The Devil On Your Back

“I like to keep my issues drawn;
It’s always darkest before the dawn…”
Shake It Out, Florence + the Machine

Vendredi, 05 juillet 2013: 

One of my aunts had a very interesting story to share about a dream she had the other night. In that dream, she said she met my late grandmother. I heard that when you dream of people who have passed away, they rarely speak to you and usually appear as a silent figure. It seems that this dream was rather different for my aunt however, as my late grandmother actually spoke to her — and she said, “Aku mati sebab aku dah disihir (I died because I have been attacked with black magic).”

This certainly would’ve made for a startling revelation for us all, but fortunately we’d known this for a while already. The dream was a confirmation of all that we’d been suspecting all along.

Do you believe in black magic? Perhaps you don’t. Maybe you might actually keep an open mind about it. But let me tell you this: for us Malaysians — more specifically, Malays — the alarmingly increasing use of black magic to assault one another is a social plague that is encroaching fast and hard upon us today, whether we believe in it or not, and this black magic epidemic is symptomatic of the moral decay of our very own social fabric. Perhaps you or your immediate family may be safe from black magic (for now) but someone in your extended family or a neighbor or a friend’s friend or a colleague’s parent or sibling would have had some experience with black magic, most likely as a victim.

Some may say ‘blood is thicker than water’ (air dicincang tak akan diputus), yet time and time again one might find that one’s closest enemies are none other than one’s own siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins… sometimes even one’s own father or husband. Bridges are burning too fast and too recklessly. And without these loyal blood ties holding us together, what will become of our society? Something is clearly very wrong with us today.

In our understanding, the term ‘PhD’ can have three different meanings:

  1. Doctor of Philosophy
  2. Pizza Hut Delivery
  3. Perasaan Hasad Dengki (Jealousy)

Perasaan Hasad Dengki is one of the most common reasons for attacking someone with black magic. Jealousy truly is that green monster that can get pretty much out of control at times. Jealousy for another’s wealth, spouse, health, awesome job, or that job promotion they just got, their successful business, their children’s success, their fame, intelligence, you name it — whatever you may have in your life right now and may take for granted can be a cause for jealousy in another person with a severe inferiority complex, even if you may be completely oblivious to this.

‘Black magic’ is a broad term that I use to describe the use of supernatural powers or beings with the aim of harming another individual. (Anthropologically speaking however, the kind of ‘black magic’ that I’m about to describe below does have elements of witchcraft or sorcery but as we refer to it as ‘ilmu hitam‘ or ‘sihir‘ in Malay, I will hence stick to ‘black magic’.) Most often in order to do this, one would seek the services of a bomoh or a dukun (sorcerer), who executes their clients’ requests using the djinns under their command, usually with the payment of a fee that varies according to how complex the request is.

The uses of black magic actually vary greatly and not all are directed towards harming an enemy. From what I could find in my brief research, black magic is typically used for the following purposes:

  1. Personal gain: Self-protection (invincibility and healing abilities), extraordinary physical strength, pukau (hypnotic abilities), and pengasih (to make someone fall in love with you)
  2. To control/destroy your enemiesPenunduk (the ability to make someone obey your wishes), tuju (spells directed towards your enemy that can make them sick, possibly fatal)
  3. To predict the future: I think this is quite self-explanatory

Black magic also varies in the techniques used in its practice. These are also divided into three categories:

  1. Saka: using djinns — invisible beings — to do one’s bidding
  2. Azimat: using talismans believed to have been imbued with supernatural powers or offer protection to the wearer
  3. Mentera, jampi, serapah: casting spells

Black magic works in invisible ways, which makes it extremely difficult to detect. However, its presence can be discerned in victims who suffer from incurable or rare diseases (for example, an extremely rare and fatal type of cancer). At times these diseases may progress much faster than usual, or the victim may feel physically ill but after a thorough medical examination may find that there is nothing wrong with them. These diseases are supposedly caused by the presence of a djinn (or many djinns) residing in the victim’s body, which is usually the reason why they tend to exacerbate so quickly and are so difficult to cure.

