘milk’) of the endosperm of the seed of the cocoa-nut is extremely interesting. It appears to me a phenomenon of the [197]same order as tabasheer, to which I recently drew attention in Nature.

“The circumstances of the occurrence of these stones or ‘pearls’ are in many respects parallel to those which attend the formation of tabasheer. In both cases mineral matter in palpable masses is withdrawn from solution in considerable volumes of fluid contained in tolerably large cavities in living plants; and in both instances they are monocotyledons.

“In the case of the cocoa-nut pearls the material is calcium carbonate, and this is well known to concrete in a peculiar manner from solutions in which organic matter is also present.

“In my note on tabasheer I referred to the reported occurrence of mineral concretions in the wood of various tropical dicotyledonous trees. Tabasheer is too well known to be pooh-poohed; but some of my scientific friends express a polite incredulity as to the other cases. I learn, however, from Prof. Judd, F.R.S., that he has obtained a specimen of apatite found in cutting up a mass of teak-wood. The occurrence of this mineral under these circumstances has long been recorded; but I have never had the good fortune to see a specimen.”138

The Durian

The Durian tree (for an account of whose famous fruit the classical description in Wallace’s Malay Archipelago may be referred to) is a semi-wild fruit-tree, whose stem frequently rises to the height of some eighty or ninety feet before the branches are [198]met with. It is generally planted in groves, which are often to be found in the jungle when all other traces of former human habitation have completely disappeared, though even then its fruit, if tradition says true, is as keenly fought over by the denizens of the forest (monkeys, bears, and tigers) as ever it was by their temporary dispossessors. Interspersed among the Durian trees will be found numerous varieties of orchard trees of a less imperial height, amongst which may be named the Rambutan,139 Rambei,140 Lansat,141 Duku,142 Mangostin,143 and many others. A small grove of these trees, which was claimed by the late Sultan ʿAbdul Samad of Selangor, grew within about a mile of my bungalow at Jugra, and I was informed that in years gone by a curious ceremony (called Mĕnyemah durian) was practised in order to make the trees more productive. On a specially selected day, it was said, the village would assemble at this grove, and (no doubt with the usual accompaniment of the burning of incense and scattering of rice) the most barren of the Durian trees would be singled out from the rest. One of the local Pawangs would then take a hatchet (bĕliong) and deliver several shrewd blows upon the trunk of the tree, saying:—

“Will you now bear fruit or not?

If you do not I shall fell you.”144

To this the tree (through the mouth of a man who had [199]been stationed for the purpose in a Mangostin tree hard by) was supposed to make answer:—

“Yes, I will now bear fruit;

I beg you not to fell me.”145

I may add that it was a common practice in the fruit season for the boys who were watching for the fruit to fall (for which purpose they were usually stationed in small palm-thatch shelters) to send echoing through the grove a musical note, which they produced by blowing into a bamboo instrument called tuang-tuang. I cannot, however, say whether this custom now has any ceremonial significance or not, though it seems not at all unlikely that it once had.146

The Malacca Cane

No less distinct are the animistic ideas of the Malays relating to various species of the Malacca-cane plant. Mr. Wray of the Perak Museum writes as follows:—

“A Malacca-cane with a joint as long as the height of the owner will protect him from harm by snakes and animals, and will give him luck in all things. What is called a samambu bangku147 or baku, possesses [200]the power of killing any one even when the person is only slightly hurt by a blow dealt with it. These are canes that have died down and have begun to shoot again from near the root. They are very rare, one of eighteen inches in length is valued at six or seven dollars, and one long enough to make a walking stick of, at thirty to fifty dollars. At night the rotan samambu plant is said to make a loud noise, and, according to the Malays, it says, ‘Bulam sampei, bulam sampei,’148 meaning that it has not yet reached its full growth. They are often to be heard in the jungle at night, but the most diligent search will not reveal their whereabouts. The rotan manoh149 is also said to give out sounds at night. The sounds are loud and musical, but the alleged will-o’-the-wisp character of the rattans which are supposed to produce them seems to point to some night-bird, tree-frog, or lizard as being the real cause of the weird notes, though it is just possible that the wind might make the rattan leaves vibrate in such a way as to cause the sounds.”150

In Selangor it is the stick-insect (kĕranting) which is believed to be the embodiment of the “Malacca-cane spirit” (Hantu Samambu), by which last name it is most commonly called. These stick-insects are believed by the Selangor Malays to produce the sounds to which Mr. Wray refers, and in order to account for their peculiar character a story is told, the main features of which are as follows:— [201]

Once upon a time a married couple fell out, and the husband surreptitiously introduced stones into the cooking-pot in place of the yams which his wife was cooking. Then he went off to climb for a cocoa-nut, and as he climbed, he mocked her by calling out “Masak bĕlum? Masak bĕlum?” (“Are they cooked yet? Are they cooked yet?”). What she did by way of retaliation is not clear, but as he climbed and mocked her, she is said to have retorted, “Panjat bĕlum? Panjat bĕlum?” (“Have you climbed it yet? Have you climbed it yet?”), a reply which clearly shows that her woman’s wit had been at work, and that she was not going to allow her husband to get the better of her.151 However this may be, a deadlock ensued, the result of which was that both parties were transformed into stick-insects, but were yet condemned to mock each other as they had done during the period of their human existence.

I have often from my boat, during dark nights on the Langat river, listened to the weird note which my Malays invariably ascribed to these insects, and which is not inaptly represented by one of the Malay names for them, viz. “bĕlum-bĕlam.” I have not yet, however, succeeded in identifying the real producer of the note, of which all I can say at present is, that although it may not be itself discoverable, the Malays look upon it as a certain guide to the localities where the Malacca-canes grow. [202]

The Tualang or Sialang Tree

So too of the Tualang-tree Mr. Wray writes:—

“One of the largest and stateliest of the forest trees in Perak is that known as Toallong, or Toh Allong;152 it has a very poisonous sap, which produces great irritation when it comes in contact with the skin. Two Chinamen who had felled one of these trees in ignorance, had their faces so swelled and inflamed that they could not see out of their eyes, and had to be led about for some days before they recovered from the effects of the poison. Their arms, breasts, and faces were affected, and they presented the appearance of having a very bad attack of erysipelas. These trees are supposed to be the abiding-places of hantu, or spirits, when they have large hollow projections from the trunk, called rumah hantu, or spirit houses. These projections are formed when a branch gets broken off near the trunk, and are quite characteristic of the tree. There are sometimes three or four of them on a large tree, and the Malays have a great objection to cutting down any that are so disfigured, the belief being that if a man fells one he will die within the year. As a rule these trees are left standing when clearings are made, and they are a source of trouble and expense to planters and others, who object to their being left uncut.

“The following series of events actually happened:—A Malay named Panda Tambong undertook, against the advice of his friends, to fell one of the Toh Allong trees, and he almost immediately afterwards was taken ill with fever, and died in a few weeks’ time. Shortly [203]after this some men were sitting plaiting ataps153 under the shade of another of these ill-omened trees, when, without any warning, a large branch fell down, breaking the arm of one man, and more or less injuring two others. There was not a breath of wind at the time, or anything else likely to determine the fall of the branch. After this it was decided to have the tree felled, as there were coolie houses nearly under it. There was great difficulty in getting any one to fell it. Eventually a Penang Malay undertook the job, but stipulated that a Pawang, or sorcerer, should be employed to drive away the demons first. The Pawang hung pieces of white and red cloth on sticks round the tree, burnt incense in the little contrivances made of the split leaf-stalks of the bĕrtam palm, used by the Malays for that purpose, cut off the heads of two white fowls, sprinkled the blood over the trunk, and in the midst of many incantations the tree was felled without any mishap; but, strange to say, the Pawang, who was a haji154 and a slave-debtor of the Toh Puan Halimah, died about nine months afterwards.”155

There appears to be very little reason to doubt that the word Tualang (’Toh Alang or Sialang) is the name not of a particular species of tree, but rather the generic name of all trees in which wild bees have built their nests, so that in reality it simply means a “Bee-Tree.”

I have not yet succeeded in obtaining any of the Malay charms used by the collectors of these bees’ nests, except such as are used by Sakais under Malay [204]influence on the Selangor coast, the Sakais being most usually the collectors. Some of these latter, however, were pure Malay charms, and may perhaps be considered, in the absence of charms collected from Malays, as evidence of at least secondary importance. One of these charms commences as follows:—

“Here is the Peeling-knife, the knife with the long handle,

Stuck into the buttress of a Pulai-Tree.”156

And another, which is almost word for word the same, as follows:—

“Here is the Peeling-knife, the knife with the long handle,

With which to stab (lit. peck at) the buttress of the Pulai-Tree.”157

It will be noticed that both refer to the Pulai-tree by name, and not to the Tualang. The footnote which I here quote with reference to the customs of Siak is, almost word for word, equally true of the Bee-Trees in Selangor.158 [205]

Other haunted trees (pokok bĕrhantu) are the Jawi-jawi, the Jĕlotong, and Bĕrombong, of which the following tradition will perhaps suffice:—

“All trees,” according to Malay tradition, “were planted by ‘the Prophet Elias,’159 and are in the ‘Prophet Noah’s’ charge. In the days of King Solomon, trees could speak as well as birds and animals, and several of the trees now to be seen in the forest are really metamorphosed human beings. Such are the ‘Jĕlotong’ and the ‘Bĕrombong,’ which in the days of King Solomon were bosom friends, until there broke out between them an unfortunate quarrel, which terminated in ‘Si Jĕlotong’s’ lacing the skin of ‘Si Bĕrombong’ all over with stabs from his dagger, the effect of which stabs remains visible to this day. Si Bĕrombong, on the other hand, cursed Si Jĕlotong with his dying breath, praying that he might be turned into a tree without any buttresses to support his trunk, a prayer which was, of course, duly fulfilled. Thus originated the lack of buttresses at the base of the former tree, and the laced and slashed bark of the latter.”

The Lime-Tree

Yet another tree whose spirit is the object, as it were, of a special cult,160 is the lime-tree, which is revered and looked up to almost as their chief patron by the [206]theatrical players (orang ma’yong) of Penang. The invocations addressed to this spirit show that, as in most branches of magic, every part of the tree had its appropriate “alias.” Thus the root was called the “Seated Prince,” the trunk the “Standing Prince,” the bark the “Prince Stretching Himself,” the boughs the “Stabbing Prince,” the leaves the “Beckoning Prince,” the fruit the “Prince loosing an arrow.”

The Eagle-wood Tree

The following account of Eagle-wood and of the tree which produces it is quoted from the Journal of the Straits Asiatic Society:—

“In Crawfurd’s Dictionary of the Malay Archipelago161 I find the following:—‘Agila, the Eagle-wood of commerce.—Its name in Malay and Javanese is kalambak or kalambah, but it is also known in these languages by that of gharu or kayu gharu, gharu-wood, a corruption of the Sanskrit agahru.... There can be no doubt but that the perfumed wood is the result of disease in the tree that yields it, produced by the thickening of the sap into a gum or resin.’

“This ‘Eagle-wood of commerce,’ under its more familiar name gharu, is one of the rarest and most valuable products of our Malayan jungles, and the following notes may be of interest. They are the result of inquiries amongst the Malays and Pawangs in Ulu Muar and Johol, and I am indebted to Mr. L. J. Cazalas for much assistance in obtaining the information contained in them.

“The gharu-tree is a tall forest tree, sometimes reaching the size of fifteen feet in diameter. The bark is of a silvery gray colour, and the foliage close and [207]dense, of a dark hue. The Malay name for the tree is “tabak,” and no other may be used by the Pawang when in search of the kayu gharu.162 Gharu, the diseased heart-wood of the tabak, is found in trees of all sizes, even in trees of one foot in diameter, thus showing that the disease attacks the tree at an early stage.

“The gharu is found in pockets, and may sometimes be discovered by the veins which run to these pockets. In other trees the veins are absent, which renders the process of searching more difficult. The tree is generally cut down and left to rot, which exposes the gharu in about six months.

“‘Pockets’ are found to contain as much as 104 catties; a single tree has been known to yield 400 catties.163 Gharu is seldom found in the sap-wood, generally in the heart-wood or tĕras.

“Many tabak-trees do not contain gharu at all. To select the right trees is the special province of the Pawang or wise man. The tabak-trees are under the care of certain hantu or wood-spirits, and it would be hopeless for the uninitiated to attempt to find gharu; even the Pawang has to be very careful.

“The following is the process as far as I have been able to ascertain it:—

“On the outskirts of the forest the Pawang must burn incense, and repeat the following charm or formula:—

Homali hamali164 matilok (mandillah ?) serta kalam mandiyat [208]serta teboh. Turun suhaya165 trima suka turun kadim serta aku kabul kata gharu mustajak166 kata Allah Berkat la ilaha il’allah. Hei Pŭtri Belingkah,167 Pŭtri Berjuntei, Pŭtri Menginjan168 aku meminta isi tabak. Ta’boleh di surohkan, ta’boleh lindong kapada aku kalau di-suroh di-lindong-kan biar dŭrâka kapada tuhan.

“There is no “pantang gharu” except that the words “isi” and “tabak” must be used instead of “tras” and “gharu.”169

“He then proceeds to search for a likely tree, and upon finding one he again burns incense and repeats the spell as above. The tree having been cut down, the next thing is to separate the gharu from the sap-wood. The best way is to let the tree rot, but the Pawang is often “hard-up,” and does not mind wasting some of the gharu in his hurry to realise.

“The following are said to be the tests for finding gharu in a standing tree:—

  • 1. The tree is full of knots. (Bĕrbungkol.)
  • 2. The bark full of moss and fungus. (Bĕrtumuh bĕrchandawan.)
  • 3. Heart-wood hollow. (Bĕrlobang.)
  • 4. Bark peeling off. (Bĕrgugor kulit.)
  • 5. A clear space underneath. (Mĕngelĕnggang.)
  • 6. Stumps jutting out. (Bĕrchulak.)
  • 7. Tree tapering. (Bĕrtirus.)
  • 8. The falling of the leaves in old trees.

“There are great differences in the quality of gharu, and great care is taken in classifying them. It requires [209]a skilled man to distinguish between some of the varieties.

“The names are as follow:—

  • 1. Chandan.170
  • 2. Tandok.
  • 3. Menjulong-ulong.171
  • 4. Sikat.
  • 5. Sikat Lampam.172
  • 6. Bulu Rusa.
  • 7. Kemandangan.
  • 8. Wangkang.

“The chandan (pada tiada champur) is oily, black, and glistening. It sinks in water.

“The tadak very closely resembles the chandan.

“The menjulong-ulong may be distinguished from the chandan and the tandok by its length and small breadth. Splinters, 36 inches long, have been found evidently from veins, not pockets.173

Sikat (bertabun champur kubal dan tĕras), fibrous, with slight lustre, will just float in water. Black and white streaks.

Sikat lampam—the same as sikat, only white streaks more prominent.

Bulu Rusa will float in water, fibrous, generally of a yellow colour.

Kemandangan floats in water, whitish, fibrous fragments small.

Wangkang floats in water, fibrous blocks whitish in colour.

“The chandan tree differs from other gharu-trees in having a maximum diameter of about 1½ feet, and very soft sap-wood.

Gharu varies in price between 200 and 50 dollars [210]a pikul174 according to the variety. The chandan and the tandok are the most valuable.

“Chinese and Malays burn it in their houses on high days and festivals—the latter generally take a supply with them on the pilgrimage to Mecca. The better varieties are used in the manufacture of aromatic oils.”175

Before setting out to search for gharu, the gharu-wizard burns incense and repeats these words, “O Grandsire Duita, Divinity of Eagle-wood, if you are far, be so good as to say so; if you are near, be so good as to say so,” and then sets out on his quest. On finding a karas-tree he chops the bark of the trunk lightly with his cutlass, and then puts his ear to the trunk to listen. If he hears a kind of low singing, or rather whispering noise (bunyi ting ting) in the tree, he takes this as a signification that the tree contains gharu (isi),176 and after marking the bark with a cross (silang ampat) he collects wood to build a temporary shelter (pondong) for himself, and when about to plant the first post repeats the following charm:—

“O Grandsire Batara of the Earth, Earth-Genie, Earth-Spirit,

Idol of Iron, Son of Wani, Solitary Wani,

Son of Wayah, Bandan the Solitary,

I ask you to show me (an eagle-wood tree),

If you do not do so

You shall be a rebel against God,” etc.

The result of this invocation is, or should be, that the gharu-spirit appears to the wizard (generally, no [211]doubt, in a dream), and informs him what kind of sacrifice he requires on this particular occasion. Whatever kind of sacrifice is asked for, must of course be given, with the exception of a human sacrifice which, as it is expressly stated, may be compounded by the sacrifice of a fowl.

When the tree has been felled you must be exceedingly careful to see that nobody passes between the end of the fallen trunk and the stump; whoever does so will surely be killed by the “eagle-wood spirit,” who is supposed to be extremely powerful and dangerous. I myself received a warning to this effect from some Labu Malays when I saw one of these trees felled. Malays maintain that men are frequently killed by this spirit (mati dĕ’ Hantu Gharu), but that they may be recalled to life if the following recipe is acted upon:—“Take two ‘cubits’ (?) of ‘Panchong leaves’ (daun panchong dua heta), flowers of the sunting mambang, and ‘bullock’s eye’ limes (limau mata kĕrbau), squeeze [the limes(?)] and rub them over the corpse, saying, ‘Sir Allah! Sir Mangga Tangan! God’s Essence is in your heart (lit. liver). God’s attributes are in your eyes. Go and entertain the male Borer-Bee that is in your heart and liver.’ The dead man will then revive and stand upon his feet.

The most important point about eagle-wood, however, from the animistic point of view, is the Pawang’s use of the gharu mĕrupa, a strangely shaped piece of eagle-wood which possesses a natural resemblance to some animal or bird. It is believed to contain the soul of the tree, and therefore is always, when possible, carried by the collectors of eagle-wood in the belief that it will aid them in their search. I myself once owned one of these gharu mĕrupa, [212]which possessed a remarkable resemblance to a bird. This appears to me very fairly sufficient evidence to prove that the tree-soul is not supposed by the Malays necessarily to resemble a tree.177


The following account of the superstitious notions connected with the search for Camphor (kapur Barus) is extracted from a paper by Messrs. H. Lake and H. J. Kelsall178:—

“The chief interest attaching to the Kapur Barus in Johor lies in the superstitions connected with the collection of the camphor by the natives, or Orang Hulu.179

“Amongst these superstitions the most important is the use of a special language, the subject of the present paper, which has been the means of preserving some remnants of the aboriginal dialects of this part of the Malay Peninsula. This language is called by the Orang Hulu “Pantang Kapur”; pantang means forbidden or tabooed, and in this case refers to the fact that in searching for the camphor the use of the ordinary Malay language is pantang, or forbidden. In addition to this there are restrictions as to food, etc. [213]

“This Camphor language is first referred to by Mr. Logan in his account of the aboriginal tribes of the Malay Peninsula,180 and he gives a list of eighty words, thirty-three of which are Malay or derived from Malay.”

“The Jakuns believe that there is a “bisan,” or spirit, which presides over the camphor-trees, and without propitiating this spirit it is impossible to obtain the camphor. This bisan makes at night a shrill noise, and when this sound is heard it is a sure sign that there are camphor-trees near at hand. (This bisan is really one of the Cicadas which are so numerous in the Malayan jungles.)

“When hunting for camphor the natives always throw a portion of their food out into the jungle before eating, as an offering to the bisan.

“No prayers are offered up, but all food must be eaten dry, i.e. without sumbul,181 or stewed fish, or vegetables. Salt must not be pounded fine; if it is eaten fine, the camphor when found will be in fine grains; but if eaten coarse the grains of camphor will be large. In rainy weather the cry of the bisan is not heard. At certain seasons regular parties of Jakuns, and sometimes Malays, go into the jungle to search for camphor, and they remain there as long as three or four months at a time. Not only must the men who go into the jungle to search for the camphor speak the ‘Pantang Kapur,’ but also the men and women left at home in the Kampongs.

“The camphor occurs in the form of small grains deposited in the cracks in the interior of the trunk [214]of the tree. Camphor is only found in the older trees, and not in all of these, and to obtain it the tree must be cut down and split up. There are certain signs which indicate when a tree contains camphor, one of which is the smell emitted from the wood when chipped. A man who is skilled in detecting the presence of camphor is called Penghulu Kapur.182 The camphor when taken away from the tree is washed, and all chips of wood and dirt carefully removed, and it is then sold to Chinese traders at Kwala Indau at prices varying according to the quality from $15 to $40 per katti.

“The Camphor language consists in great part of words which are either Malay or of Malay origin, but contains, as above mentioned, a large number of words which are not Malay, but which are presumably remnants of the original Jakun dialects, which are apparently almost obsolete otherwise in the Indau and Sembrong districts of Johor.”183 [215]


The trees from which Gutta-percha is taken are also supposed to be inhabited by a spirit; but this, the Gutta-spirit, being far less dangerous than the Eagle-wood spirit, fewer precautions are taken in dealing with it. In the invocation addressed to the Gutta-spirit, the petitioner asks for the boon of a drop of the spirit’s blood, which of course is an indirect way of asking for the tree’s sap.

Here is a specimen of the charms used by the gutta-collectors:—

“Ho, Prince S’ri Bali,

Prince S’ri Bandang,

I wish to crave the boon of a drop of blood;

May the yield be better than from this notch of mine.

(Here the speaker notches the tree.)

“If it be not better

You shall be a rebel unto God,” etc.184


The Cocoa-nut Palm

The following instructions to be followed by toddy-collectors (who tap the Cocoa-nut palm for its juice, which is boiled into sugar) were given me by a Kelantan Malay (’Che ʿAbas of Klanang):—

“When you are about to set foot against the base of the trunk (i.e. to start climbing) repeat these lines:—

“Peace be with you, O Abubakar!

Drowse not as you keep watch and ward in the heart of this tree (umbi).”

Here climb half-way up and say:—

“Peace be with you, Little Sister, Handmaiden Bidah,

Drowse not as you keep watch and ward in the middle of the trunk,

Come and accompany me on my way up this tree.”

Here climb up among the leaf-stalks, lay hold of the central shoot, give it three shakes, and say—

“Peace be with you, Little Sister, Youngest of the Princesses,

Drowse not as you keep watch and ward over the central shoot,

Do you accompany me on my way down this tree.”

Now commence by bending down one of the blossom-sheaths, lay hold of the central shoot, and thrice repeat the following lines:—

“Peace be with your Highnesses, Princesses of the Shorn Hair and (perpetual) Distillation,

Who are (seen) in the curve (lit. swell) and the ebbing away of the Blossom-sheath,

Of the Blossom-sheath Si Gĕdĕbeh Mayang,

Seven Princesses who are the Handmaidens of Si Mayang.”

(Here the speaker addresses the soul (or rather souls) of the tree.) [217]

“Come hither, Little One, come hither,

Come hither, Tiny One, come hither,

Come hither, Bird, come hither,

Come hither, Filmy One, come hither.

Thus I bend your neck,

Thus I roll up your hair,

And here is an Ivory Toddy-knife to help the washing of your face.

Here is an Ivory Toddy-knife to cut you short,

And here is an Ivory Cup to hold under you,

And there is an Ivory Bath that waits below for you.

Clap your hands and splash in the Ivory Bath,

For it is called the ‘Sovereign Changing Clothes.’”185

Rules for planting various Crops

The following rules have an evident bearing upon the subject of vegetable animism. They were collected at Langat, in Selangor:—

The time to plant Sugar-cane is at noon: this will make it sweeter, by drying up the juice and leaving the saccharine matter. If you plant it in the early morning its joints will be too long, if in the middle of the day they will be short.

Plant Maize with a full stomach, and let your dibble be thick, as this will swell the maize ear.

For Plantains (or Bananas) you must dig a big hole, and the evening is the time to plant them. The evening is the quicker, and if planted after the evening meal they fill out better.

Plant Sweet Potatoes on a starry night to ensure their filling out properly (by getting plenty of eyes?)

Plant Cucumbers and Gourds on a dark moonless [218]night, to prevent them from being seen and devoured by fire-flies (api-api).

Plant Cocoa-nuts when the stomach is overburdened with food (kalau kita ’nak sangat berak); run quickly and throw the cocoa-nut into the hole prepared for it without straightening the arm; if you straighten it the fruit-stalk will break. Plant them in the evening, so that they may bear fruit while they are still near the ground. When you pick seed cocoa-nuts off the tree somebody should stand at the bottom of the tree and watch whether the “monkey-face” of each seed cocoa-nut, as it is thrown down, turns either towards himself or the base of the tree, or whether it looks away from both. In the former case the seed will be good, in the latter it is not worth planting.

Plant Rice in the early morning, about five, because that is the hour at which infants (the Rice Soul being considered as an infant) get up.

The Cultivation of Rice

The most important contribution of the Malays to the animistic theory of vegetation is perhaps to be found in the many strange ceremonies with which they surround the culture of Rice. In order to properly understand the significance of these ceremonies, however, a proper understanding of the Malay system of rice-planting is essential, and I therefore quote in extenso a description of rice-culture, which possesses the additional interest of being translated from the composition of a Malay:186

“It is the established custom in Malacca territory [219]to plant rice once a year, and the season for doing so generally falls about the month of Zilkaʿidah or Zilhijah.187

“In starting planting operations, however, the object is, if possible, to coincide with the season when the West wind blows, because at that time there are frequent rains, and accordingly the earth of the rice-field becomes soft and easy to plough. Moreover, in planting rice it is an invariable rule that there must be water in the field, in order that the rice may sprout properly; though, on the other hand, if there is too great a depth of water the rice is sure to die. It has also been observed that as a rule the season of the West wind coincides with the fourth month188 of the Chinese calendar, and sometimes also with the month of Zilkaʿidah or Zilhijah.189

“2. In olden time the order of planting operations was as follows:—First, the elders had to hold a consultation with the Pawang; then the date was fixed; then Maulud190 prayers were read over the ‘mother-seed,’ and benzoin, (incense) supplied by the Pawang, was burned; then all the requisites for rice-planting were got ready, viz.:— [220]

  • “(1) A strong buffalo (to pull the plough).
  • (2) A plough with its appurtenances (to turn over the earth and the short weeds).
  • (3) A harrow with its appurtenances (to level and break up small the clods of earth left by the plough).
  • (4) A roller with its appurtenances (to knock down the long weeds, such as sedges, in fields that have lain fallow for a long while).
  • (5) A wood-cutter’s knife, to mend any of the implements that may get out of order at the time of ploughing.
  • (6) A hoe to repair the embankments and level the higher grounds.
  • (7) A scythe191 to cut the long weeds.
  • (8) And a whip to urge the buffalo on if he is lazy.

“3. When the proper season has arrived for beginning the work of planting, and the elders have come to an agreement with the Pawang, then on some Friday after the service in the Mosque the Pĕnghulu addresses all the people there present, saying that on such a day of the month every one who is to take part in rice-cultivation must bring to the Mosque half a quart of grain (for ‘mother-seed’) in order that Maulud prayers may be read over it. (At that time kĕtupats192 and lĕpats193 are prepared for the men who are to read those prayers.)

“When the Maulud prayers are over, every man goes down to the rice-field, if possible on the same day or the next one, in order to begin ploughing the nursery plot, that is, the plot which is near his house or in which he has been in the habit of sowing the seed every year. [221]

“But if a man has a great number of plots, he will begin by ploughing half of them, and then at the end of the month of Zilhijah he must diligently prepare the nursery plot so as to be ready in about ten days’ time.

Of Sowing

“4. Before sowing one must first of all lay out the grain, both the seed-grain and the ‘mother-seed,’ each separately, to dry. It must then be soaked in a vessel (a bucket or pot) for two days and two nights, after which it is taken out, strained and spread quite evenly on a mat with fresh leaves (areca-nut fronds are best), and every afternoon one must sprinkle water on it in order that the germ may quickly break through, which will happen probably in two days’ time or thereabouts.

“5. While the seed is soaking, the nursery plot must be carefully prepared; that is to say, it must be ploughed over again, harrowed, levelled, ditched, and the soil allowed to settle; the embankments must be mended, and the surface made smooth. When the germs have sprouted the seed is taken to the nursery plot. Benzoin supplied by the Pawang is burnt, and the plot sprinkled with tĕpong tawar.194 Then a beginning is made by sowing the ‘chief of the seed,’ i.e. ‘mother-seed,’ in one corner of the nursery prepared for the purpose, and about two yards square; afterwards the rest of the seed is sown all over the plot. It is well to sow when the plot contains plenty of water, so that all the germs of the seed may be [222]uppermost, and the roots may not grow long, but may be pulled up easily. The time for sowing must be during the dark half of the month, so that the seedlings may be preserved from being eaten by insects.195

“Three days after the seed is sown the young shoots begin to rise like needles, and at that time all the water should be drawn off the plot; after seven days they are likened to a sparrow’s tail, and about the tenth or fifteenth day they break out into blades. At that period the water is again let into the plot, little by little, in order that the stalks of the seedlings may grow thick.

“The seedlings have to remain in the nursery for at least forty or forty-four days from the time of sowing before they are sufficiently grown; it is best to let them remain till they are about seventy days old.

“6. While the seedlings are in the nursery the other plots are being ploughed, one after another; and this is called the first ploughing. Then the embankments are mended and re-formed with earth, so that the water in the field may not escape and leave it dry. After the embankments have been mended the harrowing begins: a start is made with the plot that was first ploughed (other than the nursery plot), for there the earth will have become soft, and the weeds being rotten after many days of soaking in the water will form a sort of manure. Each plot is so dealt with in its turn. Then all have to be ploughed once more (which is called the second ploughing) and harrowed again; for the first harrowing merely breaks up the clods of earth, and a second is required to reduce them to a fine state and to kill the weeds. Most people, having first used an iron harrow, use a wooden one [223]for the second harrowing, in order that the earth may be broken up quite fine. Their rice is sure to thrive better than that of people who are less careful; for in rice-planting, as the saying goes, there is ‘the plighted hope of good that is to come,’ in the way of bodily sustenance I mean. So day by day the different plots are treated in the way that has been described in connection with the nursery plot in paragraph 5 above.

Of Planting

“7. When the seedling rice has been in the nursery long enough, and the fields are clean and ready for planting (which will be about the month of Safar, or August) the seedlings are pulled up and tied together with strips of dried palas196 leaves into bundles of the size known as sachekak (i.e. the space enclosed by the thumb and the index finger when their ends meet). If the roots and blades are long the ends can be clipped a little, and the roots are then steeped in manure. This manure is made of buffalo bones burnt with chaff till they are thoroughly calcined, and then pounded fine, passed through a sieve and mixed with mud: that is the best kind of manure for rice-planting, and is known as ‘stock manure.’ (It can also be applied by merely scattering it in the fields. In that case, after cutting off the ends of the blades, the seedlings are planted, and afterwards, when they are green again and appear to be thriving, the manure is scattered over the whole field. There are some places, too, where no manure at all is used because of the perennial richness of the soil.) [224]

“Afterwards the seedlings are allowed to remain exposed to the air for about two nights, and then taken to the field to be planted. The bundles are broken up, and bunches of four or five plants together are planted at intervals of a span all over the different plots till all are filled up. If there are very many plots, ten or fifteen female labourers can be engaged to assist in planting, and likewise in pulling up the seedlings, at a wage of four cents for every hundred bundles.

Of the Rice after it has been Transplanted

“8. Ten days after the young rice has been transplanted it recovers its fresh green colour; in thirty days the young shoots come out; in the second month it increases more and more, and in the third it becomes even all over. After three months and a half its growth is stayed, and in the fourth month it is styled bunting kĕchil.

“At that stage the stalk has only five joints, and from that period it must be fumigated daily till the grain appears.

“About the time when the stalk has six joints it is called bunting bĕsar; in forty days more the grain is visible here and there, and twenty days later it spreads everywhere. At this time all the water in the field must be drawn off so that the grain may ripen quickly. After five or six days it ripens in patches, and a few days later the rice is altogether ripe.

“From the time of transplanting to the time when it is ripe is reckoned six months, not counting the days spent in ploughing and in growing it in the nursery, which may be a month or two, or even (if [225]there are many plots) as much as three months to the end of the ploughing.

Of Reaping and taking the Soul of the Rice

“9. When one wishes to begin reaping the grain one must first have the Pawang’s permission, and burn benzoin supplied by him in the field.

“The following implements must be got ready, viz.:—

“(1) A small basket to hold the rice cut first, known as the ‘Soul of the Rice’ (sĕmangat padi).

(2) A jari lipan197 to put round the small basket.

(3) A string of tĕrap198 bark to tie up the rice that is cut first.

(4) A small stem of bamboo, of the variety known as buloh kasap, with a flag attached, which is to be planted in the small basket as a sign of the ‘Soul of the Rice’ that has been cut first.

(5) A small white cloth to wrap up the ‘Soul of the Rice.’

(6) An anchak199 to hold the brasier.

(7) A brasier, in which to burn the incense provided by the Pawang.

(8) A nail and a kind of nut, known as buah kĕras,200 to be put into the anchak together with the brasier.

“When the rice is ripe all over, one must first take the ‘Soul’ out of all the plots of one’s field. You choose the spot where the rice is best and where it is ‘female’ (that is to say, where the bunch of stalks is big) and where there are seven joints in the stalk. You begin with a bunch of this kind and clip seven stems to be the ‘soul of the rice’; and then you clip yet another handful to be the ‘mother-seed’ for [226]the following year. The ‘Soul’ is wrapped in a white cloth tied with a cord of tĕrap bark, and made into the shape of a little child in swaddling clothes, and put into the small basket. The ‘mother-seed’ is put into another basket, and both are fumigated with benzoin, and then the two baskets are piled the one on the other and taken home, and put into the kĕpuk (the receptacle in which the rice is stored).

“10. One must wait three days (called the pantang tuai) before one may clip or cut any more of the rice. At first only one or two basketfuls of rice are cut; the rice is dried in the sun, winnowed in a winnowing basket, and cleaned in a fanning machine, pounded to free it from the husk, so that it becomes bĕras (husked rice), and then boiled so that it becomes nasi (cooked rice), and people are invited to feast on it.

“11. Then a bucket is made for the purpose of threshing the rest of the rice, and a granary built to keep it in while it remains in the field, and five or six labourers are engaged to reap and thresh it (banting).201 Their hours of working are from 6 to 11.30 A.M., and all the rice they thresh they put into the granary.

“12. If the crop is a good one a gallon of seed will produce a hundredfold. Each plot in a field takes about a gallon of seed.

“13. When the rice has all been cut it is winnowed in order to get rid of the chaff, and then laid out in the sun till quite dry, so that it may not get mouldy if kept for a year.

“Then the wages of the labourers are taken out of it at the rate of two gallons out of every ten. When [227]that is settled, if the rice is not to be sold, it is taken home and put into the rice-chest.

“Whenever you want to eat of it, you take out a basketful at a time and dry it in the sun. Then you turn it in the winnowing basket, and clean it in the fanning machine, pound it to convert it into bĕras, and put a sufficiency of it in a pot and wash it. Enough water is then poured over it to cover it, and it is put on the kitchen fire till it is boiled and becomes nasi, when it can be eaten.

“14. The custom of reaping with a sickle (sabit) and threshing the rice as described in paragraph 11 is a modern method, and is at present mainly practised by the people living in the neighbourhood of the town of Malacca, in order to get the work done quickly; but in olden times it was not allowed, and even to this day the people who live in the inland parts of the territory of Malacca prefer to clip their rice with a tuai,202 and put it into their baskets a handful at a time [i.e. without threshing it]. (If labourers are employed to do this their wage is one-tenth of the rice cut.) It takes ever so many days to get the work done, but the idea is that this method is the pious one, the ‘Soul of the Rice’ not being disturbed thereby. A good part of the people hold this belief, and assert that since the custom of threshing the rice has been introduced, the crops have been much less abundant than in years of olden time when it was the custom to use the tuai only.

