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Dedicated to all those who are interested in world folklore, culture and nature. Comments and constructive criticisms are welcome!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Featured in the New Straits Times - 16 March 2019

Monday, November 12, 2018

Farewell Draco!

Farewell, Draco (January 2006 - 12 November 2018.) 

Our eldest doggo (beloved of Shona Yean,) passed away this afternoon. It was not unexpected. He lost the ability to walk a few months after his brother, Choji, passed away in December, 2017. Draco was born with severe hip dysplasia and somehow, forced himself to walk, to keep up with Choji, until he was twelve years old. He showed incredible endurance for a dog, being able to walk for so long, when less handicapped Golden Retrievers would have given up. 

Draco and Choji, were both born in Malaysia. They followed us to two countries in succession - Havana, Cuba and Zagreb, Croatia. Life was tough in Cuba for Choji, the weather was hot and humid and good dog food was scarce. But Draco had a fairly productive life as a guard dog at the Havana Residence in Siboney. I think he enjoyed his role there. However, they both enjoyed Zagreb and getting to experience snow for the first time in their lives! There was an apple tree in the backyard, and Draco loved munching apples in the autumn.

We have been caring for Draco for the past nine months. But he was diagnosed with cancer, six months ago and had a stroke last Wednesday. The end was inevitable. Still, I felt 'empty' entering our home without being greeted by a dog. 

Nevertheless, he was a gorgeous dog. When a puppy, he had the usual golden colour. This colour deepened and in his youth, Draco had flaming red-gold fur. The colour mellowed to a warm gold as he matured but he never faded into grey. He was the most stubborn, intelligent, irrepressible and high-spirited dog, we've ever known.

Vale old friend. You are no longer in pain. Seek your brother, Choji, on the other side of the rainbow bridge. May you two have great adventures together chasing squirrels and guinea pigs!

Sunday, November 11, 2018


Cats play a significant role in folklore from around the world and so, I've decided to assemble some of the stories here:

1. Il Gato Mammone: The Italian Tale of the Cat King

Image result for images of gatto mammone
Once upon a time, there was a woman. She had two daughters, one incredibly ugly and the other one astonishingly beautiful. In a rather surprising twist, the woman loved her ugly daughter more than anything, including the beautiful one, whose beauty drew their jealousy and ire. One day, filled to the brim with envy, they decide to send her to ask the fairies for a sieve, the fair folk being known for their trickery and curses.
On her way to the castle of the fairies she meets an old man whose adherence to folk tale rules would make Vladimir Propp proud.  He tells her exactly how to behave, with a strict and perhaps nonsensical etiquette, that if followed would help her find the object she sought after.
Most important of all, she must help the cats in the castle do their housework. The Gatto Mammone, who lives in the castle, is thankful and gives her what she asked for, along with a warning: on her way back home, she must not turn at the call of the donkey, but only when she hears a rooster. As she does so, a beautiful star is magically embedded in her forehead.
You can easily imagine the rest of the story: her sister goes through the same ordeal, but her pride gets the best of her and she’s shunned away by the cats. On her way back, she turns at the bray of the ass, and a donkey’s tail is magically embedded in her forehead.

2. Bayun Cat
Cat Baiyun/Bayun Cat. Illustration by K. Kuznetsov from the collection “Russian folk tales” 

Bayun Cat is a fascinating character of Russian fairy tales. It is a huge man-eater with a magical voice. When he spins his magical tales, travelers are lulled into complacency or even sleep by his  hypnotic voice. Those of them who do not have enough strength to resist his magic or who are not prepared to battle with him, will be ruthlessly killed by the cat-sorcerer. But those who can capture a Bayun cat will find salvation from all diseases and illnesses - the tales of Bayun are healing.
Word Bayun means "talker narrator talker" from the verb bayat  - "tell talk" (cf. also verbs. Cradle , lull in "put to sleep" value) [1] [2] . In fairy tales it is said that Bayun sits on a high, usually iron pillar. The cat lives in distant lands in the thirtieth kingdom [3] or in a lifeless dead forest, where there are no birds or animals [4] . In one of the fairy tales about Vasilis the Beautiful, the Bayun cat lives with Baba Yaga .

