This description of Malay Customs & Superstitions were found on loose pieces of paper in the back of Eric's diary.


When the time for giving birth approaches, the father and mother have to construct charms and devices to keep away devils and evil spirits that are always particularly active during child-birth. These charms are usually hung over the door of the house and bedroom. The most common charms are a coconut husk drilled with many holes so that the spirits entering via the husk will be utterly confused, and lose all their potency in their efforts to find the correct hole for escape. A bunch of leaves or a tangle of wool or fibre are sad to "fox" the spirits in the same way. (Note: Spirits are unable to enter through large openings)

The most feared and most ghastly spirit is "Penengalon". This horror takes the form of a human head with trailing entrails; who feeds on the blood and afterbirth. The Penengalon has its origin in a living person who has mastered the black art of withdrawing his head and bowels from the rest of his body, - then becomes a human vampire gifted with the power of invisibility. One can always tell a Penengolan because he/she keeps a jar of vinegar in the corner of his/her room. This is essential as it is necessary to bathe the trailing entrails in this before they can be restored to the body. (N.B. Penengalon also gets its entrails entwined. Steel magnets are used as traps. Other spirit is Plezlit - the dancing light).


That system of charms is carried to the natal cords, which must be surrounded with thorns and bits of steel to catch the trailing bowels of the Penengalon. The couch must be so constructed that the blood and afterbirth shall fall onto a bed of thorns. The 'bidan' (midwife) is called as zero hour approaches, and she will cast a professional eye on the preparations, and may add any charms that she particularly favours. The 'bidan' was formerly a complete 'quack' with no idea of medicine or hygiene. Nowadays the bidans are becoming qualified midwives. As may readily be appreciated, this change in affairs is effecting a large decrease in infant mortality figures, causing a slump in the black magic. The doctor is present at the ceremony, but the mother will usually call in a few women friends to assist the bidan.

The afterbirth is placed in a jar together with the blood etc, and kept in a place of safety for 7 days. After this period the naval cord is cut short and the "uri" (afterbirth) can then be buried: But this is not the end of the "uri". Each night a fire must be lighted over the uri so as to keep it warm - otherwise it might catch cold and the result would be tummy-ache for the child! The actual Naval cord is often kept for a charm by the mother. For 44 days after the birth, the mother is 'unclean', and must keep very much to herself. She is absolutely forbidden to enter the mosque or approach a padi-field. The baby is usually given a charm to wear. This is a writing from the 'Koran' selected by the 'Bomoh" and is wrapped up in a piece of tin or silver, and worn round the child's wrist or neck ('Bomoh '- doctor). These charms are usually potent for only one thing - e,g against ill-health, or for bodily strength. No Malay child is given a fixed name until several trial names have been tried so as to see if any illness is suffered

4. Stages of Dress.

1. Swaddling clothes 2. Tummy band 3. Naked 4. Normal dress.


This is performed by the Mudin, - a very profitable business - usually charges a standard fee of 2 and a half dollars. A boy is seldom circumcised until he is on the verge of puberty, and is usually expected to know the Koran. The operation is done with a bamboo shield and a knife - in former days this knife was also made from bamboo.

A good Mudin will not spill a drop of blood. In former days if a member of the Royal Family was being operated on the court executioner held a nevis over the Mudin, and if any blood was spilt - Mudin lost his life. As with all other Malay ceremonies, the circumcision is an excuse for a feast. Only the men actually attend, but their wives usually come along to give a hand with the food. Among the dishes are 'Nasi kumyit' and Bungar telon (a hard boiled egg painted red, with a flower stuck into it.


This is the most complicated Malay ceremony, and there is a great deal of fun and festivity attached to it all. The part that strikes us as most odd is the fact that bride and groom are not supposed to see each other prior to the wedding - marriages being entirely arranged by the respective parties parents. The girl in her youth has been kept in the house, and has very little to say about marriage. The man has more to say. This follows the general custom of the East. When the young man's parents think it time for his marriage, thy decide who f the eligible girls is the best 'catch', having an eye fixed on the richest parents - of course. When they have made their selection, they chose a suitable relation to go and 'sound' the brides' parents on the subject. (It would never do for them to go in person, their proposal may be refused and that would be an unbearable snub) The selected relation does not by any means make any direct proposals. Oh! no! The questions she asks are something of this nature: After a long conversation about the weather etc:-

"And how old is your daughter Fatima now? Sixteen Is she really, and not yet betrothed. Well, I expect you will be glad to get her married and off your hands. What do you propose to give by way of a dowry? These are nice little cakes. I suppose Fatima can do all the cooking for a household by now. I thought Fatima looked a little off colour the other day - does she enjoy good health? You know that young nephew of mine Ahmad - he is a fine chap, and has a splendid job. I am afraid he will be looking for a wife soon. Oh well I must stay here talking all day. Good day".

From the interview Auntie will have gathered the impression that either Fatima's parents would accept Ahmad as a son in law or else - there is nothing doing. If Ahmads' Aunties report is favourable, Ahmad's father will put on his best clothes and call on Fatima's father, and they will discuss business, dowry etc.

An appropriate day for the wedding is selected with the assistance of the mosque officials, and the invitations sent out. The actual ceremony is divided into three parts, generally taking place on three separate days. (but in the case of a Raja - may be 3 weeks).

