Malaysia now includes the mainland of West Malaysia, sharing
a land border with Thailand in the north, and East Malaysia,
consisting of the states of Sarawak and Sabah (formerly
North Borneo). The ethnic grouping of Malaysia includes Chinese
and Indian races, but the largest population is of Malays,
predominantly Muslim in faith and speaking their own Malay
Much of the folklore and magical tradition of the Malays
concerns ‘‘sympathetic magic’’ (see magic). The traveler Hugh
Clifford, writing in the nineteenth century, stated
‘‘The accredited intermediary between men and spirits is
the Pawang; 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 had
nothing whatever to do with the official Muhammadan religion
of the mosque; the village has its regular staff of elders—the
Imam, Khatio, 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. . . .
‘‘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 (beras), and two chupaks of emping (a
preparation of rice and cocoa-nut made into a sort of sweetmeat)
from each householder.’’
The Pawang used to regulate taboos, and employ a familiar
spirit known as hantu pusaka—a hereditary demon. He also
acted as a medium and divined through trance. To become a
‘‘You must meet the ghost of a murdered man. Take the
midrib of a leaf of the ‘ivory’ cocoa-nut palm (pelepah niyor gading),
which is to be laid on the grave, and two 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 ‘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.’
‘‘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.’’
Malay magic may be subdivided into preparatory rites, sacrifice,
lustration, divination, and possession. Sacrifice took the
form of a simple gift, or act of homage to the spirit or deity.
Lustration was magico-religious and purificatory, principally
taking place after childbirth. It might be performed by fire or
water. Divination consisted for the most part of the reading of
dreams, and was, as elsewhere, drawn from the acts of men or
nature. Omens were strongly believed in.
‘‘When a star is seen in apparent proximity to the moon, old
people say there will be a wedding shortly. . . .
‘‘The entrance into a house of an animal which does not
generally seek to share the abode of man is regarded by the
Malays as ominous of misfortune. If a wild bird flies into a
house it must be carefully caught and smeared with oil, and
must then be released in the open air, a formula being recited
in which it is bidden to fly away with all the ill-luck and misfortunes
(sial jambalang) of the occupier. An iguana, a tortoise, and
a snake, are perhaps the most dreaded of these unnatural visitors.
They are sprinkled with ashes, if possible to counteract
their evil influence.
‘‘A swarm of bees settling near a house is an unlucky omen,
and prognosticates misfortune.’’
So, too, omens were taken either from the flight or cries of
certain birds, such as the night-owl, the crow, some kinds of
wild doves, and the bird called the ‘‘Rice’s Husband’’ (laki padi).
Divination by astrology was, however, the most common
method of forecasting the future. The native practitioners possessed
long tables of lucky and unlucky periods and reasons.
These were mostly translations from Indian and Arabic sources.
The oldest known of these systems of propitious and unpropitious
seasons was known as Katika Lima, or the Five Times.
Under it the day was divided into five parts, and five days
formed a cycle. To each division was given a name as follows
Maswara, Kala, S’ri, Brahma, Bisnu (Vishnu), names of Hindu
deities, the last name in the series for the first day being the
first in that of the second day, and so on until the five days are
exhausted. Each of these had a color, and according to the
color first seen or noticed on such and such a day would it be
fortunate to ask a boon of a certain god.
A variation of this system, known as the ‘‘Five Moments,’’
was similar in origin, but possessed a Muslim nomenclature.
Still another scheme, Katika Tujoh, was based on the seven
heavenly bodies, dividing each day into seven parts, each of
which was distinguished by the Arabic name for the sun, moon,
and principal planets.
The astrology proper of the Malays is purely Arabic in origin,
but a system of Hindu invocation was in vogue by which the
lunar month was divided into parts called Rejang, which resembles
the Nacshatras or lunar houses of the Hindus. Each division
had its symbol, usually an animal. Each day was propitious for
something, and the whole system was committed to verse for
mnemonic purposes.
The demonic form common to Malaysia was that of the jinn,
190 in number. These were sometimes subdivided into ‘‘faithful’’
and ‘‘infidel,’’ and further into the jinns of the royal musical
instruments, of the state, and of the royal weapons. The afrit
was also known. Angels also abounded and were purely of Arabic
origin. Besides these, the principal supernatural beings
were as follows the polong, or familiar; the hantu pemburu, or
specter huntsman; the jadi-jadian, or wer-tiger; the hantu, or
ghost of the murdered; and the jemalang, or earth-spirit. The
pontianak, the Malaysian vampire, has become the most famous
of the supernatural beings of folklore and the subject of many
popular movies.
Minor Sorcery
The rites of minor sorcery and witchcraft, as well as those
of the shaman, were widely practiced among the Malays and
were practically identical in character with those in use among
other peoples with similar cultures.
Clifford, Hugh. In Court and Kampong. London Grant Richards,
———. Studies in Brown Humanity. London Grant Richards,
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. MALAYSIA
Skeat, W. W. Malay Magic Being an Introduction to the Folklore
and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsula. London Macmillan,
Swettenham, Sir Frank A. Malay Sketches. London John
Lane, 1895.
Winstedt, R. The Malays A Cultural History. London Routledge,