“15. If a man has broad fields so that he is unable to plant them all by his own labour, he will often allow another to work them on an agreement, either of equal [228]division of the produce (each bearing an equal share of the hire of a buffalo and all other expenses incidental to rice-planting), or of threefold division (that is, for example, the owner bears all expenses, in which case the man who does the work can get a third of the produce; or the latter bears all expenses, in which case the owner only gets a third of the produce). Or again, the land can be let; for instance, a field which ordinarily produces a koyan203 of rice a year will fetch a rent of about two hundred gallons more or less.

“16. Every cultivator who does not act in accordance with the ordinance laid down in paragraphs 9 and 10 above, will be in the same case as if he disregarded all the prohibitions laid down in connection with planting. If a man does not carry out this procedure he is sure to fail in the end; his labour will be in vain and will not fulfil his desires, for the virtue of all these ordinances and prohibitions lies in the fact that they protect the rice, and drive away all its enemies, such as grubs, rats, swine, and the like.”204

I will now deal with the ceremonies indicated in the foregoing article from the ceremonial point of view exclusively.

The Sowing of the Rice-Seed

The ceremony to be observed at the sowing of the rice-seed was thus described to me by the Pawang who performed the reaping ceremony described below:— [229]

“First arrange four poles upon the ground, so as to form a rectangular frame (galang dapor), in the middle of the clearing. Then plant in succession at the four corners—

  • “1. A young banana-tree.
  • 2. A plant of lemon grass (sĕrai).
  • 3. A stem of sugar-cane (of the kind called lanjong).
  • 4. A plant of saffron (kunyit).

Perform the operation carefully, so that they are all likely to live.

“In the centre of the ground enclosed by the frame deposit a cocoa-nut shell full of water.

“Early next morning go out and observe the omens. If the frame has moved aside (bĕrkuak) ever so little, or if the water has been spilt, it is a bad omen. But if not, and if the water in the cocoa-nut shell has not been spilt, or if a black ant (sĕmut) or a white ant (anei-anei) is found in the water, it is a good sign.

“When good omens have been obtained, proceed by planting rice-seed in seven holes with a dibble of satambun wood, repeating the following charm:—

“In the name of God, etc.,

Peace be with you, Prophet ’Tap,

Here I lodge with you, my child, S’ri Gading, Gĕmala Gading,205

But within from six months to seven

I will come and receive it back,

Cluck, cluck, soul! cluck, cluck, soul! cluck, cluck, soul!”

The Planting out of the Young Rice

The following account (by Mr. C. O. Blagden) of the ceremony of planting out the young rice (from the [230]rice-nursery) appeared in the Journal of the Straits Asiatic Society in 1896:—

“In agricultural operations the animistic ideas of the Malays are clearly apparent: thus, before the rice is cut a sort of ritual is performed which is known as puji padi, and which is regarded, apparently, as a kind of propitiatory service, a sort of apology to the padi (rice) for reaping it. The padi is usually sprinkled with tĕpong tawar (flour mixed with water) before the reaping is commenced, and the first lot cut is set apart for a ceremonial feast.

“At planting there are also ceremonies: as a rule the beginning of the planting season is ushered in by a visit of the whole body of villagers to the most highly revered kramat in the neighbourhood, where the usual offerings are made and prayers are said. Sometimes, however, there is a special service known as băpua,206 consisting of a sort of mock combat, in which the evil spirits are believed to be expelled from the rice-fields by the villagers: this is not done every year, but once in three or four years.

“Another occasional service of a peculiar character, which is not of very frequent occurrence, is the ceremony which would perhaps be best described as the propitiation of the earth-spirit. Some years ago I happened, by chance, to be present at a function of this kind, and as its details may be of some interest as illustrating the wide dispersion of certain points of ritual, I will end these notes by giving a full description of it as noted down at the time. It was in the month of October, and I happened to be out shooting [231]snipe in the padi-fields of the village of Sĕbatu on a Sunday morning, when I was met by the Pĕnghulu, the headman of the village, who asked me to leave off shooting for an hour or so. As I was having fair sport, I naturally wanted to know the reason why, so he explained that the noise of gunshots would irritate the hantu, and render unavailing the propitiatory service which was then about to begin. Further inquiry elicited the statement that the hantu in question was the one who presided over rice-lands and agricultural operations, and as I was told that there would be no objection to my attending the ceremony, I went there and then to the spot to watch the proceedings. The place was a square patch of grass-lawn a few yards wide, which had evidently for years been left untouched by the plough, though surrounded by many acres of rice-fields. On this patch a small wooden altar had been built: it consisted simply of a small square platform of wood or bamboo raised about three or four feet above the ground, each corner being supported by a small sapling with the leaves and branches left on it and overshadowing the platform, the sides of which appeared to face accurately towards the four cardinal points. To the western side was attached a small bamboo ladder leading from the ground to the edge of the platform. At the four corners of the patch of grass were four larger saplings planted in the ground. On the branches of all these trees were hung a number of kĕtupats, which are small squarish bags plaited of strips of the leaves of the screw-pine (mĕngkuang) or some similar plant, like the material of which native bags and mats are made. A larger kĕtupat hung over the centre of the altar, and all of them were filled with a preparation of boiled rice. On the altar were piled up [232]various cooked foods laid on plantain leaves, including the flesh of a goat cooked in the ordinary way, as well as rice and different kinds of condiments and sweetmeats. The Pawang was present as well as a number of the villagers, and soon after my arrival with the Pĕnghulu the ceremony began by some of the villagers producing out of a bag the skin of a black male goat with the head and horns attached and containing the entrails (the flesh having been cooked and laid on the altar previously). A large iron nail four or five inches long, and thick in proportion, was placed vertically in a hole about two feet deep which had been dug under the altar, and the remains of the goat were also buried in it, with the head turned towards the east, the hole being then closed and the turf replaced. Some of the goat’s blood, in two cocoa-nut shells (tĕmpurong), was placed on the ground near the south side and south-west corner of the altar close to the ladder.

“The Pawang, after assisting at these preliminaries, then took his stand at the west side of the altar, looking eastward: he covered his head, but not his face, with his sarong wrapped round it like a shawl, and proceeded to light a torch, the end of which was tipped with incense (kĕmĕnyan). With this he touched the bottom of the altar platform four times. He then took a cup of tĕpong tawar and dipped in it a small bundle of four kinds of leaves, with which he then sprinkled the north-west and south-east corners of the platform. He then coughed three times—whether this was part of the ritual, or a purely incidental occurrence, I am unable to say, as it was not practicable to stop the ceremony for the purpose of asking questions—and again applied the torch under the altar and sprinkled with tĕpong tawar all the corners of it, as well as the rungs of the ladder. [233]

“At this stage of the proceedings four men stationed in the rice-field beyond the four corners of the patch of turf, each threw a kĕtupat diagonally across to one another, while the rest of the assembly, headed by the Pĕnghulu, chanted the kalimah, or Muhammadan creed, three times.

“Then a man holding a large bowl started from a point in the rice-field just outside the north side of the patch of turf, and went round it (first in a westerly direction). As he walked, he put handfuls of the rice into his mouth and spat or vomited them out, with much noise, as if to imitate violent nausea, into the field. He was followed closely by another who also held a bowl filled with pieces of raw tapioca root and bĕras bĕrtih (rice roasted in a peculiar way),207 which he threw about into the field. Both of them went right round the grass plot. The Pawang then took his cup of tĕpong tawar and sprinkled the anak padi, that is, the rice-shoots which were lying in bundles along the south and east sides of the altar ready for planting. Having sprinkled them he cut off the ends, as is usually done; and after spitting to the right and to the left, he proceeded to plant them in the field. A number of others then followed his lead and planted the rest of the rice-plants, and then a sweetmeat made of cocoa-nut and sugar was handed round, and Muhammadan prayers were said by some duly qualified person, an orang ʿalim or a lĕbei, and the ceremony was concluded.

“It was explained to me that the blood and the food were intended for the hantu, and the ladder up to the altar was for his convenience; in fact the whole affair was a propitiatory service, and offers curious analogies with the sacrificial ceremonials of some of the wild [234]aboriginal tribes of Central India who have not been converted to Hinduism or Islām. That it should exist in a Malay community within twenty miles of the town of Malacca, where Muhammadanism has been established for about six208 centuries, is certainly strange. Its obvious inconsistency with his professed religion does not strike the average Malay peasant at all. It is, however, the fact that these observances are not regarded with much favour by the more strictly Muhammadan Malays of the towns, and especially by those that are partially of Arab descent. These latter have not much influence in country districts, but privately I have heard some of them express disapproval of such rites and even of the ceremonies performed at kramats. According to them, the latter might be consistent with Muhammadan orthodoxy on the understanding that prayers were addressed solely to the Deity; but the invocation of spirits or deceased saints and their propitiation by offerings could not be regarded as otherwise than polytheistic idolatry. Of course such a delicate distinction—almost as subtle as that between dulia and latria in the Christian worship of saints—is entirely beyond the average Malay mind; and everything is sanctioned by immemorial custom, which in an agricultural population is more deeply-rooted than any book-learning; so these rites are likely to continue for some time, and will only yield gradually to the spread of education. Such as they are, they seem to be interesting relics of an old-world superstition.

“I have mentioned only a few such points, and only such as have been brought directly to my knowledge; there are hosts of other quaint notions, such as the theory [235]of lucky and unlucky days and hours, on which whole treatises have been written, and which regulate every movement of those who believe in them; the belief in amulets and charms for averting all manner of evils, supernatural and natural; the practice during epidemics of sending out to sea small elaborately constructed vessels which are supposed to carry off the malignant spirits responsible for the disease (of which I remember a case a few years ago in the village of Sempang, where the beneficial effect was most marked); the widespread belief in the power of mĕnuju, that is, doing injury at a distance by magic, in which the Malays believe the wild junglemen especially to be adepts; the belief in the efficacy of forms of words as love-charms and as a protection against spirits and wild beasts—in fact, an innumerable variety of superstitious ideas exist among Malays.”209

The Reaping Ceremony

On the 28th January 1897 I witnessed (at Chodoi, in the Kuala Langat district of Selangor) the ceremony of fetching home the Rice-soul.

Time of Ceremony.—I arrived at the house belonging to the Malay owner of the rice-field a little past 8 A.M., the hour at which the ceremony was to take place having been fixed at angkat kĕning (about 9 A.M.) a few days previously. On my arrival I found the Pawang (sorceress), an aged Selangor woman, seated in front of the baskets required for the ceremony.210 [236]

Accessories.—At her extreme left stood one of the circular brass trays with high sides which are called dulang by the Malays, containing the following objects:—

  • 1. A small bowl of “parched rice” (b’ras bĕr’tih).
  • 2. A small bowl of “saffron rice” (b’ras kunyit).
  • 3. A small bowl of “washed rice” (b’ras basoh).
  • 4. A small bowl of “oil of frankincense.”
  • 5. A small bowl of “oil of Celebes” (minyak Bugis).
  • 6. A small bowl of “incense” (kĕm’nyan).
  • 7. A small bundle of incense (in addition to the bowl).
  • 8. One of the hard jungle-nuts called buah k’ras (the candle-nut).
  • 9. One of the shells called k’rang (a cockle shell).
  • 10. A hen’s egg.
  • 11. A stone (a small block of quartz).
  • 12. A large iron nail.
  • 13 to 15. Three Malay reaping instruments (pĕnuwei).211

Close to the dulang stood a cocoa-nut shell filled with the tĕpong tawar, which plays so prominent a part in Malay magic ceremonies, and a brush made up of the leaves of seven different plants, bound up as usual with a cord of kulit t’rap (the bark of the Wild Breadfruit), and ribu-ribu (a kind of small creeper). The plants which supplied the leaves of which the brush was composed, were as follows:—

1. Sapĕnoh. 2. Sapanggil. 3. Jĕnjuang (or lĕnjuang) merah (the Red Dracæna). 4. Gandarusa. 5. Pulut-pulut. 6. Sĕlaguri. 7. Sambau dara (a kind of grass).

But the most interesting object was a small oval-shaped [237]basket bound with the ribu-ribu creeper, and about fourteen inches long, which was standing just in front of the three rice-baskets and close to the Pawang, and which, as I afterwards found out, was intended to serve as the cradle of the Rice-soul (or “Rice-baby”). I examined it, however, and found that as yet it only contained the following objects:—

  • 1. A strip of white cloth (folded up and lying at the bottom of the basket).
  • 2. Some parti-coloured thread (bĕnang panchawarna or pancharona).
  • 3. A hen’s egg.
  • 4. One of the hard jungle-nuts (candle-nuts) already referred to.
  • 5. A cockle shell (k’rang).
  • 6. A long iron nail.
  • 7. Five cubits of red cloth by means of which the soul-basket was to be slung round the neck of its bearer. (The correcter custom would require an expensive cloth of the kind called jong sarat, or the “Loaded Junk,” according to my informant the Pawang.)

Three new Malay skirts or sarongs were added, (one to each basket), and everything being ready, the various receptacles described above were entrusted to five female bearers (Pĕnjawat), who descended from the house, with the Pawang at their head, and set out for the rice-field. Before they had gone many yards they were joined by the owner of the field, who walked in front of them bearing what was called the junjongan padi. This was the stem and leaves of a dark red kind of sugar-cane, which was used in substitution for the black or “raven” variety (tĕbu gagak) which, the Pawang explained, would have been used in preference if it had been obtainable. Meanwhile the procession passed on, and the Pawang repeated as we went the following prayer to the spirits:— [238]

“In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate,

Peace be with thee, O Prophet ’Tap, in whose charge is the Earth,

I know the origin of the Rice, S’ri Gading, Gĕmala Gading,

That (dwelleth at) the end of the clearing, and that (dwelleth at) the beginning (top) of the clearing;

That is scattered broadcast, that is cast headlong,

That is over-run (!) by the ants called Silambada.

Ho, Dang ’Pok, Dang Mĕleni,212 (and)

Dang Salamat, who carriest the pole slung on thy back,

Gather together and press hitherwards your attendants.

May safety and our daily bread be granted us by God.”

On reaching the rice the procession filed through a lane already made in the rice, until the “mother-sheaf” was reached from which the Rice-soul was to be taken. But immediately on arriving at the spot, and before depositing the rice-baskets on the ground, the Pawang repeated these lines:—

“Herons from all this region,

Roost ye upon the shaft of my bow;

Retire ye, O Spectral Reapers,

That we may deposit our baskets upon the ground.”

Here the baskets were deposited, and the Pawang [239]took up her station in front of the mother-sheaf, of which mention has just been made.

Covering her head with a flowing white cloth of which the ends fell upon her shoulders, the Pawang now stood up facing the sheaf, and waved the ends of this cloth thrice upward to the right, thrice upward to the left, and finally thrice upward to the right again. Then for a few moments she stood still, close to the sheaf with her head bent forward and buried among the ears, after which she reseated herself and dabbled the tĕpong tawar thrice upon the roots of the sheaf. One of the female bearers now planted the stem of the sugar-cane upright in the centre of the sheaf,213 whilst the Pawang sprinkled it with the tĕpong tawar, and then holding the sharpened end of it over the incense, fumigated it, saying:—

“Peace be with thee, O Prophet ’Tap!

Lo, I plant this Sugar-cane

For you to lean against,

Since I am about to take away this Soul of yours, S’ri Gading,

And carry it home to your palace,

Cluck, cluck, soul! cluck, cluck, soul! cluck, cluck, soul!”

Here the Pawang and Pĕnjawat (Female Bearer), together proceeded to plant the sugar-cane in the centre of the sheaf, and (pressing the sheaf more tightly round the sugar-cane) drew the waist of the sheaf together and belted it with some of the outer stems of the sheaf itself; then the Pawang applied the tĕpong [240]tawar once more to the sheaf, and after fumigating it in the usual manner, ran her hands up it. Next she took in one hand (out of the brass tray) the stone and the egg, cockle-shell and candle-nut, and with the other planted the big iron nail in the centre of the sheaf close to the foot of the sugar-cane. Then she took in her left hand the cord of tree-bark, and after fumigating it, together with all the vessels of rice and oil, took up some of the rice and strewed it round about the sheaf, and then tossed the remainder thrice upwards, some of it falling upon the rest of the company and myself.

This done, she took the end of the cord in both hands, and encircling the sheaf with it near the ground, drew it slowly upward to the waist of the sheaf, and tied it there, after repeating what is called the “Ten Prayers” (doʿa sapuloh) without once taking breath:—

“The first, is God,

The second, is Muhammad,

The third, Holy Water of the five Hours of Prayer by Day and Night,

The fourth, is Pancha Indra,

The fifth, the Open Door of Daily Bread,

The sixth, the Seven Stories of the Palace-Tower,

The seventh, the Open Door of the Rice-sifting Platform,

The eighth, the Open Door of Paradise,

The ninth, is the Child in its Mother’s Womb,

The tenth, is the Child created by God, the reason of its creation being our Lord.

Grant this, ʿIsa!214

Grant this, Moses!

Grant this, Joseph!

Grant this, David!

Grant me, from God (the opening of) all the doors of my daily bread, on earth, and in heaven.”

This prayer completed,215 she dug up with the great [241]toe of the left foot a small lump of soil, and picking it up, deposited it in the centre of the sheaf.

Next she took the contents of the soul-basket (the egg and stone, candle-nut and shell as before), and after anointing them with oil and fumigating them, replaced them in the basket; then taking the pĕnuwei sulong (“Eldest Rice-cutter”), anointed the blade with the oil of frankincense, and inserting the thumb of the right hand into her mouth, pressed it for several moments against the roof of her palate. On withdrawing it she proceeded to cut the first seven “heads” of rice, repeating “the Ten Prayers” as she did so. Then she put the seven “heads” together, and kissed them; turned up the whites of her eyes thrice, and thrice contracting the muscles of her throat with a sort of “click,” swallowed the water in her mouth.216 Next she drew the small white cloth which she took from the soul-basket for the purpose across her lap, and [242]laying the little bundle of seven ears in it, anointed them with oil and tied them round with parti-coloured thread (bĕnang panchawarna), after which she fumigated them with the incense, and strewing rice of each kind over them, folded the ends of the cloth over them, and deposited them as before in the basket, which was handed to the first bearer. Then standing up, she strewed more rice over the sheaf, and tossing some backwards over her head, threw the remainder over the rest of the party, saying “tabek” (“pardon”) as she did so, and exclaiming “kur sĕmangat, kur sĕmangat, kur sĕmangat!” (“cluck, cluck, soul!”) in a loud voice. Next she pushed the cocoa-nut shell (which had contained the tĕpong tawar) into the middle of the sheaf, and removed all traces of the lane which had been trodden round the sheaf (to make it accessible) by bending down the surrounding ears of rice until the gap was concealed.

Then the First Bearer, slinging the basket of the Rice-child about her neck (by means of the red cloth before referred to), took an umbrella217 from one of the party, and opened it to shield the Rice-child from the effects of the sun, and when the Pawang had reseated herself and repeated an Arabic prayer (standing erect again at the end of it with her hands clasped above her head), this part of the ceremony came to an end. Moving on to another part of the field, the Pawang now cut the next seven “heads” and deposited them in one of the three rice-baskets, which she then handed to one of the female bearers, telling her and her two companions to reap the field in parallel straight lines [243]facing the sun, until they had filled the three rice-baskets, after which they were to return to the house. Leaving the three reapers at their task, I followed the Pawang and Eldest Bearer (the latter still shielding the Rice-child from the sun with the umbrella) and arrived in time to witness the reception of the party as they reached the foot of the house-ladder. Here (on the threshold) we were met by the wife of the owner, and other women of his family, the former thrice calling out as we approached, “Apa khabar?” (“What news?”), and thrice receiving the reply, “Baik” (“It is well”). On receiving this reply for the third time she threw saffron-rice over the Pawang and repeated these lines:—

“Chop the ‘tree’ Galenggang (a kind of shrub),

Chop it to pieces in front of the door:

Yonder comes One swinging (her) arms;

That (methinks) is a child of mine.”

To which the Pawang immediately replied:—

“Chop the young bamboo-shoots as fine as you can,

If you wish to stupefy the fish in the main stream.

In good sooth I have crossed the stream,

For great was my desire to come hither.”

And the bearer of the Rice-child added—doubtless on the Rice-child’s behalf:—

“This measure is not a measure filled with pepper,

But a measure filled with rice-husks.

My coming is not merely fortuitous,

But great (rather) was my desire, the wish of my heart.”

She then entered the house and laid the Rice-child (still in its basket) on a new sleeping-mat with pillows at the head. About twenty minutes later the three [244]Bearers returned,218 each of their rice-baskets covered with a sarong. These baskets were carried into the bedroom and deposited in order of size on the mat at the foot of the soul-basket, the largest basket being the nearest to the soul-basket. Finally, the Pawang removed the sarongs which covered each basket and deposited them on the Rice-child’s pillow, and sticking the “pĕnuweis” into her hair, fumigated the entire row of baskets and the Rice-child, and covered them over with the long white cloth, after which the wife of the master of the house was told to observe certain rules of taboo for three days.

Plate 5.—Rice-Soul Baskets.

Plate 5.—Rice-Soul Baskets.

Model, showing the baskets used at the ceremony of bringing home the rice-soul. The oval-shaped basket on the left is that which contains the rice-soul, together with the egg, iron nail, and candle-nut, etc., used as charms to keep away evil spirits from the rice-soul or “rice-child.”

Page 244.

The following were the taboos imposed upon her:—

  • 1. Money, rice, salt, oil, tame animals, etc., were forbidden to leave the house, though they might enter it without ill consequences.
  • 2. Perfect quiet must be observed, as in the case of a new-born child.
  • 3. Hair might not be cut.
  • 4. The reapers, till the end of the reaping, were forbidden to let their shadows fall upon the rice. (Yang mĕnuwei sampei habis mĕnuwei, tiada buleh mĕnindeh bayang.)
  • 5. The light placed near the head of the Rice-child’s bed might not be allowed to go out at night, whilst the hearth-fire might not be allowed to go out at all, night or day, for the whole three days.

The above taboos are in many respects identical with those which have to be observed for three days after the birth of a real child. [245]

I may add that every day, when the reapers start their reaping, they have to repeat the following charm:—

“A swallow has fallen, striking the ground,

Striking the ground in the middle of our house-yard;

But ye, O Shadows and Spectral Reapers,

See that ye mingle not with us.”

When reaping, they must cover their heads and must face the sun, no matter what hour of the day it is, in order to prevent their own shadows from falling upon the rice in the basket at their side.

Pounding the first of the padi.—I witnessed this ceremony three days later, at about 9 A.M. The three baskets filled with the first reapings were removed from the mat on which they had been placed, and their contents emptied out upon a new mat, to each corner of which four rice-ears were tied, and trodden out (di-irekkan) by the owner of the field. Then the rice was poured back into two of the baskets, and the straw of the rice “heads” was plaited into a wreath.219

Drying the first of the padi.—Preparations being complete, the two baskets full of newly-cut rice were carried down the steps and out to an open part of the field, a little way from the house, and there spread on a mat in the sun to dry. To spread it properly is not an easy matter, the operator (who in this case was the owner), standing on the mat and spreading the grains with a long sweeping motion of the hand from one side of the mat to the other (the process being called di-kekar, di-kachau, or mĕmbalikkan jĕmoran). In [246]the present case several objects were placed in the centre of the mat, consisting of—

  • 1. A basket-work stand (one of those used for the cooking-pots, and called lĕkar jantan).
  • 2. A bowl of water deposited upon this stand and intended “for the Rice-soul (sĕmangat padi) to drink when it becomes thirsty with the heat of the sun.”
  • 3. A big iron nail.
  • 4. A candle-nut (buah k’ras).
  • 5. Six trodden-out rice “heads,” a couple of which tied in a slip knot (simpul pulih) are fastened to each corner of the matting.

Pounding of the rice from the three baskets.—When the rice had been sufficiently dried, it was once more collected in the baskets, and carried back to the house to be pounded.220 That operation took place the same evening, when the rice was pounded and winnowed221 in the ordinary way, the only noteworthy addition being the tying of bunches of the grass called sambau dara to the upper ends of the long wooden pestles which the Malays use for the pounding operation.

Disposal of the empty rice-stalks from the three baskets.—The chaff thus obtained was deposited in a heap by the owner of the field in a place where three paths met, crowned with a wreath made of the empty rice-stalks, and covered by a big stone which was intended, I was told, to keep it from being blown away.

The sugar-cane was left to grow in the midst of the mother-sheaf, until the latter should be reaped by the wife of the owner; when this takes place, it is carried back to the house and used for next year’s reaping. Meanwhile the “heads” of the mother-sheaf [247]are pounded, and the grain thus obtained is mixed with the grain obtained from the Rice-soul, and deposited in the rice-bin (kĕpok) together with a stone, a lump of rosin (damar), and a wreath composed of the empty rice-ears. I may add that I saw the articles which had been deposited in the previous year in the rice-bin of the Malay at whose house I witnessed the ceremony which I have just described.

I did not witness the preliminary search for the mother-sheaf (in which the Rice-soul was supposed to be contained), but it was described to me by the Pawang, and performed for my benefit by the people of the house. The Pawang’s description ran as follows: In order to confine the “Rĕngkesa” (a Spectral Reaper) to the boundaries, visit the four corners of the field, and at each corner tie a knot in a rice-leaf, and hold your breath while you repeat the following charm:—

“In the name of God, etc.,

A swallow has fallen striking the ground,

Striking the ground in the middle of our house-yard.

But ye, O Shadows and Spectral Reapers (Rĕngkesa),

Have your appointed place on the Boundaries (of this field).

By virtue of,” etc.

These noxious spirits being thus confined to the Four Corners, you may search in safety till you find one of the special varieties of rice-ear in which the Rice-soul resides.

There are several varieties, of which the best is called Tongkat Mandah; it may be described as an ordinary “rice-head” bending over to meet the tip of a second (adventitious) “rice-head,” but it is produced only by a freak of nature. There is some risk connected with this variety, however, for if the “Reception [248](Sambut) Ceremony” is not properly performed the owner will die. The second best is called “The Kite” (Lang). The third best is called “The Veiled Princess” (Pŭtri Bĕrtudong); in this case the sheath of the “head” is of unusual length, and overshadows the “head” itself. A fourth kind is called Padi Bĕrtel’kum, and is described as a “Female Rice” (padi bĕtina); like the “Veiled Princess,” it has an unusually well-developed sheath; whilst a fifth kind is the “Padi Mendhara”—a rice-plant whose leaves show white lines or markings.

How women should reap on ordinary occasions.—Whenever women go out to reap they should repeat certain charms before leaving the house,222 and again before depositing their baskets on the ground. Their heads should be covered, and they should always be careful to reap, as has been said, facing the sun, to prevent their shadow from falling upon the rice in the basket at their side. Occasionally, however, the body is uncovered, and I was even told of one, Inche Fatimah of Jugra, in Selangor, who when reaping stripped herself bare from the waist upwards, and when asked why she did so said it was “to make the rice-husks thinner, as she was tired of pounding thick-husked rice.”

The sheaf which is left standing after the taking home of the Rice-soul is called the Mother of the Rice-soul (Ibu Sĕmangat Padi), and treated as a newly-made mother; that is to say, young shoots of trees (putik-putik kayu) are taken, pounded together [249](di-tumbok), and scattered broadcast (di-tabor) every evening for three successive days.

When the three days are up you take cocoa-nut pulp (isi niyor) and what are called “goat flowers” (bunga kambing), mix them, and eat them with a little sugar, spitting some of the mixture out among the rice. [So, after a birth (as the Pawang informed me), the young shoots of the jack-fruit (kababal nangka), the rose-apple (jambu), and certain kinds of banana (such as pisang abu and pisang Bĕnggala), and the thin pulp of young cocoa-nuts (kĕlongkong niyor) are mixed with dried fish, salt, acid (asam), prawn-condiment (b’lachan), and similar ingredients, to form a species of salad (rojak). For three successive days this salad is administered to mother and child, the person who administers it saying, if the child be a girl, “Your mother is here, eat this salad,” and if the child be a boy, “Your father is here, eat this salad.”]

Invariably, too, when you enter the rice-clearing (mĕnĕmpoh ladang) you must kiss the rice-stalks (chium tangkei padi), saying, “Cluck, cluck, soul of my child!” (kur, sĕmangat anak aku!) just as if you were kissing an infant of your own.

The last sheaf (as I think I have said) is reaped by the wife of the owner, who carries it back to the house (where it is threshed out and mixed with the Rice-soul). The owner then takes the Rice-soul and its basket and deposits it in the big circular rice-bin used by the Malays, together with the product of the last sheaf. Some of the product of the first seven “heads” will be mixed with next year’s seed, and the rest will be mixed with next year’s tĕpong tawar.223 [250]


In the Western States of the Peninsula by far the most important branch of industry has for many years been that of Tin-mining. Though something like 90 per cent of the labourers employed in the mines are Chinese, the ceremonies used at the opening of tin-mines are purely Malay in character.

The post of mining wizard, once a highly lucrative one, was in past days almost always filled by a Malay, though occasionally the services of a Jungle-man (Sakai) would be preferred. These mining wizards enjoyed in their palmy days an extraordinary reputation, some of them being credited with the power of bringing ore to a place where it was known that no ore existed; some, too, were believed to possess the power of sterilising such ore as existed, and of turning it into mere grains of sand.

The ore itself is regarded as endued not only with vitality, but also with the power of growth, ore of indifferent quality being regarded as too young (muda), but as likely to improve with age. Sometimes, again, it is described as resembling a buffalo, in which shape it is believed to make its way from place to place underground. This idea, however, is probably based upon traditions of a lode, though it is quite in keeping [251]with Malay ideas about the spirits residing in other minerals, the Gold spirit being supposed to take the shape of a kijang or roe-deer (whence the tradition of a golden roe-deer being found at Raub in Pahang).

In connection with the subject of tin-mining the account contributed224 in 1885 by Mr. Abraham Hale (then Inspector of Mines in the Kinta district of Perak) to the Journal of the Straits Asiatic Society is of such value as to necessitate its being quoted in extenso. It will be followed by such notes upon mining invocations as I was able to collect in Selangor, after which a few remarks upon the Malay theory of animism in minerals generally will bring the subject to a conclusion.

To commence with Mr. Hale’s account:—“The valley of the Kinta is, and has been for a very long time, essentially a mining country. There are in the district nearly five hundred registered mines, of which three are worked by European Companies, the rest being either private mines, i.e. mines claimed by Malays, which have been worked by them and their ancestors for an indefinite period, or new mines, in other words new concessions given indifferently on application to Malays and Chinese. There are about three hundred and fifty private Malay mines, and it is with these principally that the following paper will deal.

“So far, no lodes have been discovered in Kinta; it is, however, probable that, as the country is opened up and prospectors get up amongst the spurs of the main range, the sources of the stream tin will come to light.

“Mining in Kinta, like mining in Lârut, is for stream tin, and this is found literally everywhere in [252]Kinta; it is washed out of the sand in the river-beds—a very favourite employment with Mandheling women; Kinta natives do not affect it much, although there is more than one stream where a good worker can earn a dollar per day; it is mined for in the valley, and sluiced for on the sides of hills; and, lastly, a very suggestive fact to a geologist, it has been found on the tops of isolated limestone bluffs and in the caves225 which some of them contain.

“This stream tin has probably been worked for several centuries in Kinta; local tradition says that a very long time ago Siamese were the principal miners, and there is evidence that very extensive work has been done here by somebody at a time when the method was different from that which is commonly adopted by Kinta Malays at the present day. There are at least fifty deep well-like pits on the Lahat hill, averaging about eight feet in diameter and perhaps twenty feet deep.

“Further up country I have seen a large pit which the natives called a Siamese mine; this is about fifty feet in diameter and over twenty feet deep, and its age may be conjectured from the virgin forest in which it is situated. Besides these, at many places extensive workings are continually brought to light as the country is opened up, and these appear to have been left undisturbed for at least a hundred years. Further evidence of old work is furnished by slabs of tin of a shape unlike that which has been used in Perak in the memory of living persons; and only a few weeks ago two very perfect ‘curry stones’ of an unusual shape and particularly sharp grit were found at a depth of [253]eight feet in natural drift. These may, perhaps, have been used to grind grain.

“So peculiarly is Kinta a mining district, that even the Sakais of the hills do a little mining to get some tin sand wherewith to buy the choppers and sarongs which the Malays sell to them at an exorbitant price.

“The Malay pawang, or medicine-man, is probably the inheritor of various remnants and traditions of the religion which preceded Muhammadanism, and in the olden time this class of persons derived a very fair revenue from the exercise of their profession, in propitiating and scaring those spirits who have to do with mines and miners; even now, although the Malay pawang may squeeze a hundred or perhaps two hundred dollars out of the Chinese towkay226 who comes to mine for tin in Malaya, the money is not perhaps badly invested, for the Chinaman is no prospector, whereas a good Malay pawang has a wonderful ‘nose’ for tin, and it may be assumed that the Chinese towkay and, before his time, the Malay miner, would not pay a tax to the pawang unless they had some ground for believing that, by employing him and working under his advice, there would be more chance of success than if they worked only on their own responsibility.

“The pawang being a person who claims to have powers of divination and other imperfectly understood attributes, endeavours to shroud his whole profession in more or less of mystery. In his vocabulary, as in that of the gutta-hunters, special terms are used to signify particular objects, the use of the ordinary words being dropped; this is called ‘bahâsa pantang.’227 [254]

“The following are some of the special terms alluded to:—

Ber-olak tinggi,228 instead of gajah—elephant. The elephant is not allowed on the mine, or must not be brought on to the actual works, for fear of damage to the numerous races and dams; to name him, therefore, would displease the spirits (hantu).

Ber-olak dâpor, instead of kuching—cat. Cats are not allowed on mines, nor may the name be mentioned.

“A tiger of enormous size called Ber-olak is said to haunt Kinta. The legend about him is as follows:— A long time ago, in the pre-Muhammadan days, a man caught a tiger kitten and took it home; it grew up quite tame and lived with the man until he died, when it returned to the jungle and grew to an enormous size, nine cubits (hasta) long; it is still there, though nobody ever sees it; it does no harm, but sometimes very large tracks are seen, and men hear its roar, which is so loud that it can be heard from Chĕmor to Bâtu Gajah; when heard in the dry season, it is a sure prognostication of rain in fifteen days’ time.

Sial,229 instead of kerbau—water-buffalo. The buffalo is not allowed on the mine for the same reason as the elephant.

Salah nama,230 instead of limau nipis—lime (fruit). If limes are brought on to a mine, the hantu (spirits) are said to be offended; the particular feature of the fruit, which is distasteful, appears to be its acidity. It [255]is peculiar that Chinese have this superstition concerning limes as well as Malays; not very long ago a Chinese towkay of a mine complained that the men of a rival kongsi231 had brought limes and squeezed the juice into his head race, and, furthermore, had rubbed their bodies with the juice mixed with water out of his head race, and he said they had committed a very grave offence, and asked that they might be punished for it.

“With Malays this appears to be one of the most important pantang232 rules, and to such a length is it carried that bĕlachan (shrimp-paste) is not allowed to be brought on to a mine for fear it should induce people to bring limes as well, lime-juice being a necessary adjunct to bĕlachan when prepared for eating.

Buah rumput,233 or bunga rumput, instead of biji—tin sand.

Akar, or akar hidop,234 instead of ular—snake.

Kunyit,235 instead of lipan—centipede.