There are a large number of such fairy tales, where the main character is given the task of catching a Bayun Cat; as a rule, such tasks were given in order to destroy a good young man. Meeting with this fabulous monster means inevitable death. To capture the magic cat, Ivan Tsarevich puts on an iron cap and iron mittens. Winning and catching the animal, Ivan Tsarevich delivers him to the palace to his father. There, the defeated cat begins to serve the king - telling fairy tales to heal the king with lulling words [5] .
3. Cats of Witchcraft
In ancient Scotland, it was believed that witches could shapeshift into . However they had to be careful, as once they had shifted for the ninth time they could not shift back.

In ancient times on the festival of Samhain/Halloween, dishes of milk were left outside houses for a witch who could change into cat form; she’d bless each house in return. But if you didn’t leave an offering of milk, you’d be cursed and your cows’ milk would dry up.

In Wales, the cat was thought to be a capital weather glass. If she stood or lay with her face towards the fire, it was a sign of frost or snow; if she became frisky, bad weather was near. If the cat washed her face and ears, then rain was sure to come."

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Casa del Rio in Malacca

Casa del Rio 

Saturday, 13 Oct 2018. On a day trip to Malacca,  we had lunch at the Casa del Rio, a vintage boutique hotel in Malacca, located by the Malacca River.

This is the only place in Malaysia which reminds me of the grand old mansions in Havana, Cuba. The food was mediocre, though. It's only worth going for the tiffin lunch on weekdays.

Book Launch in Malacca

Book Launch of Stories of One Malaccan Family.

On Saturday, 13 October 2018, we attended a book launch at the Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum in Malacca.  The museum is located at Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Loke (Heeren Street), a part of the historic inner city which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An immersive experience in the Peranakan culture- a hybrid of Chinese and Malay. Enjoyed the beautiful museum, the performance and the food. Met Lee Su Kim, the author of the Nyonya Trilogy; and Bert Tan, the founder of the Malaysian Heritage & History Club. And the book, Stories of One Malaccan Family, by Melissa Chan and Preethi Nair is a treasure!

Melissa Chan is the author of the book.
The Chans are Peranakan - a hybrid culture combining Chinese and Malay elements and this is reflected in their beautiful traditional costumes. The top, known as a kebaya is hand-embroidered traditionally (but machine embroidered now), while the sarong is made from batik.

Entitled, Stories of One Malaccan Family, it is about the Chan family and their remarkable ancestral home. Being an outstanding example of the Straits Settlement Shophouse architecture located in a historic part of the city, the clan decided to turn it into a museum.

Preethi Nair is the illustrator
Yean and Henry Chan at the book launch

The Chan family's ancestral home is now the
Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum
Guests were served an array of
Nyonya delicacies at the launch.
The pastries are pineapple tarts, a Nyonya invention?

The lavishly illustrated book, Stories of One Malaccan Family is by 
Melissa Chan with her father, Henry Chan, and illustrated by Preethi Nair. It took Melissa and Preethi five years to complete this gorgeous book, which was written in honour of the Chan family, and their remarkable home. The collection of stories about the Chan family covers four generations - before the Second World War, during the war and after. While the First World War had little impact on this part of the world, the Second World War had a huge impact. The country, then Malaya, and almost the whole of Southeast Asia was occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army. The Chinese who have settled in this part of the world were especially adversely affected.
The book, entitled Stories of One Malaccan Family
is a collectible Malaysiana

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Malay Magic And Divination

Malay Magic and Divination

The long awaited talk on Malay Magic and Divination by Dr Farouk Yahya from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), of the University of London and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University finally took place this afternoon (16 July 2017) at the Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. The hall was packed, and I recognised several friends from the writing community: Sharifah A. OsmanNinot AzizRJ Es RJ IbrahimSquareMean Burhan, Lokman Hakim, Heidi Shamsudin and Amir Mohammad (publisher and film producer.)

Dr Farouk's talk was based on his research for his PhD. He studied over one hundred illustrated manuscripts from this region (all written by men for sure because most women were probably illiterate at that time.) Many of these manuscripts are found in the SOAS Library, the Ashmolean Museum and also thankfully, the National Library of Malaysia. 

