Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Malay Hantu and Bomoh Live On

A Kadir Jasin

In the name of God, the merciful and the compassionate

IN the January 19, 1992 debut column I wrote about the then Prime Minister, (Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad lamenting about the penchant of a section of the Malaysian mass media for highlighting mass hysteria in schools and factories.

Those were the better days
That was 26 years ago. Dr Mahathir is no longer the Prime Minister and I am no longer the Group Editor-in-Chief of the New Straits Times Press (NSTP). I resigned in 2001 and Dr Mahathir retired in 2003.

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The media landscape has changed. Then the mainstream media ruled supreme. Newspaper circulation was on the rise and the NSTP group could afford to reward the staff with six to seven months bonus. Today the online media is the king and the newspapers are fighting for survival.

The Malays too have changed. Today they are less concerned about the ghosts, devils and demons. Urbanisation, electric lights and modern housing have lessened their fear of ghosts.

In the Malay minds, the hantu and the jembalang live in the dark corners and up in the attics of the creaky wooden houses by the belukar or the swamps.

Swamps are especially spooky as they are thought to be the abode of the dreaded bloodthirsty vampire called langsuyar.

Langsuyar is said to be the revenant of a woman who died during pregnancy or childbirth. It feeds on blood of newborns, preferring boys over girls.

As such it was customary that when a baby was born, the thorny mengkuang (pandanus) was place under the stilted house directly below where the mother and infant slept to keep the langsuyar at bay.

Fearful that its exposed entrails would get caught in the mengkuang thorns, the langsuyar would keep away.

The real reason was to discourage the ducks and chickens from messing up the puddle created by the bath water of the mother and the infant, and to thwart peeping toms.

In those days, Malays would rather believe in myth than listening to scientific explanation.

When I was in the English primary school back in the 1960’s, there was a story in our Malayan Readers series book that explains the langsuyar phenomena. It was believed to be the combustion of the marsh gas.

Now that most Malays live in sturdy brick houses in brightly lit housing estates, they are less fearful of hantu believing that their brick and mortar houses are less hospitable to the pontianak and hantu raya.

If at all, nowadays ghosts came into their living rooms only through the Malay dramas on television and the re-runs of Hollywood’s Ghoshbusters.

Occasionally the fashionably-dressed flying ghosts would join the screamfest via the opera-type Chinese movies.

See the difference? The Malay ghosts are either unclothed or shabbily dressed. The Chinese ghosts are dressed in flowing fine Chinese silk.

For the younger Malays, the hantu exists only in bedtime stories and in ghost house exhibitions. Ghosts have gone commercial.

But there are still a sizeable number of Malays, especially those in high places, who are totally committed to the unseen world where the hantu, bomoh, kiai, mystics, tarot card readers and soothsayers rule supreme.

I have been told that these people would crisscross the Malay Archipelago in their sleek private jets in search of mythical kiai and bomoh to help them fulfil their ambitions, ward off their adversaries and keep their spouses loyal.

I would not make any judgement. Suffice to say that if you are Muslim, anything verging on sihir (blackmagic) is haram (forbidden) and believing in the power of the hantu is syirik (idolatry or polytheism).

In some Muslim countries the crime of sihir is punishable by death. So if Tuan Guru Abdul Hadi Awang of PAS succeeds in implementing a full blown Hudud, those Muslims who dabble in sihir could risk being stoned to death.


Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Tale of Najib, Jho Low and Eagle High

A Kadir Jasin

In the name of God, the merciful and the compassionate

IN the opening column, I mentioned about the jet-setting ghost seekers of the Malay Archipelago. It seems that in the process of seeking out the most powerful ghosts and the most divine kiai, some go-betweens became fabulously wealthy.

An Indonesian mystic (Niels Mulder)
But let us leave them in peace in their heavenly kingdoms and talk about the more earthly things like the detention in Indonesia of the luxury abode of the global schemer Mr Low Taek Jho or better known as Jho Low that goes by the name Equanimity – meaning calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.

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This calm and compose US$250-million super yatch was bought with the stolen and laundered money of the MO1-inspired 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

MO1, as the Barisan Nasional Strategic Communication Director, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, had owned up to the BBC in a September 1, 2016 interview was none other than the Malaysian Prime Minister, (Datuk Seri I Mappadulung Daeng Mattimung Karaeng Sandrobone Sultan Abdul Jalil) Mohd Najib Abdul Razak.

The whole world knows that the vessel belongs to Jho Low except the Barisan Nasional trumpeter, Salleh Said Keruak, who said there was no proof that the yatch belongs to Jho Low when the latter himself had issued a statement condemning the US Department of Justice (DoJ) for detaining his floating palace.

Indonesian Police and FBI officers on board Jho Low's abode
I would not venture to suggest that Salleh and Abdul Rahman or, for that matter, any other member of Najib’s cabinbet were high on ketum or ice.

That’s because unlike the padi farmers who, in the old days, chewed ketum (Mitragyna speciosa) shoots to gain extra energy for the hard work ahead, Najib’s ministers are perpetually energetic and high-spirited when it comes to defending him.

Some say dedak – and lots of it – is enough to keep them energetic, high-spirited and, don’t forget, loyal. Maybe the Majlis Profesor Negara (National Ptofessors Council) should propose a scientific study to determine the effects of dedak consumption on humans.

The farmer in me tells me that dedak consumption cannot be good for humans. Even those who are not from the farming background would know from the warning on dedak bags that it is not for human consumption.

Of course there are other causes like the usage of heroine, morphine, marijuana and designers’ drugs. Please remember the slogan “Dadah Musuh Negara” (drug is the enemy of the country) and stay away from drugs.

Jho Low’s oceanic abode of calmness and composure was detained in a sting operation by the Indonesian Police with the assistance of the US’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on February 28 off the holiday island of Bali.

It wasn’t clear if Jho Low was on the boat or anywhere near it. So far there hasn’t been any news on what it carries. But with Jho Low literally spending his life on it, we can safely assume that it carries whatever things that he needs to lead the life of a modern day pirate.

The question being asked by many is why did the yatch venture so deep into the Indonesian territory and so far away from the international waters?

There had been reports that the vessel was skirting the Malaysian, Indonesian Filipino and Thai waters for months. It had been spotted in the Indonesian and Thai territories but never very far away from international waters.

So why did the vessel ventured so deep into Indonesian waters where it had no chance of escaping into the international water? Was Jho Low on it and what was its mission?

Could Jho Low, his family and his benefactor have been lured in a sting operation with the promise of safety to gather on the mythical island to celebrate the Chinese New Year?

Incidentally, at around the time the vessel was detained, we also heard the news that Felda had suffered a massive unrealised loss from the purchase of a 37-per cent state in the Indonesian plantation company, Eagle High Tbk.

Despite protests and warnings Felda, whose manTHOR is Najib, bought the plantation from his good friend, the Indonesian Chinese billionaire, (Honorary Tan Sri) Peter Sondakh.

It was reported that Felda paid US$505.4 million (about RM2.24 billion) for the stake – valuing the company’s shares at almost 100 per cent premium. Felda paid approximately IDR 580 per share. Yesterday (March 5) the price of Eagle High on the Indonesian Stock Market was IDR 228.

Sondakh’s good fortune is Felda’s misfortune. For paying a massive premium it is reported to have incurred a paper loss of US$300 million (RM1.2 billion).

One man’s loss is another man’s gain, and in the world of money laundering and cross border transfer, stock and shares provide a convenient vehicle.  
Remember the famous non-existent "units" that 1MDB was supposed to have invested in?