Batu puteh,236 instead of timah—metallic tin.

“It was important that the Pawang should be a marked man as to personal appearance; for this reason there are certain positions of the body which may be assumed by him only when on the mine. These attitudes are—first, standing with the hands clasped behind the back; and, secondly, with the hands resting on the hips. This second position is assumed when he is engaged in ‘invocating’ the ‘spirits’ of a mine; the pawang takes his station in front of the genggulang,237 [256]having a long piece of white cloth in his right hand, which he waves backwards and forwards over his shoulder three times, each time calling the special hantu whom he wishes to propitiate, by name; whilst engaged in this invocation his left hand rests on his hip. During the performance of any professional duty he is also invariably dressed in a black coat; this nobody but the pawang is allowed to wear on a mine. These attitudes and the black coat comprise what is technically termed the pakei pawang.

“The professional duty of the pawang of a mine consists in carrying out certain ceremonies, for which he is entitled to collect the customary fees, and in enforcing certain rules for the breach of which he levies the customary fines.238

“At the time of the opening of a mine he has to erect a genggulang,239 and to call upon the tutelary [257]hantu of the locality to assist in the enterprise. The fee for this is one bag (karong) of tin sand.

“At the request of the miners, instead of a genggulang a kapala nasi240 may be erected, as cheaper and more expeditious. The fee is one gantang241 of tin sand.

“He also assists in the ceremony of hanging the ancha242 in the smelting-house; his principal associate in this is the Panglima Klian, who draws the ancha up to its proper position close under the attaps.

“1. Raw cotton must not be brought on to a mine in any shape, either in its native state or as stuffing of bolsters or mattresses. The fine (hukum pawang) is $12.50; the ordinary pillow used by a miner is made of some soft wood.

“2. Black coats and the attitudes designated pakei pawang243 may not be assumed by any one on the mine, with the exception of the pawang. (Hukum pawang, $12.50.)

“3. The gourd used as a water vessel by Malays, all descriptions of earthenware, glass, and all sorts of limes and lemons, and the outer husk of the cocoa-nut, are prohibited articles on mines. (Hukum pawang, $12.50.)

Note.—All eating- and drinking-vessels should be made of cocoa-nut shell or of wood: the noise made by earthenware and glass is said to be offensive to the hantu. But in the case of a breach of this regulation the pawang would warn the offenders two or three times before he claimed the fine. [258]

“4. Gambling and quarrelling are strictly forbidden on mines; the fine is claimed for the first offence. (Hukum pawang, $12.50.)

“5. Wooden aqueducts (palong) must be prepared in the jungle a long way from the mine. (Hukum pawang, $12.50.)

“The noise of the chopping is said to be offensive to the hantu.

“6. Any breach of the bahasa pantang is an offence. (Hukum pawang, $12.50.)

“7. Charcoal must not be allowed to fall into the races. (Hukum pawang, $12.50.)

“8. A miner must not wear and go to work on the mine in another man’s trousers. (Hukum pawang, one karong of tin sand.)

Note.—This applies only to the sĕnar sĕluar basah, or working dress. It is also an offence to work in the garment called sarong.

“9. If the chupak (measure) of the mine is broken, it must be renewed within three days. (Hukum pawang, one bhara of tin.)

“10. No weapon may be brought within the four posts of the smelting-house which immediately surround the furnace. (Hukum pawang, $1.25.)

“11. Coats may not be worn within this space. (Hukum pawang, $1.25.)

“12. These posts may not be cut or hacked. (Hukum pawang, one slab of tin.)

“13. If a miner returns from work, bringing back with him some tin sand, and discovers that somebody has eaten the cold rice which he had left at home, he may claim from the delinquent one karong of tin sand. The pawang adjudicates in the matter.

“14. An earthenware pot (priok) which is broken [259]must be replaced within three days. (Hukum pawang, one karong of tin sand.)

“15. No one may cross a race in which a miner is sluicing without going some distance above him, up stream; if he does he incurs a penalty of as much tin sand as the race contains at the moment, payable to the owner of the race. The pawang adjudicates.

“16. A kris, or spear, at a mine, if without a sheath, must be carefully wrapped in leaves, even the metal setting (simpei) must be hidden. Spears may only be carried at the “trail.” (Hukum pawang, uncertain.)

“17. On the death of any miner, each of his comrades on that mine pays to the pawang one chupak (penjuru) of tin sand.

“It will be noticed that the amount of the majority of these fines is $12.50; this is half of the amount of the fine which, under the Malay customary law, a chief could impose on a raʿiyat244 for minor offences. It is also the amount of the customary dowry in the case of a marriage with a slave or with the widow or divorced wife of a raʿiyat.

“The Malay miner has peculiar ideas about tin and its properties; in the first instance, he believes that it is under the protection and command of certain spirits whom he considers it necessary to propitiate; next he considers that the tin itself is alive and has many of the properties of living matter, that of its own volition it can move from place to place, that it can reproduce itself, and that it has special likes—or perhaps affinities—for certain people and things, and vice versa. Hence it is advisable to treat tin-ore with a certain amount of respect, to consult its convenience, and what is, perhaps, [260]more curious, to conduct the business of mining in such a way that the tin-ore may, as it were, be obtained without its own knowledge!”

Mr. Hale adds an interesting vocabulary of Malay mining terms from which the following words are extracted as being specially connected with the superstitions of the miners:—

Ancha.—A square frame 1′ 6″ × 1′ 6″, composed of strips of split bamboo for the floor and four pieces of peeled wood for the sides. The proper wood is kayu sungkei,245 because it has flat even twigs and leaves which lie flat and symmetrically; these must be bound together with a creeper: rattan may not be used; it is hung to the tulang bumbong246 just under the attaps247 of the smelting-shed; it is used as an altar, the offerings made by the miners to the spirits being placed on it.

Genggulang.—The platform or altar erected by the pawang at the opening of a mine. It should be built entirely of kayu sungkei. The wood is peeled, except the four branches which serve as posts; these are only peeled up to the twigs and leaves, which are left on, about 4 feet 6 inches from the ground. At 3 feet 3 inches from the ground a square platform of round peeled sticks, about 1 foot 3 inches each way, is arranged; one foot above the level of the platform a sort of railing is fixed round three sides of the square, and from the open side a ladder with four steps reaches down to the ground; the railing is carried down to the ground on each side of the ladder, and supports a fringe of cocoa-nut leaves (jari-lipan). The whole erection must be tied together with creepers; rattan must not be used.

Jari lipan.—A fringe made of the young white leaflets of the cocoa-nut palm plaited together.248

Jampi.—The incantation of the pawang.

Kapala nasi.—A stake of peeled wood (kayu sungkei) stuck in the ground; the top of this is split into four so as to support [261]a platform similar to that of the genggulang. Offerings are made upon it.249

Pantang burok mata.—The period of mourning observed when a death occurs at a mine.

Mourning consists in abstention from work (in the case of a neighbour or comrade) for three days, or, in the case of the death of the pawang, penghulu kelian, or the feudal chief, for seven days. The expression is derived from the supposition that in three days the eyes of a corpse have quite disappeared. Chinese miners have a similar custom; whoever goes to assist in the burial of a corpse must not only abstain from work, but must not go near the mine or smelting furnace for three days.250

Perasap.—Half a cocoa-nut shell, a cup, or any other vessel, in which votive offerings of sweet-smelling woods and gums are burnt.

Sangka.—A receptacle in which to burn offerings of sweet woods and gums; it is made of a stick of bamboo about three feet long, one end being split and opened out to receive the charcoal; it is stuck in the ground near races and heaps of tin sand.251

Tatin gulang.—The pawang’s fee for the ceremony of erecting a genggulang.252

The following notes on tin-mining in Selangor were contributed to the Selangor Journal by Mr. J. C. Pasqual, a well-known local miner:—

“The Malay mining pawang will soon be a thing of the past, and many a pawang has returned to tilling the soil in place of his less legitimate occupation of imposing upon the credulity of the miners. The reason for this is not far to seek, as the Malay miner, [262]as well as the Chinese miner, of the old school, with their thousand-and-one superstitions, has given place to a more modern and matter-of-fact race, who place more reliance for prospecting purposes on boring tools than on the divination and jampi of the pawang. But the profession of the pawang has not altogether died out, as he is sometimes called into requisition for the purpose of casting out evil spirits from the mines; of converting amang253 (pyrites) into tin-ore, and of invoking the spirits of a mine previous to the breaking of the first sod in a new venture. These ceremonies generally involve the slaying of a buffalo, a goat, or fowls, and the offering of betel-leaf, incense, and rice, according to the means of the towkay lombong.

“The term pawang is now used by the Chinese to indicate the ‘smelter’ (Chinese) of a mine (probably from the fact that this office was formerly the monopoly of the Malay pawang).

“To the pawangs are attributed extraordinary powers, for besides inducing tin-ore to continue or become plentiful in a mine, he can cause its disappearance from a rich ‘claim’ by the inevitable jampi, this latter resource being resorted to by way of revenge in cases where the towkay lombong (or labor) fails to carry out his pecuniary obligation towards the pawang whose aid he had invoked in less prosperous times. Some of the stories told of the prowess of pawangs are very ridiculous; for instance, a native lady in Ulu Langat (for women are also credited with the pawang attributes), who was the pawang of Sungei Jelok in Kajang, could command a grain of tin-ore [263]to crawl on the palm of her hand like a live worm.254 The failure of the Sungei Jelok mines was attributed to her displeasure on account of an alleged breach of contract on the part of the towkay lombong.

“The term pawang is sometimes used as a verb in the sense of ‘to prospect’ a sungei or stream; thus in alluding to certain streams or mines, it is not uncommon to hear a Malay say that they have been prospected (sudah di-pawangkan) by ‘Inche’ So-and-so—meaning that the stream had been discovered and proved by a pawang prior to the opening of the mines.”255

In a later article Mr. Pasqual says: “It is believed that tin will even on rare occasions announce its presence by a peculiar noise heard in the stillness of night, and that some birds and insects by their chirrupings and whirrings will proclaim its whereabouts.”256

In a still later article, after briefly referring to the use of the bhasa pantang, or “Taboo Language,” by tin-miners in Selangor, Mr. Pasqual proceeds:—

“There are, again, certain acts which are forbidden. In the mine, especially if the karang257 has not yet been removed, it is forbidden to wear shoes or carry an umbrella. This rule, it seems, originated with the coolies themselves, who in olden times insisted that the Towkay Labur should take off his shoes and close his umbrella whenever he visited the mine, so that, as they alleged, the spirits might not be offended. But their real object was not to allow him to pry too much into [264]the mine, in case it might not bear scrutiny; and thus, by depriving him of the protection from the sun and from the rough mining quartz which would have been afforded by the umbrella and shoes, they prevented him from going about here, there, and everywhere, and making unpleasant inquiries, as he would otherwise have liked to do.

“Quarrelling and fighting in the mine is strictly forbidden, as it has a tendency to drive away the ore.

“Bathing in the mine is not allowed.

“A man must not work in the mine with only his bathing-cloth around his body. He must wear trousers.

“If a man takes off his sun hat and puts it on the ground, he must turn it over and let it rest upon its crown.

“Limes cannot be brought into the mine. This superstition is peculiar to the Malay miner, who has a special dread of this fruit, which, in pantang language, he calls salah nama (lit. ‘wrong name’) instead of limau nipis.

“In looking at the check-roll it is forbidden to point at the names with the finger. No one may examine the check-roll at night with an open light, owing more probably to the fear of setting it on fire than to superstitious prejudices.

“It is considered unlucky for a man to fall off the mining ladder, for, whether he is hurt or not, he is likely to die within the year.

“An outbreak of fire in the mine is considered an omen of prosperity. Several mines have been known to double or treble their output of tin after the occurrence of a fire.

“It is unlucky for a coolie to die in the kongsi [265]house. When, therefore, a man is very sick and past all hopes of recovery, it is customary to put him out of the house in an extempore hut erected in the scrub, so that death may not take place in the kongsi amongst the living. His chuleis258 attend him during his last hours and bury him when dead. These and other superstitious ideas and observances are, however, fast dying out, though it would still be an unsafe experiment to enter a mine with shoes on and an umbrella over your head.”259

The remaining notes on mining ceremonies and charms were collected by me in Selangor. On reaching the tin-bearing stratum, the tin-ore is addressed by name:—

“Peace be with you, O Tin-Ore,

At the first it was dew that turned into water,

And water that turned into foam,

And foam that turned into rock,

And rock that turned into tin-ore;

Do you, O Tin-Ore, lying in a matrix of solid rock,

Come forth from this matrix of solid rock;

If you do not come forth

You shall be a rebel in the sight of God.

Ho, Tin-Ore, Sir ‘Floating Islet,’

‘Flotsam-at-sea,’ and ‘Flotsam-on-land,’

Do you float up to the surface of this my tank,260

Or you shall be a rebel to God,” etc.

Sometimes each grain of ore appears to be considered as endowed with a separate entity or individuality. Thus we find in another invocation the following passage, where the wizard is addressing the grains of ore:— [266]

“Do You (Grains of Ore) that are on the Hills descend to the Plains,

You that are at the Head-waters descend to Mid-stream,

You that are at the Estuary ascend to Mid-stream.

And assemble yourselves together in this spot.

Assemble yourselves together, ‘Rice-grains’ and ‘Spinach-seed,’

‘Tobacco-seed,’ ‘Millet,’ and ‘Wild Ginger-Seed,’

Assemble ye together in this spot.

I am desirous of excavating this spot,

And of making a mine here;

If ye do not assemble yourselves together

I shall curse you;

You shall be turned into dust, and turned into air,

And you shall also be turned into water.”

The separate personality of each individual grain is remarkably clear in the above passage. The names of the different kinds of seed are in allusion to the various shapes and sizes of the grains of ore.

Yet in the very same charm various kinds of lizards and centipedes are begged to “bring the tin-ore with them, some of them a grain or two, some of them a fistful or two, some of them a gallon or two, some of them a load or two,” and so on. No doubt the wizard was determined to allow the grains no loophole for escape.

The objects of the charms employed by the mining wizards are the following:—

(1) To clear the jungle of evil spirits (and propitiate the good ones?) before starting to fell, as is shown by the following passage:—

“O Grandfather King Solomon, Black King Solomon,

I desire to fell these woods,

But it is not I who am in charge of these woods,

It is Yellow King Solomon who is in charge of them,

And Red King Solomon who is in charge of them.

It is I who fell the jungle,

But only with the permission of those two persons.

Rise, rise, O Ye who watch it (the tin?), [267]

[Here are] three ‘chews’ of betel for you, and three cigarettes,

O Maimurup, O Maimerah, O Gadek Hitam,

Si Gadek Hitam (Black Grannie) from Down-stream,

Si Gadek Kuning (Yellow Grannie) from Up-stream,

And Si Maimerah from Mid-stream.”]

(Here some lines follow which are as yet untranslatable.)

“Retire ye and avaunt from hence,

If ye retire not from hence,

As you stride, your leg shall break,

As you stretch your hand out, your hand shall be crippled,

As you open your eye (to look), your eyeball shall burst,

Your eye stabbed through with a thorn of the T’rong Asam,261

And your hand pierced with the Sĕga jantan,262

And your finger-nails with Heart of Brazilwood.

Moreover, your tongue shall be slit with a bamboo splinter,

For thus was it sworn by ‘Grandfather Sakernanaininaini’263

Into the leaf (of the) Putajaya,

Upon the summit of the mountain of Ceylon.

I know the origin from which you spring,

From the Black Blood and the Red,

That was your origin.

We are two sons of one father, but with different inheritances;

In my charge is Gold and Tin-ore,

In yours are Rocks and Sand,

With chaff and bran.”

(2) To clear evil spirits away from the ground before commencing the work of excavation. The charm for this is given in the Appendix, but is little more than a list of names.

(3) To propitiate the local spirits and induce the tin-ore to show itself, when the tin-bearing stratum is reached, by means of the charm quoted above. [268]

(4) To induce the spirits to partake of a banquet which is spread for them in a receptacle intended to be the model of a royal audience-chamber.

This, the “spirits’ audience-chamber” (as it is called), is usually from two to three feet square, and is filled with offerings similar in character to those usually deposited on the sacrificial tray (anchak), with the addition, however, of certain articles which are considered to be specially representative of the miners’ food. These articles are sugar-cane, plantains, yams, sweet potatoes, and fish, etc.; all of which should be placed together with the customary offerings in the “spirits’ audience-chamber.” Outside the “audience-hall,” at each of the two front corners, should be placed a red and a white flag and a wax taper; and at each of the two back corners should be placed a taper, making in all four flags and seven tapers.

A standard censer (pĕrasapan) must be erected in front of the “audience-chamber,” and a second small censer must also be obtained, so that burning incense may be “waved” to and fro underneath the floor of the audience-chamber in order to fumigate it before the offerings are deposited inside it.

During the fumigation a charm is recited, in which the assistance of the spirits of certain canonized Muhammadan worthies is invoked, concluding thus:—

“Peace be with you, O White Sheikh, wizard of the virgin jungle,

Wizards old, and wizards young,

Come hither and share the banquet I have prepared for you.

I crave pardon for all mistakes,

For all shortcomings I beg pardon in every particular.”

Then when the tapers are all lighted and the offerings [269]ready, a further charm is recited, which begins as follows:—

“Ho, White Sheikh, king of the virgin jungle,

It is you to whom belong all people of the jungle and virgin forest,

Do you, whose back is turned towards heaven,

Give your orders to all the Elders of the earth and Princes who are here,

You who here hold the position of Indra,

Come hither and partake of my banquet.

I wish to ask for your assistance,

I wish to open (excavate) this mine.”264

The chief taboos are the killing of any sort of living creature within the mine; to wear a sarong (Malay skirt); to bring into the mine the skin of any beast; and to wear shoes or use an umbrella within the mine. These are some of the perpetual taboos, but no doubt there are many others.

In the case of a sacrifice, however, the white buffalo may of course be killed, not within the mine itself, but still upon its brink; and when this is done, the head is buried, and small portions (which must be “representative” of every part of the carcase) should be taken and deposited in the “audience-chamber.”

Among the seven days’ taboos are mentioned the killing of any living timber (within the precincts of the mine?), lewdness, and the praising or admiring of the “grass seed” (puji buah rumput), which is the name by which the tin-ore must invariably be called within the precincts of the mine. This last taboo is due to the use of a special mining vocabulary to which the greatest attention was formerly paid, and which did not differ very greatly from that used in Perak. [270]

Another account of the ceremony runs as follows; I give it word for word as I took it down from my Malay informant:—

“Take five portions of cooked and five portions of uncooked fowls, both white and black, together with black pulut rice,265 millet-seed (sĕkoi), seeds of the chĕbak China, etc. etc. When all is ready, burn incense, scatter the black rice with the right hand over the bottom of a tray, i.e. an anchak (such as is used for offerings to the spirits), fumigate and deposit the offerings in five portions upon this layer of rice (one portion going to each corner and one to the middle of the tray). Take black cloth, five cubits long, fumigate it, and wave it thrice round the head with the right hand from left to right, repeating the following invocation (sĕrapah):—

“O Grandfather ‘Batin’266 the Elder,

In whose charge are caverns and hill-locked basins,

O Grandfather ‘Batin’ the Younger,

In whose charge are all these your civil and military companies,

May the Ore which is on the Hills descend to the Plain,

May that which is Up-stream descend to Mid-stream,

And that which is Down-stream ascend to Mid-stream,

Assemble you together, O Ores, in this spot;

It is not I who call you,

It is Grandfather Batin the Elder who calls you,

It is Batin the Younger who calls you,

It is the Elder Wizard who calls you,

It is the Younger Wizard who calls you,

Assemble yourselves together, Rubbish and Trash,

House-lizards, ‘Kalerik,’ Centipedes, and Millipedes,

And partake of my banquet.

Let whosoever comes bring me ore,

A kĕtong267 or two,


A fistful or two,

An arai268 or two,

A gallon or two,

A basket or two,

Assemble yourselves together, Boiled Rice-seed,

Spinach-seed, Tobacco-seed, Millet-seed, Wild Ginger-seed,

Assemble yourselves together in this spot.

I wish to excavate this spot,

I wish to open a mine:

If you do not come, if you do not gather yourselves together,

I shall curse you;

You shall turn into dust, into air, and into water.

By virtue of the magic arts of my teacher be my petition granted.

It is not I who petition,

It is the Elder Wizard who petitions,

It is the Younger Wizard who petitions.

By the grace of ‘There is no god but God,’” etc.

The foregoing descriptions of mining ceremonies and charms refer to tin only, but in so far as general animistic ideas go, they might be equally well applied to other metals, such as silver and gold.

It has already been remarked that as the Tin spirit is believed to take the form of a buffalo, so the Gold spirit is said to take the form of a golden roe-deer (kijang). Of the ceremonies which the Malays believe to be essential for successful gold-mining, not much information has yet been published. In Denys’ Descriptive Dictionary, however, we read the following:—

“Gold is believed to be under the care and in the gift of a dewa, or god, and its search is therefore unhallowed, for the miners must conciliate the dewa by prayers and offerings, and carefully abstain from pronouncing the name of God or performing any act of worship. Any acknowledgment of the sovereignty of Allah offends the dewa, who immediately ‘hides the [272]gold,’ or renders it invisible. At some of the great limbongan269 mas or gold-pits in the Malay States of the interior, any allusion to the Deity subjects the unwitting miner to a penalty which is imposed by the Penghûlu. The qualities of the gold vary greatly in the same country. The finest gold brought to market is that of the principality of Pahang, on the eastern side of the Malay Peninsula, which brings a higher price than even that of Australia by better than three per cent. The gold is all obtained by washing, and the metal has never been worked, and scarcely even traced to the original veins. It is mostly in the form of powder or dust—the mas-urai of the Malays, literally ‘loose or disintegrated gold.’”270

Gold, silver, and an amalgam formed of the two, are regarded as the three most precious metals, and of these gold is, to a very uncertain and partial extent, still sometimes regarded as a royal prerogative.271

Of Silver still less information has been collected than of gold. This, however, is but natural, as silver has not yet been found in payable quantities, whereas many gold mines exist. It is just possible, however, that silver may be worked by the Malays on a small scale in the Siamese-Malay States, as it would be difficult on any other hypothesis to account for the following invocation, which was given me by a Malay of Kelantan (’Che ʿAbas):—

“Peace be with you, O Child of the Solitary Jin Salaka (Silver),

I know your origin. [273]

Your dwelling-place is the Yellow Cloud Rock;

The Place of your Penance the Sea of Balongan Darah;

The Place of your Penance is a Pond in every stream;

The Place of your Birth was the Bay where the Wind Dies;

Ho, Child of the Solitary Jin Salaka,

Come hither at this time, this very moment,

I wish to make you a propitiatory offering, to banquet you on arrack and toddy.

If you do not come hither at this very moment

You shall be a rebel unto God,

And a rebel unto God’s Prophet Solomon,

For I am God’s Prophet Solomon.”

No other metals, so far as I am aware, are worked to any extent in the Peninsula, yet there is the clearest possible evidence of animistic ideas about Iron. Thus for the Sacred Lump of Iron which forms part of the regalia of more than one of the petty Sultans in the Peninsula, the Malays entertain the most extraordinary reverence, not unmingled with superstitious terror.272 It is upon this “Lump of Iron,” when placed in water, that the most solemn and binding oath known to those who make use of it is sworn; and it is to this “Lump of Iron” that the Malay wizard refers when he recites his category of the most terrible denunciations that Malay magic has been able to invent.273

It is possible that there may be, in the Malay [274]mind at all events, some connection between the supernatural powers ascribed to this portion of the regalia and the more general use of iron as a charm against evil spirits. For the various forms of iron which play so conspicuous a part in Malay magic, from the long iron nail which equally protects the new-born infant and the Rice-Soul from the powers of evil, to the betel-nut scissors which are believed to scare the evil spirits from the dead, are alike called the representatives (symbols or emblems) of Iron (tanda bĕsi). So, too, is the blade of the wood-knife, or cutlass, which a jungle Malay will sometimes plant in the bed of a stream (with its edge towards the source) before he will venture to drink of the water. So, too, is the blade of the same knife, upon the side of which he will occasionally seat himself when he is eating alone in the forest; both of these precautions being taken, however, as I have more than once been told, not only to drive away evil spirits, but to “confirm” the speaker’s own soul (mĕnĕtapkan sĕmangat).

Even Stone appears to be regarded as distinctly connected with ideas of animism. Thus the stone deposited in the basket with the Rice-soul, the stone deposited in the child’s swinging cot by way of a substitute when the child is temporarily taken out of it, and above all the various concretions to be found from time to time both in the bodies of animals (“Bezoar” stones) and in the stems or fruit of trees (as tabasheer), are examples of this. Examples of tabasheer have already been quoted (under Vegetation Charms), but a few remarks about Bezoar stones may be of interest.

The Bezoar stones known to the Peninsular Malays are usually obtained either from monkeys or porcupines. [275]Extraordinary magical virtues are attached to these stones, the gratings of which are mixed with water and administered to the sick.274

I was once asked $200 for a small stone which its owner kept in cotton-wool in a small tin box, where it lay surrounded by grains of rice, upon which he declared that it fed.275 I asked him how it could be proved that it was a true Bezoar stone (which it undoubtedly was not), and he declared that if it were placed upon an inverted tumbler and touched with the point of a k’ris (dagger) or a lime-fruit it would commence to move about. Both tests were therefore applied in my presence, but the motion of the Bezoar stone in each case proved to be due to the most overt trickery on the part of the owner, who by pressing on one side of the stone (which was spherical in shape) naturally caused it to move; in fact I was easily able to produce the same effect in the same way, as I presently showed him, though of course he could not be brought to admit the deception.276 [276]

Before I leave this portion of the subject, I may mention that magic powers are very generally ascribed to the “celts” or “stone-age” implements which are frequently found in the Peninsula, and are called thunderbolts (batu halilintar). They are not unfrequently grated and mixed with water and drunk [277]like the Bezoar stones, but usually they are kept merely as a touch-stone for gold.


(c) Water


The following description (by Sir W. E. Maxwell) of the bathing ceremony, as practised by the [278]Perak Malays, may be taken as typical of this subject:—

“Limes are used in Perak, as we use soap, when a Malay has resolved on having a really good “scrub.” They are cut in two and squeezed (ramas) in the hand. In Penang a root called sintok is usually preferred to limes. When the body is deemed sufficiently cleansed the performer, taking his stand facing the East, spits seven times, and then counts up seven aloud. After the word tujoh (seven) he throws away the remains of the limes or sintok to the West, saying aloud, Pergi-lah samua sial jambalang deripada badan aku ka pusat tasek Paujangi, ‘Misfortune and spirits of evil begone from my body to the whirlpool of the lake Paujangi!’ Then he throws (jurus) a few buckets of water over himself, and the operation is complete.

“The lake Paujangi is situated in mid-ocean, and its whirlpool most likely causes the tides. All the waters of the sea and rivers are finally received there. It is probably as eligible an abode for exorcised spirits as the Red Sea was once considered to be by our forefathers.” 277

The ceremony just described is evidently a form of purification by water. Similar purificatory ceremonies form an integral part of Malay customs at birth, adolescence, marriage, sickness, death, and in fact at every critical period of the life of a Malay; but will be most conveniently discussed in detail under each of the particular headings referred to. The tĕpong tawar ceremony (for the details of which see Chapter III., and which is perhaps the commonest [279]of all Malay magic rites) would also seem to have originated from ideas of ceremonial purification.


The Malays have been from time immemorial a sea-faring race, and are quite as superstitious in their ideas of the sea as sailors in other parts of the world.

As has been already indicated,278 their animistic notions include a belief in Water Spirits, both of the sea and of rivers, and occasionally this belief finds expression in ritual observances.

Thus, for instance, it was formerly the custom to insert a number of sugar-palm twigs (sĕgar kabong) into the top of the ship’s mast, making the end of it look not unlike a small birch of black twigs.279

This was intended to prevent the Water Spirit (Hantu Ayer) from settling on the mast. His appearance when he does settle is described as resembling the glow of fire flies or of phosphorescence in the sea—evidently a form of St. Elmo’s fire.

The ship being a living organism, one must, of course, when all is ready, persuade it to make a proper start. To effect this you go on board, and sitting down beside the well (petak ruang), burn incense and strew the sacrificial rice, and then tapping the inside of the keelson (jintekkan sĕrĕmpu) and the next plank above it (apit lĕmpong), beg them to adhere to each other during the voyage, e.g.:—

“Peace be with you, O ‘big Mĕdang’ and ‘low-growing Mĕdang!’

Be ye not parted brother from brother, [280]

I desire you to speed me, to the utmost of your power,

To such and such a place;

If ye will not, ye shall be rebels against God,” etc.

I need hardly explain, perhaps, that “big mĕdang” and “low-growing mĕdang” are the names of two varieties of the same tree, which are supposed in the present instance to have furnished the timber from which these different parts were made.

Then you stand up in the bows and call upon the Sea Spirits for their assistance in pointing out shoals, snags, and rocky islets.280

Sometimes a talisman is manufactured by writing an Arabic text on a leaf which is then thrown into the sea.

So, too, it is not unusual to see rocks in mid-stream near the mouths of rivers adorned with a white cloth hanging from a long stick or pole, which marks them out as “sacred places,” and sometimes in rapids where navigation is difficult or dangerous, offerings are made to the River Spirits, as the following quotation will show:—

“We commenced at last to slide down a long reach of troubled water perceptibly out of the horizontal. The raft buried itself under the surface, leaving dry only our little stage, and the whole fabric shook and trembled as if it were about to break up. Yelling ‘Sambut, sambut’ (‘Receive, receive’) to the spirits of the stream, whom Kulup Mohamed was propitiating with small offerings of rice and leaves, the panting boatmen continued their struggles until we shot out once more into smooth deep water, and all danger was over.”281 [281]

The importance of rivers in the Malay Peninsula, and for that matter, in Malayan countries generally, can hardly be overrated. It was by the rivers that Malay immigration, coming for the most part, if not entirely, from Sumatra, entered the interior of the Peninsula, and before the influx of Europeans had superseded them by roads and railways the rivers were the sole means of inland communication. All old Malay settlements are situated on the banks of rivers or streams, both on this account and because of the necessity of having a plentiful supply of water for the purpose of irrigating the rice-fields, which constitute the main source of livelihood for the inhabitants.

Accordingly the backbone, so to speak, of a Malay district is the river that runs through it, and from which in most cases the district takes its name; for here, as elsewhere, the river-names are generally older than the names of territorial divisions. They are often unintelligible and probably of pre-Malayan origin, but are sometimes derived from the Malay names of forest trees. As a rule every reach and point has a name known to the local Malays, even though the river may run through forest and swamp with only a few villages scattered at intervals of several miles along its banks.

Of river legends there are not a few. The following extract relates to one of the largest rivers of the Peninsula, the river Perak, which gives its name to the largest and most important of the Malay States of the West Coast. Perak means silver, though none is mined in the country; and the legend is a fair specimen of the sort of story which grows up round an attempt to account for an otherwise inexplicable name:—

“On their return down-stream, the Raja and his [282]followers halted at Chigar Galah, where a small stream runs into the river Perak. They were struck with astonishment at finding the water of this stream as white as santan (the grated pulp of the cocoa-nut mixed with water). Magat Terawis, who was despatched to the source of the stream to discover the cause of this phenomenon, found there a large fish of the kind called haruan engaged in suckling her young one. She had large white breasts from which milk issued.282

“He returned and told the Raja, who called the river ‘Perak’ (‘silver’), in allusion to its exceeding whiteness. Then he returned to Kota Lama.”283


The Crocodile

Of the origin of the Crocodile two conflicting stories, at least, are told. One of these was collected by Sir William Maxwell in Perak; the other was taken down by me from a Labu Malay in Selangor, but I have not met with it elsewhere; a parallel version of the story quoted by Maxwell being the commonest form of the legend in Selangor as well as Perak.

Sir William Maxwell’s account runs as follows:—

“In the case of the crocodile, we find an instance of a dangerous animal being regarded by Malays as possessed of mysterious powers, which distinguish [283]him from most of the brute creation, and class him with the tiger and elephant. Just as in some parts of India sacred crocodiles are protected and fed in tanks set apart for them by Hindus, so in Malay rivers here and there particular crocodiles are considered kramat (sacred), and are safe from molestation. On a river in the interior of Malacca I have had my gun-barrels knocked up when taking aim at a crocodile, the Malay who did it immediately falling on his knees in the bottom of the boat and entreating forgiveness, on the ground that the individual reptile aimed at was kramat, and that the speaker’s family would not be safe if it were injured. The source of ideas like this lies far deeper in the Malay mind than his Muhammadanism; but the new creed has, in many instances, appropriated and accounted for them. The connection of the tiger with Ali, the uncle of the prophet, has already been explained. A grosser Muhammadan fable has been invented regarding the crocodile.

“This reptile, say the Pêrak Malays, was first created in the following manner:—

“There was once upon a time a woman called Putri Padang Gerinsing, whose petitions found great favour and acceptance with the Almighty.

“She it was who had the care of Siti Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet. One day she took some clay and fashioned it into the likeness of what is now the crocodile. The material on which she moulded the clay was a sheet of upih (the sheath of the betel-nut palm). This became the covering of the crocodile’s under-surface. When she attempted to make the mass breathe it broke in pieces. This happened twice. Now it chanced that the Tuan Putri had just [284]been eating sugar-cane, so she arranged a number of sugar-cane joints to serve as a backbone, and the peelings of the rind she utilised as ribs. On its head she placed a sharp stone, and she made eyes out of bits of saffron (kuniet); the tail was made of the mid-rib and leaves of a betel-nut frond. She prayed to God Almighty that the creature might have life, and it at once commenced to breathe and move. For a long time it was a plaything of the Prophet’s daughter, Siti Fatima; but it at length became treacherous and faithless to Tuan Putri Padang Gerinsing, who had grown old and feeble. Then Fatima cursed it, saying, ‘Thou shalt be the crocodile of the sea, no enjoyment shall be thine, and thou shalt not know lust or desire.’ She then deprived it of its teeth and tongue, and drove nails into its jaws to close them. It is these nails which serve the crocodile as teeth to this day. Malay Pawangs in Pêrak observe the following methods of proceeding when it is desired to hook a crocodile:—To commence with, a white fowl must be slain in the orthodox way, by cutting its throat, and some of its blood must be rubbed on the line (usually formed of rattan) to which the fowl itself is attached as bait. The dying struggles of the fowl in the water are closely watched, and conclusions are drawn from them as to the probable behaviour of the crocodile when hooked. If the fowl goes to a considerable distance the crocodile will most likely endeavour to make off; but it will be otherwise if the fowl moves a little way only up and down or across the stream.