In certain chronic cases (which are many), physical harm caused by black magic is difficult to undo and can lead to death, but it is possible to find a cure. Some would seek the services of a bomohdukun, or pawang (shamans) who use the help of spiritual creatures or their own sort of healing abilities to cure the victim. Alternatively one may also consult an ustaz (a religious person) who by nature of his religiosity is gifted with supernatural healing powers that can cure unusual illnesses caused by black magic, usually with the aid of specific verses from the Qur’an.

Besides causing physical harm, black magic is most often used to control the mind, feelings, and desires of the victim. This is manipulation, simple and pure, but the results on the victim’s part are a tangled web of lies and deceit and hate and disappointment and disillusionment. Black magic is typically cited as one of the causes for divorce and is frequently used to pit family members against each other (porak peranda). The clichéd stories one hears of time and time again go like this:

Scenario 1: A is married to B. Enter C, who has fallen in love with B, but she has unfortunately wed the love of her life and is no longer available for courtship (in which case thank God polyandry is forbidden by law and religion in this country!). Out of intense jealousy, C may seek the services of a bomoh for a pengasih (love spell) to make B fall in love with him and most importantly, to completely eliminate A from the game, he may choose two options: a) either to ask the bomoh to make A fall sick with a disease whose accurate medical name he will never be able to spell nor pronounce correctly, or b) make B hate her husband so that this married couple will constantly fight and eventually seek separation due to irreconcilable differences. Now that A is gone, B and C can finally be together.

Scenario 2: A has been married to B for a quarter of a century and they have four children together. Enter C, who may be a younger female colleague or a secretary of B. They seem to get along tremendously well and friendship eventually turns to love but the thing is, B is already married. C may decide to play nasty and make B fall in love with her with a pengasih, and cause him to start feeling and acting antagonistic towards his wife and their children. C will have much to gain if A and B were to divorce as middle-aged men such as B are at that point in their lives where they have been in the workforce for almost three decades and have acquired a higher-than-average salary; moreover, if they were to retire soon they would be instantly rich with the withdrawal of their EPF (Employees’ Pension Fund) at the age of 60. Besides the financial benefits, B could have also secured a high social status, particularly if he has been granted the title of ‘Datuk’ or ‘Tan Sri’. In exchange for these financial and social benefits, C only has her youth and her beauty to offer, but usually these would suffice.

Alternatively, C might decide to play a bit nicer and just settle for the position of B’s second wife. Now under Malaysian Shariah law B may take up to four wives, but he will first need to prove that he is financially eligible for polygamy in the Shariah court and that his second marriage is ‘just OR necessary’ (whatever that means). The problem about this is that the Court will most likely summon the first wife, A, to testify that B’s second marriage is indeed justified (due to reasons such as her inability to produce children or an incurable illness which may prevent her from performing her ‘wifely duties’) — but this would mean that A will know of B’s intentions of taking another wife which B knows will anger and disappoint her greatly. So B and C do what they do next under the completely misled understanding that this is for everyone’s best interests: they go to Batam, Indonesia, or southern Thailand to contract what is known as a ‘cross-border’ polygamous marriage. Because they have contracted a polygamous marriage without the permission of the Malaysian Shariah Court, B and C would each have to pay a fine of RM 1,000 if they want to legally register their marriage in Malaysia.

But the legal repercussions are nothing compared to how this marriage will affect A and their children. A would most likely struggle to reconcile with the reality that she has just been downgraded from the status of B’s sole wife to a co-wife, and the children would think what the fuck was their father thinking when he made this decision. Now C, no longer having to hide if A already knows of their marriage, may ask for more and more time and money from B, which will exacerbate his already worsening relations with A and their children. A might choose to leave the marriage as it gets too crowded and ask for a divorce. And from here on, whether with C’s continued use of black magic or not to jeopardize A and B’s marriage, at the end of the day, one more family will be driven to the ground by that great green monster.

Scenario 3: This is a possible extension to Scenario 2. After a divorce insisted by C, A and B sought legal separation and the dissolution of their marriage. Two things may happen: first, C may intensify the use of her pengasih to make B gradually forget his ex-wife, A, and their children. However, one does not simply forget twenty-five years of marriage in twenty-five days, and B might find himself desiring a reconciliation between him and his family. This might prompt him to consult a bomoh to make A come back to him.

