Book: Shaman, Saiva and Sufi, A Study of the Evolution of Malay Magic
Author: R. O. Winstedt

Shaman, Saiva and Sufi, A Study of the Evolution of Malay Magic By R. O. Winstedt

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 115
Publication Date: 1925

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This book deals with the magic of the Muslim Malays of the Crown Colony of the Straits Settlements, comprising Singapore, Penang and Malacca; of the Federated Malay States, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang; of the Unfederated Malay States, Johore, Kedah, Kelantan and Trengganu; and of Patani, a northern Malay State belonging to Siam.

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THE Mantra, a Proto-Malay tribe, claim to be descended from Mertang, the first magician, who was the child of two persons called Drop of Water and Clod of Earth. In the Moluccas the earth is a female deity, who in the west monsoon is impregnated by Lord Sun-Heaven. The Torajas in Celebes believed in two supreme powers, the Man and the Maiden, that is, the sun and the earth. The Dayaks of Borneo hold that the sun and the earth created the world. The terms, "Father Sky and Mother Earth," occur in the Malay ritual of the rice-year, at the opening of mines and of theatrical shows and in the invocations of the Kelantan shaman. A Kelantan account relates that sun and earth once had human form, sun the form of a man and earth the form of a woman, whose milk may be traced in the tin-ore of Malaya and whose blood is now gold. Actors in the north of the Malay Peninsula say that "the earth spirit, whom actors fear, is the daughter of Seretang Bogoh, who sits in the sun and guides the winds, and of Sang Siuh, the mother of the earth, who sits at the navel of the world." Many religions at once unite and dissociate the fruitful earth and the gloomy underworld. But as Malay drama came from India, this northern tradition may be a corruption of Hindu mythology. By some Malay actors Raja Siu, lord of the surface of the earth, is invoked along with Siva, and the name is perhaps a corruption of Siva. Anyhow, in time Siva and Sri usurped the place of Father Sky (or Father Water, as he is sometimes called) and of Mother Earth in the Malay pantheon, and to-day even the existence of these two primitive gods has been forgotten.

The study of early cults shows that the place of a sky-god tends later to be taken by gods of the sun, the moon and the stars. So in some ancient layer of Malay beliefs before the introduction of Saivism, the white spirit of the sun, the black spirit of the moon, and the yellow spirit of sunset may have been important, seeing that they have Indonesian names (mambang), have been incorporated into the Malay's Hindu pantheon, and have survived under Islam as humble genies.

"The fishermen along the west of the Peninsula sacrifice to four great spirits " (also called mambang) "who go by many names but whose scope is always the same. One is the spirit of the bays, another that of banks or beaches, another that of headlands, and last and fiercest is the spirit of tideways and currents." Three of these bear primitive names used by the Proto-Malays. The spirit of the tides is famous. The spirit of the bays is mentioned as a black genie and the spirit of headlands as a white. Was there originally a fourth spirit? To the three Proto-Malay names yet another, not convincingly authentic, is sometimes added. But only three of the four bear Sanskrit names. And the modern naming of four spirits after the Archangels may be due to the liking of the Malay Muslim pantheist for that number.

It is uncertain, too, if the primitive Malays, like the people of Madagascar and Celebes, believed in four gods of the air in charge of the quarters of the globe. In Bali Indian influence gave these gods Hindu names, and three are still worshipped there as forms of Siva. One Peninsular charm speaks of "the four children of Siva who live at the corners of the world." A Perak charm describes Berangga Kala as the spirit of the West, Sang Begor as the spirit of the East, Sang Degor as the spirit of the North, and Sang Rangga Gempita as the spirit of the South. But generally the four corners of the world are held to be in charge of four Shaikhs, of whom the most often mentioned, 'Abdu'I-Qadir, is probably the founder of the famous order of Muslim mystics.

A Malay knows of Vayu under the name of Bayu. But when with arms akimbo, loosened hair, and head-cloth streaming over his shoulder, the sailor whistled to the Raja of the Wind, he may have been invoking not Vayu but some indigenous spirit or the Prophet Solomon, to whom Allah gave dominion over the breezes of heaven.

In the Malay pantheon there is a mysterious black Awang, addressed by actors as king of the earth, who "walks along the veins of the earth and sleeps at its gate." Apparently, therefore, he is identified with Siva, and this identification, if correct, suggests a high place for this forgotten figure of some early cult. But in a Proto-Malay charm to propitiate the aforesaid spirits of the sea, Warrior Awang figures as their servant, who climbs the mast of a ship in distress, a young man with "hairy chest, red eyes, black skin and frizzy hair." A Kelantan charm, also, depicts him as a haunter of forest undergrowth, "a span in height, with bald temples, frizzy hair, red eyes, white teeth, broad chest, and feet and hands disfigured with skin disease." This is a good picture of a Negrito, member of the oldest race in Malaysia, but it may be a posthumous description as applied to this god or godling of a primitive cult, who rides the storm and can cause ague and disease.


A white genie, "jewel of the world," lives in the sun and guards the gates of the sky. He has a brother, with seven heads, king of all the jinn. This white genie is entitled Maharaja Dewa, a Malay corruption of Mahadeva, the blue-throated Siva. The distinction between this white genie and his black brother, who lives in the moon, is sometimes obliterated, as in the invocation used when opening the stage for a ma'yong play:--"Peace be upon Mother Earth and Father Sky! ... Peace be upon thee, Black Awang, king of the earth! ... Peace be upon the blessed saints at the four corners of the world! ... Peace be upon my grandsire, Batara Guru, the first of teachers, who became incarnate when the body was first created, teacher who livest as a hermit in the moon, teacher who rulest in the circle of the sun, teacher of mine whose coat is of green beads, teacher of mine whose blood is white, who hast but one bone, the hair of whose body is upside down, whose muscles are stiff, who hast a black throat, a fluent tongue and salt in thy spittle."

Incidentally it is interesting to find the Malay still paying homage to Siva as Nataraja, lord of dancers and king of actors, though to-day he is quite unaware of this name and róle of the Hindu god whose theatre is the world and who himself is actor and audience. In another Malay invocation the Black Genie too is painted as "having but one bone, the hair of whose body is upside down, who can assume a thousand shapes." Though he has "one foot on the heart of the earth," yet this Black Genie also "hangs at the gate of the sky."