Malay Beliefs – Superstitions

Two other principal beliefs affecting everyday Malay life, particularly in the villages, are those connected with kuwong, and cending. These are negative influences carried by animals, birds or reptiles, in particular the wild ones. Kuwong may also be associated with specific places, in particular those known to be haunted. Thus certain precautions have to be taken to ensure that no harm comes to an individual who comes across certain animals or reptiles due to certain superstitions attached to such creatures. The harm may not be just physical in nature, but also emotional or psychological. A snake, for instance, should not be killed in one’s house should one be found in the house, as such an action have negative effects upon members of the family, in particular children. A sudden encounter with a tiger may have the effect of causing a person to see tigers where in reality none are present, and the hunting of a deer, or the collection of honey from a bees’ nest must be undertaken with appropriate preparation and the use of suitable incantations (mantra). Among birds, even the domestic fowl is potentially a source of kuwong, causing insomnia or bouts of crying in children, without any apparent reason. The quail is regarded as a notorious carrier of kuwong, those setting traps for these birds being the most likely victims. Kuwong is also associated with specific places or locations, in particular those known to be haunted by spirits, for spirits themselves are carriers of kuwong.

Cending refers to some kind of obstacle that hampers the successful completion of an action, affecting someone negatively throughout life. Traditionally the day on which a person is born is taken into account to explain cending. Depending on the day of birth, certain days are regarded as unsuitable for activities such as travelling or starting a new business. In the event that such activities are carried out in violation of the taboo, they are likely to result in failure or disaster. The resultant mishap is termed a cending.

Traditionally in Malay society the practice of making vows (nazar or niat) has been fairly common. It is assumed therefore, that upon the completion of one’s wishes or desires, the vows made will have to be fulfilled. When vows remain unfulfilled, the persons making those vows may suffer calamities such as illness or misfortunes. Older Malays believe that such misfortunes are due to cending. The situation can be remedied by making good the promise.

A third type of misfortune is termed seroka or bala seroka. It can take place at any time and is not predictable. It is also connected with certain prevalent superstitions. If for instance someone passes under a coconut tree and a coconut happens to falls on him the fruit is said to be the bearer of seroka. Similarly an epidemic may be seen as a seroka, although diseases are also believed to be caused by spirits. In this latter case the spirits will have to be placated by, usually through the agency of a bomoh.