Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mediums and Reaching the Other Side

Growing up in a Foochow Christian family does not mean that I was entirely free from the influences and associations with what is commonly known as Chinese religion which is an eclectic religion, a conglomerated set of beliefs which incorporate a great deal of religious philosophies, most of which are not in the written form. It has idols, it has spiritual beings, it has heaven and earth and everything else from China. And one of its chief tenets is the phenomenon of spirit mediumship.

This particular phenomenon has been written about in diverse langauges especially English. And one of the best texts is a monograph by Alan J.A. Elliott (1955 ). However very few books have been written about mediums. Mediums in South East Asia have been featured in newspapers and magazines especially the infamous ones. A few short stories in Malaysia made mention of them. But definitely, it is no laughing matter.

Sibu, being a mix of Foochows, Hokkiens, Heng Huas who embrace many different religions besides the Chinese religion, has a long history of good and bad mediums.

I have indeed visited two mediums,one to accompany a cousin who sought healing and another time purely out of curiosity. The first mediuam I visited was Madam Kong in Sg. Bidut ( a well known male medium who spoke with a woman's voice) and the second, Madam Wong in Upper Lanang Road. Both were able to proclaim oracles and provide communication between god and man.

"Madam Kong" was approached by my cousin who required medical attention since all the doctors in town could not cure her of her ailments. The medium immediately counted with his fingers and mentioned a few things she had to consume before the end of the month. He had the clear voice of a woman when he was in a trance. Quickly the "secretary" noted down everything "she" said. This was a typical scenario in a medium's little hut situated in an eerie place.

In those faraway days, Sg Bidut was traversed and criss-crossed by little cement paths and very few people had motor bikes even. I had to put my cousin at the back of my bicycle and I cycled all the three kilometers into the dark and lonely rubber garden. How I had the strength and courage to do that at that time is still a mystery to me. I was only 18 years old. I felt that I pedalled for an eternity to reach the scary place. And after the oracle was announced, I pedalled back again to the river side with my cousin at the back to take the sampan back to Sibu. I felt that she had become heavier than before. Perhaps the "spirit" had entered her.

A medium was visited by believers through word of mouth. Very often cures were exaggerated, but this cousin of mine swore that she was completely cured after the visit. I cannot now rememeber what she had or what she bought. But what is important is that my cousin is still alive today at 75, healthy and still praising the medium, who had long departed from this earth.

The other medium was Madam Wong whom I visited with my students when I was a temporary teacher before I went to university. She lived in Upper Lanang Road. We again had a good bicycle ride to the little hut that she lived and practised her communication with the other world. Later on, she grew so rich and famous that a little temple was built outside her house as was the normal practice in Sibu or in any part of the world like Singapore or West Malaysia. Madam Wong or Sister Fairy as she was also called, could predict many future significant incidents, including, an unusual skill, the outcomes of legal cases. She had predicted a few murders in fact. Many years later I learnt from a relative that she was so accurate in predicting possible crimes that even the Police was sacred of her. Thus words were passed from one person to another and finally, she was literally given an injunction by a very wealthy and leading community leader not to practice!! I am not sure whether that was just a rumour or a fact. I don't think I would be able to find out as there would not be any written record or documentation at all for researchers.

When mediums like them deal with the unknown forces, people usually hold them in awe. And very often, in temples, they would be able to answer questions from clients, prescribe medicines and even speak with the real voices of the dearly departed.

According to local beliefs in Sibu many of these mediums actually allowed the demonic spirits to live in them, although some did resist them. One medium became one after a long series of illness. And when the temple supervisors asked him to stay with them, he started his work as a temple medium, and attracted a lot of customers with his accurate oracles.

In many other areas in the vicinity of Sibu, in special places like top of a hill, or curve of a hill or river bend, mediums could be just the local con men pretending to be healers and spiritual guides. They would call for sacrifices and donations and on special festivals they would don their colourful clothes to perform various rites for their followers.

But in my opinion,often a medium would more or less have a great understanding of the workings of the human mind. A good medium is like a good psychiatrist. He would be able for example, to placate the distraught housewife when ever she came with her marital problems. A good cure is often the ashes from the burning joss stick. Comforted, the housewife would go home, "cured" and happy to note that her erring husband would come home soon. She would be told by the medium to do "good things" to the husband and cook as many good meals as possible.

And in these days, one can always pick up a few tips from the internet on "how to win back your husband/wife in ten ways" and you don't have to cycle to a deserted rubber tapper's hut to find a medium.

But I have very little to say about speaking to our dearly departed from the other side. It is still something I have experienced in my youth and cannot explain.

But nevertheless, mediums are interesting and they will still be around for a long time to come.

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