Scenario 4: A wants to marry the love of his life, B, but his mother disagrees and seems to have other plans for him. When A and B marry anyway, she has trouble accepting B as her daughter-in-law, so she consults a bomoh and asks him to make B fall sick or unable to bear any children so that A will have reason to marry C — the girl whom she’d been hoping to take in as her daughter-in-law in lieu of B. To make things worse, she gets several tangkal or azimat (talisman) from the bomoh and leave them lying around in their bedroom for her son, A, to discover so she can tell him that his wife, B, has been casting black magic spells on him all along to make him fall in love with her. A may eventually fall for his mother’s scheme to make it seem like B is a manipulative bitch, and he may follow his mother’s advice to divorce B and marry C anyway. After which they live happily never after. (Note: This is something I actually watched in a local drama series once. Very appalling when you see it on TV.)

Scenario 5: After years of building his own business empire from scratch, A has now acquired quite an impressive amount of wealth and status. His wife, B, serves as his right-hand woman and business partner from the start of his endeavors to the end of her days, a significant contribution which he is oblivious to at times. He employs C, a clerk at his office who ends up being one of his most trusted confidantes and has served him for nearly three decades now. As his wife, B, passed away, his son D and E start playing a bigger role in the business except that it now seems as C is assuming more control of the company than either A, D, or E. C is making the business decisions and controlling the money, and the puzzling thing is no one seems to find that C, who is a mere clerk and not a member of the family, is controlling the empire.

Following a series of bizarre circumstances it is revealed that C was able to amass her power in the company over the years by using a penunduk and pemanis — both a type of charm that makes people fear her and obey and listen to what she says. The family’s consultations with various ustaz showed the same results: that C’s ultimate goal is to take over the company and it seems that she has also been embezzling money over the years, which is probably the reason why the company seems at the brink of sinking even though sales are still going strong. Besides that, C has also been pitting the family members against each other so that they are distrustful of one another. However, it seems that it is almost impossible to fire C from her job as A, D and E are of the impression that she is the only one who knows how to run the company, though it is unsure whether this is their genuine opinion or merely her black magic talking. The problem is, the ustaz have all suggested that C has been using black magic on the family for decades, making it extremely difficult to undo what has been done. Usually stories like this have a very bad ending.

Scenario 6: A has just opened a restaurant and business is booming. B, a competitor in the area, feels threatened by his growing business and may consult a bomoh to ‘conceal’ A’s restaurant so that customers won’t be able to ‘find’ it. Gradually the number of customers going to A’s restaurant will decrease and A may have to close down his business.

The worst thing about practicing black magic (or engaging in any part of the perpetration, whether directly or indirectly) is that it is considered as an act of shirk — the sin of idolatry or the deification of any beings other than the singular God, Allah. Polytheism is an unforgivable sin as it goes against our principle of monotheism, more specifically in our belief that there is no God but Allah. Moreover, black magic is also considered as particularly sinful In Islam not just because it is typically used with the intention of causing harm to others, but also because those who practice it do so by calling upon the help of djinns and other spiritual beings rather than by relying on the help of Allah. All these beliefs are beautifully encapsulated in Chapter 112 (Surah Al-Ikhlas) of the Qur’an, the Chapter we most often turn to constantly remind ourselves of our reliance on Him:



“In the name of Allah, the Most Affectionate, the Merciful

(1) Say, “He is Allah, [who is] One;

(2) Allah, the Eternal Refuge;

(3) He neither begets nor is born;

(4) And nor is there to Him any equivalent.”

I believe black magic is also slowly destroying us from the inside out by turning us into lazy people. For one thing, we are unable to look at someone else’s success in the eye and accept their achievements (and our lack of it). Instead, we resort to using black magic to ruin their success rather than make that into a motivation that drives us to work harder and to constantly outdo ourselves. In other words, we are much happier destroying others’ lives than building our own. Today in Malaysia we are losing talents so much faster than we are gaining them because we are so busy destroying what we have that there is neither the time nor space — nor the right people with the right attitude — to cultivate any new ones.