“When the line is set the following spell must be repeated: ‘Aur Dangsari kamala sari, sambut kirim Tuan Putri Padang Gerinsing; tidak di-sambut mata [285]angkau chabut’ (O Dangsari, lotus-flower, receive what is sent thee by the Lady Princess Padang Gerinsing; if thou receivest it not, may thy eyes be torn out’). As the bait is thrown into the water the operator must blow on it three times, stroke it three times, and thrice repeat the following sentence, with his teeth closed and without drawing breath: ‘Kun kata Allah sapaya kun kata Muhammad tab paku,’ (‘Kun saith God, so kun saith Muhammad; nail be fixed.’) Other formulas are used during other stages of the proceedings.”284

The rarer story, to which allusion has been made, was the following:—

“There was a woman who had a child which had just learnt to sit up (tahu dudok), and to which she gave the name of ‘Sarilang.’ One day she took the child to the river-side in order to bathe it, but during the latter operation it slipped from her grasp and fell into the river. The mother shrieked and wept, but as she did not know how to dive she had to return home without her child. That night she dreamed a dream, in which her child appeared and said, ‘Weep no more, mother, I have turned into a crocodile, and am now called ‘Grandsire Sarilang’ (’Toh Sarilang): if you would meet me, come to-morrow to the spot where you lost me.’ Next morning, therefore, the mother repaired to the river and called upon the name of her child, whereupon her child rose to the surface, and she saw that from the waist downwards he had already turned into a crocodile, though he was still human down to the waist. Now the child said, ‘Come back again after fourteen days, and remember to bring an egg and a plantain (banana).’ She therefore went [286]again at the time appointed, and having called upon him by his new name (’Toh Sarilang), he again came to the surface, when she saw that from the waist upwards he had also now turned into a crocodile. So she gave him the egg and the plantain, and he devoured them, and when he had done so he said, ‘Whenever the crocodiles get ferocious (ganas), and commence to attack human beings, take a plantain, an egg, and a handful of parched rice, and after scattering the rice on the river, leave the egg and the plantain on the bank, calling upon my name (’Toh Sarilang)285 as you do so, and their ferocity will immediately cease.’”

The notes on crocodile folklore which will now be given were reprinted in the Selangor Journal from the “Perak Museum Notes” of Mr. Wray.

“When the eggs of a crocodile are hatching out, the mother watches; the little ones that take to their native element she does not molest, but she eats up all those which run away from the water, but should any escape her and get away on to the land they will change into tigers. Some of these reptiles are said to have tongues, and when possessed of that organ they are very much more vicious and dangerous than the ordinarily formed ones. When a crocodile enters a river it swallows a pebble, so that on opening the stomach of one it is only necessary to count the stones in it to tell how many rivers it has been into during its life. The Malays call these stones kira-kira dia,286 on this account. The Indians on the banks of the Orinoco, on the other hand, assert that the alligator swallows stones to add weight to its body to aid it in diving and [287]dragging its prey under water. Crocodiles inhabiting a river are said to resent the intrusion of strangers from other waters, and fights often take place in consequence. According to the Malays they are gifted with two pairs of eyes. The upper ones they use when above water, and the under pair when beneath the surface. This latter pair is situated half-way between the muzzle and the angle of the mouth, on the under surface of the lower jaw. These are in reality not eyes, but inward folds of skin connected by a duct with a scent gland, which secretes an unctuous substance of a dark gray colour, with a strong musky odour. Medicinal properties are attributed to the flesh of the males, which are believed to be of very rare occurrence, and to be quite unable to leave the water by reason of their peculiar conformation. The fact is that the sexes are almost undistinguishable, except on dissection, and therefore the natives class all that are caught as females. While on this subject, it may be worth mentioning that at Port Weld there used to be a tame crocodile which would come when called. The Malays fed it regularly, and said it was not vicious, and would not do any harm. It was repeatedly seen by the yearly visitants to Port Weld, or Sapetang, as the place was then called, and was a fine big animal, with a bunch of seaweed growing on its head. Some one had it called, and then fired at the poor thing; whether it was wounded or only frightened is uncertain, but it never came again.”287

The following notes upon the same subject were collected by me in Selangor:—

The female crocodile commonly builds her nest, with or without the aid of the male, among the thorny [288]clumps of lĕmpiei (or dĕmpiei) trees just above high-water mark, using the fallen leaves to form the nest, and breaking up the twigs with her mouth. The season for laying is said, in the north of the Peninsula, to coincide with the time “when the rice-stalks swell with the grain,” i.e. the end of the wet season.

The most prolific species of crocodile is reputed to be the buaya lubok, or Bight crocodile (also called buaya rawang, or Marsh crocodile), which lays as many as fifty or sixty eggs in a single nest. Other varieties, I may add, are the buaya tĕmbaga (Copper crocodile), the buaya katak (Dwarf crocodile), which is, as its name implies, “short and stout,” and the buaya hitam or bĕsi (Black or Iron crocodile), which is reported to attain a larger size than any other variety. This latter kind is often moss-grown, and is hence called buaya bĕrlumut (Mossy crocodile). The largest specimen of this variety of which I have had any reliable account is one which measured “four fathoms, less one hasta” (about 23 feet), and which was caught in the time of Sultan Mahmat at Sungei Sembilang, near Kuala Selangor, by one Nakhoda Kutib.

The buaya jolong-jolong, which has attracted attention owing to its reputed identification with the gavial of Indian waters, and which is therefore no true crocodile, is pointedly described by Malays as separating itself from the other species.

Finally, there is the buaya gulong tĕnun (the “Crocodile that Rolls up the Weft”?), which is not, however, the name of a separate variety, but is the name applied to the Young Person or New Woman of the world of crocodile-folk—the aggressive female who “snaps” at everything and everybody for the mere glory of the snap! [289]

“After hatching,” says Mr. Wray, “the mother watches, and ... eats up all those which run away from the water, but should any escape her and get away on to the land they will turn into tigers.” There is perhaps more point in the Selangor tradition, according to which the little runaways turn, not into tigers, but into “iguanas” (Monitor lizards).

As regards the want of a tongue, which is supposed to be common to all crocodiles, it is said they were so created by design, in order that they might not acquire too pronounced a “taste” for human flesh. Hence the proverb which declares that no carrion is too bad for them to welcome: “Buaya mana tahu mĕnolak bangkei?” (“When will crocodiles refuse corpses?”)288

After the outbreak of ferocity (ganas) among the crocodiles in the Klang River last year, some account of the way in which the crocodile is here said to capture and destroy his human victims may prove of interest.

Every crocodile has, according to the Selangor Malay, three sets of fangs, which are named as follows: (1) si hampa daya289 (two above and two below), at the tip of the jaws; (2) ĕntah-ĕntah (two in the upper and two in the lower jaw), half-way up; (3) charik kapan (two in the upper and two in the lower jaw), near the socket of the jaws.

The first may be translated by “Exhaust your devices”; the second by “Yes or no”; and the third by “Tear the shroud,” the latter being a reference to the selvage which, among the Malays, is torn off the [290]shroud and afterwards used for tying it up when the corpse has been wrapped in it.

If a man is caught by the “Exhausters of all Resources,” he has a fair chance of escape; if caught by the “Debateable” teeth his escape is decidedly problematical; but if caught by the “Tearers of the Shroud,” he is to all intents and purposes a dead man. Whenever it effects a capture the crocodile carries its victim at once below the surface, and either tries to smother him in the soft, thick mud of the mangrove swamp, or pushes him under a snag or projecting root, with the object of letting him drown, while it retires to watch him from a short distance. After what it considers a sufficient interval to effect its purpose, the crocodile seizes the body of the drowned man and rises to the surface, when it “calls upon the Sun, Moon, and Stars to bear witness” that it was not guilty of the homicide—

“Bukan aku mĕmbunoh angkau,

Ayer yang mĕmbunoh angkau.”

Which, being translated, means—

“It was not I who killed you,

It was water which killed you.”290

After thrice repeating this strange performance, the crocodile again dives and proceeds to prepare the corpse for its prospective banquet. Embracing the corpse with its “arms,” and curving the tip of its [291]powerful tail under its own belly (until the tail is nearly bent double), it contrives to break the backbone of the victim, and then picking up the body once more with its teeth, dashes it violently against a trunk or root in order to break the long bones of the limbs. When the bones are thus so broken as to offer no obstruction, it swallows the body whole—thus affording a remarkable parallel to the boa in its method of devouring its prey, and recalling Darwinian ideas of their cousin-hood. Miraculous escapes have, however, occasionally occurred. Thus Lebai ʿAli was caught by a crocodile at Batu Burok (Kuala Selangor), one evening as the tide was ebbing, and the crocodile, after smothering him effectually (as it thought) in the thick mud, retired to await the end. Insensibly, however, it floated farther and farther off with the falling tide, and Lebai ʿAli, seeing his opportunity, made a bold and successful dash for freedom.

A similar case was that of Si Ka’, who was pushed under a bamboo root on the river bank by the crocodile which caught him, and who, after waiting till his formidable enemy had floated a little farther off than usual, drew himself up by an overhanging stem and swarmed up it. At the same moment the crocodile made a rush, and actually caught him by the great toe, which latter, however, he willingly surrendered to his enemy as the price of his liberty.

A yet more marvellous escape, was that of the youth belonging to the Government launch at Klang, who escaped, it is related, by the time-honoured expedient of putting his thumbs into the crocodile’s eyes. In connection with this latter exploit, by the way, Malay authorities assert that the crocodile’s eyes protrude from their sockets on stalks (like those [292]of a crab) so long as he stays under water, the stalks being “as long as the forefinger,” so that it is quite an easy matter to catch hold of these living “pegs.”

For the rest, crocodiles are said by the Malays to have a sort of false stomach divided into several pouches or sacs, one sac being for the stones which they swallow, and another for the clothes and accoutrements of their human victims, these pouches being in addition to their real stomach (in which the remains of monkeys, wild pig, mouse-deer, and other small animals are found), and, in the case of female specimens, the ovary. The second pair of eyes in the neck which, Mr. Wray says, they are supposed to use when below the surface, are in Selangor supposed to be used at night, whence they are called mata malam, or night-eyes, as opposed to their real eyes which they are supposed to use only by day.

As regards the stones, which crocodiles undoubtedly swallow, they are sometimes supposed to enable each male crocodile to keep an account of the number of rivers which it has entered, of the number of bights it has lived in, or even of the number of its human victims. The noise which crocodiles make when fighting resembles a loud roar or bellow, and the Malays apply the same word mĕnguak to the bellow of the crocodile as well as to that of the buffalo.

The wrath of the crocodile-folk is provoked by those who wish to shoot them, in various ways, of which, perhaps, the commonest is to dabble a sarong, or (as is said to be more effectual) a woman’s mosquito-curtain, in the water of the river where they live. So also to keep two sets of weights and measures (one for buying and another for selling, as is sometimes [293]done by the Chinese), is said to be a certain means of provoking their indignation.

The crocodile-wizard is sometimes credited with the power of calling the crocodile-folk together, and of discovering a man-eater among them, and an eye-witness lately described to me the scene on one such occasion. A Malay had been carried off and devoured by a crocodile at Larut, and a Batu Bara man, who went by the sobriquet of Nakhoda Hassan, undertook to discover the culprit. Sprinkling some of the usual sacrificial rice-paste (tĕpong tawar) and “saffron” rice upon the surface of the river, he called out in loud tones to the various tribes of crocodiles in the river, and summoned them to appear on the surface. My informant declares that not less than eight or ten crocodiles actually appeared, whereupon the Pawang commanded them all to return to the bottom with the exception of the one which was guilty. In a few moments only one crocodile remained on the surface, and this one, on being forthwith killed and cut open, was found to contain the garments of the unfortunate man who had been captured by it. Similar stories of the prowess of crocodile charmers are told by the Javanese.291

I shall now proceed to describe the methods and ceremonies used for the catching of crocodiles. The following is a description by Mr. J. H. M. Robson, of Selangor, of the most usual method, at all events in Selangor, but it would appear from remarks upon the subject in Dr. Denys’ work, that live as well as dead bait is commonly used:—

“A small piece of hard wood, about 6 in. or 8 in. long, and about three-quarters of an inch thick, is [294]sharpened at both ends, and to the middle of this the end of a yard of twine is firmly fastened, the twine having about a dozen strands just held together by say a couple of knots, so as to prevent the crocodile from biting it through, as the strands simply get between his teeth; to the other end of this twine is fastened a single uncut rattan, at least 20 feet long, which can be only a quarter of an inch in diameter, but may with advantage be a little bigger; a small stick affixed to the end of the line, to act as a visible float, completes this part of the gear. Probably a crocodile will eat anything, but he is certainly partial to chicken—at least that bait is always successful in the Sepang river—so, having killed some sort of fowl, the body is cut right through the breast lengthways from head to tail, and the small piece of pointed hard wood inserted, and the bird bound up again with string. Next, two pieces of light wood are nailed together, forming a small floating platform about a foot square, and on this the fowl is placed, raised on miniature trestles. The small platform thus furnished is placed in a likely spot near the bank, and the rattan line is hitched over a small branch or a stake, so that the bait platform may not be carried away by the tide. By the next morning the rattan line, bait and platform may all have disappeared, which probably means that the crocodile, having swallowed the fowl, has gone off with the rattan in tow, a tug being sufficient to set it free, whilst the platform, thus released, has drifted away. A crocodile will try the aggressive sometimes, so, when going in pursuit, it is better to have a boat than a sampan,292 but Malay paddles are the most convenient in either case. It is also advisable to have [295]a second man with a rifle. The crocodile has probably a favourite place up-stream, so the boatmen paddle up on the look-out for the rattan (which always floats), finding it at length close to the mangrove roots bordering on the river, perhaps. The boat-hook picks up the floating-stick end of the line, and, with a couple of boatmen on to this and a crocodile at the other end, with the small pointed hard wood stick across his throat, the excitement begins. The crocodile plunges about amidst the mangrove roots under the water, and then makes a rush; the rattan is paid out again and the boat follows; then he rushes under the boat, perhaps at the boat, whilst the line is steadily pulled in. This sort of thing may last some time, but the only thing to be afraid of is the rattan’s getting twisted round a bakau293 root under water, which might prevent a capture; otherwise, after a good deal of playing of a rather violent nature, the continual pulling of the rattan-holders in the boat, or his own aggressiveness, induces him to show his head above the surface, whereat the rifles crack, and the crocodile dies, though often not till four or five bullets have been put into different parts of his body.”294

I will now proceed to describe the religious ceremonies which accompany this performance.

The following outline of the ceremonies used in catching a crocodile who is known to be a man-eater, was taken down by me from the mouth of a noted crocodile-wizard on the Langat river. First, you take strips of bark of a river-side bush or tree called baru-baru (which must be cut down at a single stroke), and fasten them together at each end only, [296]so that they form a rope with divided (unravelled) strands. This will form that part of your tackle which corresponds to the gut (pĕrambut) of a fishing line, (i.e. the part just above the hook), and the advantage of it is that the loose strands get between the crocodile’s teeth, and prevent it from being bitten through as a rope would certainly be.

Next, you take a piece of the bottommost rung of a house-ladder (anak tangga bongsu), and sharpen it to a point at both ends, so as to form a cross-piece (palang) such as will be likely to stick in the crocodile’s throat. Having fastened one end of the “gut” round the middle of the cross-piece, and the other to your rattan line, the length of which may be from ten to fifteen fathoms or so, according to the depth of the river at the spot where the crocodile is supposed to lie, you must next cut down a young tree to serve as the pole (chanchang) to which the floating platform and bait may be subsequently attached. This pole may be of any kind of wood except bamboo; so when you have found a suitable tree, take hold of it with the left hand and chop at it thrice with the right, saying a charm as you do so—

“Peace be with you, O Prophet Tĕtap, in whose charge is the earth,

Peace be with you, O Prophet Noah, Planter of Trees,

I petition for this tree to serve as a mooring-post for my crocodile-trap;

If it is to kill him (the crocodile), do you fall supine,

If it is not to kill him, do you fall prone.”295

These last two lines refer to the omens which are taken from the way the tree falls; the “supine” position being that of a crocodile which has “turned [297]turtle,” whereas the prone position would be its natural attitude as it swims.

Then start making the floating platform or raft (rakit) by chopping a plantain stem (any kind will do) into three lengths (di-k’ratkan tiga), and then skewering these lengths together at their ends so as to form a triangle.

Into the apex of this triangle firmly plant the lower end of a strong and springy rod, making the upper end curve over slightly in a forward direction (di-pasang-nya kayu mĕlentor ka-atas) and securing it in its position by two lashings, which are carried down from its tip and fastened to the two front corners of the triangle. Then utter the charm and plant the pole by the river-side in the spot you have selected, holding your breath and making believe that you are King Solomon (di-sifatkan kita Raja Suleiman) as it sinks into the ground. The charm consists of these lines:—

“Peace be with you, O Prophet Khailir,

In whose charge is the water;

Peace be with you, O Prophet Tĕtap,

In whose charge is the earth;

Pardon, King of the Sea, Deity of Mid-currents,

I ask only for the ‘guilty’ (crocodiles),

The innocent do you assist me to let go,

And drive out only the guilty which devoured So-and-so.

If you do not do so, you shall die,” etc.

Now prepare the bait. To do this you must kill a fowl (in the orthodox way), cut it partly open and insert the ladder-rung into its body, wrapping the flesh and feathers round it, and binding the whole bird seven times round and seven times across with a piece of rattan, not forgetting, however, to observe silence and hold your breath as you pass the first [298]rattan lashing round the fowl’s carcase. When you have finished binding it up as directed, chew some betel-leaf and eject (sĕmborkan) the chewed leaf upon the fowl’s head, repeating the appropriate charm.296 Then hook the bait (sangkutkan umpan) on to the tip of the bent rod (on no account tie it on, as it must be left free for the crocodile to swallow), and having prepared the wonted accessories—including three chews of betel-leaf, a richek of ginger (halia bara sa-richek), and seven white pepper-corns (lada sulah tujoh biji)—breathe (jampikan) upon the betel-leaf, and at the end of the invocation eject the chewed betel-leaf upon the head of the cock intended for the bait.

The charm to be recited (which makes allusion to the fable concerning the supposed origin of the crocodile) runs as follows:—

“Follow in procession, follow in succession,

The ‘Assembly-flower’ begins to unfold its petals;

Come in procession, come in succession,

King Solomon’s self comes to summon you.

Ho, Si Jambu Rakai, I know your origin;

Sugar-cane knots forty-four were your bones,

Of clay was formed your body;

Rootlets of the areca-palm were your arteries,

Liquid sugar made your blood,

A rotten mat your skin,

And a mid-rib of the thatch-palm your tail,

Prickles of the pandanus made your dorsal ridge,

And pointed bĕrĕmbang suckers your teeth.297

If you splash with your tail it shall break in two,

If you strike downwards with your snout it shall break in two, [299]

If you crunch with your teeth they shall all be broken.

Lo, Si Jambu Rakai, I bind (this fowl) with the sevenfold binding,

And enwrap it with the sevenfold wrapping

Which you shall never loosen or undo.

Turn it over in your mouth before you swallow it.

O, Si Jambu Rakai, accept this present from Her Highness Princess Rundok, from Java:298

If you refuse to accept it,

Within two days or three

You shall be ... choked to death with blood,

Choked to death by Her Highness Princess Rundok, from Java.

But if you accept it,

A reach up-stream or a reach down-stream, there do you await me;

It is not my Word, it is King Solomon’s Word;

If you are carried down-stream see that you incline up-stream,

If you are carried up-stream see that you incline down-stream,

By virtue of the Saying of King Solomon, ‘There is no god but God,’” etc.

Then take a canoe paddle (to symbolise the crocodile’s tail) and some strong thread, fasten one end of the thread to the front of the floating platform, and the other end to the bow of your boat, back water till it grows taut, and strike the surface of the water thrice with the aforesaid “mock” crocodile’s tail. If the first time you strike it the sound is clearest (tĕrek bunyi) it is an omen that the crocodile will swallow the bait the first day; if the second time, it will be the second day when he does so; if the third time, it will be the third day. But every time you strike the water you must say to yourself, “From Fatimah was your origin” (Mani Fatimah asal’kau jadi), in order to make the crocodile bold. After striking the water you may go home and rest; but you must get up again in any case at about two in the afternoon (dlohor), and whatever happens you must remember [300]never to pass underneath a low overhanging bough (because such a bough would resemble the bent rod of the floating platform), and never (for the time being) to eat your curry without starting by swallowing three lumps of rice successively. If you do this it will help the bait to slide more easily down the crocodile’s throat, and in the same way you must never, until the brute is safely landed, take any bones out of the meat in your curry—if you do, the wooden cross-piece is sure to get loose and work out of the fowl—so it is just as well to get somebody to take the bones out of your meat before you begin, otherwise you may at any moment be compelled to choose between swallowing a bone and losing all your labour.

I will pass on to the final capture. The crocodile has taken the bait, we will say, and with the last of the ebb, not unfrequently in a perilously rickety boat, you go out to look for the tell-tale end of the line that floats up among the forked roots of the mangrove trees. First you must go to the place where you left the floating platform; take hold of the pole to which it is moored and press it downwards into the river-bottom, saying (to the hooked crocodile) as you do so:—

“Do not run away,

Our agreement was a cape (further) up-stream,

A cape (further) down-stream.”299

(Here hold your breath and press upon the pole.) Then wait for the tide to turn, search for the end of the line (which, being of rattan, is sure to float) [301]up and down the river banks, and when you find it take hold of the end and give it three tugs, repeating as you do so this “crippling charm”:—

“I know the origin from which you sprang,

From Fatimah did you take your origin.

Your bones (she made from) sugar-cane knots,

Your head from the cabbage of a cocoa-nut palm,

The skin of your breast from the leaf-case of a palm,

Your blood from saffron,

Your eyes from the star of the east,

Your teeth from the pointed suckers of the bĕrĕmbang tree,

Your tail from the sprouting of a thatch-palm.”

As you utter the last words give the end of the line three twists (pioh) and then clench the teeth upon it (katup di gigi) thrice, holding your breath as you do so; then jerk it (rentak) thrice and haul upon it (runtun); if you feel much resistance slack it off again and repeat the ceremony, using the “crippling charm” as before, “until you break all the bones in his body.” Besides this, in order to drive the “mischief” out of the crocodile, you may say:—

“Pardon, King of the Sea, God of Currents,

I wish to drive the ‘mischief’ out of this crocodile.”300

And strike the water and middle of the line with the end of the line itself.

Now you haul on the line, and the crocodile comes up to the top with a rush, and the fun begins. As he comes up to the surface you ask him, “Was it you who caught So-and-so?”301 And if he wishes to reply in the affirmative he will bellow loudly. When he does so, say, “Wind yourself up” (”lilit”), and he will wind the line round his muzzle. And when you want [302]to kill him, chop across the root of his tail with a cutlass; this will kill him at once.

I may add that it is not generally wise to keep a captured crocodile alive overnight, as he happens to be one of the clientèle of a certain powerful hantu (spirit) named Langsuir302 who comes to the assistance of his follower at night and endows him with supernatural strength, thus enabling him, if he is not very sufficiently tied up, to get loose, which might be awkward. You should also never bring one into the house, on account of an understanding, prejudicial to yourself, which exists between him and the common house-lizard (chichak).

Of the folklore which is concerned with other classes of “reptilia” that which deals with Snakes is the most important.

“The gall-bladder of the python, uler sawah, is in great request among native practitioners. This serpent is supposed to have two of these organs, one of which is called lampedu idup, or the live gall-bladder. It is believed that if a python is killed and this organ is cut out and kept, it will develop into a serpent of just twice the size of that from which it was taken. The natives positively assert that the python attains a length of sixty to seventy feet, and that it has been known to have killed and eaten a rhinoceros.

“One of the pit vipers is exceedingly sluggish in its movements, and will remain in the same place for days together. One individual that was watched, lay coiled up on the branch of a tree for five days, and probably would have remained much longer, but at the end of that time it was caught and preserved. [303]The Malays call it ular kapak daun, and they say that it is fed three times a day by birds, who bring it insects to eat. One man went so far as to say that he had actually once seen some birds engaged in feeding one of these beautiful bright-green snakes.”303

In Selangor, as in Perak, the “live gall-bladder” of the python will (it is believed), if kept in a jar, develop into a serpent; when dried it is in great request as a remedy for small-pox. The story that Mr. Wray tells of the pit viper (ular kapak daun) is in Selangor told of a snake called chintamani. Selangor Malays say that it was once upon a time a Raja of the country, and that the birds which bring it food were then its subjects. A Malay told me that he once saw this operation, and that the birds fed it with insects. It is reputed to be a perfectly harmless snake, and it is considered extremely lucky to keep one of the species in one’s house, or even to see it. It is described as of a bright and glittering blue304 colour (biru bĕrkilat-kilat), and is frequently referred to in charms, especially those connected with the Rice-soul ceremony, and is sometimes said to spring from the egg of the chandrawasih or bird of paradise.

The cobra (ular tĕdong) is said to have a bright stone (kĕmala or gĕmala)305 in its head, the radiance of which causes its head to be visible on the darkest night. A “snake bezoar” (guliga ular) is also said [304]to be occasionally found in the back of a snake’s head (?), whilst the snake-stone (batu ular) is carried in its mouth.

This batu ular is a prize for the possession of which snakes are not unfrequently believed to fight, and appears to correspond to the pearl for which in Chinese legendary lore the dragons of that country were believed to engage in mortal combat. A Malay remarked to me that it was always worth while if one came upon two snakes thus engaged to kill them both, as one of them was sure to possess this much-coveted stone, which is said to confer an almost certain victory upon its possessor.

Another species of “snake-stone,” which is said to be manufactured by Pawangs from gold, silver, amalgam (of silver and gold), tin, iron, and quicksilver, is called Buntat Raksa, and is said to be invaluable in case of snake-bite. It is believed that this stone will adhere to the wound, and will not fall off until it has sucked out all the poison. One of these stones, which was sold to me in Selangor for a dollar, was about an inch long and oval in shape; it was evidently made of some mixture of metals, and was perforated so as to enable it to be carried on a string.

The ular gantang is said to be a snake, though from the description given it would seem more likely to be some species of slow-worm or blind-worm. It is only a “few inches” long, and is “black,” and there is said to be little if any difference between its head and its tail. It is considered to be extremely lucky, and when a Malay meets it, he spreads out his head-cloth or turban on the ground, and allows it to enter, when he carries it home and keeps it. [305]

To dream of being bitten by a snake is thought to portend success in a love affair.306

“A horned toad, known as katak bertandok, but not the common one of that name (Megalophrys nasuta, Gunther), has a very bad reputation with the Malays. It is said to live in the jungle on the hills, and wherever it takes up its abode all the trees and plants around wither and die. So poisonous is it, that it is dangerous even to approach it, and to touch or be bitten by it is certain death.

“The bite of the common toad (Bufo melanostictus, Cantor) is also said to prove fatal. That toads have no teeth is an anatomical detail that does not seem to be thought worthy of being taken into account.

“The supposed venomous properties of this useful and harmless tribe have a world-wide range. In Shakespeare many allusions to it are made; one of them, which mentions the habit of hibernation possessed by those species which inhabit the colder parts of the earth, says—

‘In the poison’d entrails throw,

Toad, that under coldest stone

Days and nights hast thirty-one,

Swelter’d venom sleeping got,

Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.’

“In another, reference is made to the toad-stone, which seems to be represented in Malayan tradition by the pearl carried in the bodies of the hamadryad, the cobra, and the bungarus, the three most deadly snakes of the Peninsula:—

‘Sweet are the uses of adversity,

Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,

Wears yet a precious jewel in its head.’


“There is some foundation of fact for the popular belief, as toads secrete an acrid fluid from the skin, which appears to defend them from the attacks of carnivorous animals.”307

It may not be out of place to give here a Malay tradition about a species of snail:—

“A strange superstition is attached to a small snail which frequents the neighbourhood of the limestone hills in Perak. It belongs to the Cyclophoridæ, and is probably an Alycæus. Among the grass in the shadow of a grazing animal these creatures are to be discovered, and if one of them is crushed it will be found to be full of blood, which has been drawn in a mysterious way from the veins of the animal through its shadow. Where these noxious snails abound, the cattle become emaciated and sometimes even die from the constant loss of blood. In the folklore of other countries many parallels to this occur, but they differ in either the birds, bats, or vampires, who are supposed to prey on the life-blood of their fellows, going direct to the animals to suck the blood, instead of doing so through the medium of their shadows.”308


Fish are in many cases credited by the Malay peasant with the same portentous ancestry as that which he attributes to some of the larger animals and birds.

“Many Malays refuse to eat the fresh-water fish called ikan belidah,309 on the plea that it was originally [307]a cat. They declare that it squalls like a cat when harpooned, and that its bones are white and fine like a cat’s hairs. Similarly the ikan tumuli is believed to be a human being who has been drowned in the river, and the ikan kalul to be a monkey transformed. Some specially favoured observers have seen monkeys half through the process of metamorphosis—half-monkey and half-fish.”310

Similarly, the Dugong (Malay duyong) is asserted [308]by some Malays to have sprung from the remains of a pig, which Muhammad himself dined off before he pronounced pork to be the accursed thing. Being cast by the Prophet into the sea, it revived and took the shape of the dugong, in which shape it is still to be found off the coast of Lukut and Port Dickson, where it feeds upon sea-grass (rumput sĕtul), in common with a species of small tripang or bêche-de-mer.311

The origin of the Eel (ikan b’lut) is derived from a stem of the g’li-g’li plant; the “white-fish” (ikan puteh) from splinters, or rather shavings of wood (tatal kayu or tarahan kayu); the sĕnunggang fish from the long-tailed monkey (k’ra); the aruan fish from a frog (katak) or lizard (mĕngkarong); the bujok fish from charred fire-logs (puntong api); the telan fish from the creeping roots of the yam (sulur k’ladi); and so on. There is even the leaf of a certain tree which is sometimes said to turn into a fish (the ikan bĕlidah),312 while the following story is held to account for the origin of the Porpoise:—

Once upon a time there was a fishing-wizard (Pawang Pukat) who had encountered nothing but misfortune from first to last, and who at length determined to put forth all his skill in magic in one last desperate effort to repay the burden of debt which threatened to crush him. One day, therefore, having tried his luck for the last time, and still caught nothing, he requested his comrades to collect an immense quantity of mangrove leaves in their boat. Having carried these leaves out to the fishing-ground, he scattered [309]them on the surface of the water, together with a few handfuls of parched and saffron-stained rice, repeating a series of most powerful spells as he did so. The next time they fished, the leaves had turned into fish of all shapes and sizes, and an immense haul of fish was the result. The wizard then gave directions for the payment in full of all his debts and the division of the balance among his children, and then without further warning plunged into the sea only to reappear as a porpoise.

“A species of fish-like tadpole,313 found at certain seasons of the year in the streams and pools, is supposed to divide when it reaches maturity, the front portion forming a frog and the after-part or tail becoming the fish known as ikan kli, one of the cat-fishes or Siluridæ. In consequence of this strange idea many Malays will not eat the fish, deeming it but little better than the animal from which it is supposed to have been cast.

“The ikan kli is armed with two sharp barbed spines attached to the fore-part of the pectoral fins, and can and does inflict very nasty wounds with them, when incautiously handled. The spines are reputed to be poisonous, but it is believed that if the brain of the offending fish is applied to the wound, it will act as a complete antidote to the poisonous principle, and the wound will heal without trouble. The English cure for hydrophobia—that is, ‘the hair of the dog that bit you’—will occur to all as a modification of the same idea.”314 [310]

The fish called sĕluang is used for purposes of magic. It is supposed that any one who pokes out its eyes with a special needle (which must be one out of a score—the packets being made up in scores—and must possess a torn eye) will be able to inflict blindness, by sympathy, upon any person against whom he has a grudge.315

The fish called kĕdĕra is supposed to change into a sea-bird.

I will now proceed to describe the ceremony which is supposed to secure an abundant catch of fish in the stakes.

In January 1897 I witnessed the ceremony of sacrificing at the fishing-stakes (mĕnyemah b’lat) which took place at the hamlet of Ayer Hitam (lit. “Blackwater”), in the coast district of Kuala Langat (Selangor). The chief performer of the rites was an old Malay named Bilal Umat, who had owned one of the fishing-stakes in the neighbourhood for many years past, and had annually officiated at the ceremony which I was about to witness. I and my small party arrived in the course of the morning, and were received by Bilal Umat, who conducted us to the long, low palm-thatch building (bangsal kelong), just above high-water mark, in which he and his men resided during the fishing-season. Here we found that a feast was in course of preparation, but what most attracted my attention was the sight of three large sacrificial basket-work trays,316 each about 2½ feet square, and with high fringed sides which were suspended in a row from the roof of the verandah, on the seaward side of the building. [311]These trays were empty, but had been lined with banana leaves to prepare them for the reception of the offerings, which latter were displayed upon a raised platform standing just in front of them.

Fig. 1.—Ceremony of sacrificing at the fishing-stakes.

Fig. 1.—Ceremony of sacrificing at the fishing-stakes.

Shortly after our arrival the loading of the trays commenced. First Bilal Umat took a large bowl of parched rice, and poured it into the trays, until the bottom of each tray was filled with a layer of parched rice about an inch in depth.

Next he took a bowl of saffron-stained rice, and deposited about five portions of it in the centre and four corners of each tray; then he made a similar distribution of small portions of washed rice, of sweet potatoes (k’ledek), of yams (k’ladi), of tapioca (ubi kayu), of bananas (pisang), and betel-leaf (sirih)—there being two sets, one cooked and one uncooked, of each of these portions, except the last. Finally, he [312]added one cigarette to each portion, the cigarette being intended for the spirits to smoke after their meal!

A fine black goat, “without blemish and without spot,” had been killed by Bilal Umat early that morning, and he now deposited its head in the middle of the central tray, two of the feet in the middle of the right-hand tray, and the other two feet in the middle of that on the left. To each of these three central portions were now added small portions of the animal’s viscera (liver, spleen, lights, tripe, heart, etc.), and then the small diamond-shaped (kĕtupat) and cylindrical (lĕpat) rice-bags317 were suspended in the usual manner. A wax taper was added to each portion of each tray, and the loading of the trays declared complete.

Everything being now ready, Bilal Umat carried a smoking censer thrice round the row of trays (walking always towards the left), and then lighting the five wax tapers of the left-hand tray, directed two of his men to take down this tray and sling it on a pole between them. This they did, and we set off in procession along the sandy foreshore at the back of the building until we came to a halt at a spot about fifty yards off, where Bilal Umat suspended the tray from the branch of a mangrove-tree about five feet from the ground. This done, he faced round towards the land, and breaking off a branch of the tree, gave utterance to three stentorian cooees, which he afterwards informed me were intended to notify the Land Spirits (Orang darat, lit. “Land Folk”) of the fact that offerings were awaiting their acceptance. Returning to the house, he manufactured one of the leaf-brushes318 which the Malays always used [313]for the “Neutralising Rice-paste” (tĕpong tawar) rite, and we then started in a couple of boats for the fishing-stakes, taking with us the two remaining trays.

Of these two trays, one was suspended by Bilal Umat from a high wooden tripod which had been erected for the purpose, the site selected being the centre of a shoal about half-way between the fishing-stakes and the house. The third tray, which contained the head of the goat (kapala kambing dĕngan buah-nya), was then taken on to the fishing-stakes, Bilal Umat disposing of a large quantity of miscellaneous offerings which he had brought with him in a basket by strewing them upon the surface of the sea as we went along.319

On reaching the stakes, the Pawang (Bilal Umat) [314]suspended the tray from a projecting pole at the seaward end of the fishing-stakes,320 and then seating himself upon one of the timbers almost directly underneath it, scattered handfuls of saffron-stained rice, “washed” rice, and native cigarettes upon the water, just outside the two seaward posts at the end of the stakes, and emptied out the remainder of the parched rice upon the water just inside the “head” of the stakes. Then he recited a charm, stirred the bowl of neutralising rice-paste (tĕpong tawar) with the brush of leaves, and taking the latter out of the bowl, sprinkled, or rather daubed it first upon the two “tide-braces” of the stakes (first upon the left “tide-brace,” and then upon the right), then upon the heads of the two upright posts next to the tide-braces, and then delegated the brush to two assistants. One of these sprinkled the heads of all the (remaining) upright posts in the seaward compartment of the stakes, while the other boarded the big boat belonging to the stakes, and sprinkled the boat and all its gear from stem to stern (commencing on the left side of the bows, and working right down to the stern, and then recommencing on the right and working down to the stern again). Finally, the same assistant returning to the stakes, washed the rice-bowl in the sea just beneath the place where Bilal Umat was sitting, and fastened up the leaf-brush to the left-hand head-post (kayu puchi kiri) at the seaward end of the stakes. To the above account I may add that a number of taboos are still pretty rigorously enforced by the fishing-wizards (Pawang B’lat) upon the coast of Selangor. I was never allowed to take either an umbrella or boots into the fishing-stakes [315]when I visited them—the spirits having, I was told, the strongest possible objection to the use of either.

