Feeling dejected and drained, Che Esa consulted not a doctor, but her local Malay shaman, who diagnosed a repression of her angi, a metaphysical “wind” affecting spiritual and emotional health.
Her treatment — known as main puteri — included tussling with two men, enduring pokes, taunts and even slaps from the shaman and, finally, a rousing Malay song and dance by about 50 fellow villagers.
“The past 10 days it had gotten so bad I couldn’t get out of bed. After the main puteri, I feel refreshed,” Che Esa said.
Found mainly in Malaysia’s Kelantan State and neighboring areas of southern Thailand, main puteri is an animated healing spectacle that draws on a range of local cultural touchstones and legendary figures to “raise the spirits” of patients.
It has been frowned upon by authorities in the rapidly modernizing Muslim-majority country as a heathen relic of a pre-Islamic past.
However, many Malays — the country’s majority group — see main puteri as a slice of their heritage increasingly needed in an emotionally challenging modern world, and are working to revive it.
Main puteri revolves around the belief that depression, chronic fatigue and other emotional or psychological problems stem from disturbances in metaphysical forces.
“We raised her spirits again. She is like a commander or chieftain, who are hot-blooded,” shaman Zailani Che Moh, 48, said of Che Esa’s now-restored inner essence.
Main puteri means “playing princess,” believed to refer to Puteri Saadong, a legendary 17th-century Kelantan princess driven insane by her husband’s marital infidelities.
Her spirit is now said to watch over Kelantan and she is regularly invoked as the ultimate emotionally troubled main puteri patient.
However, conservative Islam has steadily gained sway in the historically moderate country, and religious bodies have issued edicts forbidding a range of animist spiritual practices as idolatrous.
Kelantan, in the largely rural Islamic heartland of peninsular Malaysia’s east coast, has gone even further since an Islamist party won state power in 1990, banning several traditions including main puteri. Violators face up to a year in jail.
“In main puteri, there is worship of other beings. In Islam, we only worship Allah,” said Nassuruddin Daud, Kelantan’s minister in charge of Islam.
Practitioners were driven underground or to other states, where sanitized versions are performed.
However, pure main puteri as a healing tradition is re-emerging in Kelantan villages, a rebirth that authorities appear to be quietly tolerating so as not trigger a public backlash.
A sarong-clad shaman, or tok puteri (“master of the princess”), diagnoses patients with the help of a musician who plays a traditional Malay fiddle and acts as an interrogator as the holy man enters a trance-like state.
Shamans like Zailani — called “snake man” for his contortions — twist and dance around, acting out a mix of legendary or traditional characters such as Puteri Saadong.
His tone veers from sorrow to mocking to aggressive as he scuffles with the patient before breaking into song, trying to find the approach that will “heal” a particular sufferer.
Some patients claim the ceremony restores their zest for life.
Ironically, suppression is boosting main puteri, said Eddin Khoo, founder of Pusaka, a non-governmental organization that works to document and protect traditional Malay arts.
Most people seeking main puteri healing today are said to be Muslim women who feel marginalized after losing their matriarchal influence to Islamic conservatism.
The banning of such centuries-old beliefs “was a shock,” and main puteri is now performed regularly in Kelantan villages, he said.
“Ironically, with all the stresses of the state, and laws and proscriptions, people need the tradition even more,” Khoo said.
Main puteri does not clash with Islam, but fills a vital mystical role that modern medicine cannot, said Hasnah Mat Jusoh, 49, matriarch of Che Esa’s village, herself a devout Muslim.
“If the patient goes to see a doctor, they won’t find an illness. Even the doctor will say ‘go to your village shaman,’” she said.
“Skin, muscle, sinew, blood, mucus, fat; those who are too fat, too big, have high blood pressure, or diabetes; those are under the doctor’s prerogative,” Zailani adds. “Under the shaman: earth, water, fire, wind.”
However, decades of Muslim pressure have depleted the ranks of tok puteri.
Zailani, whose father and grandfather were tok puteri, said many aspiring shamans lack the patience or talent.
Pusaka is helping other shamans regain their footing and take on apprentices.
“I have shaman blood. You can’t copy it. This ability has to be innate in you and has to be there from the beginning,” Zailani said. “It won’t go extinct, because there is no one who doesn’t have wind. Only shamans can find your wind.”
India has moved additional troops along its northern border as it prepares for an extended conflict with China, after several rounds of talks failed to ease tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals. China has already placed about 5,000 soldiers and armored vehicles within its side of the disputed border in the Ladakh region, an Indian government official said, asking not to be identified, citing rules. India is adding a similar number of troops as well as artillery guns along the border to fend off the continuing incursions by the Chinese army, the official said. The standoff began on May 5, when troops clashed
CLOSELY TRACKED: A US officer said that the warplanes were watched as they flew from Russia by way of Iran and Syria to Libya and were photographed multiple times The US Africa Command flatly rejected Russian claims that Moscow did not deploy fighter jets to Libya, saying on Friday that the 14 aircraft flown in reflect Russia’s long-term goal to establish a foothold in the region that could threaten NATO allies. US Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of intelligence, said that the US tracked the MiG-29s and Su-24 fighter bombers flown in by Russian military, passing through Iran and Syria before landing at Libya’s al-Jufra air base. The base is the main forward airfield for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army, which has been waging an
Singapore’s otters, long adored by the city-state’s nature lovers, are popping up in unexpected places during the COVID-19 lockdown, but their antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull. With the streets empty, the creatures have been spotted hanging out by a shopping center, scampering through the lobby of a hospital and even feasting on pricey fish stolen from a pond. While many think of tiny Singapore as a densely populated concrete jungle, it is also relatively green for a busy Asian city, and has patches of rainforest, fairly clean waterways and abundant wildlife. There are estimated to be about
Indonesian officials are forcing people who break social distancing rules to recite Koran verses, stay in “haunted” houses and submit to public shaming on social media as the country battles to contain surging novel coronavirus infections. The Southeast Asian archipelago began deploying about 340,000 troops across two dozen cities to oversee enforcement of measures aimed at halting transmission of the disease, such as wearing masks in public. However, provincial leaders are buttressing these efforts with their own zealous campaigns to fight the coronavirus. Police in western Bengkulu Province have assembled a 40-person squad to find lockdown scofflaws and force them to wear