More dangerously, black magic has turned us into cowards — or perhaps it is our cowardly nature that has forced us to succumb to the temptation of using black magic to confront our enemies in the first place. That is definitely something I just noticed about us Malays: we don’t like confrontations; on the contrary, we hoard our emotions and keep it all in, or we tell it to another person, but we never confront our enemies ourselves. One thing I admire about the Arabs is that they are what I would call ‘confrontationists’ (if this is even a word) — once they get mad at you, they will scream at your face and give you a piece of their mind, but once the storm blows over all is back to normal and you can shake hands and puff away with your sheesha and have coffee together. But us? No, we’ll tell you ‘It’s OK’ and ‘No problem’, but inside we’d be feeling the complete opposite.

Attacking your enemies with black magic only seem to reinforce our cowardly nature because:

  1. Your victim will most likely never find out that they are falling ill because of your black magic; even if they do, hopefully their illness would’ve passed that point of no return at which point it will be too late for them to do anything to harm you in retaliation;
  2. Your victim will most likely never find out that it was you who attacked them with black magic, giving you that temporary veil of anonymity (however, if your victim consults a healer, he/she can find out the who the guilty party is);
  3. You and/or the bomoh do not have to be in the same room as the victim for the black magic to work effectively as it can come into effect from a long distance, making it very convenient indeed to attack your enemies without having to go through a painful and emotional confrontation.

Curiously, one never hears of a Malay person using black magic against a Chinese or an Indian or a non-Malay enemy in general, so the way black magic is almost exclusively attributed to the Malays is something I found very interesting. I brought this question up with my brother after iftar yesterday and we seem to share the opinion that for Malays, it is okay to see people of other races succeed but not people of your own race. Perhaps it is because coming from the same ethnic group we would be assumed to have access to the same level of education and government support, etc, so if one person suddenly shoots off ahead of the others in the race, this person must be shot down immediately for getting ahead of himself.

This, I thought, was the saddest thing of all because this is exactly why we Malays will have no future, while the Chinese on the other hand seem to prosper so well. We lack a couple of fundamental attributes to their success: first, their willingness to work hard and second, community support. While the Chinese are busy helping their own people, we’re busy killing off our own (and worse, telling someone else to do the dirty deed for us).

Of course, there is always the possibility that perhaps one of the reasons why Malays believe in black magic is because it is so much easier to blame someone else for one’s own failures than to admit them as coming from one’s own faults. Business not doing so well? Someone must be using black magic to threaten my business. Yet it is quite rare for us to be thinking of whether flaunting our success in other people’s face might be inciting other people’s jealousy. This sort of mentality is detrimental for us in itself as it leads to that finger-pointing tendency that doesn’t particularly encourage us to look in the mirror and identify our own deficiencies and build on improving ourselves from there.

So conclusion? In order to succeed — and for our future generations to achieve a much higher level of success than we do today — we Malays have got a lot of work to do, and we should begin by first looking in the mirror to get to know ourselves better, and be okay with what other people have that we don’t, and with what we have that other people don’t. I think a lot of people who do suffer from PhD (perasaan hasad dengki, as mentioned above) are actually fighting a tough battle — not with other people, but with themselves. This is who they’re actually fighting, their true enemy, because all these feelings of jealousy and hate are just that — feelings. And they exist only in one’s head and heart.

It is difficult for me to forgive myself for this ruthless bashing of my own people, but at the same time I feel that my own people, people with the same blood running through our veins, have also been truly unforgiving to my family and I. At the moment I could think of nothing else but to steer our ship forward and take it out of the line of danger, and to rise above these childish, fatal games that will bring no one any benefit whatsoever. Fortunately for us there is a future outside of this godforsaken country to look forward to, and I can’t imagine myself in the position of some of my own people who don’t necessarily have the same luxury of mobility; if I were to forever live in this peninsula with people of such appalling mentality and attitude, a premature death awaits me for sure.

I have written this post for a while already but I couldn’t quite get myself to wrap it up and publish it. I think there is still a distant part of me that is still for the life of me in denial of what is happening; I read this draft over and over again from the beginning till the unfinished end and I think, ‘Is this really happening to us today?’ But it is, and I know it is because it’s happened to us.

Forgive? Perhaps. Forget? Never!


One thought on “The Devil On Your Back

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