Other “perpetual taboos” (pantang salama-lama-nya) are to bathe without wearing a bathing-cloth (mandi tĕlanjang), to throw the wet bathing-cloth over the shoulder when returning to the house, and to rub one foot against the other (gosok satu kaki dĕngan lain). Sarongs, umbrellas, and shoes must never on any pretence be worn. I may add that the first pole planted is called Turus Tuah (tua?), and if the response of the spirits to the invocation be favourable, it is believed that it will enter the ground readily, as if pulled from below. The only seven-days’ taboo which I have heard mentioned (though, no doubt, there are many others) is the scrupulous observance of chastity.

A boat which possesses a knot in the centre of its keel, or to which the smell of fish long adheres (p’rahu pĕranyir, or pĕrhanyir), is supposed to bring good luck to the fishermen.

There is also a regular “taboo language” used by the fishermen, of which the following are examples:—

  • “Fish = daun kayu (tree-leaves) or sampah laut (jetsam).
  • Snake = akar hidup (living creeper).
  • Crocodile = batang kayu (tree-log).
  • Seaward compartment of the stakes (bunohan) = kurong.”

At the close of the ceremony Bilal Umat repeated to me one of the kelong321 invocations which he had just been making use of, and which ran as follows:—

“Peace be with you, God’s Prophet, ’Tap!

Peace be with you, God’s Prophet, Khizr!

Peace be with you, God’s Prophet, Noah!

Peace be with you, god of the Back-water! [316]

Peace be with you, god of the ‘Bajau’!

Peace be with you, god of Mid-currents!

Peace be with you, god of the Yellow Sunset-glow!

Peace be with you, Old Togok the Wizard!

Peace be with you, O Elder Wizard!

It is not I who make you this peace-offering,

It is Old Togok the Wizard who makes it.

It is the Elder Wizard who makes it,

By the order of Old Aur Gading (lit. ‘Ivory Bamboo’).

By virtue of ‘There is no god,’” etc.322

The following was the charm used by the Pawang at the planting of the first pole of a jĕrmal:323

“Peace be with you, Eldest Wizard, First of Wizards, Allah,

And Musa, the Converser with Allah.

Sĕdang Bima, Sĕdang Buana,

Sĕdang Juara, and King of the Sea,

Come let us all together

Plant the pole of this jĕrmal.”

Even when fishing with rod and line, a sĕrapah (invocation) of some sort, such as the following, was generally used:—

“Ho, God of Mid-currents,

See that you do not agitate my hook!

If my hook is to the left,

Do you go to the right.

If my hook is to the right,

Do you go to the left.

If you approach this hook of mine

You shall be cursed by the Saying of God,” etc.


(Before casting the line, a chew of betel-leaf should be thrown into the water.)

Another very common rhyming charm would frequently be addressed to the fish:—

“Swallow (lit. receive) the gut of my line,

Be it broken sooner than torn from my hands,

If you tear it from my hands

Your eye shall be plucked out.”


(d) Fire


“Procuring fire by friction is an accomplishment as common to the Malay as to the North American Indian. The process is, however, slightly different. While the latter resorts to circular friction, the Malay cuts a notch on the converse surface of a bamboo, across which he rapidly rubs another piece cut to a sharp edge. A fine powder is rubbed away and this ignites. Bamboo is also used as a flint with tinder. The all-pervading match, however, is alone used in all districts under foreign influence.”324

The foregoing description requires to be supplemented, for the method of procuring fire by circular friction is hardly (if at all) less common among the Malays than the method of cross friction. The former process takes the form of the well-known “fire-drill,” both the block and the upright stick being generally made of mahang wood. The upright stick is frequently worked by a species of “bow,” such as that used by carpenters, and is kept from jumping out of the socket in which it revolves [318]by means of a cocoa-nut shell, which is pressed down from above. When cross friction is used, a long narrow slit is usually cut, following the grain, in the convex surface of the piece of bamboo, the dust which is rubbed away falling through it and gradually forming a little pile which presently ignites. It is hardly necessary to cut a notch for the cross-piece, as a groove is very quickly worn when the friction is started. A species of fire-syringe has also, I believe, been collected by Mr. L. Wray in Perak.


In procuring fire by circular or cross friction the performer will often say, by way of a charm—

“The Mouse-deer asks for Fire325

To singe his mother-in-law’s feathers.”

The “mouse-deer’s mother-in-law” is the name of a small bird, which is said to have very gay plumage of five colours and to resemble the green pigeon (punei) in shape, and the explanation of this charm is said to be that in the days of King Solomon, when both the mouse-deer and his mother-in-law wore their human forms, the Mouse-deer was greatly annoyed by the conduct of his mother-in-law, who kept dancing in front of him as he went. A quarrel ensued,326 as the result of which they were both transformed into the shapes which they now respectively bear; but the mother-in-law has not yet abandoned her exasperating tactics, and may still often be seen [319]tantalising the Mouse-deer by hopping in front of it as it goes along.

There are still some traces of the influence of animistic ideas in that part of Malay folklore which is concerned with fire. If an inflammable object, such as wood, falls by accident into the fire, a stick must be used in extracting it, and the stick left, as a substitute, in its place.

The hearth-fire (api dapor) must never be stepped over (di-langkah-nya), nor must the rice-pot which stands upon it, as in the latter case the person who does so will be “cursed by the Rice.”

Both fire and smoke (fumigation) are a good deal used by the Malays for purposes of ceremonial purification, but the details of such rites cannot be conveniently discussed except in connection with the complete ceremonies of which they form a part; they will accordingly be found under such headings as Birth, Adolescence, Marriage, Medicine, and Funerals.327 [320]

1 Kapar, Klang, Langat: the Pawang (magician) mentions, by way of example, the names of three places on the Selangor coast which he wishes to visit in succession during the day “if the wind will listen to him.” The Pawang who told me this was a Kapar man (’Che ʿAkob). 

2 The first two lines are no doubt (as elsewhere) a sort of rhymed memoria technica, intended to “memorise” the accessories required for the rite. The tortoise here would appear to be a symbol of rain, as among the Sakais (wild tribes) of the Malay Peninsula. v. Haddon, Evolution of Art, p. 246. Can the “white” (or gray?) “ones” be the two lizards; and the “black one” the tortoise? The grass lizards are of various colours. 

3 The rice-spoon is a favourite weapon against spirits of evil, v. Maxwell in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 19, which describes how a woman in travail is armed with a [rice-] spoon during an eclipse. 

4 Pĕngiran Chĕmcha, which I translate Prince Rice-spoon, appears to be a mock title of Bornean origin. Thus we read that “Pĕngiran” or “Pangeran” is the title of the four Ministers of State (wazirs) in Brunei, one of whom was called Pĕngiran Pamancha, of which the present name (Pĕngiran Chĕmcha) looks like a corruption.—J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 20, p. 36. 

5 Inverted (I was given to understand), by way of symbolising the vault of heaven—a good example of sympathetic magic. 

6 For other superstitions about the cat, vide pp. 190–192, infra

7 The mĕranti is a fine hard-wood forest tree. 

8 i.e. “May we be well sheltered.” 

9 Vide p. 93, supra

10 The proverbs referred to are to be found in the collections of proverbs sent by Mr. Maxwell to Nos. 1, 2, and 3 of the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. The numbers are consecutive.

4. Apa guna-nia merak mengigal di hutan?

“What is the use of the peacock strutting in the jungle?”

The idea is that the beauty of the bird is thrown away when exhibited in a lonely spot where there is none to admire it.

72. Seperti ponggok merindu bulan.

“As the owl sighs longingly to the moon.”

A figure often used by Malays in describing the longing of a lover for his mistress. It recalls a line in Gray’s “Elegy,” “The moping owl doth to the moon complain.” [As to the story connected with the ponggok, vide infra, p. 122. Cpt. Kelham, vide infra, supposes the ponggok to be Scops lempiji, Horsf.]

73. Seperti kuang mekik di-puchuk gunong.

“Like the argus pheasant calling on the mountain peak.”

Another poetical simile for a complaining lover. Here he is compared to a lonely bird sounding its note far from all companions.

93. Seperti tetegok di-rumah tinggal.

“Like the night-jar at a deserted house.”

The tegok or tetegok is a bird common in the Malay Peninsula, whose habits are nocturnal and solitary. It has a peculiar, liquid, monotonous call. The phrase is used to signify the solitude and loneliness of a stranger in a Malay kampong.

Elsewhere (in notes afterwards published in the Selangor Journal) (vol. i. No. 23, p. 360) Sir W. E. Maxwell says “The burong tetegok is not a night bird, but flies by day. It can be distinguished by its short rapid note, which resembles tegok-tegok-tegok-tegok.” Apparently Sir W. E. Maxwell identifies this bird with the Malay night-jar (Caprimulgus macrurus. Horsf.) described by Capt. Kelham, in No. 9, page 122 of the J.R.A.S., S.B. None of the Dutch Dictionaries identify it clearly, though Klinkert (probably wrongly) identifies it with the small owl called ponggok, which is taken by Capt. Kelham to be Scops lĕmpiji, Horsf. 

11 Gerda meniumur kepah-nia. 

12 Another fabulous bird which Maxwell does not mention is the Walimana (which I have more than once heard called Wilmana in Selangor). On the identity of this bird, my friend Mr. Wilkinson, of the Straits Civil Service, sends me in a letter the following note:—“The word is walimana. I have often met it in old MSS. written The ‘wali’ is the same as the second word in Rajawali. The mana is ‘human’; cp. man, manushya, etc. The walimana in old Javanese pottery is represented as a bird with a human head, a sort of harpy. In the Hikayat Sang Samba it is the steed of Maharaja Boma, and repeatedly speaks to its master.” 

13 Laksana jintayu menantikan hujan “as the jintayu awaits the rain,” is a proverbial simile for a state of anxiety and despondency. Jintayu = Jatayu (Sanskrit), a fabulous vulture. 


The chandrawasi, bird of power,

Is closely hidden among the clouds.

Anxiety reigns in my heart,

Each day that I see not my love.

[To the above I may perhaps be allowed to add that the (dialectal) form chandrawasir is the form generally used in the southern part of Selangor (where the final “r” is still commonly preserved). The regular (Dictionary) form of the word, however, appears to be chandrawasih or chĕndĕrawaseh (the forms chĕndărawangsa, chĕndĕrawasa, and chĕndĕrawangseh being also found). In origin the word is undoubtedly Sanskrit.

It means the Bird of Paradise, but in those Malay countries where the Bird of Paradise is unknown, it is also applied to other birds, such as (in Malay romances) to the golden oriole and even to the ostrich. In the Malay Peninsula, too, it is said to fly feet upwards (which peculiarity it shares, according to Mr. Clifford, with the Berek-berek, Pub. J.R.A.S., S.B., Hik. Raj. Budiman, pt. ii. 35), and its eggs are sometimes said, on falling, to develop into the snake called chintamani. It is always considered lucky, and the “Bird of Paradise Prayer,” (doʿa chĕndrawasi) as it is called, generally takes an important place in the formulas recited at the ceremonies connected with the Rice-soul, q.v. For the confusion between the chĕndrawasi and berek-berek (probably due to the fact that the chĕndrawasi, or Bird of Paradise, is not to be found in the Peninsula) vide note on App. xxx.] 

15 The baberek appears to be yet another name for the goat-sucker or night-jar (Caprimulgus macrurus, Horsf.) Dawn of History, page 171. 

16 As it appears that in Europe, at all events, the legend of the Wild Huntsman and his dogs (or Gabriel’s Hounds, as they are often called) is explained by the cries of wild geese flying overhead on dark nights, it seems most convenient to give the Malay legend in connection with the birds with which the Malays associate him. The explanation to which I refer is to be found in Prof. Newton’s Dictionary of Birds (1893), sub voce “Gabble-ratchet.” I quote in extenso:—

“In many parts of England, but especially in Yorkshire, the cries of some kind of wild goose,17 when flying by night, are heard with dismay by those who do not know the cause of them, and are attributed to ‘Gabriel’s Hounds,’ an expression equivalent to ‘Gabble-ratchet,’ a term often used for them, as in this sense gabble is said to be a corruption of Gabriel, and that, according to some mediæval glossaries, is connected with gabbara or gabares, a word meaning a corpse (cp. Way, Promptorium Parvulorum, p. 320, sub voce ‘Lyche’); while ratchet is undoubtedly the same as the Anglo-Saxon ræce and Middle English racche or rache, a dog that hunts by scent and gives tongue. Hence the expression would originally mean ‘corpse-hounds,’ and possibly has to do with legends such as that of the Wild Huntsman.... The sounds are at times very marvellous, not to say impressive, when heard, as they almost invariably are, on a pitch-dark night, and it has more than once happened within the writer’s knowledge that a flock of geese, giving utterance to them, has continued for some hours to circle over a town or village in such a way as to attract the attention of the most unobservant of its inhabitants, and inspire with terror those among them who are prone to superstition. (Cp. Atkinson, Notes and Queries, ser. 4, vii. pp. 439, 440, and Cleveland Glossary, p. 203; Herrtage, Catholicon Anglicum, p. 147; Robinson, Glossary Whitby, (Engl. Dial. Soc.) p. 74; and Addy, Glossary Sheffield (Engl. Dial. Soc.) p. 83. Mr. Charles Swainson (Prov. Names, Br. B., p. 98), gives ‘Gabble-ratchet’ as a name of the night-jar, but satisfactory proof of that statement seems to be wanting.”18 

17 Prof. Newton here has a note: “Presumably the BRANT, on the rare occasions when, losing its way, it comes inland, for the call-notes proceeding from a flock of this species curiously resemble the sound of hounds in full cry (Thompson, B. Irel. iii. p. 59), though some hearers liken them to the yelping of puppies. The discrepancy may to some extent depend on distance.” 

18 Possibly the sounds made by the geese might be attributed to the night-jar by peasants through the latter’s appearing at the time they were made. It is curious that the Malays as well should connect the night-jar with the Wild Huntsman. 

19 Selangor Malays add further that his whole body became overgrown with orchids, a conceit which recalls their story of a local hero who went on swimming in the sea until his body became covered with oysters! 

20 The Spectre Huntsman is said to butcher (bantai) his game, whenever he gets it, under a kind of wild areca palm (pinang sĕnawar). He then binds it up again with a creeper (akar gasing-gasing), and roasts it over an earth hearth (saleian), the floor (lantei) of which is of the pinang boring (another wild areca palm), and covers it over with wild banana leaves (tudong salei daun pisang hutan) and leaves of the rĕsam bracken. 

21 Selangor Malays add that the Spectre Huntsman himself instructed his son how to cure people who were suffering from the effects of his magic. These instructions were: “Take leaves of the bonglei, rĕsam, gasing-gasing, and wild banana, shred and distil them (di-uraskan), and administer the potion to the patient, together with sirih kunta and pinang kunta. Before administering it, however, an augury has to be taken: young shoots of the (wild?) cotton-tree (puchok daun kapas) are plucked and have the sap squeezed out of them (di-ramas). If the liquor is red the patient may be cured; but if it has a black look, nothing can be done to save him.” 

22 The sickness which results from crossing the path of the Spectre Huntsman (kalintasan) has choleraic symptoms (vomiting and voiding) and is quickly fatal; that resulting from his challenge or summons (katĕgoran) begins with persistent fever (dĕmam salama-lama-nya), but does not prove so rapidly fatal. 

23 As to this, vide App. xxx., note. 

24 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, pp. 12–18. 

25 Vide App. xxx., lines 13, 14, 15, and 16. 

26 App. xxviii

27 I was once stationed for about eighteen months in a small out-of-the-way village on the Selangor coast, where three subordinate officers of the Government (foremen of works) had died successively, at comparatively short intervals. The last of these men, I was informed by the local Malays, received a kick from the Spectre Huntsman (di-sepak uleh Hantu Pĕmburu) as he was going down the hill to the village in the morning. He took no notice of the occurrence and proceeded down the river in a boat. Three hours later he vomited mangrove leaves(!) and was brought back dead! Cp. N. and Q., No. 2, sec. 32 (issued with J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 15). 

28 From J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 9, pp. 129, 130, “Malayan Ornithology,” by Captain H. R. Kelham, who adds:—

“I asked Mr. Low, H.B.M. Resident of Pêrak, if he could give me any information as to which species of Hornbill this legend relates to, and he writes—

“‘It is the largest Hornbill which is found in Pêrak, bigger, I should say, than the Rhinoceros Hornbill, but I have never seen it except flying, or on very high trees. The legend about it is very common, but I do not know the scientific name of that particular Hornbill; but it is not that you refer to, viz. Berenicornis comatus, Raffles; nor is it the Rhinoceros.’” 

29 Vol. i. No. 23, pp. 360–363. 

30 If Sir W. E. Maxwell is right this must be another name for the night-jar (vide p. 110n. supra). But the identification is at least doubtful. 

31 Vide supra, p. 109, note. 

32 Cp. Swett., Mal. Sketches, p. 160. 

33 Swett., Mal. Sketches, pp. 159, 160. 

34 In Selangor I have heard a similar story; but in this case it was a red-crested hornbill which supplied the buttons, which latter were said to turn green on the approach of poison. The only solid-crested hornbill is, I believe, the Rhinoplax. 

35 The amount of luck which goes with any particular bird of this species depends on the number of scales on its feet, for counting which certain verbal categories (like our own “tinker, tailor, soldier” formula) are used. Forty-four is the luckiest number of scales for one of these birds to possess. An example is: “Manuk (3), Manumah (5), Sangkesa (6), Desa (1), Dewa (4), Raja (2),” which has to be repeated as the scales are counted (beginning with the lowest scale). The numbers after the words indicate the order of the luck which the birds are supposed to bring; a ground-dove of the first order bringing luck worth a ship’s cargo (tuah mĕrbok tuak sa-kapal). I have kept these birds myself. 

36 Cp. the Malay pantun:—

“Tĕkukur di gulei lĕmak

Sulasi di-bawah batang

Lagi lumpor jalan sĕmak

Sĕbab kasih maka-nya datang.”


37 In Sel. Journ. vol. iii. No. 6, pp. 94, 95. 

38 Dissemurus platurus, Vieill. 

39 Haliætus leucogaster, Gm. 

40 An old Malay (in Selangor) once told me that the hornbill was the king of the birds until dispossessed by the eagle (Rajawali). If, as seems probable, the hornbill was taken as a substitute for the frigate-bird in places where the latter did not exist, this may be important. 

41 Argus giganteus, Temm. 

42 Corvus enca, Horsf., the Malay crow. 

43 I believe that a similar story exists in Siam, the Siamese, however, making turpentine play the part of the ink in the Malay story. 

44 Besides the hut, the necessary apparatus consists of: (1) Three rods (called ampeian or pinggiran) laid across the top of short forked sticks at a height of one or two feet from the ground. The whole space enclosed by these is called King Solomon’s palace-yard (halaman). (2) The buluh dĕkut, or bamboo pigeon-call, from 6 to 8 ft. in length, called “Prince Distraction.” (3) A rod with decoy-bird attached to it (by means of a string and noose at the end of the rod). (4) A rod with fine hair-like noose at the end, for snaring the wild pigeon, and dragging them into the hut. There is a door at back of hut as well as a small door or opening in front of hut, called pintu bangsi (mangsi or mansi). 

45 Bujang Sibor literally means the “Bachelor (i.e. solitary) Scooper.” The name has no doubt been chosen because it is thought to be lucky, possibly because it suggests “scooping in” (birds). 

46 Vide App. xxxii

47 Kapor, Puding, and Sarap, are the names of three varieties of pigeon, generally styled “princesses” in the charms used by pigeon-catchers. Their names are also given as Bujang Kapor, (the Solitary Kapor), Lela Puding (?), and Dayang Sarap (the Handmaiden Sarap). 

48 The mĕngkudu is a Malay forest tree (Morinda tinctoria). 

49 An alternative version runs:—

Caller, bamboo caller,

Caller of the wild doves,

Over the seven valleys, seven knolls of rising ground,

Re-echo the voice of my decoy.

Come down, Queen Kapor, Queen Puding, Handmaid Sampah,

With one hundred and ninety others.

Come down to this spot I stand on.

Come down from the north,

Come down from the south,

Come down from the east,

Come down from the west.


50 Another version has:—

This shoot of a creeper is “Prince Invitation,”

This hut is called the Magic Prince,

This decoy is called Prince Distraction.

Si Raja Nyila (from sila, mĕnyila) is the name given to the long slender rods with fine hair-like nooses at the end with which the pigeons are snared and dragged into the hut (vide App. xli.) 

51 Vide App. xxxvii

52 Vide App. xlv

53 Vide App. xlvii

54 Ibid. 

55 Ibid. Note that the house-door must not face towards the south; if it faces southwards there will be no luck in the house and everything will go wrong.—J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 30, p. 306. Vide App. lv

56 Perhaps a corruption of “Bĕntara,” or Batara, Guru (i.e. Shiva), which is what we should here expect (vide the charms a few pages farther on). “Mĕntri” usually means “minister.” 

57 Vide App. xlvii

58 As to lucky and unlucky times, vide Chap. VI. pp. 545–550, infra

59 Cp. pp. 244–245, 248, infra

60 In a case where no trouble is expected on the part of the earth-spirit, even an egg (as the “symbol” of a fowl) may be sufficient as a sacrifice. 

61 Vide App. l

62 An alternative method was thus described to me by a magician: Take a white cup, fill it with water, fumigate it with incense, and deposit it in the hole dug to receive the centre-post. Early next morning take note of it; if it is still full of water, it is a good sign; if the water has wasted (susut), a bad one. If live insects are found in it, it is a good sign, if dead ones, bad. There can, however, be little doubt that the original victim of this sacrifice was a human victim (generally perhaps a slave), for whom the buffalo was substituted (the goat, fowl, and egg representing further successive stages in the depreciation of the rite). Malays on the Selangor coast more than once told me they had heard that the Government was in the habit of burying a human head under the foundations of any unusually large structure (e.g. a bridge), and two cases where a local scare resulted from the prevalence of this idea were recorded in the local press (the Malay Mail) in 1897. For similar traditions of human sacrifice, vide p. 211 infra

63 Vide App. lii

64 For other “categories” vide p. 559, infra

65 Another form of measurement was from the threshold (of the front door) to the end of the house; but the method of augury in this case is not yet quite clear. 

66 This probably refers to the mystic Dragon which does duty (in Malay charm-books) as an “aspect compass.” Vide Chap. VI. p. 561, infra, and App. cclvii

67 Audience hall. 

68 J.R.A.S., S.B. No. 9, pp. 85, 86. This is an extract from the Marong Mahawangsa, the legendary history of Kedah, a State bordering on Lower Siam. The name Podisat (i.e. Bodhisattva) indicates Indo-Chinese Buddhist influence. It does not seem to occur elsewhere in Malay literature, though Buddhism flourished in Sumatra in the seventh century A.D. 

69 Of the rhinoceros not many superstitions are yet known. The rhinoceros horn, however (called chula), is believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac, and there is supposed to be a species of “fiery” rhinoceros (badak api) which is excessively dangerous if attacked. This latter is probably a mere fable, vide Cliff., In Court and Kampong, p. 33. 

70 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, pp. 23, 24. 

71 Young shoots of bamboo are eaten by Malays with curry. 

72 The skull of this elephant, riddled with bullets, was sent to the Government Museum at Kuala Lumpor, in Selangor. It had, so far as I remember, one stunted tusk. The present State surgeon (Dr. A. E. O. Travers) can speak to the facts. 

73 Sel. Journ. vol. iii. No. 6, p. 95 (quoted from Perak Museum Notes by Mr. L. Wray). 

74 Sel. Journ. vol. i. No. 6, p. 83, where this note is given. Probably “armadillo” is a mistake for “pangolin.” 

75 These leaves are such as are used by the medicine-man for his leaf-brush, i.e. leaves of the pulut-pulut, sĕlaguri, gandarusa, and the red dracæna (lĕnjuang merah). 

76 “The Malays believe that the power to inform a spirit, a wild beast, or any natural object, such as iron rust, of the source from which it originates (usul asal ka-jadi-an-nya), renders it powerless.” H. Clifford in No. 3 of the Publications of the R.A.S., S.B., Hikayat Raja Budiman, pt. ii. p. 8. This belief is found among all tribes of Malays in the Peninsula. Possibly the idea was that knowledge of another person’s ancestry implied common tribal origin. For the explanation of “Badi,” vide Chap. IV. p. 94, supra, and Chap. VI. p. 427, infra

77 “Rhinoceros” should be substituted for “elephant” passim, if it was the object of the hunter’s pursuit. This particular line should probably come at the end of the charm instead of the middle. 

78 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 22. 

79 Marsden, Hist. of Sum. p. 292, ed. 1811. 

80 J.R.A.S., S.B., l.c.

“They (the Sumatran Malays) seem to think, indeed, that tigers in general are actuated with the spirits of departed men, and no consideration will prevail on a countryman to catch or to wound one, but in self-defence, or immediately after the act of destroying a friend or relation. They speak of them with a degree of awe, and hesitate to call them by their common name (rimau or machang), terming them respectfully satwa (the wild animals), or even nenek (ancestors), as really believing them such, or by way of soothing or coaxing them, as our ignorant country folk call the fairies ‘the good people.’” [Dato’ hutan, “elder of the jungle,” is the common title of the tiger in Selangor. Various nicknames, however, are given, e.g. Si Pudong, “he of the hairy face” (Cliff., In Court and Kampong, p. 201), ’Pah Randau, “father shaggy-face,” etc.] “When an European procures traps to be set ... the inhabitants of the neighbourhood have been known to go at night to the place and practise some forms in order to persuade the animal, when caught, or when he shall perceive the bait, that it was not laid by them or with their consent. They talk of a place in the country where the tigers have a court, and maintain a regular form of government, in towns, the houses of which are thatched with women’s hair.”—Marsden, l.c. (The italics are mine.) It is curious that the Fairy Princess’ hall on Gunong Ledang is similarly described in the Sĕjarah Malayu (Malay Annals, p. 279) as being of bone and thatched with hair. 

81 Also called ’tas. The tiger is still supposed to be mortally afraid of los or ’tas wood. In fact, I was more than once told of a trapped tiger who on being shown a piece of ’tas wood “became quite silent,” though it had previously been savagely growling, and shrank into a corner of the trap. A single inch of this wood is thought an adequate protection against any tiger. I do not know what species of tree it belongs to, but a gorse stick (which I had bought some years before in Ireland) was taken to be a piece of los wood, and was begged from me by a local Malay headman, who cut it up into inches for distribution among his following. 

82 It appears that in Java there are supposed not only to be men who can themselves become tigers at will, but men who can turn other people into tigers as well. This is done by means of a species of sympathetic magic, the medicine-man drawing on a sarong (Malay skirt) of marvellous elasticity, which at first will only cover his great toes, but which he is able gradually to stretch until it covers his whole person. This sarong resembles the hide of a Bengal tiger (being yellow with black stripes), and the wearing of it in conjunction with the necessary charms will turn the required person into a tiger. 

83 Clifford, In Court and Kampong, pp. 65, 66. 

84 Malay Sketches, pp. 200, 201. 

85 Sel. Journ. vol. i. No. 6, p. 87. 

86 Or with a needle, vide infra

87 Or two cats, vide infra

88 Sel. Journ. vol. i. No. 8, p. 115. Later Mr. Turney, writing under the nom de plume of a well-known Chinese servant, added the following:—

“Talking of the harimau kramat (ghost tigers) reminds me of the excitement there was in the town because a clever lady, called Miss Bird, was coming and would write about the place and people.

“My master had obtained intimation of this lady’s wants, and was directed to receive her on a certain date, and the Sultan’s people were told that a great ‘cherita (story) writer’ was coming who would tell the world of our Sultan and his dominions.

“On the appointed day the lady arrived, and accompanying her were a crowd of gentlemen, who were supposed to help her to get information.

“They all dined at my master’s, and the subjects discussed were very various, among others was the kramat (ghost) tiger, which had been shot a few days previously. They admired the skin of the tiger, which was in a state of good preservation, and Miss Bird regretted that she was too late to taste the flesh, which, my master said, made very good ‘devilled steaks,’ not unlike venison!”—(S. J. vol. i. No. 11, p. 171.) 

89 It may perhaps be supposed that she had thrown the rest of the body overboard before she was surprised by the sailing vessel. 

90 Cp. the other versions of this tale given in N. and Q., No. 3, Secs. 33, 34 (issued with J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 15). 

91 The explanation given to me of these two lines was that they were both based on a fancied resemblance between the parts referred to. 

92 A similar charm runs, “Madam Ugly is the name of your mother, Sir Stripes the name of your body. I fold up your tongue and muzzle your mouth; -wig -eak [stands for] let the twig break—break with the weight of this well-fed wild goose. Be (your mouth) shut fast and locked. If a bachelor loses his vocation, it does not matter.” (Here follow a few words of Arabic.) On reaching home you must never forget to unlock the tiger’s jaws, or “he will certainly bear a grudge against you!” To do this you must repeat the Arabic words with which the charm (just quoted) concluded, and then pronounce the Malay word buka, which means “open.” The Malays are fond of enigmatical expressions, in which the part of a word is made to stand for the whole. Cp. infraTeng [stands for] the Satengteng flower.” Sometimes these expressions are propounded as riddles, e.g.Ti tiong kalau kalau,” out of which the guesser was supposed to make “Banyak-banyak bĕSI, LIONG ta’mĕmBALAU.” 

93 Chiefs, especially with reference to military functions. 

94 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 3, p. 139. 

95 “Two large and four species of small deer are found in the Peninsula, besides the babi rusa or hog-deer, which however is not a member of the same order. The large species are: the sambur (Rusa Aristotelis), a rather savage animal, larger than our own red deer; and the axis (A. maculata) or spotted deer. Of the small or Moschine species, the kijang is the largest; next to this comes the napuh; the third in size is the lanak; and the smallest is the pelandok or true pigmy deer.”—Denys, Descr. Dict. of Brit. Malaya, s.v. Deer. 

96 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 26. 

97 J. D. Vaughan in J.I.A. vol. xi. quoted in Denys, l.c. 

98 Village or hamlet. 

99 Sambon. I do not know any plant of this name. Possibly it may stand for sarimbun or sambau, the latter of which at least is commonly used by Malay medicine-men. 

100 I may add that the first person to draw blood is supposed to get sabatang daging lĕmbusir, a moiety of the kidneys (?) and the Pawang to get the other half. 

101 Kiramun katibun (lit. “illustrious writers”) are the two recording angels who are said to be with every man, one on the right hand to record his good deeds, and one on his left to record the evil deeds. They are mentioned in the Korān. Vide Hughes, Dict. of Islam, s.v. 

102 The token consists in chopping down a small tree and with it piercing the slot of the deer. 

103 Or, “whose art is more powerful than mine.” 

104 Possibly an allusion to the branching of the stag’s horns. The last two lines of this charm are obscure. 

105 Another Pawang gave me the following account, which is much fuller:—“On entering the jungle carry the toils with you till you meet with the slot of the deer, and then ask for a tree, saying as follows—

‘Peace be with you, O ’Tap, Prophet of God, in whose charge is the Earth.

I ask for this tree (to enable me) to make fast these toils.’

Here begin to unroll the toils, saying—

‘Sir Tuft’ is the name of our rattan,

‘Sir Ring’ is the name of our toils.”

[The point of this charm is that “Sir Tuft” is an allusion to the origin of the rattan rope, which must have come, of course, from the “tufted” creeper of that name. Similarly, “Sir Ring” is supposed to be an allusion to the ring which formed the original unit of the toils, a collection of rings or nooses. The object of mentioning the origin of anything is that doing so is supposed to give one power over the article so addressed, v. p. 156 n., supra.] “Having completed the unrolling of the toils, double the connecting rope (from which the nooses hang) in two, and when this is done, enter them, holding them by the connecting rope (kajar), and say—

‘O Mĕntala (i.e. Batara) Guru, and Teachers one and all (dĕngan Gurwuru-uru), and Sir Yellow Glow,

Sir Yellow Glow knows all the ins and outs of it (?)

These toils of ours are twofold, O let them not be staled.

If they are staled, and we perform the penance for them, let our toils still kill the quarry.

If they are staled by the dogs, let our toils still kill the quarry.

If they are staled by men, let our toils still kill the quarry, by virtue of,’ etc., etc.”


106 Probably a pun upon teng, which was explained to me as meaning kaki sa-b’lah (“one foot only”), as in bĕrteng-teng, “to go on one foot,” to hobble; tengkis, “with one foot shortened or shrunken,” etc. The “satengteng flower” was explained as another name for the satawar

107 The corresponding charm for driving out the mischief, given by another deer Pawang (’Che Indut), appears to be more appropriate:—

O Mischief, Mother of Mischiefs,

Mischiefs One Hundred and Ninety (in number),

I know the origin from which you sprang.

The mischief of an Iguana was your origin.

The Heart of Timber was your origin,

The Yellow Glow of Sunset was your origin,

Return to the places from whence ye came,

Do me no harm or scathe.

If you do me harm or scathe, ye shall be consumed by the curse,

Eaten and enclosed in Disaster (bintongan), crushed to death by the Thirty Divisions of the Korān,

Smitten by the sanctity of the Four Corners of the Earth,

By virtue of, etc., etc.

Bintongan was explained to me carefully as = bĕnchana (calamity or disaster). 

108 This and the four succeeding names are evidently corruptions of the names of the four archangels, “Michael, Israfel, Azrael, and Gabriel.” Vide p. 98, supra

109 Vide pp. 94, 95, note, supra

110 In the Pĕlandok Jinaka, a Malay beast-fable, the Mouse-deer is styled “Sheikh ʿalam (or Shah ʿalam) di Rimba,” “Chief (or King) of the Forest.” 

111 Vide p. 117. 

112 Cp. our use of the phrase “an ugly customer,” vide App. lxxxi

113 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 26. 

114 The wild dogs of the jungle are considered by Malays to be not natural dogs, but “ghost” dogs of the pack of the Spectre Huntsman. They are regarded as most dangerous to meet, for, according to a Malay informant, “if they bark at us, we shall assuredly die where we stand and shall not be able to return home; if, however, we see them and bark at them before they bark at us, we shall not be affected by them. Therefore do all Malays give tongue when they meet the wild dog in the forest.” 

115 Or Sugar-palm (Arenga saccharifera). 

116 “The Malayan Sun-bear, the only animal of the bear species in the Peninsula. It is also known as the Honey-bear, from its fondness for that sweet. It is black in colour, with the exception of a semi-lunar-shaped patch of white on the breast, and a yellowish-white patch on the snout and upper jaw. The fur is fine and glossy. Its feet are armed with formidable claws, and its lips and tongue are peculiarly long and flexible, all three organs adapting it to tear open and get at the apertures in old trees where the wild bees usually build.”—Denys, Descr. Dic. Brit. Mal., s.v. Bruang. 

117 Bruin is also the Dutch word for a bear. The Malay form Bĕruang has also been derived from ruang, which is assumed, for this occasion only, to mean a “cave,” in order that Bĕruang may be explained as meaning the cave-animal. There is no evidence, however, to show that ruang ever did mean a cave, nor is the Malay bear a cave-animal. 

118 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 23. 

