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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.

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