Ghosts, ghost houses and magic are part of the vernacular in Malaysia. Whether people actually believe in the supernatural or are just having an each-way bet, I’m not sure, but protective amulets can be found in every feng shui shop in every shopping mall, and despite their religious faith, some people also believe in the supernatural powers of traditional Malay shamans.
On my earlier trips to Kuala Lumpur I noticed that a nearby house had been empty and abandoned for many years. It was a perfectly good house but was going to wrack and ruin in the tropical climate. When I asked my sisters-in-law why it was empty, they replied nonchalantly that it was a ghost house. As if that were self-evident. I soon discovered that ghost houses are quite common in Malaysia, where people of many faiths believe in ghosts. In fact, when I began researching the phenomenon on the Internet I discovered dozens of websites devoted to the topic, and hundreds of photos of abandoned buildings and reputed ghost houses. I wonder whether it has something to do with the tropical climate. Structures deteriorate quickly and the jungle takes over before you know it, lending empty houses an eerie atmosphere.
To this day it’s not unusual to read newspaper articles about schoolgirls becoming hysterical after seeing ghosts, or pawangs (traditional Malay healers and shamans) being called in to help bring rain, or find something which has been lost. The pawangs were called in to help locate missing flight MH370. Indeed, they were far less expensive than the costly undersea exploration undertaken by Australia. Of course, neither the pawangs nor the scientists found very much. But that is another story.
Whether you believe in magic or not, in the 1930s when much of my novel is set, pawangs reputedly helped miners locate tin, fishermen catch more fish and villagers locate rogue crocodiles. They could bless just about anything and were also quite adept at casting out evil spirits. It seemed quite natural to me that the characters in my novel The Concubine’s Child would believe in the spirit world in its many guises.
What about you?