119 Cp. Cliff., Stud. in Brown Hum. p. 243 seqq. (The Strange Elopement of Chaling the Dyak). 

120 There seems to be some doubt as to the scientific nomenclature properly applicable to the Siamang.

The following is a specimen of a monkey legend: “A little farther up-stream two rocks facing each other, one on each side of the river, are said to have been the forts of two rival tribes of monkeys, the Mawah (Simia lar) and the Siamang (Simia syndactyla), in a terrible war which was waged between them in a bygone age. The Siamangs defeated their adversaries, whom they have ever since confined to the right bank of the river. If any matter of fact person should doubt the truth of this tradition, are there not two facts for the discomfiture of scepticism—the monkey forts (called Batu Mawah to this day) threatening each other from opposite banks of the river, and the assurance of all Perak Malays that no Mawah is to be found on the left bank?”—J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 9, p. 48. 

121 According to another account, the siamang is said to have originated from akar pulai, i.e. the roots of a pulai tree (the Malay substitute for cork, used to form floats for the fishing-nets). 

122 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 26. 

123 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 1, pp. 93, 94. 

124 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 22. 

125 The sacrificial buffalo (when presented to a Raja) is covered with a cloth, and has its horns dressed and a breast-ornament (dokoh) hung round its neck (vide Pl. 11, Fig. 2). In the case of a great Raja or Sultan, yellow cloth is used. 

126 Infra, Chap. VI. pp. 450–452. 

127 I may add that the dried penis of the squirrel (chula tupei) is believed to be a most powerful aphrodisiac, and that many Malays believe that squirrels are occasionally found dead with this organ caught fast in cleft timber.

Mr. H. N. Ridley, in a pamphlet on Malay Materia Medica, already referred to, says:—

“Many things are used as aphrodisiacs by the natives.... Among them are the ovipositor of a grasshopper, which is popularly supposed to be the male organ of the squirrel; Balanophora, sp., a rare plant growing on Mount Ophir, and the Durian (Durio zibethinus).” Mr. Ridley regards the use of Balanophora for this purpose as an illustration of the “doctrine of signatures.” 

128 Vide J.R.A.S., S.B., l.c. 

129 Vide p. 108, supra

130 In Court and Kampong, p. 47. 

131 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 26. 

132 Ibid. 

133 I have not heard this word used on the west coast. It is of the east coast that Mr. Clifford is here writing. 

134 In Court and Kampong, pp. 147, 148. 

135 Vide p. 217, infra

136 Vide p. 279, infra

137 One of these stones (cocoa-nut pearls) in my possession has recently been presented to the Ethnological Museum at Cambridge. It is encircled by a dark ring, caused, I was told, by its adherence to the shell of the cocoa-nut in which it was found, for it is asserted that it is usually, if not always, found in the open eye or orifice at the base of the cocoa-nut, through which the root would otherwise issue.—W. S. 

138 Quoted from the Singapore Free Press in Denys’ Descriptive Dictionary of British Malaya, p. 80. 

139 Nephelium lappaeum, L. (Sapindaceae). 

140 Baccaurea motleyana, Hook. fil. (Euphorbiaceae). 

141 Or Langsat (Lansium domesticum, Jack; Meliaceae). 

142 Resembling the last named, but larger, and finer in flavour. 

143 Garcinia mangostana, L. (Guttiferae). 


Sakarang ’kau mahu bĕrbuah, atau tidak?

Kalau tidak, aku tĕbangkan.



Ya-lah, sakarang aku ’nak bĕrbuah

Aku minta’ jangan di-tĕbang.


146 This instrument consisted of a single short joint of bamboo, about nine inches in length by three inches in diameter, closed at one end only, near which was an orifice into which the performer blew. These instruments (tuang-tuang) are reported to have been formerly used by the Langat pirates, and are said to be still used by the Malay fishermen at Bernam, in Selangor, for calling their boats together. 

147 In Selangor a freak of this kind is called samambu bangkut, or “dwarfed (stunted) samambu.” One of this species belonged to the Sultan, and was kept in a yellow case. Sometimes, whether through the splitting of the bark on one side or some similar cause, an excrescence like a gigantic rat-tail will form on one side of the stem, a peculiarity which is believed to give the stick that is made from it immense value. To merely tap a person in play with one of these sticks (which are called sĕngat pari or “sting-rays’ tails”) will, it is believed, raise a most painful weal, whilst to strike a person hard with one would assuredly kill him. A Malacca-cane, one of whose knots is inverted and the other not, is also considered of great value, being believed to render the bearer of it invulnerable (jadi pĕlias).—Cp. J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 17, p. 155. 

148 In Selangor bĕlum sampei is the phrase used. 

149 In Selangor rotan manau

150 Sel. Journ. vol. iii. No. 6, pp. 95, 96. 

151 Another Selangor version says that whilst the wife is boiling the stones, the husband is climbing the Malacca-cane plant (samambu) in order to get to the sky. The husband keeps calling out, “Are they cooked yet?” (Masak bĕlum?), as in the version just given, and the wife cries, “Have you reached it yet? Have you reached it yet?” (Sampei bĕlum?

152 In Selangor it is called Tualang (= ’Toh Alang?) and Sialang (= Si Alang?), and is the tree on which the wild bees build their nests. 

153 Strips of palm-leaves for thatching houses. 

154 One who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. 

155 Sel. Journ. vol. iii. No. 6, p. 96. 

156 Vide App. lxxxvi

157 Vide App. lxxxvii

158 “Certain customs are observed in Siak in the collection of wax which may be mentioned here.

“The sialang (that is, a tree on which bees have made nests) is generally considered to belong to him who finds it, provided it stands in a part of the forest belonging to his tribe. Should the tree stand in a part of the jungle apportioned to another tribe, the finder is permitted to take for once all the wax there is on the tree, and ever afterwards, during his lifetime, all the wax of one branch of the tree. After his death the tree becomes the property of the tribe to whom that part of the jungle belongs.

“When wax is collected from a tree there are generally three persons to share in it, and the proceeds are divided as follows: viz., one-third to the proprietor of the tree, one-third to the man who climbs the tree, and one-third to the man who keeps watch below. These two latter offices are considered rather dangerous, the first because he has to climb the towering sialang trees, branchless to a considerable height, by means of bamboo pegs driven into the trunk; and the watch-keeper underneath, because he has to face the bears and tigers who (so it is said) come after the wax and honey.

“The following trees are generally inhabited by bees (lebah), and then become sialangs; near the sea, pulei, kempas, kayu arah, and babi kurus; whilst farther in the interior ringas manuk and chempedak ayer are their general habitats.

“Besides the lebah there is to be found in Siak another bee, called neruan, which does not make its nest on trees, but in holes.

“The regulations observed when taking the wax of the lebah do not apply to the taking of the wax and honey of the neruan. Anybody is at liberty to look for them wherever and whenever he likes.”—F. Kehding, in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 17, pp. 156, 157. 

159 When the orchid was to be planted it was found that there was no room for it on the ground between the trees, and hence it was planted upon them. 

160 Under the heading of Divination a description will be given of a method of augury by means of one of these lime-fruits into which a spirit was supposed to have entered. See also one of the methods of abducting another person’s soul by causing it to enter into a bunch of seven lime-fruits. The use of the lime-fruit by the Malays for purposes of ablution was no doubt of ceremonial origin. 

161 Correctly, Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands and Adjacent Countries

162 The tree is also in Selangor known as ’Karas or tĕngkaras. Tabak or ’long tabak is the name given to the tree by the wild jungle-tribes, but I cannot say if it is therefore a Sakai word in origin. I was told that this product eagle-wood was also occasionally found in other trees, such as the Baru-baru, but I cannot in any way vouch for this. 

163 A catty (kati) is 1⅓ lb. avoir. 

164 Homali hamali looks like a corruption of S’ri Dangomala, S’ri Dangomali in the Rice-charms (q.v.) Otherwise this first sentence is evidently too corrupt to be translated. 

165 Read sahya

166 Mustajak: the Selangor form is “mĕstajap.” 

167 Bĕlingkah: read Bĕlingkar

168 Menginjan (sic): (?) Mĕnginjau or Mĕninjau. A rough translation is as follows: [The first sentence is unintelligible.] “‘Come down and I shall be bounden to you. Come down, O Kadim, in company with me.’ ‘I grant this,’ says Eagle-wood. ‘So be it,’ says God. By virtue of ‘there is no god but God.’ Ho, Princess that art Coiled-up, Princess that Danglest, Princess that Stretchest forth (thine arms), I ask that this tree may be full of eagle-wood. Attempt not to command me, attempt not to conceal yourself from me, for if you do you shall be a rebel unto the Lord.” 

169 This statement must not be accepted without reserve, though it may be true of the particular districts in which the information contained in this article was collected. 

170 In some parts of Selangor, said to be called “nibong” or gharutulang ayam.” 

171 In Selangor called gharujĕnjolong.” 

172 Here “lampan” (?) 

173 Yet another variety is called in Selangor gharuisi kang tua.” The following are the names of certain other, gharu-trees, of which the product, however, is said to be useless for market purposes. They are gharu tutor, gharu dĕdap, gharu kundor, and gharu akar

174 A pikul is 133⅓ lbs. avoir. 

175 R.N.B. in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 18, pp. 359–361. 

176 On putting this theory to the test, I found that the singing noise referred to was in reality nothing but the low whispering noise caused by the flow of the sap, which could be distinctly heard, even without putting the ear to the bark, when the tree was struck by the cutlass. The Malays, however, look upon it as the voice of the spirit, and add that if you hear it at night you must repeat the charm, altering the first line only to “Ho, offspring of the King of Forest Butterflies” (Hei anak S’ri Rama-rama hutan). 

177 “The gaharu merupa is a piece of strangely formed gaharu wood, having a rough resemblance to some living creature, be it a bird, a dog, a cat, or something else.

“The writer of these lines has never been able to see one of these gaharu merupa, and it would seem that none have been found in Siak in recent times.

“The power which it is believed to possess rests on the supposition that it is the spirit of the kayu gaharu. With it in hand, the holder is sure to make large finds of gaharu wood in the jungle.

“The gaharu wood is not the wood of a tree named gaharu, but is the product of a tree of the name of karas.”—J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 17, p. 154. 

178 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 26, pp. 39, 40. 

179 Orang hulu literally means “men of the inland country,” but here denotes especially the aborigines known to the Malays as Jakun, orang hutan, orang bukit, and by other names. 

180 J. I. A., vol. i. p. 293. Nos. 1, 3, and 8 of the J.R.A.S., S.B., contain further notes on the subject. 

181 Sic: no doubt this is for sambal, a variety of condiments (more or less resembling chutney) and eaten with curry. 

182 Pĕnghulu Kapur, i.e. “Camphor Chief.” 

183 “Camphor is a gum (not the pith or heart of wood, as Avicenna and some others think), which, falling into the pith-chamber of the wood, is extracted thence or exudes from the cracks. This I saw in a table of camphor wood at a certain apothecary’s, and in a piece of wood as thick as the thigh, presented to me by Governor John Crasto, and again in a tablet a span broad at a merchant’s. I would not, however, deny that it may sometimes be deposited in the hollow of a tree. It is told me as a fact, that it is the custom that when any one who goes out to collect it has filled his gourd, if any other stronger person sees him with the gourd, he can kill him with impunity and take away the gourd, fortune assisting him in this. That which is brought from Borneo is usually mixed with small bits of stone, or some kind of gum called Chamderros, much like raw sugar or sawdust. But this defect is easily detected; I know no other method of adulteration. For if sometimes it is seen to be spotted with red or blackish dots, that is due to treatment with dirty or impure hands, or they may be caused by moisture. But this defect is easily remedied by the Indians. If it is tied up in a cloth and dipped in warm water to which soap and lime-juice has been added, and then carefully dried in the shade, it becomes very white, the weight not being altered. I saw this done by a Hindu friend who entrusted me with the secret.... What they say as to all kinds of animals flying together to its shade to escape the fiercer beasts is fabulous. Nor is it what some, following Serapion, write less so, namely, that it is an omen of larger yields when the sky glitters with frequent lightning, or echoes with constant thunder. For as the island of Sumatra, which some think to be Taprobane, and the adjacent regions are near the equinoctial line, it follows that they are subject to constant thunderstorms, and for the same cause have storms or slight showers every day; so camphor ought to be abundant every year. From which it is clear that the thunder is neither the cause nor indication of a larger supply of camphor.”—Garcia in the Historia Aromatum (1593), quoted in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 26, p. 37.

“The camphor is so far considered as a barang larangan that nobody is allowed to go and collect it without having a special permit from the Sultan. This permit is only given after the Sultan has made sure that a good Pawang accompanies the party, a man who is able to know from the outside of a tree whether it contains camphor or not.

“The gratuity to be given to the Pawang is not fixed by law, but is settled beforehand on every expedition; also the share of the Sultan.

“The regulations which have to be observed when collecting camphor are most strange; for instance, those who go on the expedition are not permitted during the whole time of its duration to wash or bathe; they have to use a peculiar language, which differs from ordinary Malay. Compare what is known on this point of similar usages amongst the Battaks.

“The collectors have to go on through the jungle until the hantu kapur (the camphor spirit), a female, appears to the Pawang in his dreams, and shows him the direction in which success may be expected.”—J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 17, pp. 155, 156. This account has reference to Siak, in Sumatra. 

184 Vide App. lxxxix

185 These last five lines contain allusions to the implements with which the Pawang does his work; the Ivory Cup is the tagok, a bamboo vessel in which the sap of the Blossom-shoot is received. The Ivory Bath is the copper in which the cocoa-nut sugar is made, the name given to it being an allusion to the chemical change which accompanies the process. 

186 Inche Muhammad Jaʿfar, of Malacca. 

187 [In 1893 these months extended from the 17th May to the 14th July.—C.O.B.] 

188 [In 1893 from the 16th May to the 13th June.—C.O.B.] 

189 In what may be called the “dry” method of planting rice (bĕrhuma or bĕrladang) the ceremonies naturally differ somewhat, as the forest has to be felled, if not every year, at least more often than is the case with the “wet” system; and the rice-seed is not sown in nurseries (as a rule), but either scattered broadcast or planted with the dibble whilst the ground cultivated is comparatively dry and no embankments are required. This is not, of course, intended to be an exhaustive description of the differences between the two systems (for which there is here no space), but merely to point out certain salient differences. A specimen of the charms used by the orang bĕrhuma (“dry padi” planters) will be found in the Appendix. The account in the text refers only to the wet method, which is by far the more important one, though the dry cultivation is probably the more ancient of the two. 

190 An account of the birth of Muhammad which is intoned by a number of people in the mosque. 

191 The tajak may perhaps be better described as a (kind of) hoe than a scythe. 

192 Two strips of cocoa-nut leaf are braided into a square bag, hollow inside, which is half filled with rice, and then boiled so that when cooked the rice fills the bag. 

193 Flour is mixed with sugar and with the expressed juice of the pulp of the cocoa-nut, and put into a piece of plantain leaf about two fingers long, which is then folded and the whole is steamed, that is put into a pail known as kukusan, which is placed in a large pan containing water having a fire lighted under it so that the contents of the kukusan are cooked by means of steam only. 

194 Tĕpong tawar consists of rice-flour mixed with water. A bundle is made of the following leaves, ribu-ribu (a creeper), gandarusa, sĕnjuang, sambar dara, sipuleh, sitawar and chakar bebek (a small shrub); the end of this bundle is dipped into the tĕpong tawar, which is then sprinkled about. 

195 The italics are mine.—W. S. 

196 Licuala paludosa, Griff, and other species. 

197 Jari lipan—lit. centipede’s feet, i.e. a sort of fringe generally made of plaited strips of cocoa-nut leaf. 

198 Tĕrap—a kind of wild bread-fruit tree. 

199 Strips of bamboo or fronds of palm-leaf braided into an open square shape with cords attached to the four corners, the ends of the cords being joined so that it can be hung up. 

200 Buah kĕras, the “Candle-nut.” 

201 The cut rice is beaten, by handfuls, against the inner edge of the bucket so that the grain falls into the bucket; this process is called mĕmbanting padi, a phrase here rendered by “threshing.” 

202 The tuai or pĕnuwai is a much smaller instrument than the sickle (sabit) and cuts only a few ears at a time, vide supra, p. 58. 

203 A koyan, as a measure of weight, contains 40 pikuls = 5333⅓ lbs.

Rather over 20 gallons (gantang) of rice (padi) go to a pikul.

The term koyan is also used as a measure of capacity, in which sense it contains 800 gantangs.

The term gantang has been rendered here by “gallon,” of which it is at present the legal equivalent, but the native gantang had a standard varying according to locality. 

204 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 30, pp. 297–304. 

205 On my asking her what these names signified, the Pawang told me that “s’ri gading” meant the husk, and “gĕmala gading” the kernel or grain of the rice-fruit. 

206 Menangkabau and Naning pronunciation for bĕrpuar. Puar is the name of a jungle plant, said to be akin to cardamom, the stem of which is used as a sort of javelin in this mock combat. [In Selangor this mock combat is called singketa.—W.S.] 

207 Bĕras bĕrtih, “parched” rice. 

208 Five would probably be nearer the mark, but Malay chronology is very uncertain. 

209 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 29, pp. 7–12. 

210 These were newly-plaited round baskets, three in number, and diminishing in size from the Pawang’s right to her left (the big one being supposed to contain seven, the medium size five, and the smallest one three, gĕmalan of padi); they were each bound round, just under the rim, with the female variety of the creeper called ribu-ribu freshly gathered that morning. 

211 One of these was called the pĕnuwei sulong (lit. eldest rice-cutter), which was only to be used—when the Pawang had done with it—by the owner of the rice-field, and the blade of which is fitted into a piece of the wood called pompong; the reason given being that the pompong was the wood of which these instruments were originally made, whilst what I may call the handle of the instrument was made of a slip of bamboo stopped from end to end with wax. About the other two pĕnuweis there was nothing specially remarkable. 

212 These are the names of two girls mentioned in the “Malay Annals” (Sĕjarah Malayu) to whose rice there happened a strange phenomenon. The following is Leyden’s translation (in which the names appear as Ampu and Malin). “The name of its (the country of Palembang’s) river was Muartatang (Muartenang ?) into which falls another river named Sungey Malayu (Malay River), near the source of which is a mountain named the mountain Sagantang Maha Miru (v. p. 2, supra). There were two young women of Belidung, the one named Wan-Ampu, and the other Wan-Malin, employed in cultivating rice on this mountain, where they had large and productive rice-grounds. One night they beheld their rice-fields gleaming and glittering like fire. Then said Ampu to Malin, ‘What is that light which is so brilliant? I am frightened to look at it.’ ‘Make no noise,’ said Malin, ‘it is some great snake or naga.’ Then they both lay quiet for fear. When it was daylight they arose and went to see what it was shone so bright during the night. They both ascended the hill, and found the grain of the rice converted into gold, the leaves into silver, and the stalks into brass, and they were extremely surprised, and said, ‘This is what we observed during the night.’” The account proceeds to show how the prodigy was due to a supernatural visit from a descendant of Raja Secander Zulkarneini.—Leyden, Mal. Ann., pp. 20, 21. The words in brackets are mine. 

213 Whilst drawing together the heads of the sheaf before actually planting the sugar-cane in the ground, the following lines were repeated by the Pawang:—

Kur sĕmangat, S’ri Gading, Gĕmala Gading!

Batang-’kau perak bĕrtuang

Daun-’kau tĕmbaga bĕlĕpeh,

Tangkei-’kau ’mas, buah ’kau ’mas rantian” (sic).

“Cluck, cluck, soul of S’ri Gading, Gĕmala Gading!

This stem of yours is molten silver,

Your leaves are copper overlaid,

Your stalk is gold,

Your grain is fine gold.”

I have not been able to discover what ’mas rantian means, as the Pawang could not explain it (though she insisted that it was right), and it is not in any dictionary. 

214 The Muhammadan name for the Founder of Christianity. 

215 During the performance of this part of the ceremony (which is called chĕrangkan tali t’rap) omens are taken as to the prosperity or otherwise of the people of the house, and the observations have therefore to be made with the greatest care. The most disastrous omen is the cawing of a crow or rook; next to this (in point of disastrous significance) comes the mewing cry of the kite, and, thirdly, the flight of the ground-dove (tĕkukur). A good omen is the flight of the bird called the Rice’s Husband (Laki Padi), but the best omen is the absence of any portent or sound, even such as the falling of a tree, the crackling of a branch, or a shout in the distance, all of which are harbingers of misfortune of some sort. 

216 The Pawang said to me afterwards, when I questioned her about this, “If you want your husked rice to be white and smooth (puteh lanchap) you must stand up facing the sun at nine o’clock (angkat kĕning, lit. ‘Raise the eyebrow’), turn up the whites of your eyes, swallow the water in your mouth, and your rice will be smooth and white and easily swallowed. But if you want it to be a little rough (kĕsat), so that you may not be tempted to eat too much of it during hard times, instead of directly swallowing the water in your mouth, you must put the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and contract the throat thrice, slowly swallowing as you do so.” To the above she then added: “Besides this, you can make the whole field of rice break into waves by standing up, clapping the hands, and then pushing each hand right up the sleeve of the opposite arm (I am not quite sure if I rightly understood this last, but am fairly certain that it is correct—my notes have only ‘run the hands up the arms’), saying as you do so:—

“Al-salam ʿaleikum,

Waman wamat,

Paku amat,


This will swell the grains, and prevent them from getting empty (minching, jangan banyak hampa).” 

217 This umbrella had been forgotten, and we were compelled to wait while one of the “bearers” returned to the house to fetch it; as without it, I was told, the Rice-child could not be escorted home. 

218 I was told by the Pawang that when the three reapers had each filled her basket, each of them tied the leaves of the rice clumps together, and dug up a lump of earth with the great toe of the left foot, and inserting the lump into the midst of each clump, repeated the following words:—

“Al-salam ʿaleikum, nabi ’Tap, yang mĕmĕgangkan bumi!

Tĕtapkan anak aku,

Jangan rosak, jangan binasakan

Jauhkan dĕripada Jin dan Sheitan

Dĕngan la-ilaha,” d.s.b.

“Peace be with you, Prophet ’Tap, in whose charge is the earth,

Confirm this my child.

Do it no harm or scathe,

But remove it far from Demons and Devils.

By virtue of,” etc.


219 A cat having given birth to kittens the night before the ceremony, I was told by the Pawang that it was a very good sign, and that it was a known rule that if there was nobody else who could bear children at the time, God was wont to substitute a cat (mĕnggantikan kuching). 

220 The drying usually takes longer, but the exceptional heat of the sun on the day in question enabled the operation to be hastened. 

221 Nothing of the male sex may stand or sit opposite the point of the sieve (nyiru) during this winnowing. 

222 The charms are the same as those given supra, viz. “A swallow has fallen,” etc., and “Herons from all this region.” They are in the pantun form, and accordingly there is little connection discernible between the first and the second half of the quatrain; the latter always contains the actual point, the former at most something analogous or remotely parallel. 

223 The extreme voluminousness of Malay folk-lore upon the subject of rice-planting makes it impossible to do more than give a general idea of the ceremonies described. The ceremonies, however, are comparatively homogeneous in all parts of the Peninsula, and the specimens given may be taken as fairly representative. In the Appendix (xciii. seqq.), will be found a number of invocations, collected by Mr. O’Sullivan and myself, which are addressed to the rice-spirit and may help to emphasise or explain some of the details. One of these invocations should certainly help to emphasise the strength of the anthropomorphic conception of the Rice-soul as held by Malays. It runs as follows (vide App. cx.):—

“Cluck, cluck, soul of my child!

Come and return home with me,

Our agreement has reached its term.

Let not the Heat afflict you,

Let not the Wind afflict you.

Let not Mosquitoes bite you,

Let not Sandflies or Midges bite you.”

224 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 16, pp. 303–320. 

225 Report on the Geology and Physical Geography of the State of Pêrak, by Rev. J. E. Tennison-Wood, F.G.S., F.L.S., etc. 

226 The mining contractor, also called towkay lombong and towkay labur, vide infra

227 Lit. “Taboo language.” 

228 Bĕrolak here means to “turn one’s self about,” and the whole phrase would mean “The Tall One that Turns Himself about”—perhaps the “Tall Loafer” would be as near as we can get to it in English. So, too, bĕrolak dapor means “The Kitchen Loafer” (Loafer of the Kitchen). 

229 Sial means literally anything which brings bad luck; so perhaps we might translate it “Mr. Bad-luck.” 

230 Salah nama means “Wrong name” (Misnomer); limau nipis, lit. means “thin lime.” 

231 Kongsi, i.e. “company, firm, gang.” 

232 Pantang, i.e. “taboo.” 

233 Buah rumput means “Grass-seed;” Bunga rumput, “Grass-flower.” 

234 Akar hidop, lit. “live creeper.” The allusion is obvious. 

235 Kunyit means “saffron.” The allusion is not evident. 

236 Batu puteh means “white stone” or “white rock.” 

237 Genggulang, explained by Mr. Hale as meaning “altar,” vide p. 260, infra

238 About 1878, the principal pawang of the Lârut district, one Pa’Itam Dam, applied to me as Assistant-Resident to reinstate him in the duties and privileges which he had enjoyed under the Orang Kaya Mantri, and before him, under Che Long Jʿaffar. He describes the customary ceremonies and dues to be as follows:—He had to visit all the mines from time to time, especially those from which tin-ore was being removed; if the daily output of tin suddenly decreased on any mine it was his business at once to repeat certain invocations (puja) to induce the tin-ore to remain (handak di-pulih balik sapaya jangan mengorang biji). Once in every two or three years it was necessary to carry out an important ceremony (puja besar) which involved the slaying of three buffaloes and a great feast, the expense of which had to be borne by the pawang. On the day of the puja besar strict abstinence from work is enjoined on every one in the district, no one might break ground or even pull up weeds or cut wood in the whole province. Further, no stranger whose home was three days’ journey away might enter one of the mines under a penalty of twenty-five dollars.

The pawang was entitled to exact from the owners of mines a customary payment of one slab of tin (or $6.25 in cash) per annum for every sluice-box (palong) in work during the year.

In any mine from which the tin-ore had not yet been removed it was strictly forbidden to wear shoes or to carry an umbrella; no Malay might wear a sarong.

The Chinese miners, always superstitiously disposed, used (under Malay rule) to adhere to these rules and submit to these exactions, but since 1875 the pawang has found his occupation and income, in Lârut at all events, gone.—Ed. J.R.A.S., S.B. 

239 Altar. 

240 A small tray or platform for offerings, supported by a central “leg,” vide Mr. Hale’s description, s.v. Kapala nasi (infra). 

241 Gantang is a measure approximately equivalent to a gallon. 

242 In Selangor anchak is the form used. It means a sacrificial tray (for offerings to the spirits), vide infra, pp. 260, 310–313, 414–423. 

243 Lit. the “Magician’s wear.” 

244 Raʿiyat is used here to denote a man of the common people, as opposed to a Chief or Raja. It is sometimes used by Malays in other senses. 

245 Seperti sungkei be-rendam, “like a soaked sungkei stick.” When the sungkei stick has been soaked for a long time, say three months, the peel comes clean away; proverbial expression used of a person “cleaned out.” 

246 Beam or rafter of the shed. 

247 Palm-leaf thatch. 

248 Forbes mentions a “palm-leaf fringe” used in certain rites by the Kalangs of Java.—A Naturalist’s Wanderings, p. 101. 

249 “It is quite a common thing in Java to encounter by the wayside near a village, or in a rice-field, or below the shade of a great dark tree, a little platform with an offering of rice and prepared fruits to keep disease and blight at a distance and propitiate the spirits.”—A Naturalist’s Wanderings, Forbes, p. 103. 

250 In Selangor this custom is now obsolete.—Sel. Jour. vol. iii. No. 18, p. 294. 

251 The derivation of the name of this primitive Malay censer from the Sanskrit çankha (conch shell) has been pointed out (Maxwell, Malay Manual, p. 32). Forbes notes having seen in a sacred grove in Java “the remnants of small torches of sweet gums which had been offered.”—A Naturalist’s Wanderings, p. 97. 

252 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 16, pp. 310–320. 

253 Cliff. and Swett., Malay Dict., s.v. Amang: “tourmaline, wolfram, and titaniferous iron-ore are all called by this name. They are all considered impurities, and tourmaline is the one most commonly met with.” 

254 The Malay was saperti ulat hidup, which would rather mean “like live maggots.”—W.S. 

255 Sel. Journ. vol. iii. No. 18, pp. 293, 294. 

256 Sel. Journ. vol. iv. No. 2, p. 26. 

257 i.e. tin-bearing stratum and stone overlying the ore. 

258 i.e. his “connections.” 

259 Sel. Journ. vol. iv. No. 8, p. 139. 

260 “This my tank” is an allusion to the mine, the system on which mines are worked in the Malay States being that of the removal of the overburden, which, of course, forms immense pits, such as are here likened to an (empty) tank or reservoir. 

261 A plant, possibly Solanum aculeatissimum, Jacq., which has very thorny orange-coloured fruits. 

262 Sĕga is a species of rattan (Calamus viminalis or Calamus ornatus, Griff.); but probably the better reading here is sĕgar, which means a long black spike of the kabong-palm (Arenga saccharifera, L.) 

263 Presumably a corruption of Iskandar zu ’l-Karnain, i.e. Alexander the Great, who plays a considerable part in Malay legendary history. 

264 Vide App. cxviii., cxix. 

265 Oryza sativa, L. var. 

266 Batin is a title of certain Chiefs amongst the aboriginal tribes of the southern part of the Peninsula. It appears to have been in former days sometimes borne by Malays also. 

267 Kĕtong as a dry measure is not to be found in the dictionaries. V. d. Wall, however, gives a form kĕntong (with which it may be connected) as meaning an earthen pot, formerly used for holding lalang-sugar. 

268 An arai is an Achinese measure [= 2 chupak], about 3⅓ lbs. 

269 Sic: quære lombong

270 Denys, Descr. Dict. of Brit. Malaya, s.v. Gold. 

271 Vide Leyden, Malay Annals, p. 94. “He (the Sultan), also prohibited the ornamenting of creeses with gold, and the wearing anklets of gold, and the wearing the koronchong, or hollow bracelets of gold, ornamented with silver.”

Two legends, which connect the wild boar with the precious metals, have already been mentioned, vide p. 188, supra

272 Vide v. d. Wall, Malay-Dutch Dict., s.v. Kawi, one of the meanings of which he explains as the supernatural power of anything. He proceeds to explain bĕsi kawi as follows:—It is “a piece of old scrap-iron with supernatural powers, belonging to the royal insignia of the former Kingdom of Johor, now [then?] in the possession of the Sultan of Lingga. Whenever an oath was to be taken by a subject, the Iron would be immersed in water for a time, and the patient [sic] had to drink of this water before he took the oath. Whoever took a false oath would be affected by a severe sickness, and in the case of a Chief the sickness affects the whole tribe.”

Bisa kawi is another (West Sumatran) form of this expression. Under Bisa III., q.v., v. d. W. remarks that to say, “May you be struck by the Bisa Kawi” (lit. Poison of Kawi), is the ugliest wish you can address to anybody, as it is supposed to bring upon the person so addressed every possible kind of sickness. 

273 For examples vide the charms quoted in almost every part of this book. 

274 “It is a very general belief among Malays that Gulîga [and] Bûntat, viz. stones that are found in the bodies of animals or contained in trees, have great magic and vegetable virtue. These stones are worn as charms, and are also scraped, the scrapings being mixed with water and given to the sick as medicine.”—Pubns. of the R.A.S., S.B., No. 3, p. 26 n. 

275 This idea recalls a similar superstition about what are called in the Straits Settlements “breeding-pearls,” i.e. a kind of pearl which is supposed to reproduce itself when kept in a box and fed with pulut rice for a sufficiently lengthy period.—Vide J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 1, pp. 31–37, No. 3, pp. 140–143. 

276 “The Guliga, more commonly known as Bezoar, forms a recognised article of export from the Rejang and Bintulu rivers in the Sarawak territory. These concretions are chiefly obtained from a red monkey (a species of Semnopithecus), which seems to be very abundant in the interior districts of Borneo. A more valuable Guliga, called the ‘Guliga Landak,’ is obtained from the porcupine, but it is comparatively rare. The Sepoys stationed at Sibu Fort in the Rejang formerly exported considerable numbers of these calculi to Hindustan, where, in addition to their supposed efficacy as an antidote for the poison of snakes and other venomous creatures, they appear to be applied, either alone or in combination with other medicines, to the treatment of fevers, asthmatic complaints, general debility, etc. A few years ago, however, these men ceased to send any but the Guliga Landak, since their hakims had informed them that the concretions obtained from the monkeys had come to be considered of very doubtful, if any, value from a medicinal point of view. The usual test for a good Guliga is to place a little chunam on the hand and to rub the Guliga against it, when, if it be genuine, the lime becomes tinged with yellow. Imitations are by no means rare, and on one occasion which came to my own knowledge, some Bakatans succeeded in deceiving the Chinamen, who trade in these articles, by carefully moulding some fine light clay into the form of a Bezoar, and then rubbing it well all over with a genuine one. The extreme lightness of a real Guliga and the lime test are, however, generally sufficient to expose a counterfeit Bezoar. The Sepoys and Malays apply various imaginary tests. Thus they assert that if a true Guliga be clasped in the closed fist the bitter taste of the concretion will be plainly susceptible to the tongue when applied to the back of the hand, and even above the elbow if the Guliga be a good ‘Landak’; and a Sepoy once assured me that having accidentally broken one of the latter he immediately was sensible of a bitter taste in the mouth.

“Accounts vary very much among the natives as to the exact position in which the Guligas are found: some saying they may occur in any part of the body, others that they occur only in the stomach and intestines, whilst I have heard others declare that they have taken them from the head and even the hand! Bezoar stones are sold by weight, the gold scale being used, and the value varies according to quality and to the scarcity or abundance of the commodity at the time of sale. The ordinary prices paid at Rejang a few years ago were from $1.50 to $2 per amas for common stones and from $2.50 to $4 per amas for Guliga Landak. I have seen one of the latter which was valued at $100. It was about the size of an average Tangiers orange, and was perfectly spherical. The surface, where not artificially abraded, was smooth, shining, bronze-brown, studded with numerous irregularly-shaped fragments of dark rich brown standing out slightly above the general mass of the calculus. These fragments, in size and appearance, bore a close resemblance to the crystals in a coarse-grained porphyritic rock.

“The common monkey-bezoars vary much in colour and shape. I have seen them of the size of large filberts, curiously convoluted and cordate in shape, with a smooth, shining surface of a pale olive-green hue. Mr. A. R. Houghton once showed me one which was an inch and a half long, and shaped like an Indian club. It was of a dirty greenish colour, perfectly smooth and cylindrical, and it had become aggregated around a portion of a sumpitan dart, which appears to have penetrated the animal’s stomach, and being broken off short has subsequently served as the nucleus for the formation of a calculus. The same gentleman had in his possession two Landak stones, one of which bore a close resemblance to a block in shape, and was of a bright green colour, and the second was of a rich chocolate brown, and could best be likened in form to a constable’s staff. One porcupine stone which was opened was found to be a mere shell full of small brown shavings like shred tobacco.