1. Hari - Berhinas 2. Bersanding 3. Manoi Safar


In their separate homes the bride and bridegroom are each 'at home' to their relatives. Their finger tips are stained with henna. An amazing piece of tomfoolery takes place on this day. The bridegroom is carried by his friends to the bride's house, where they pretend to come and steal the bride. The bride takes no part in the pantomime, but her supporters ' repel the would-be kidnappers'. The proceedings close with the brides party agreeing to sell her for a sum of money, the contract to be ratified the following day. The bridegroom is taken home by his supporters, still not having seen his lady.


This is a day of great trial for the young couple. They are each dressed up in as much finery as their families can beg, borrow or steal, and are seated on two thrones on a dias in the principal room of the brides house. They must sit with their hands on their knees, with their eyes cast down, and they must not look at each other. (when it is remembered that they have not yet seen each other(officially) it will be realised that it requires great respect for the conventions to stop the couple having a peep. This sitting in state is called Bersanding and lasts many hours, during which the wedding guests who are being entertained on the verandah, or in the court, wander in and crack jokes, some of them rather near the bone, at the young couple.

It is far into the night before the festivities of the day come to a close, and the young couple are allowed to retire - each to their own room!! The bridegroom sleeps in the bridal chamber alone.


Hari Manoi Safar

On this day, the last of the long winded ceremony, the bride and groom receive a ceremonial bath at the hands of the Imam (corresponds roughly to our baptism - start married life with a clean sheet)

Even after all this, the bride and groom do not necessarily live together. The bride is entitled to put off the awful day to suit her convenience In Palembang there are many brothels served by Malay girls, said to be for collecting a sufficiently handsome dowry to enable them to make an advantageous marriage (Similarly in China).



A woman cannot divorce a man. If a man wants to rid himself of a woman, to whom he is married, his just line of action is to go to his father-in-law, and lay his complaint. He informs him that he is going to divorce the girl, and they decide between them how much dowry is to be repaid. The man must then go to the Khakhin of the Mosque, and lay his complaint. Divorce is divided into three categories.

1 st Tala

this amounts to ... .off the girl for 40 days. The girl may not remarry during this period,- the man may. If the man changes his mind he may take the girl back at any time during this period. The man is not liable for alimony after the first 40 days. The girls parents must then support her.

2 nd Tala

This is the same as the 1 st, and is applicable when his wife is divorced under the 1 st Tala is remarried to her husband

3 rd Tala

This follows the other two but is far more final. After this divorce, the man cannot take the girl back unless she has been married and divorced by another man in the meantime.

Remarrying a former wife under these conditions is known as "China Buta". If a man has a particular hate for his wife, he may divorce her in all 3 cats: at once. He simply has to present her with the letter of divorces prepared by the Khathir, and say to her "I divorce you" three times.

There is a well known racket in connection with 'China Buta' Often in the course of a lover's quarrel the man divorces his wife in all three cats. He then thinks it over, and decides that he wants her back. He cannot remarry her until she has been married and divorced by another man. What he does is to engage a man to formally marry the girl and divorce her the following day. Of course, he gets badly stung if the husband for a day takes a liking to the girl and will not divorce her. This leads to murder.



When wishing to make a suggestion or request, or raising a point of discussion it is not done to reason for the visit, until the last moment prior to taking leave. (The importance of the information to be imparted is no excuse for "bad form" in conducting an interview). The conversation all centres on the weather etc.

Eclipses of the moon are treated with much superstition and fear. Prayers are said in the Mosques. The general belief is that the moon is swallowed by a serpent, and women must pray for the release of their moon. Failing to pacify the serpent is dangerous, to pregnant women, and will probably result in a deformed child.

The Sarong must be worn with the badjir hanging loose over the top. Only Royalty are allowed to tuck them in their sarong. Only Royalty can wear the short knee length - all others must wear full length. The kris is worn tucked in the top of the sarong. Yellow or orange are colors reserved for Royalty. The "Songkok" made from velvet is the traditional headgear of Malays. The most usual color is black, - brighter colors worn by cads and kids. A man who is of a quarrelsome nature wears his songkok at a careless angle instead of plum straight on the head.

Men who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hadgi) wear a white skull cap - sometimes surrounded by a yellow or orange scarf.

Women should be seldom seen in public life after reaching the age of puberty until married, and must certainly not be seen without a veil. A woman appearing in public unveiled and with her hair undone is either a libertine or wishes to show herself as the wife of an unfaithful husband. Malay women are expert abortionists. A Malay woman's idea of a perfect life is to be able to sit in her quarters all day and chew sivib (betel nut crimson caramel). The women are beautifully proportioned, with small hands and feet and delightful figures. Unlike most native women they tend to become scraggy in old age ie from 30 onwards. They are said to be experts in preparing and mixing love potions, and I personally know of at least two occasions Malay men ruin their lives deliberately for a woman who, they say, as an excuse has charmed them. The most usual potion is made by mixing a small amount of the menstrual discharge with the food of the victim.

Housing Great care must be made in selecting the right day for laying the foundations. To obtain this knowledge they must go to the Imam. On the day selected all the friends must congregate on 'the site' and are given a feast. The limits of the house are then sprinkled with 'nasi kunyi' (rice cooked in saffron and yellow in color). All guests assist in raising the uprights - the remainder is left to builders. When completed the Imam must again be visited, and ascertain from him a good day for moving in. A feast is usually held immediately prior to moving in.