He explained the differences between manuscripts - which were text written on loose leaf paper, and a codex, when they are bound in book form. There are also folding books and scrolls. Malay manuscripts were usually written in Arabic and most originated in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Many of them were about magic. Farouk Yahya defined magic as an act that seeks to alter the course of events - usually by calling on supernatural forces. Magic usually involved incantations and spells. He mentioned the Hikayat Hang Tuah, found in Malacca in 1882 but thought to be composed in Johor between 1680 - 1710. According to Farouk Yahya, although the story did not contain any love spells, it  mentioned a spell used by Hang Tuah to make Tun Teja hate him!

He showed us a Divination Diagramme called a Rajamuka Diagramme, by Haji San Lundang which originated from Singapore in 1907. It explains divination through breathing - the right nostrils or the left nostrils. I failed to grasp this completely. 

There were also methods to bind and harm people by using effigies. E.g. one could draw an image on the ground and squat on the shoulders and defecate and urinate into what is the mouth! This should be done seven days in a row. Or one could draw an effigy and use the heel of the shoe to twist into the heart; this needs to be done three days in a row.   
I can't help feeling a tad disappointed though. Oddly enough because it was too 'high brow' - a study of hand written and illustrated manuscripts based on Indian and Arab knowledge available at that time.  No doubt the educated intelligentsia of that time regarded folk magic/knowledge as too low brow to be included in the manuscripts. Therefore, No rituals, no jampi (spells and incantations), no love potions (although there was a mention of a hate potion) and no descriptions of djins/demons. Most disappointing of all (Sharifah and I agreed on this), no mention of Nenek Kebayan, the healers and shamans/witches of the Malay world.

However we did learn a rather unpleasant curse and the ancient Indian and Malay divination method of choosing an auspicious house based on measurements of the width of the house and the land area, the right colours for the house (?) and the best time to see the king etc He also explained the significance of house number - 1 = Standard/naga, 2 = smoke/cloud/cat, 3 = tiger/lion, 4 = dog, 5 = bull/serpent/naga, 6 = rat/donkey, 7 = elephant/eagle and 8 = hare/crow. Basically, odd numbers are more auspicious than even numbers.

And there were some interesting information about Nagas. Dr Farouk showed a slide of a stone with inscriptions on it dating from the Sri Vijayan period with seven nagas surrounding it. The Naga stone originated from the 7th Century in Palembang, Sumatra. The inscriptions were written in an Indic language.

There was also the concept of the Rotating Naga. The naga guarding the land is thought to rotate every three months - North, East, South and West.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Commentary on Nights of the Dark Moon by Zozan Abrams

Commentary on Nights of the Dark Moon by Zozan Abrams

Zozan Abrams (real name Susan Abraham) wrote a commentary on of my book, Nights of the Dark Moon. I call it a commentary because she said it was not a review. But it is intriguing and gives a different perspective of the book.

Zozan is an avid reader and extremely au fait with the literature of  the Arab speaking world. She is also an author and a poet, having published two volumes: Call the Ships of Dar-es-Salaam and The Weather Peddler. You can visit her blog at:

The book is available at

Nights of the Dark Moon by Tutu Dutta


Not any kind of review but just some thoughts on a young adult storybook, I read recently. I had placed this post on my Facebook Timeline and I thought that it would serve as a kind of incentive… a motivating factor to get me blogging about books again. This would be a one-off as my love of books lie in serious fiction that focus on relationships. I am not a fan of horror or supernatural elements. I do love talking about my favourite books. I just need to recall the discipline:
‘I ferried Malaysian writer, Tutu Dutta’s newest storybook called Nights of the Dark Moon, published by Marshall Cavendish Editions in Singapore, to Dublin, a few days ago. It will prove an enthralling addition to my library. It is a beautiful looking book comprising 13 gothic Asian folktales. These also include two from Africa. I feel like a child again.. ready to cherish the glossy cover, thick cream pages & illuminating b/w sketches that enfold the start of every tale. These are from Dutta’s own talented hand.
At just RM49.90 (Malaysian Ringgit), Nights of the Dark Moon is no less, a great gift for an older child. After having read it all, I would term the collection as grim fairy- tales; some even signifying high mystery and adventure. All stay riveting, captivating and gripping in their context. Each tale offers stimulating wisdom for a lifetime. Tutu Dutta narrates her stories with an engaging vocabulary, a great love for thoughtful storytelling and also, with painstaking affection.
Just think of the few ugly demons that pop up as more of witches & wizards bent on their missions of hell.
My favourite stays the first one, The Haunted Bridge of Agi. Possibly because, an older Malay friend with great knowledge of Malay culture, told me two years ago, about a true and eerie ghost tale… this very kind of bridge is said to exist somewhere in Perak state of the Malaysian Peninsula. There are said to be night ghosts on the bridge and the only ones that they will not harm – that are allowed to make a return crossing safely – are those holding a royal Perakian bloodline. Otherwise, you will be faced with a devil in front of you at some point, and your wily, frightening escape, will then depend on how bravely you handle the shock.
Although the tales in the book are ancient Asian folklore in retrospect but they appear to hold a distinct European flavour in parts, especially with the dramatic but tragic love story gone wrong in India’s The Weeping Lady. It was so romantic, I even forgot it was a ghost story and supposed to raise the hairs on my neck.
Then, I found another Indian tale, King Vikram and Betaal the Vampire to be truly ticklish. I mean, when you think about it, these days, we live in such an evil world that even the Vampire here, appears a real gem. It knows how to hold a civil dialogue with an irate King and unlike many today, practices its own serious moral code of ethics and integrity.
The stories although nicely arranged, proved a rather tame read but then, that is understandable as I am now an older adult and have already devoured hundreds and hundreds of similar tales like these, as a child. It would be a natural effect. Hang Nadim – the legend of old Singapore’s swordfish battles, was narrated to me in the classroom at nine; by our Primary School teacher, who loved oral storytelling. She was called Cikgu Norsiah. When I first heard it, I was held enraptured to my little, wooden chair in Standard 3.
I also know of the Yoruba tale, The Curse of the Iroko Tree, that originated possibly from Ibadan. I don’t know if I had read this from some African literature in my library or picked up the tale of a child found in a tree and had to be returned to it as an adult, from some Yoruba classic film which I would have watched. A lot of Yoruba films rely on proverbs and oral-storytelling of old but I can’t remember the source, now.
Still, another two elements I strongly feel, that might have removed any possibility of a chilling fear could also have been the following: One: With the exception of the illustration, heralding The Shapeshifter of Co Lao – a clearly ghostly drawing, all the rest of the sketches were pleasant and pleasing. Maybe in future, Tutu Dutta could challenge herself to create more frightening images. That would help the ‘ghostly flavour’ of the book by leaps and bounds.
Also, in real life, I’ve found with a few good supernatural encounters of my own – incidents that defy logic – that fear pops up suddenly from sideways or behind a person, without warning. It’s almost lawless, there’s never a perfect timing or order. In the Nights of the Dark Moon, where the moon becomes the motivating element for a ghost to appear, after a while, there this a strong chance that this may appear predictable and formulaic with its tidy and orderly protocol.
The child might know what to expect in advance, further down the pages and so, both excitement and anticipation, could be sadly curbed.
I think that Nights of the Dark Moon would be a wonderful meditation even as parents or grandparents choose to read to a child or to have chats with then, either a 10, 11 or 12 year old. Not as a bedtime read of course, but as something far more ruminative. Where the child could absorb good judgement ie. foresight and understanding, about people in the real world today – both good and bad. Some evil can be eliminated, some others like bullies or thugs – well… it’s best to keep a careful distance.
Perhaps, more importantly also, on how not to be naive or to trust just any stranger too easily and also, to recognise that time is probably the best teacher in the aspect of studying human characterisation. Also, many other lifelong and necessary ethics that may be drawn upon, to make the child rise as a fabulous thinker turning it eventually, into an adult reader, holding profound intuition.’
Further Reading:
How to Purchase Nights of the Dark Moon from Malaysia
Note: Speaking from my own experience, MPH Bookstores in Malaysia are excellent with international courier deliveries and I have received my book parcels here in Europe in the past, in record time.