“The part of the island which produces these stones in greatest abundance seems to be, by a coincidence of native reports, the district about the upper waters of the Baluñgar (Batang Kayan). The story is that the head-waters of this river are cut off from its lower course by an extensive tract of hills beneath which the river disappears, a report by no means unlikely if the country be, as is probable, limestone. The people of the district have no communication with the lower course of the river, and are thus without any supply of salt. In lieu of this necessity they make use of the waters of certain springs, which must be saline mineral springs, and which the Kayans call ‘Suñgan.’ These springs are also frequented by troops of the red monkeys before mentioned, and the Bezoars are most constantly found in the stomachs of these animals through their drinking the saline water. The hunters lie in wait about such springs, and, so runs the report, on the animals coming down to drink they are able to guess with tolerable certainty from external signs which of the monkeys will afford the Guliga, and they forthwith shoot such with their sumpitans. I have this account, curious in more ways than one, from several quite independent sources. In concluding these brief notes, I may remark that the wide-spread idea of the medicinal virtue of these concretions would lead us to suppose that there is some foundation for their reputation.”—J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 4, pp. 56–58.

“The guliga in Siak, which is considered to belong to the larangan raja [royal property], is an intestinal stone found in a kind of porcupine living principally in the upper reaches of the Mandau. The Sakeis living in this region are the only persons who collect these stones, which they deliver to the Sultan partly as a revenue, partly as barang larangan.

“By right all the guligas found by them are the Sultan’s; the greater number, however, are clandestinely sold to Malay and Chinese traders.

“According to their size they are worth from $40 to $600 a piece.

“Their value, however, does not merely rise with their weight but, as in the case of precious stones, rises out of all proportion with the mere increase in weight. A guliga weighing 1 ringgit (8 mayam) costs $600, whereas one of the weight of 3 mayam will only be worth $100.

“For guligas, particularly large ones, extraordinary prices are sometimes paid. The Sultan of Siak possesses one said to be valued at $900.

“Natives maintain that they are an almost infallible medicine in cases of chest or bowel complaints, but their principal value is founded on their reputed virtue as a powerful aphrodisiac. To operate in this way one is worn on the navel tied up in a piece of cloth, or water in which one has been soaked is drunk.”—F. Kehding on Siak (Sumatra) in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 17, pp. 153–4. 

277 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 9, p. 24 n. As to Paujangi (Pauh Janggi) vide pp. 6–9, supra

278 Vide Chapter IV. supra

279 For the charm used at the insertion of the twigs, vide App. cxxii

280 Vide App. cxxiv

281 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 9, p. 26. 

282 This recalls the account in Northern mythology of the four rivers which are said to flow from the teats of the cow Audhumla.

In a great many Malay myths the colour white is an all-important feature. In this legend we have the white Semang and the white river. In others white animals and white birds are introduced. 

283 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 9, p. 95. 

284 J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, pp. 24–26. 

285 The most usual name of the crocodile-spirit, as given in such charms as I have succeeded in collecting, is Sambu Agai, or, as it is also called, Jambu Rakai. 

286 Kira-kira means “accounts.” 

287 Selangor Journal, vol. iii. No. 6, pp. 93, 94. 

288 The shortness of the crocodile’s tongue, which is a mere stump of a tongue, has probably given rise to this idea. 

289 Also sometimes called “Apa daya,” lit. “What device?” or “What resource?” The front teeth are also sometimes called kail sĕluang, or “sĕluang” hook, or hook for catching the sĕluang, a small fish resembling the sardine.—Vide H. C. C. in N. and Q. No. 4, sec. 95, issued with No. 17 of the J.R.A.S., S.B. 

290 The question of the mental attributes ascribed to the crocodile is one of great interest, as it is credited by Malays with a human origin. It is not alleged to shed tears over his victim; but, as the above account shows, it is far from insensible to the enormity of manslaughter. At the same time, it is credited with strong common sense (since it is known to “laugh” at those misguided mortals “who pole a boat down stream,” no less than the tiger which “laughs” at those who “carry a torch on a moonlight night”), and also has a strict regard for honesty. (Vide infra.

291 Rewritten from Sel. Journ. vol. iii. No. 19, pp. 309–312. 

292 A native-built canoe hollowed out of a tree-trunk is no doubt referred to. 

293 Mangrove, of various species, chiefly Rhizophoreæ

294 Sel. Journ. vol. i. No. 22, pp. 350–351. 

295 Vide App. cxxviii

296 Vide App. cxxx

297 This and the preceding lines clearly refer to the fable quoted by Sir W. E. Maxwell. There are, however, many differences in minor details, one version asserting that the head of the first crocodile was made from the central shoot or cabbage of a cocoa-nut (umbi niyor), its blood of saffron, and its eyes from the star of the east; another asserting that its dorsal ridge was manufactured (by Siti Fatimah) from the eaves of the thatch. 

298 Her Highness Princess Rundok, as appears from the line below, in which she is again referred to, is evidently the name given to the fowl used as a bait. 


Jangan angkau lari!

Pĕrjanjian kita sa-tanjong ka hulu,

Sa-tanjong ka hilir.



Tabek Raja di Laut, Mambang Tali Harus,

Aku ’nak buang badi buaya ini.


301 Angkau mĕnangkap Si Anu? 

302 Vide Chap. VI. pp. 325–327, infra

303 Mr. L. Wray in “Perak Museum Notes,” quoted in the Selangor Journal, vol. iii. No. 6, p. 94. 

304 Other accounts make it out to be of a golden colour. Vide p. 506, infra

305 I have heard this same word used to describe a sort of unnatural “glow” which was supposed to illumine certain parts of the country at night; one such region being a portion of the coast at Lukut in Sungei Ujong. 

306 Clifford, In Court and Kampong, p. 189. 

307 Selangor Journal, vol. iii. No. 6, p. 92. 

308 Ibid., p. 91. 

309 A kind of flat fish (sole?), also ikan lidah-lidah and lĕlidah, probably derived from lidah, a tongue, owing to its shape. This fish is sometimes called sisa Nabi, or the “Prophet’s leavings,” the story being that it had originally the same amount of flesh on both sides, but that the Prophet Muhammad, having eaten the whole side of one of these fish (which had been cooked and served up to him as a meal) cast the remaining side back into the sea, whereupon it revived and commenced swimming about as if nothing had happened, retaining, however, the shape of a flat fish to the present day.

Cp. the following note in Sale’s Translation of the Korân:—

“This miracle is thus related by the commentators. Jesus having, at the request of his followers, asked it of God, a red table immediately descended, in their sight, between two clouds, and was set before them, whereupon he rose up, and having made the ablution, prayed, and then took off the cloth which covered the table, saying, In the name of God, the best provider of food. What the provisions were with which this table was furnished is a matter wherein the expositors are not agreed. One will have them to be nine cakes of bread and nine fishes; another, bread and flesh; another, all sorts of food, except flesh; another, all sorts of food except bread and flesh; another, all except bread and fish; another, one fish, which had the taste of all manner of food; and another, fruits of paradise, but the most received tradition is that when the table was uncovered, there appeared a fish ready dressed, without scales or prickly fins, dropping with fat, having salt placed at its head and vinegar at its tail, and round it all sorts of herbs, except leeks, and five loaves of bread, on one of which there were olives, on the second honey, on the third butter, on the fourth, cheese, and on the fifth, dried flesh. They add that Jesus, at the request of the apostles, showed them another miracle, by restoring the fish to life, and causing its scales and fins to return to it, at which the standers-by being affrighted, he caused it to become as before; that 1300 men and women, all afflicted with bodily infirmities or poverty, ate of these provisions and were satisfied, the fish remaining whole as it was at first; that then the table flew up to heaven in the sight of all; and every one who had partaken of this food were delivered from their infirmities and misfortunes; and that it continued to descend for forty days together at dinner-time, and stood on the ground till the sun declined, and was then taken up into the clouds. Some of the Mohammedan writers are of opinion that this table did not really descend, but that it was only a parable; but most think the words of the Koran are plain to the contrary. A further tradition is, that several men were changed into swine for disbelieving this miracle, and attributing it to magic art; or, as others pretend, for stealing some of the victuals from off it. Several other fabulous circumstances are also told which are scarce worth transcribing.”—Sale’s Korân Trans. ch. v. p. 87, note. 

310 Maxwell in J.R.A.S., S.B., No. 7, p. 26. 

311 The tears of the dugong are believed to be an exceedingly potent love-charm.—Vide Swettenham, Unaddressed Letters, p. 217.

“Like most nations dwelling near the sea, the Malays have their mermaids, of which the dugong is the probable origin.—J.I.A., i. 9.”—Quoted by Denys, Dict. Brit. Mal., s.v. Mermaid. 

312 Vide, however, supra

313 Mr. Wray no doubt refers to the b’rudu (tadpole), the upper half of which is declared by Selangor Malays to develop into a frog (katak), while the hinder part develops into the ikan lembat

314 Sel. Journ. vol. iii. No. 6, p. 93. 

315 Vide App. cclxxiv

316 These were trays of the kind called anchak which are used by the Malays to contain offerings to the spirits. For fuller details, cp. pp. 414–422, infra

317 For details of a similar ceremony, vide pp. 416–418, infra

318 The composition of these brushes varies apparently according to the ceremony which is to be performed. In this case leaves or sprays of the following plants were used:—

1. Sapĕnoh.

2. Lĕnjuang merah (the red Dracæna).

3. Gandarusa.

4. Satawar.

5. Sadingin.

6. Pulut-pulut (?) or Sĕlaguri (?)

7. Mangrove (bakau).

These leaves were tied together with a small creeper called ribu-ribu (a so-called “female” variety, which is said to have larger leaves than the “male variety,” being used). For further details, vide Chap. III. pp. 78–80, supra

319 The following is a list, as correct as I was able to make it, of the number and order of the offerings which were thus distributed:—

  • 1. A portion of parched rice.
  • 2. A portion of sweet potatoes.
  • 3. Two (cooked) bananas.
  • 4. Two lĕpats (small cylindrical rice-bags).
  • 5. Three (cooked) bananas.
  • 6. Two kĕtupats (small diamond-shaped bags).
  • 7. Three yams (k’ladi).
  • 8. A portion of parched rice.
  • 9. Three short lengths of the stem of the tapioca plant (ubi kayu).
  • 10. Three sweet potatoes.
  • 11. Four sweet potatoes.
  • 12. A portion of uncooked liver (hati).
  • 13. A portion of cooked meat.
  • 14. Four sweet potatoes.
  • 15. Three cooked bananas.
  • 16. Three kĕtupats.
  • 17. Three (green) bananas.
  • 18. Three kĕtupats.
  • 19.
  • 20. Three green bananas.
  • 21.
  • 22. Three sweet potatoes.
  • 23. Three yams.
  • 24. Three lĕpats.
  • 25.
  • 26. Two lĕpats.
  • 27. Five kĕtupats.
  • 28. Two yams.
  • 29. Two sweet potatoes.
  • 30. One cooked banana.
  • 31. Three handfuls of white pulut rice.
  • 32. Three handfuls of parched rice.


320 This was one of the tide-braces which are used to strengthen the stakes, the one used being that on the left hand looking seaward. 

321 Kelong is the name given to one of the kinds of fishing-stakes (something like weirs) common on the coasts of the Peninsula. 

322 A different Pawang gave me the following (alternative) instructions:—“When you are about to plant the (first) seaward pole of the fishing-stakes, take hold of it and say:—

‘O Pawang Kisa, Pawang Bĕrima, Si Arjuna, King at Sea,

O Durai, Si Biti is the name of your mother, Si Tanjong (Sir Cape) that of your father!

In your charge are the points of the capes, in your charge all borders of the shore,

In your charge, too, are the river bars!

Your mother’s place is on the seaward pole, your child’s at the shoreward end of the screens,

Your father’s in the tip of the “wings” towards the west.

We be four brothers;

If in truth we be brothers,

Do you lend me your assistance.’

“Here plant the pole, and say:—

‘My foot is planted in the very heavens,

My pole rests against the pillar of the firmament.

God lets it down, Muhammad receives it.

Six fathoms to the left, six fathoms to the right,

Do you, O family of three, assist in my maintenance.

May this be granted by God,’” etc.


323 Jĕrmal is another kind of fish-trap, different from the kelong

324 Denys, Descr. Dict. of Brit. Mal., s.v. Fire. 


P’landok minta’ api,

’Nak mĕmbakar bulu mĕntua-nya.


326 The Mouse-deer is said to have cursed his mother-in-law, saying:—”Kalau bĕtul aku pĕmainan Raja Suleiman angkau bĕrsayap.” 

327 Illumination with tiny lamps is also common on feast-days (hari raya), especially at the end of the Month of Fasting; and the Malays have to some extent adopted the Chinese penchant for fireworks. 



Magic Rites as affecting the Life of Man



We now come to the spirits which are believed to attack both women and children at childbirth.

These are four in number: the Bajang, which generally takes the form of a pole-cat (musang) and disturbs the household by mewing like a great cat; the Langsuir, which takes the form of an owl with long claws, which sits and hoots upon the roof-tree; the Pontianak or Mati-anak, which, as will be seen presently, is also a night-owl, and is supposed to be a child of the Langsuir, and the Pĕnanggalan, which is believed to resemble a trunkless human head with the sac of the stomach attached to it, and which flies about seeking for an opportunity of sucking the blood of infants.

With the above are often associated the Polong, which is described as a diminutive but malicious species of bottle-imp, and the Pĕlĕsit, which is the name given to a kind of grasshopper (or cricket?), but these latter, though often associated with the regular birth-spirits, partake also of the character of [321]familiar spirits1 or bottle-imps, and are usually private property.

Plate 6.—Bajang and Pĕlĕsit Charms.

Plate 6.—Bajang and Pĕlĕsit Charms.

Diagrams in the author’s possession representing the Bajang and Pĕlĕsit (birth-spirits).

Page 321.

I will now take these spirits in the above order. The Bajang, as I have said, is generally described as taking the form of a pole-cat (musang), but it appears to be occasionally confused with the Pĕlĕsit. Thus a Malay magician once told me that the Bajang took the form of a house-cricket, and that when thus embodied it may be kept by a man, as the Pĕlĕsit may be kept by a woman. This statement, however, must not be accepted without due reserve, and it may be taken as a certainty that the usual conception of the Bajang’s embodiment is a pole-cat.2

I need hardly say that it is considered very dangerous to children, who are sometimes provided with a sort of armlet of black silk threads, called a “bajang bracelet” (g’lang bajang), which, it is supposed, will protect them against it. On the opposite page will [322]be seen a remarkable drawing3 (of which a facsimile is here given), which appears to represent the outline of a Bajang, “scripturally” modified to serve as a counter-charm against the Bajang itself.4

The following account of the Bajang is by Sir Frank Swettenham:—

“Some one in the village falls ill of a complaint the symptoms of which are unusual; there may be convulsions, unconsciousness, or delirium, possibly for some days together or with intervals between the attacks. The relatives will call in a native doctor, and at her (she is usually an ancient female) suggestion, or without it, an impression will arise that the patient is the victim of a bâjang. Such an impression quickly develops into certainty, and any trifle will suggest the owner of the evil spirit. One method of verifying this suspicion is to wait till the patient is in a state of delirium, and then to question him or her as to who is the author of the trouble. This should be done by some independent person of authority, who is supposed to be able to ascertain the truth. [323]

“A further and convincing proof is then to call in a ‘Pawang’ skilled in dealing with wizards (in Malay countries they are usually men), and if he knows his business his power is such that he will place the sorcerer in one room, and, while he in another scrapes an iron vessel with a razor, the culprit’s hair will fall off as though the razor had been applied to his head instead of to the vessel! That is supposing he is the culprit; if not, of course he will pass through the ordeal without damage.

“I have been assured that the shaving process is so efficacious that, as the vessel represents the head of the person standing his trial, wherever it is scraped the wizard’s hair will fall off in a corresponding spot. It might be supposed that under these circumstances the accused is reasonably safe, but this test of guilt is not always employed. What more commonly happens is that when several cases of unexplained sickness have occurred in a village, with possibly one or two deaths, the people of the place lodge a formal complaint against the supposed author of these ills, and desire that he be punished.

“Before the advent of British influence it was the practice to kill the wizard or witch whose guilt had been established to Malay satisfaction, and such executions were carried out not many years ago.

“I remember a case in Perak less than ten years ago, when the people of an up-river village accused a man of keeping a bâjang, and the present Sultan, [324]who was then the principal Malay judge in the State, told them he would severely punish the bâjang if they would produce it. They went away hardly satisfied, and shortly after made a united representation to the effect that if the person suspected were allowed to remain in their midst they would kill him. Before anything could be done they put him, his family, and effects on a raft and started them down the river. On their arrival at Kuala Kangsar the man was given an isolated hut to live in, but not long afterwards he disappeared.

“The hereditary bâjang comes like other evils, the unsought heritage of a dissolute ancestry, but the acquired bâjang is usually obtained from the newly-buried body of a stillborn child, which is supposed to be the abiding-place of a familiar spirit until lured therefrom by the solicitations of some one who, at dead of night, stands over the grave and by potent incantations persuades the bâjang to come forth.”5

“It is all very well for the Kĕdah ladies to sacrifice their shadows to obtain possession of a pĕlsit, leaders of society must be in the fashion at any cost; but there are plenty of people living in Perak who have seen more than one ancient Malay dame taken out into the river and, despite her protestations, her tears, and entreaties, have watched her, with hands and feet tied, put into the water and slowly pushed down out of sight by means of a long pole with a fork at one end which fitted on her neck. Those who have witnessed these executions have no doubt of the justice of the punishment, and not uncommonly add that after two or three examples had been made there would always ensue a period of rest from the [325]torments of the bâjang. I have also been assured that the bâjang, in the shape of a lizard, has been seen to issue from the drowning person’s nose. That statement no doubt is made on the authority of those who condemned and executed the victim.”6

The popular superstition about the Langsuir is thus described by Sir William Maxwell:—

“If a woman dies in childbirth, either before delivery or after the birth of a child, and before the forty days of uncleanness have expired, she is popularly supposed to become a langsuyar, a flying demon of the nature of the ‘white lady’ or ‘banshee.’ To prevent this a quantity of glass beads are put in the mouth of the corpse, a hen’s egg is put under each arm-pit, and needles are placed in the palms of the hands. It is believed that if this is done the dead woman cannot become a langsuyar, as she cannot open her mouth to shriek (ngilai) or wave her arms as wings, or open and shut her hands to assist her flight.”7

The superstitions about the Langsuir, however, do not end here, for with regard to its origin the Selangor Malays tell the following story:—

The original Langsuir (whose embodiment is supposed to be a kind of night-owl) is described as being a woman of dazzling beauty, who died from the shock of hearing that her child was stillborn, and had taken the shape of the Pontianak.8 On hearing this [326]terrible news, she “clapped her hands,” and without further warning “flew whinnying away to a tree, upon which she perched.” She may be known by her robe of green, by her tapering nails of extraordinary length (a mark of beauty), and by the long jet black tresses which she allows to fall down to her ankles—only, alas! (for the truth must be told) in order to conceal the hole in the back of her neck through which she sucks the blood of children! These vampire-like proclivities of hers may, however, be successfully combated if the right means are adopted, for if you are able to catch her, cut short her nails and luxuriant tresses, and stuff them into the hole in her neck, she will become tame and indistinguishable from an ordinary woman, remaining so for years. Cases have been known, indeed, in which she has become a wife and a mother, until she was allowed to dance at a village merry-making, when she at once reverted to her ghostly form, and flew off into the dark and gloomy forest from whence she came.

Plate 7.—Pĕnanggalan and langsuir.

Plate 7.—Pĕnanggalan and langsuir.

Models of the Pĕnanggalan and Langsuir, the former being the head on the left. Note the length of the Langsuir’s nails.

Page 326.

In their wild state, a Malay once informed me, these woman-vampires are exceedingly fond of fish, and once and again may be seen “sitting in crowds on the fishing-stakes at the river mouth awaiting an opportunity to steal the fish.” However that may be, it seems curiously in keeping with the following charm for “laying” a Langsuir:—

“O ye mosquito-fry at the river’s mouth

When yet a great way off, ye are sharp of eye,

When near, ye are hard of heart.

When the rock in the ground opens of itself

Then (and then only) be emboldened the hearts of my foes and opponents!

When the corpse in the ground opens of itself

Then (and then only) be emboldened the hearts of my foes and opponents! [327]

May your heart be softened when you behold me,

By grace of this prayer that I use, called Silam Bayu.”

The “mosquito-fry at the river’s mouth” in the first line is no doubt intended as an allusion to the Langsuir who frequent the fishing-stakes.

The Pontianak (or Mati-anak), as has already been said, is the stillborn child of the Langsuir, and its embodiment is like that of its mother, a kind of night-owl.9 Curiously enough, it appears to be the only one of these spirits which rises to the dignity of being addressed as a “Jin” or “Genie,” as appears from the charms which are used for laying it. Thus we find in a common charm:—

“O Pontianak the Stillborn,

May you be struck dead by the soil from the grave-mound.

Thus (we) cut the bamboo-joints, the long and the short,

To cook therein the liver of the Jin (Demon) Pontianak.

By the grace of ‘There is no god but God,’” etc.

To prevent a stillborn child from becoming a Pontianak the corpse is treated in the same way as that of the mother, i.e. a hen’s egg is put under each armpit, a needle in the palm of each hand, and (probably) glass beads or some simple equivalent in its mouth. The charm which is used on this occasion will be found in the Appendix.

The Peĕnanggalan is a sort of monstrous vampire which delights in sucking the blood of children. The story goes that once upon a time a woman was sitting, to perform a religious penance (dudok bĕrtapa), in one of the large wooden vats which are used by the Malays for holding the vinegar made by drawing off the sap [328]of the thatch-palm (mĕnyadap nipah). Quite unexpectedly a man came in, and finding her sitting in the vat, asked her, “What are you doing there?” To this the woman replied, “What business have you to ask?” but being very much startled she attempted to escape, and in the excitement of the moment, kicked her own chin with such force that the skin split round her neck, and her head (with the sac of the stomach depending from it) actually became separated from the trunk, and flew off to perch upon the nearest tree. Ever since then she has existed as a spirit of evil, sitting on the roof-tree whinnying (mĕngilai) whenever a child is born in the house, or trying to force her way up through the floor on which the child lies, in order to drink its blood.10

The only two spirits of this class which now remain are the Polong and the Pĕlĕsit, and these, as I have said, partake to a great extent of the character [329]of familiar spirits or bottle imps, and are by no means confined to a single “rôle” as the preceding ones have been.

The Polong resembles an exceedingly diminutive female figure or mannikin, being in point of size about as big as the top joint of the little finger. It will fly through the air to wherever it is told to go, but is always preceded by its pet or plaything (pĕmainan), the Pĕlĕsit, which, as has already been said, appears to be a species of house-cricket. Whenever the Polong wishes to enter (di-rasoki) a new victim, it sends the Pĕlĕsit on before it, and as soon as the latter, “flying in a headlong fashion (mĕnĕlĕntang mĕnjĕrongkong),” has entered its victim’s body, which it usually does tail-foremost, and begins to chirp, the Polong follows. It is generally hidden away outside the house by its owner (Jinjangan), and fed with blood pricked from the finger. The description usually given of a Polong tallies curiously with the Malay definition of the soul.12

The last of these spirits, the Pĕlĕsit (or house-cricket?), [330]which is the Polong’s “plaything” or pet, flies to and fro (rasok sini, rasok sana) till it finds the body which its mistress has ordered it to enter, harm only being done when it enters tail-foremost, as it generally does. It is occasionally caught and kept in a bottle by Malay women, who feed it either on parched or saffron-stained rice, or on blood drawn from the tip of the fourth finger which they prick for the purpose, and who, when they wish to get rid of it, bury it in the ground. When a sick person is affected by a Pĕlĕsit (one of the signs of which is to rave about cats)13 the medicine-man comes and addresses the [331]Pĕlĕsit (or Polong?), which has taken up its residence in the patient’s body, with the words: “Who is your mother?” To this question the Pĕlĕsit replies, speaking with the patient’s voice, but in a high falsetto key, and giving the name of the person who sent it, whereupon prompt measures are taken to compel the owner to recall it. It now only remains to describe the means employed by the Malays to secure one of these familiar spirits, which can be guaranteed to cause the greatest possible annoyance to your enemy, with the least possible trouble on your own part.

Receipt for securing a Pĕlĕsit

“Go to the graveyard at night and dig up the body of a first-born child whose mother was also first-born, and which has been dead less than forty days. On digging it up, carry it out to an ant-hill in the open ground, and there dandle it (di-timang). After a little while, when the child shrieks and lolls its tongue out (tĕrjĕlir lidah-nya), bite off its tongue and carry it home. Then obtain a cocoa-nut shell from a solitary ‘green’ cocoa-nut palm (niyor hijau), and carry it to a place where Three Roads Meet, light a fire and heat the shell till oil exudes, dip the child’s tongue in the oil, and bury it in the heart of the three cross roads (hati sempang tiga). Leave it untouched for three nights, then dig it up and you will find that it has turned into a Pĕlĕsit.”14 [332]



In or about the seventh month of pregnancy (mĕngandong tujoh bulan) a “Bidan”15 (sage femme) is engaged (mĕnĕmpah), the ceremony being described as follows:—

A copper vessel called chĕrana (which is something like a fruit-dish with a stand or foot to it) is filled with four or five peeled areca-nuts, a small block of gambier, a portion of lime (kapor sa-pĕrkaporan), a “tahil” (sa-tahil) of tobacco, and three or four packets (susun) of betel-leaf, and carried to the Bidan’s house, where it is presented to her with the words, “I wish to engage you for my child” (Ini’ku mahu mĕnĕmpah anak’ku), or words to that effect.16

Usually the contents of the chĕrana are enclosed [333]in small brass receptacles, but on such occasions as the present no receptacles are used, the usual accessories of the betel-chewing ceremony being deposited in the chĕrana itself. The Bidan, on receiving the chĕrana, and charming the contents, inverts it, pouring out (di-chorahkan) its contents upon the floor, and taking omens for the coming event from the manner in which they fall.17 She then commences to chew the betel-leaf, and when she has taken as much as she requires, she generally performs some species of divination (tengo’ dalam pĕtua) in order to ascertain the nature of the child’s horoscope. This object may be achieved in several ways; e.g. by astrological calculations; by casting up (palak or falakiah) the numerical values of the letters of both parents’ names, in accordance with the abjad, or secret cipher alphabet;18 by observance of a wax taper fixed upon the brim of a jar of water (dian di tĕpi buyong ayer); and by observance of a cup of “betel-leaf water” (ayer sirih).19

When the time arrives the Bidan is sent for and escorted to the spot, where she points out the luckiest place in the house for the child to be born. Such a spot must not be under the ends of the slats of the palm-thatch, but between them, the exact spot being discovered by repeatedly dropping the blade of a hatchet or cutlass haft downwards into the ground below the raised floor of the house, until a spot is found wherein it sticks and remains upright. A rattan loop (tali anggas) to enable the patient to raise herself to a sitting posture, is suspended from the rafters over [334]the spot selected,20 while just exactly beneath it under the floor of the house (which is raised on piles like the old Swiss lake-dwellings) are fastened a bunch of leaves of the prickly pandanus, the “acid” egg-plant,21 and a lĕkar jantan, which is a kind of rattan stand used for Malay cooking-pots. The leaves of these plants are used because it is thought that their thorns will prick any evil spirit22 which tries to get at the child from below, whilst the circular cooking-pot stand will act as a noose or snare. Over the patient’s head, and just under the rafters, is spread a casting-net (jala), together with a bunch of leaves of the red dracæna (jĕnjuang or lĕnjuang merah) and the “acid” egg-plant.23

A big tray (talam) is now filled with a measure of uncooked husked rice (b’ras sa-gantang), and covered over with a small mat of screw-palm leaves (tikar mĕngkuang). This mat is in turn covered with from three to seven thicknesses of fine Malay sarongs (a sort of broad plaid worn as a skirt), and these latter again are surmounted by a second mat upon which the newly-born infant is to be deposited.

The next process is the purification of mother and child by a ceremony which consists of bathing both in warm water just not hot enough to scald the skin (ayer pĕsam-pĕsam jangan mĕlochak kulit), and in which are [335]leaves of lĕngkuas, halia, kunyit t’rus, kunyit, pandan bau, areca-palm blossom, and the dried leaves (kĕronsong or kĕresek) of the pisang k’lat. This has to be repeated (every?) morning and evening. In most places the new-born infant is, as has been said, laid upon a mat and formally adopted by the father, who breathes into the child’s ear24 a sort of Muhammadan prayer or formula, which is called bang in the case of a boy, and kamat in the case of a girl. After purification the child is swaddled in a sort of papoose; an inner bandage (barut) is swathed round the child’s waist, and a broad cloth band (kain lampin) is wound round its body from the knees to the breast, after which the outer bandage (kain bĕdong) is wound round the child’s body from the feet to the shoulder, and is worn continually until the child is three or four months old, or, in Malay parlance, until he has learned to crawl (tahu mĕniarap). This contrivance, it is alleged, prevents the child from starting and straining its muscles. Over the child’s mat is suspended a sort of small conical mosquito-net (kain bochok), the upper end of which is generally stitched (di-sĕmat) or pinned on to the top of the parent’s mosquito curtain, and which is intended to protect the child from any stray mosquito or sandfly which may have found its way into the bigger net used by his parents. [336]

Next comes the ceremony of marking the forehead (chonting muka), which is supposed to keep the child from starting and straining itself (jangan tĕrkĕjut tĕrkĕkau), and from convulsions (sawan), and at the same time to preserve it from evil spirits. The following are the directions:—Take chips of wood from the thin end (kapala?) of the threshold, from the steps of the house-ladder, and from the house furniture, together with a coat (kesip) of garlic, a coat of an onion, assafœtida, a rattan cooking-pot stand, and fibre from the “monkey-face” of an unfertile cocoa-nut (tampo’ niyor jantan). Burn all these articles together, collect the ashes, and mix them by means of the fore-finger with a little “betel-water.”

Now repeat the proper charm,25 dip the finger in the mixture, and mark the centre of the child’s forehead, if a boy with a sign resembling what is called a bench mark [V], if a girl with a plain cross +, and at the same time put small daubs on the nose, cheeks, chin, and shoulders. Then mark the mother with a line drawn from breast to breast (pangkah susu) and a daub on the end of the nose (cholek hidong). If you do this properly, a Langat Malay informed me, the Evil One will take mother and child for his own wife and child (who are supposed to be similarly marked) and will consequently refrain from harming them!

In addition to the above, if the child is a girl, her eyebrows are shaved and a curve drawn in their place, extending from the root of the nose to the ear (di-pantiskan bĕntok taji dĕri muka sampei pĕlipis). The mixture used for marking these curves consists of manjakani mixed with milk from the mother’s breast.

Another most curious custom which recalls a parallel [337]custom among North American Indians, is occasionally resorted to for the purpose of altering the shape of the child’s head. When it is considered too long (tĕrlampau panjang), a small tightly-fitting “yam leaf cap” (songko’ daun k’ladi), consisting of seven thicknesses of calladium (yam) leaves is used to compress it. This operation is supposed to shorten the child’s skull, and the person who fits it on to the child’s head uses the words—“Muhammad, short be your head” in the case of a boy, and “Fatimah, short be your head” in the case of a girl.

Now comes the ceremony of administering to the infant what is called the “mouth-opener” (lit. “mouth-splitter,” pĕmb’lah mulut); first, you take a green cocoa-nut (niyor sungkoran), split it in halves (di-b’lah niyor), put a “grain” of salt inside one-half of the shell (di-buboh garam sa-buku), and give it to the child to drink, counting up to seven, and putting it to the child’s mouth at the word seven (lĕtakkan di mulut-nya). Then repeat the ceremony, substituting asam (tamarinds?) for the salt. Finally, take a gold ring, and after rubbing it against the inside of the cocoa-nut (cholek di-dalam niyor), lay it upon the child’s lips, (lĕtakkan di bibir-nya), saying “Bismillah,” etc. Do the same with a silver and amalgam (gold and silver) ring respectively, and the ceremony will be at an end.

I may note, in passing, that it is in allusion to the above ceremony that you will sometimes hear old men say “It’s not the first time I tasted salt, I did so ever since I was first put into my swinging-cot” (aku makan garam dahulu, dĕripada tatkala naik buayan).

Sometimes a little “rock” sugar (gula batu) is added to make the “mouth-opener” more palatable.

From the time when the child is about twenty-four [338]hours old until it is of the age of three months, it is fed with rice boiled in a pot on the fire, “broken” (di-lechek) by means of a short broad cocoa-nut shell spoon (pĕlechek), mixed with a little sugar and squeezed into small receptacles of woven cocoa-nut leaf (kĕtupat).

Later it is taught to feed at the breast (mĕnetek), which continues until it is weaned by the application of bitter aloes (jadam) to the mother’s breasts.

In the rice-jar (buyong b’ras) during this period, a stone, a big iron nail, and a “candle-nut” must be kept, and a spoon (sĕndok) must always be used for putting the rice into the pot before boiling it. Moreover, the mother, when eating or drinking, must always cross her left arm under her breasts (di-ampu susu-nya di lĕngan kiri) leaving the right arm free to bring the food to the mouth.

When the child has been bathed, it is fumigated, and deposited for the first time in a swinging-cot (the Malay substitute for a cradle) which, according to immemorial custom, is formed by a black cloth slung from one of the rafters. To fumigate26 it you take leaves of the red dracæna (jĕnjuang merah), and wrap them round first with the casing of the charred torch (puntong) used at the severing of the cord (pĕmbuang [339]tali pusat), then with leaves of the t’rong asam (“acid” egg-plant), and tie them round at intervals with a string of shredded tree-bark (tali t’rap). The funnel-shaped bouquet thus formed is suspended above the child’s cot (buayan); a spice-block (batu giling) is deposited inside it, and underneath it are placed the naked blade of a cutlass (parang puting), a cocoa-nut scraper (kukoran), and one of the basket-work stands used for the cooking-pots (lĕkar jantan), which latter is slung round the neck of the cocoa-nut scraper. This last strange contrivance is, I believe, intended as a hint to the evil spirit or vampire which comes to suck the child’s blood, and for whom the trap described above is set underneath the house-floor.

Now get a censer and burn incense in it, adding to the flame, as it burns, rubbish from beneath a deserted house, the deserted nest of a mĕr’bah (dove), and the deserted nest of the “rain-bird” (sarang burong ujan-ujan). When all is ready, rock the cot very gently seven times, then take the spice-block out of the cot and deposit it together with the blade of the cutlass upon the ground, take the child in your arms and fumigate it by moving it thrice round in a circle over the smoke of the censer, counting up to seven as you do so, and swing the child gently towards your left. At the word “seven” call the child’s soul by saying “Cluck, cluck! soul of Muhammad here!”27 (if it is a boy), or “Cluck, cluck! soul of Fatimah here!” (if it is a girl); deposit the child in the cot and rock it very gently, so that it does not swing farther than the neck of the cocoa-nut scraper extends (sa-panjang kukoran sahaja). After this you may swing it as far as you [340]like, but for at least seven days afterwards, whenever the child is taken out of the cot, the spice-block, or stone-child (anak batu) as it is called, must be deposited in the cot as a substitute for the child (pĕngganti budak).

Once in every four hours the child should be bathed with cold water, in order that it may be kept “cool.” This custom, I was told, is diametrically opposite to that which obtains at Malacca, where the child is bathed as rarely as possible. The custom followed in Selangor is said to prevent the child from getting a sore mouth (guam).

For the first two months or so, whenever the child is bathed, it is rubbed over with a paste obtained by mixing powdered rice with the powder obtained from a red stone called batu kawi. This stone, which is said by some Malays to take its name from the Island of Langkawi, is thought to possess astringent (k’lat) qualities, and is used by Malay women to improve their skin. Before use the paste is fumigated with the smoke of burning eagle-wood, sandal-wood, and incense, after which the liquid, which is said to resemble red ink, is applied to the skin, and then washed off, no doubt, with lime-juice in the ordinary way.

