The Pawang

THE accredited intermediary between men and
spirits is the Pawang ;
l the Pawang is a functionary of
great and traditional importance in a Malay village,
though in places near towns the office is falling into
abeyance. In the inland districts, however, the
Pawang is still a power, and is regarded as part
of the constituted order of society, without whom no
village community would be complete. It must be
clearly understood that he has nothing whatever to do
with the official Muhammadan religion of the mosque ;
the village has its regular staff of elders the Imam,
Khatib, and Bilal for the mosque service. But the
Pawang is quite outside this system, and belongs to a
different and much older order of ideas ; he may be
regarded as the legitimate representative of the primitive
‘ medicine – man ‘ or ‘
village -sorcerer,’ and his
very existence in these days is an anomaly, though it
does not strike Malays as such.

The accredited intermediary between men and spirits is the Pawang ;  the Pawang is a functionary of  great and traditional importance in a Malay village, though in places near towns the office is falling into abeyance. In the inland districts, however, the Pawang is still a power, and is regarded as part of the constituted order of society, without whom no village community would be complete. It must be clearly understood that he has nothing whatever to do with the official Muhammadan religion of the mosque ; the village has its regular staff of elders the Imam, Khatib, and Bilal for the mosque service. But the Pawang is quite outside this system, and belongs to a different and much older order of ideas ; he may be regarded as the legitimate representative of the primitive ‘ medicine – man ‘ or ‘ village -sorcerer,’ and his very existence in these days is an anomaly, though it does not strike Malays as such.

Very often the office is hereditary, or at least the appointment is practically confined to the members of one family. Sometimes it is endowed with certain properties  handed down from one Pawang to his successor, known as the kabesaran, or, as it were, regalia. On one occasion I was nearly called upon to decide whether these adjuncts which consisted, in this particular case, of a peculiar kind of head-dress were the personal property of the person then in possession of them (who had got them from his father, a deceased Pawang, or were to be regarded as official insignia descending with the office in the event of the natural heir declining to serve.

But quite apart from such external marks of dignity, the Pawang is a person of very real significance. In all agricultural operations, such as sowing, reaping, irrigation works, and the clearing of jungle for planting, in fishing at sea, in prospecting for minerals, and in cases of sickness, his assistance is invoked. He is entitled by custom to certain small fees ; thus, after a good harvest he is allowed, in some villages, five gantangs of padi, one gantang of rice (beras/ and two chupaks of emping (a preparation of rice and cocoa-nut made into a sort of sweetmeat) from each householder. After recovery from sickness his remuneration is the very modest amount of tiga wang baharu, that is, 7 1/2 cents.

Source:  MALAY MAGIC  AN INTRODUCTION TO THE FOLKLORE  AND POPULAR RELIGION OF THE MALAY PENINSULA BY WALTER WILLIAM SKEAT

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