Hantus & Spells
by Nambai, spiritualism (2007)
Ameen Kreatif, RM12.90, ISBN 978-983-3991-07-5

Hantus & Spells is all about local Malay ghosts and spells. Okay, the title is quite misleading. Hantus, which is the Malay word for ghosts, are present here, but this is far from the comprehensive encyclopedia on the subject matter that you may be led into believing. A slim book best read for entertainment rather than purely educational purposes, this one presents local encounters with ghosts and a few kinds of spells used by the local bomohs (witch doctors or shamans) for good as well as evil in a casual and anecdotal way.

The ghosts here are of the typical scary phantasmal variety, by the way. If you are expecting specific stories on local strains like pontianak and pocong, you need to read a different book by this author, heh. This one focuses on haunting and close encounters. My favorite is the one where the poor dear is involved in a high speed car chase (the ghost is doing the chasing) until he ends up being so traumatized by the incident that he starts placing all kinds of charms and talismans in his car. This may seem funny to you, but yikes, I feel quite scared while reading Nambai's version of the encounter. He has the balance between horror and humor right in this story.

What I find more interesting are the chapters on bomoh spells. I grew up near a Malay community so I heard all kinds of fascinating stories about the "black magic" or "white magic" (depending on who you ask) practiced by these bomohs. This book spells out - pardon the pun - in more detail some of the spells I have heard of only vaguely. Oh, I'm sure every local who is a fan of such matters is aware of how a bomoh can use a strand of your hair or even a small amount of your saliva to cast a spell that will make you fall in love with the ugliest troll on earth. That is covered here, along with stories of how some bomohs can also make you suffer in the most excruciating manner (like having your head balloon into a horrific size) before you die.

But I do not realize until now that the ubiquitous minyak dagu ("chin oil"), a potent love potion, is extracted by holding a source of heat (candle, for example) under the chin of a fresh corpse and collecting the fluid that drips as a result. Interesting, I must say.

Then there is the nasi kangkang (which literally means "legs spread wide open rice"). The reason for the bewildering name of that rice becomes clear when Nambai explains how you prepare this meal. A woman experiencing that time of the month will spread her legs wide open over a pot of rice and, er, let everything flow down onto the rice while reciting the necessary words required for the spell to work. Apparently if you feed that rice to a man, the man will be completely under your control and he will obey every command of yours. Needless to say, this spell is a favorite among desperate wives who are worried that their husbands are straying. No, Mr Nambai doesn't include the words of the spell here, so I don't think any reader of this book will be standing over a pot of rice anytime soon.

That spell that involves what is best described as the killer egg missile puzzles me though. Apparently bomohs or those in the know can opt to settle any grudges they bear once and for all by inserting various things ranging from razor blades to sharp pins into a hard boiled egg and sending the egg flying to its target. The egg can actually kill its target, although it doesn't hit its opponent as much as it acts like a lethal kind of talisman that causes the person near it to die. Like the scenario the story presented here, a friend of mine will insist that she actually saw those eggs flying across the skies at dusk when she was living in her village back in the 1950s. She can never explain how you can put a razor blade inside an egg without cracking open its shell, and come to think of it, neither could Mr Nambai. Must be magic, I suppose!

All in all, this is a most interesting read. It's more educational than those pathetic ghost story collections by Russell Lee and his clones and, in my opinion, more entertaining too. This book is published by a Malaysian publication house, by the way, so if you live abroad, I'm not sure how you can get your hands on a copy. You can try dropping the publisher a note (http://www.ameenbooks.com.my) - from what I could see while I was at their website, they are willing to deal with clients from abroad but I don't see any explicit explanation on how these clients can remit payment to the company.

Rating: 83

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