In the cold water which is used for bathing the child are deposited a big iron nail (as a “symbol of iron”), “candle-nuts” and cockle-shells (kulit k’rang), to which some Malays add a kind of parasite called si bĕr’nas (i.e. Well-Filled Out, a word applied to children who are fat, instead of the word gĕmok, which is considered unlucky) and another parasite called sadingin or si dingin, the “Cold” one.

After bathing, the Bidan should perform the ceremony called sĕmbor sirih, which consists in the [341]ejecting of betel-leaf (mixed with other ingredients) out of her mouth on to the pit of the child’s stomach, the ingredients being pounded leaves of the bunglei, chĕkor, and jĕrangau, and chips of brazil-wood, ebony, and sugar-palm twigs (sĕgar kabong); to these are sometimes added small portions of the “Rough” bamboo (buluh kasap), of the bĕmban balu, and of the leaf-cases of the areca-palm (either upih b’lah batang or upih sarong).

The child is generally named within the first week, but I have not yet heard of any special ceremony connected with the naming, though it is most probably considered as a religious act. The name is evidently considered of some importance, for if the child happens to get ill directly after the naming, it is sometimes re-adopted (temporarily) by a third party, who gives it a different name. When this happens a species of bracelets and anklets made of black cloth are put upon the child’s wrists and ankles, the ceremony being called tumpang sayang.

A few days later the child’s head is shaved, and his nails cut for the first time. For the former process a red lather is manufactured from fine rice-flour mixed with gambier, lime, and betel-leaf. Some people have the child’s head shaved clean, others leave the central lock (jambul). In either case the remains of the red lather, together with the clippings of hair (and nails?) are received in a rolled-up yam-leaf (daun k’ladi di-ponjut) or cocoa-nut (?), and carried away and deposited at the foot of a shady tree, such as a banana (or a pomegranate?).

Sometimes (as had been done in the case of a Malay bride at whose “tonsure” I assisted28), the parents [342]make a vow at a child’s birth that they will give a feast at the tonsure of its hair, just before its marriage, provided the child grows up in safety.

Occasionally the ceremony of shaving the child’s head takes place on the 44th day after birth, the ceremony being called balik juru. A small sum, such as $2.00 or $3.00, is also sometimes presented to a pilgrim to carry clippings of the child’s locks to Mecca and cast them into the well Zemzem, such payment being called ’kêkah (ʿakêkah) in the case of a boy, and kĕrban in the case of a girl.29

To return to the mother. She is bathed in hot water at 8 o’clock each morning for three days, and from the day of birth (after ablution) she has to undergo the strangest ceremony of all, “ascending the roasting-place” (naik saleian). A kind of rough couch is prepared upon a small platform (saleian), which is about six feet in length, and slopes downwards towards the foot, where it is about two feet above the floor. Beneath this platform a fireplace or hearth (dapor)30 is constructed, and a “roaring fire” lighted, which is [343]intended to warm the patient to a degree consistent with Malay ideas of what is beneficial! Custom, which is stronger than law, forces the patient to recline upon this couch two or three times in the course of the day, and to remain upon it each time for an hour or two. To such extremes is this practice carried, that “on one occasion a poor woman was brought to the point of death ... and would have died if she had not been rescued by the kind interposition of the Civil Assistant-Surgeon; the excessive excitement caused by the heat was so overpowering that aberration of mind ensued which continued for several months.”31

As if this were not enough, one of the heated hearth-stones (batu tungku) is frequently wrapped up in a piece of flannel or old rags, applied to the patient’s stomach so as to “roast” her still more effectually. This “roasting” custom is said to continue for the whole of the forty-four days of uncleanness. During this period there are many birth-taboos (pantang bĕranak) applying to food, the following articles being usually forbidden: (1) things which have (from the Malay point of view) a lowering effect on the constitution (sagala yang sĕjuk-sĕjuk), e.g. fruits, with some exceptions, and vegetables; (2) things which have a heating effect on the blood (sagala yang bisa-bisa), e.g. the fish called pari (skate), the Prickly Fish (ikan duri), and the sĕmbilang (a kind of mudfish [344]with poisonous spines on both sides and back), and all fresh-water fish; (3) all things which have an irritating effect on the skin (sagala yang gatal-gatal), e.g. the fish called tĕnggiri, and tĕrubok, shell-fish, and the egg-plant or Brinjal, while the fish called kurau, g’lama, sĕnahong, parang-parang may be eaten, so long as they are well salted; (4) things which are supposed to cause faintness (sagala yang bĕntan-bĕntan), or swooning (pengsan), such, for instance, as uncooked cocoa-nut pulp, gourds and cucumbers; (5) sugar (with the exception of cocoa-nut sugar), cocoa-nuts, and chillies.32

The following description of birth-taboos in Pahang, taken from Mr. H. Clifford’s Studies in Brown Humanity, will give a good general idea of this part of the subject:—

“When Umat has placed the sîrih leaves he has done all he can for Sĕlĕma, and he resigns himself to endure the anxiety of the next few months with the patience of which he has so much command. The pantang bĕr-ânak, or birth-taboos, hem a husband in almost as rigidly as they do his wife, and Umat, who is as superstitious as are all the Malays of the lower classes, is filled with fear lest he should unwittingly transgress any law, the breach of which might cost Sĕlĕma her life. He no longer shaves his head periodically, as he loves to do, for a naked scalp is very cool and comfortable; he does not even cut his [345]hair, and a thick black shock stands five inches high upon his head, and tumbles raggedly about his neck and ears. Sĕlĕma is his first wife, and never before has she borne children, wherefore no hair of her husband’s must be trimmed until her days are accomplished. Umat will not kill the fowls for the cook now, nor even drive a stray dog from the compound with violence, lest he should chance to maim it, for he must shed no blood, and must do no hurt to any living thing during all this time. One day he is sent on an errand up-river and is absent until the third day. On inquiry it appears that he passed the night in a friend’s house, and on the morrow found that the wife of his host was shortly expecting to become a mother. Therefore he had to remain at least two nights in the village. Why? Because if he failed to do so, Sĕlĕma would die. Why would she die? God alone knows, but such is the teaching of the men of old, the wise ones of ancient days. But Umat’s chief privation is that he is forbidden to sit in the doorway of his house. To understand what this means to a Malay, you must realise that the seat in the doorway, at the head of the stair-ladder that reaches to the ground, is to him much what the fireside is to the English peasant. It is here that he sits and looks out patiently at life, as the European gazes into the heart of the fire. It is here that his neighbours come to gossip with him, and it is in the doorway of his own or his friend’s house that the echo of the world is borne to his ears. But, while Sĕlĕma is ill, Umat may not block the doorway, or dreadful consequences will ensue, and though he appreciates this and makes the sacrifice readily for his wife’s sake, it takes much of the comfort out of his life. [346]

“Sĕlĕma, meanwhile, has to be equally circumspect. She bridles her woman’s tongue resolutely, and no word in disparagement of man or beast passes her lips during all these months, for she has no desire to see the qualities she dislikes reproduced in the child. She is often tired to death and faint and ill before her hour draws nigh, but none the less she will not lie upon her mat during the daytime lest her heavy eyes should close in sleep, since her child would surely fall a prey to evil spirits were she to do so. Therefore she fights on to the dusk, and Umat does all he can to comfort her and to lighten her sufferings by constant tenderness and care.”33

The medicine (sambaran bara), used by the mother after her confinement, consists of the ashes of a burnt cocoa-nut shell pounded and mixed with a pinch of black pepper (lada hitam sa-jimput), a root of garlic (bawang puteh sa-labuh), and enough vinegar to make the mixture liquid. This potion is drunk for three consecutive mornings. A bandage is swathed about her waist, and she is treated with a cosmetic (bĕdak) manufactured from tĕmu kuning, which is pounded small (and mixed as before with garlic, black pepper, and vinegar), and applied every morning and evening for the first three days. During the next three days a new cosmetic (bĕdak kunyit t’rus) is applied, the ingredients being kunyit t’rus pounded and mixed in the same way as the cosmetic just described.

At the same time the patient is given a potion made from the ash of burnt durian skins (abu kulit durian), mixed as before with vinegar; the fruit-stalk, [347]or “spire,” of a cocoa-nut palm (manggar niyor) being substituted if the durian skin is not obtainable.

A poultice (ubat pupok) is also applied to the patient’s forehead, after the early bathing, during the “forty-four days” of her retirement; it consists of leaves of the tahi babi, jintan hitam, and garlic, pounded and mixed as usual with vinegar.

After three days an extraordinary mixture, called in Selangor the “Hundred Herbs” (rĕmpah ’ratus), but in Malacca merely “Pot-herbs” (rĕmpah p’riok), is concocted from all kinds of herbs, roots, and spices. The ingredients are put into a large vessel of water and left to soak, a portion of the liquor being strained off and given to the patient as a potion every morning for about ten days. Similar ingredients boiled in a large pot, which is kept hot by being hermetically sealed (di-gĕtang), and by having live embers placed underneath it from time to time, furnish the regular beverage of the patient up to the time of her purification. After the first fortnight, however, the lees are extracted from the vessel and used to compose a poultice which is applied to the patient’s waist, a set of fresh ingredients replacing the old ones.34 It is sold for fifty cents a jar.

On the forty-fourth day the raised platform or roasting-place (saleian) is taken down and the ceremony called Floor-washing (basoh lantei) takes place, the whole house being thoroughly washed and cleaned. [348]The floor having been smeared with rice-cosmetic (bĕdak) (such as the Malays use for the bathing ceremony), it is well scratched by the claws of a fowl, which is caught (and washed) for the purpose, and then held over the floor and forced to do the scratching required of it. The cosmetic is then removed (di-langir) by means of lime-juice (again as in the bathing ceremony) and the hearth-fire is changed. The Bidan now receives her pay, usually getting in cash for the eldest child $4.40 (in some places $5.40), for the second, $3.40, the third, $2.40, and for the fourth, and all subsequent children, $1.40; unless she is hastily summoned (bidan tarek) and no engagement (mĕnĕmpah) has been made, in which case she may demand half a bhara ($11). Besides this somewhat meagre remuneration, however, she receives from the well-to-do (at the floor-washing ceremony) such presents as cast-off clothes (kain bĕkas tuboh), a bowl of saffron rice, a bowl of the rice-cosmetic and limes (bĕdak limau), and a platter of betel-leaf, with accessories (chĕrana sirih). Though the remuneration may appear small, it was, nevertheless, sure; as in former days an unwritten law allowed her to take the child and “cry it for sale” (di-jaja) round the country, should her fee remain unpaid.

Before concluding the present subject it will be necessary to describe certain specific injunctions and taboos which form an important part of the vast body of Malay customs which centre specially round the birth of children.

Before the child is born the father has to be more than usually circumspect with regard to what he does, as any untoward act on his part would assuredly have [349]a prejudicial effect on the child, and cause a birth-mark or even actual deformity, any such affection being called kĕnan. In a case which came to my notice the son was born with only a thumb, forefinger, and little finger on the left hand, and a great toe on the left foot, the rest of the fingers and toes on the left side being wanting. This, I was told, was due to the fact that the father violated this taboo by going to the fishing-stakes one day and killing a crab by chopping at it with a cutlass.

In former days during this period it was “taboo” (pantang) for the father to cut the throat of a buffalo or even of a fowl; or, in fact, to take the life of any animal whatever—a trace no doubt of Indian influences. A Malay told me once that his son, soon after birth, was afflicted with a great obstruction of breathing, but that when the medicine-man (Pawang) declared (after “diagnosing” the case) that the child was suffering from a “fish-affection” (kĕnan ikan), he remembered that he had knocked on the head an extraordinary number of fish which he had caught on the very day that his son was born. He therefore, by the advice of the medicine-man, gave the child a potion made from pounded fish bones, and an immediate and permanent recovery was the result.

Such affections as those described are classified by the Malays according to the kind of influence which is supposed to have produced them. Thus the unoffending victim may be either fish-struck (kĕnan ikan), as described above, ape-struck (kĕnan b’rok), dog-struck (kĕnan anjing), crab-struck (kĕnan kĕtam), and so forth, it being maintained that in every case the child either displays some physical deformity, causing a resemblance to the animal by [350]which it was affected, or else (and more commonly) unconsciously imitates its actions or its “voice.”

Another interesting custom was that the father was stringently forbidden to cut his hair until after the birth of the child.

The following passage bearing on the subject is taken from Sir W. E. Maxwell’s article on the “Folklore of the Malays”:35

“In selecting timber for the uprights of a Malay house care must be taken to reject any log which is indented by the pressure of any parasitic creeper which may have wound round it when it was a living tree. A log so marked, if used in building a house, will exercise an unfavourable influence in childbirth, protracting delivery and endangering the lives of mother and child. Many precautions must be taken to guard against evil influence of a similar kind, when one of the inmates of a house is expecting to become a mother. No one may ‘divide the house’ (bĕlah rumah), that is, go in at the front door and out at the back, or vice versâ, nor may any guest or stranger be entertained in the house for one night only; he must be detained for a second night to complete an even period. If an eclipse occurs, the woman on whose account these observances are necessary must be taken into the pĕnangga (kitchen), and placed beneath the shelf or platform (para) on which the domestic utensils are kept. A spoon is put into her hand. If these precautions are not taken, the child when born will be deformed.”

Sir W. E. Maxwell in the above is speaking of Perak Malays. The passage just quoted applies to a [351]great extent to Selangor, but with a few discrepancies. Thus a house-post indented by a creeper is generally avoided in Selangor for a different reason, viz. that it is supposed to bring snakes into the house.

“Dividing the house,” however, is generally considered an important birth-taboo in Selangor, the threatened penalty for its non-observance being averted by compelling the guilty party to submit to the unpleasant ceremony called sĕmbor ayer, a member of the family being required to eject (sĕmbor) a mouthful of water upon the small of the culprit’s back.

In Selangor, again, a guest must stay three nights (not two) in the house, his departure on the first or second night being called “Insulting the Night” (mĕnjolok malam). To avert the evil consequences of such an act, fumigation (rabun-rabun) is resorted to, the “recipe” for it running as follows:—“Take assafœtida, sulphur, kunyit t’rus (an evil-smelling root), onion skins, dried areca-nut husk, lemon-grass leaves, and an old mat or cloth, burn them, and leave the ashes for about an hour at sunset on the floor of the passage in front of the door.” That a sensible and self-respecting “demon” should avoid a house where such an unconscionable odour is raised is not in the least surprising!

In the event of an eclipse the customs of the two sister States appear to be nearly identical; the only difference being that in Selangor the woman is placed in the doorway (in the moonlight as far as possible), and is furnished with the basket-work stand of a cooking pot, as well as a wooden rice-spoon, the former as a trap to catch any unwary demon who may be so foolish as to put his head “into the noose,” and the latter as a weapon of offence, it being supposed that “the [352]rattan binding of the spoon (which must, of course, be of the orthodox Malay pattern) will unwind itself and entangle the assailant” in the case of any real danger. Finally, the Bidan must be present to “massage” the woman, and repeat the necessary charms.

From the following passage it would appear that the corresponding Pahang custom does not materially differ from that of Perak and Selangor:—

“But during the period that the Moon’s fate hung in the balance, Sĕlĕma has suffered many things. She has been seated motionless in the fireplace under the tray-like shelf, which hangs from the low rafters, trembling with terror of—she knows not what. The little basket-work stand, on which the hot rice-pot is wont to rest, is worn on her head as a cap, and in her girdle the long wooden rice-spoon is stuck dagger-wise. Neither she nor Umat know why these things are done, but they never dream of questioning their necessity. It is the custom. The men of olden days have decreed that women with child should do these things when the Moon is in trouble, and the consequences of neglect are too terrible to be risked; so Sĕlĕma and Umat act according to their simple faith.”36



Of the purely Malay ceremonies performed at Adolescence, the most important are the “filing of the teeth” (bĕrasah gigi),37 and the cutting of the first locks of hair, in cases where this latter operation has been postponed till the child’s marriage by a vow of its parents. [353]

The following is a description of the rite of tonsure (bĕrchukor), at which I was present in person:—

“Some time ago (in 1897) I received, through one of my local Malay headmen, an invitation to attend a tonsure ceremony.

“When I arrived (about two P.M.), in company of the headman referred to, the usual dancing and Korān-chanting was proceeding in the outer chamber or verandah, which was decked out for the occasion with the usual brilliantly coloured ceiling-cloth and striped wall-tapestry. After a short interval we were invited to enter an inner room, where a number of Malays of both sexes were awaiting the performance of the rite. The first thing, however, that caught the eye was a gracefully-draped figure standing with shrouded head, and with its back to the company, upon the lowest step of the dais (g’rei), which had been erected with a view to the prospective wedding ceremony. This was the bride. A dark-coloured veil, thrown over her head and shoulders, allowed seven luxuriant tresses of her wonderful raven-black hair to escape and roll down below her waist, a ring of precious metal being attached to the end of each tress. Close to the bride, and ready to support her, should she require it, in her motherly arms, stood the (on such occasions) familiar figure of the Duenna (Mak Inang), whose duty, however, in the present instance was confined to taking the left hand of the bride between her own, and supporting it in a horizontal position whilst each of the seven Representatives (orang waris)38 in turn was sprinkling it with the ‘Neutralising Rice-paste’ (tĕpong tawar) by means of the usual bunch [354]or brush of leaves. A little in front of this pair stood a youth supporting in his hands an unhusked cocoa-nut shell. The crown of this cocoa-nut had been removed, and the edges at the top cut in such a way as to form a chevroned or ‘dog-tooth’ border. Upon the indentations of this rim was deposited a necklace, and a large pair of scissors about the size of a tailor’s shears were stuck point downwards in the rim. The cocoa-nut itself was perhaps half-filled with its ‘milk.’ Close to this youth stood another, supporting one of the usual circular brass trays (with high sides) containing all the ordinary accessories of the tĕpong tawar ceremony, i.e. a bowl of rice-paste, a brush of leaves, parched rice, washed saffron-stained rice, and benzoin or incense.

“I was now requested to open the proceedings, but at my express desire the Pĕnghulu (Malay headman) did so for me, first scattering several handfuls (of the different sorts of rice) over the bride, and then sprinkling the rice-paste upon the palm of her left hand, which was held out to receive it as described above. The sprinkling over, he took the scissors and with great deliberation severed the end of the first lock, which was made to fall with a little splash, and with the ring attached to it, into the cocoa-nut with the ‘dog-tooth’ border.

“Five other waris (Representatives) and myself followed suit, the seven tresses with the rings attached to them being all received in the cocoa-nut as described.

“A child of the age of about two or three years underwent the tonsure at the same time, each of the Representatives, after severing the bride’s lock, snipping off a portion of the child’s hair. The child was in arms and was not veiled, but wore a shoulder-cloth [355](bidak) thrown over his shoulder. At the conclusion of the ceremony we left the room, and the Korān-chanting was resumed and continued until the arrival of the bridegroom in procession (at about five P.M.), when the bride and bridegroom went through the ceremony of being ‘seated side by side’ (bĕrsanding), and the business of the day was concluded.

“The cocoa-nut containing the severed tresses and rings is carried to the foot of a barren fruit-tree (e.g. a pomegranate-tree), when the rings are extracted and the water (with the severed locks) poured out at the tree’s foot, the belief being that this proceeding will make the tree as luxuriant as the hair of the person shorn, a very clear example of ‘sympathetic magic.’ If the parents are poor, the cocoa-nut is generally turned upside down and left there; but if they are well-to-do, the locks are usually sent to Mecca in charge of a pilgrim, who casts them on his arrival into the well Zemzem.”

I will now describe the ceremony of filing or “sharpening” the teeth, from notes taken by myself during the actual ceremony (20th March, 1897).

The youth whose teeth I saw filed must have been quite fifteen or sixteen years of age, and had not long before undergone the rite of circumcision. When I arrived I found the house newly swept and clean, and all the accessories of the ceremony already prepared. These latter consisted of a round tray (dulang) containing the usual bowl of rice-paste (tĕpong tawar), with the brush of leaves,39 three cups (containing different sorts of rice), an egg,40 three rings [356]of precious metals (gold, silver, and amalgam), a couple of limes, and two small files (to which a small tooth-saw and two small whetstones should be added).41

The ceremony now commences: the tooth-filer (Pawang gigi) first scatters the three sorts of rice and sprinkles the tĕpong tawar upon his instruments, etc., repeating the proper charm42 at the same time; the patient meanwhile, and throughout the operation, reclining upon his back on the floor with his head resting on a pillow. Next the Pawang, sitting beside the patient, “touches” the patient’s teeth, first with each of the three rings of precious metal and then with the egg, throwing each of these objects away as he does so, and repeating each time a charm (Hu, kata Allah, d. s. b.), which is given in the Appendix. Next he props open (di-sĕngkang) the patient’s mouth by means of a dried areca-nut, and repeats another charm (Hei, Bismi) in order to destroy the “venom” of the steel, laying the file upon the teeth,43 and drawing it thrice across them at the end of the charm. He then cuts off (di-k’rat) the crowns of the teeth (with one [357]of the files), smooths their edges (di-papar) with one of the whetstones, and polishes them (mĕlechek). During the whole of this part of the performance, which is a trying ordeal to witness, although it is borne with the utmost fortitude on the part of the sufferer, the latter holds a small mirror in front of his mouth in order to be assured that the operation is progressing to his satisfaction. When the actual filing is over, the areca-nut is extracted, and a piece of cocoa-nut husk or small block of pulai wood inserted in its stead, in order to facilitate the proper polishing of the now mutilated teeth. This latter part of the operation is accomplished by means of the file, a small piece of folded white cloth protecting the lips from injury.

Considerable interest attaches to the filing of the first tooth, on account of the omens which are taken from the position in which the crown happens to lie when it falls. If, when the tooth is filed through, the crown adheres to the file, it is taken as a sign that the patient will die at home; if it flies off and lies with its edge turned upwards, this means, on the contrary, that he will die abroad.

At the conclusion of the operation a species of poultice (ubat tasak), consisting mainly of cooked ginger (halia bara di-pahis-ki), which is intended to “deaden (the feeling of) the gums” (matikan daging gusi) is duly charmed44 and applied to the gums of the jaw which happens to be under treatment. The Pawang now lays one hand (the left) on the top of the patient’s head and the other upon the teeth of the upper jaw, and presses them together with a show of considerable force, making believe, as it were, that [358]he is pressing the patient’s upper teeth firmly into their sockets. Finally, a portion of betel-leaf is charmed (with the charm Hong sarangin, etc.) and given to the patient to chew, after which, it is asserted, all pain immediately ceases. The Pawang then washes his hands, resharpens his tools, and those present sit down to a meal of saffron-stained pulut rice. This concludes the ceremony for the day, the lower jaw being similarly treated upon a subsequent occasion.

In the course of three such operations (the Pawang informed me) the teeth can be filed down even with the gums, in which case they are, I believe, in some instances somewhat roughly plated or cased with gold. Sometimes, however, they are merely filed into points, so that they resemble the teeth of a shark.45 Very frequently, too, they blacken them with a mixture of the empyreumatic oil of the cocoa-nut shell (baja or g’rang) and kamunting (Kl. karamunting) wood,46 which is also used for blackening the eyebrows. These customs, however, are already dying out in the more civilised Malay States. [359]

Whenever I made inquiries as to the reason of this strange custom, I was invariably told that it not only beautified but preserved the teeth from the action of decay, which the Malays believe to be set up by the presence of a minute maggot or worm (ulat), their most usual way of expressing the fact that they are suffering from toothache being to say that the tooth in question is being “eaten by a maggot” (di-makan ulat).

The “Batak” Malays (a Mid-Sumatran tribe, many of whom have settled in Kuala Langat) are said to chip the teeth of their children into the desired shape by the use of a small chisel, the operation causing such exquisite agony that the sufferer will not unfrequently leap to his feet with a shriek.

Even when the file is used, the work of an unskilful performer (who does not know how to destroy the “venom” of his instruments) will cause the sufferer’s face to be completely swollen up (bakup) for a long period subsequent to the operation. Yet young people of both sexes cheerfully submit to the risk of this discomfort, and the only remark made by the youth whom I saw undergoing it was that it “made his mouth feel uncomfortable” (jĕlejeh rasa mulut-nya).

The ear-boring ceremony (bĕrtindek) appears to have already lost much of its ceremonial character in Selangor, where I was told that it is now usually performed when the child is quite small, i.e. at the earliest, when the child is some five or seven months old, and when it is about a year old at the latest, whereas in Sumatra (according to Marsden) it is not performed until the child is eight or nine.47 Still, however, a special kind [360]of round ear-ring, which is of filagree-work, and is called subang, is as much the emblem of virginity in the western States as it ever was. The “discarding” of these ear-rings (tanggal subang), which should take place about seven days after the conclusion of the marriage rites, is ceremonial in character, and it is even the custom when a widow (janda) is married for the second time, to provide her with a pair of subang (which should, however, it is said, be tied on to her ears instead of being inserted in the ear-holes, as in the case of a girl who has never been married).

The rite of circumcision is of course common to Muhammadans all over the world. Some analogous practices, however, have also been noticed among the non-Muhammadan Malayan races of the Eastern Archipelago, and it is at least doubtful whether circumcision as now practised by Malays is a purely Muhummadan rite. Among Malays it is performed by a functionary called the “Mudim,”48 with a slip of bamboo, at any age (in the case of boys) from about six or seven up to about sixteen years, the wound being often dressed (at least in town districts) with fine clay mixed with soot and the yolk of eggs, but when possible, the clay is mixed with cocoa-nut fibre (rabok niyor), sĕlumur paku uban, and the young shoots of the k’lat plantain (puchok pisang k’lat), the compound being called in either case [361]ubat tasak. The ceremony is associated with the common purificatory rite called tĕpong tawar, and with ayer tolak bala (lit. evil-dispelling water). Lights are kept burning in the house for several days (“until the wound has healed”), and the performance of the ceremony is always made the occasion for a banquet, together with music and dancing of the kind in which Malays take so much delight. The cause of these rejoicings is dressed for the occasion “like a bridegroom” (pĕngantin), and is said to be sometimes carried in procession.


4. Personal Ceremonies and Charms

Ceremonies and charms for protecting or rendering the person more attractive or formidable, form one of the largest, but not perhaps the most interesting or important division of the medicine-man’s repertory.

The following remarkable specimen of the charms belonging to the first of these classes was given me by ’Che ʿAbas of Klanang in Selangor, a Kelantan Malay:—

“If the corpse in the grave should speak,

And address people on earth,

May I be destroyed by any beast that has life,

But if the corpse in the grave do not speak,

And address people on earth,

May I not be destroyed by any beast that has life, or by any foe or peril, or by any son of the human race.

And if the chicken in the egg should crow,

And call to chickens on earth,

May I be destroyed by any beast that has life,

But if the chicken in the egg do not crow,”

(etc. etc., as before.)

As a general rule, however, this particular class of [362]charms shows particularly strong traces of Arabic influence, most often, perhaps, taking the form of an injunction (addressed to Jins or Angels) to watch over the person of the petitioner.

To rightly understand charms of the second class, which includes Bathing and Betel-charming charms,49 we must have some idea of the Malay standard of beauty. This, I need hardly say, differs widely from that entertained by Europeans. In the case of manly beauty we should, perhaps, be able to acquiesce to some extent in the admiration which Malays express for “Brightness of Countenance” (chahia), which forms one of the chief objects of petition in almost every one of this class of charms;50 but none of our modern Ganymedes would be likely to petition for a “voice like the voice of the Prophet David”;51 or a “countenance like the countenance of the Prophet Joseph”; still less would he be likely to petition for a tongue “curled like a breaking wave,” or “a magic serpent,” or for teeth “like a herd of (black) elephants,” or for lips “like a procession of ants.”52

Malay descriptions of female beauty are no less curious. The “brow” (of the Malay Helen, for whose sake a thousand desperate battles are fought in Malay romances) “is like the one-day-old moon,”53 her eyebrows resemble “pictured clouds,”54 and are “arched like the fighting-cock’s (artificial) spur,”55 her cheek resembles “the sliced-off-cheek of a mango,”56 her nose “an opening jasmine bud,”57 her hair the “wavy blossom-shoots of the areca-palm,”58 slender59 is her [363]neck, “with a triple row of dimples,”60 her bosom ripening,61 her waist “lissom as the stalk of a flower,”62 her head “of a perfect oval” (lit. bird’s-egg-shaped), her fingers like the leafy “spears of lemon-grass,”63 or the “quills of the porcupine,”64 her eyes “like the splendour of the planet Venus,”65 and her lips “like the fissure of a pomegranate.”66

The following is a specimen of an invocation for beautifying the person which is supposed to be used by children:—

“The light of four Suns, five Moons,

And the seven Stars be visible in my eye.

The brightness of a shooting star be upon my chin,

And that of the full moon be upon my brows.

May my lips be like unto a string of ants,

My teeth like to a herd of elephants,

My tongue like a breaking wave,

My voice like the voice of the Prophet David,

My countenance like the countenance of the Prophet Joseph,

My brightness like the brightness of the Prophet Muhammad,

By virtue of my using this charm that was coeval with my birth,

And by grace of ‘There is no god but God,’” etc.

When personal attractions begin to wane with the lapse of years, invocations are resorted to for the purpose of restoring the petitioner’s lost youth. In one of the invocations referred to (which is said to have been used by the Princess of Mount Ophir, Tuan Pŭtri Gunong Ledang, to secure perpetual youth), the petitioner boasts that he (or she) was “born under the Inverted Banyan Tree,” and claims the granting of the boon applied for “by virtue of the use of the “Black Lĕnggundi Bush,” which when it has [364]died, returns to life again,”67 the idea being, no doubt, that a judicious use of black magic will enable the petitioner to “live backwards.”

The third class of invocations, for rendering the person formidable, belong rather to the chapter on war, under which heading they will be included.



Betrothal is called tunangan or pinangan. When the parents of a marriageable youth perceive a suitable “match” for their son, they send a messenger to her parents to ask if she has yet been “bespoken” (kalau ada orang sĕbut). If the reply is satisfactory, the messenger is again despatched to intimate the desire of the youth’s parents to “bespeak” the hand of the favoured individual for his son, and to arrange a day for a meeting. These preliminaries are accompanied by the usual polite self-depreciation on both sides. Thus, the girl’s father begins by saying, “You wish to bespeak the hand of my daughter, who knows neither how to cook nor how to sew” (yang ta’tahu masak, ta’tahu mĕnjait). But the custom is not carried to such extremes as it is in China.68 [365]

The girl’s parents next call four or five witnesses (saksi) of either sex to “witness” the betrothal, and after preparing a meal (nasi dan kueh) for their expected guests, await the arrival of the youth’s “Representatives,” the youth himself remaining at home. One of the party carries a betel-leaf tray furnished with the usual betel-chewing appliances, together with half a bhara of dollars ($11) according to the stricter custom; although (failing the dollars), a ring or bracelet, or other jewellery of that value, may be substituted.

Plate 8.—Betrothal Gifts.

Plate 8.—Betrothal Gifts.

Bird-shaped receptacles, formerly used for containing rice for presentation purposes during betrothal, the bird at the bottom representing a peacock (mĕrak). Round its neck are hung two smaller receptacles also for rice.

Page 365.

Bearing these presents with them, the youth’s representatives proceed to the house of the girl’s parents, where they are invited to enter and partake of the betel-leaf provided for them. A meal is then served, Malay cakes (kueh-kueh) brought forward, and the company again partake of betel.

The two parties now sit down in a “family circle,” and one of the youth’s representatives pushes forward (di-sorongkan) the betel which they had brought with them, and offers it to the people of the house, saying, “This is a pledge of your daughter’s betrothal.” The girl’s father replies, “Be it so, I accept it,” or words to that effect, and inquires how long the engagement is to last, the answer being “six months” or “a year” as the case may be. Both parties then appeal to the witnesses to “hear what is said,” and the youth’s relatives return to their homes.

The marriage portion being fixed (in Selangor) by an almost universal custom at two bharas of dollars ($44), the amount is not usually mentioned at the betrothal, it being understood that the usual amount is intended. But if the girl’s parents should afterwards prove reluctant to proceed with the match, they [366]forfeit twice the amount of the pledge-money which they have received; whereas if the youth refuses to proceed he merely forfeits the pledge-money ($11) already paid to the girl’s parents. Some families pay a marriage portion of $30 only, and others (such as the family of ’Toh Kaya Kĕchil of Klang) pay as much as $50, but exceptions are rare, $44 being now generally recognised as the customary wedding portion.

However, the girl’s family does not really receive anything like the full value of the $44, because if the $44 is paid in full the proposer has a right to demand a complete outfit (pĕrsalinan) of silk attire, to the value of about $20, so that the amount which actually changes hands is seldom more than about $24.

Plate 9.—Betrothal Gifts.

Plate 9.—Betrothal Gifts.

The two square cloths resembling “D’oyleys” represent two different patterns of the gĕdĕbong, a cloth (in three thicknesses and sizes) used for wrapping up the presentation betel-leaf during the period of betrothal.

Page 366.

The Malay fiancée, unlike her European sister, is at the utmost pains to keep out of her lover’s way, and to attain this object she is said to be “as watchful as a tiger.” No engagement-ring is used in this neighbourhood, no priest (or Lĕbai) is present at the engagement ceremony, nor is the girl asked for her consent. On the other hand, a regular system of exchanging presents, after the engagement, is said to have been formerly in vogue in Selangor, the man sending betel-leaf, fruit, and eggs to his fiancée from time to time in net-work receptacles, and the woman sending specially prepared rice, etc. in rush-work receptacles of various patterns. It is said, too, that the woman would occasionally carve a chain, consisting of three or four links, out of a single areca-nut, in which case the prospective bridegroom was supposed to redeem it by the payment of as many dollars as there were links. The betel-nut presented on these occasions [367]would be wrapped up in a gradation of three beautifully worked cloths, not unlike “D’oyleys” in general appearance, whilst the actual engagement ceremony in former days is said to have received additional interest and formality from the recital of verses appropriate to the occasion by chosen representatives of each party. Specimens of the betrothal verses formerly used in Selangor will be found in the Appendix. The following is a translation:—

Q. Small is my cottage, but it has five shelves

For roasting the kĕrisi fish;

Hearken, good people, whilst I inquire of you

What is the price of your Diamond69 here?

A. Your fishing-line must be five fathoms long

If you would catch the tĕnggiri fish;

Seven tahils, a kati, and five laksa,70

That is the price of our Diamond here.

Q. If there are no rĕngas trees growing on the Point,

One must go up-stream and cut down a screw-palm;

If one has not gold in one’s girdle,

One must make over one’s person to begin with.

A. If there are no rĕngas trees growing on the Point,

You must take banyan-wood for the sides of your trays;

If you have no gold in your girdle,

You need not hope to get Somebody’s daughter.

Q. Thousands are the supports required

For the stem of the sago-palm to recline upon;71

Though it be thousands I would accept the debt

So I be betrothed to Somebody’s daughter.


A. My head-kerchief has fallen into the sea,

And with it has fallen my oar-ring;72

I stretch out my hand in token of acceptance,

Though I have naught wherewith to requite you.

Q. Oar-ring or no,

The lĕnggundi bush grows apace in the thatch channels.

Whether it is well to go slowly or no,

It is the favour you have shown me that subdues my heart.”

If, however, there is a hitch in the proceedings, and the parties commence to lose their temper, the stanzas may end very differently; for instance, the girl’s father or representative will say:—

A. My lord has gone up-stream

To get his clothes and wash out the dye.73

If that is all, let it alone for the present;

If there is anything else you will always find me ready.

Q. ’Che Dol Amat’s mango-tree

When it fell rolled into the swamp.

If I cannot get what I w