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As Long as We Remember...

March 28, 2012

The Not-So-Lucky Totem

Tom McLaughlin

“I have to have it,” I said to my wife. She rolled her eyes at me. The object of my desire was a 12-foot totem pole carved into a log of Iron wood. It was exquisite. Two figures crudely hacked into the strongest wood on the planet.


The piece had stood in an overgrown part of the jungle and bore evidence of marks made from vines, similar to the scars trailed by English Ivy on buildings in the west. It was said to be at least 100 years old, constructed during the pre-missionary period.*


A few months ago we had acquired a piece of ancient carved wood thought to chase the bad spirits away and protect the owners of our modern condo, me, Suriani and son Dzul. We purchased it from a Bidayuh gentleman whose people had long ago converted to Christianity and saw no need to continue to have false idols among them.


The stick measures about XX cms tall and XX cm in diameter with a base that had been buried in the ground facing the long house to subdue any evil apparitions foolish enough to attack the people. It was planted in a potted jungle plant.


The owner’s place of business was located in a row of shops that Suriani and I passed while doing our weekly shopping. Every Saturday we ducked in to have a look at what new acquisitions he had acquired and I always went back to the patio located in the rear to have another look. We purchased a few items to add to our collection, but this particular representation of an apparition had grown on me.


I asked him the cost and he wanted to know where we would put it. A strange question, I thought. I was told the potted plant, where it lived, had to go with it. I informed him that it could live on my balcony which now held 14 potted plants, five waist high bushy palms and two trees. He seemed relieved and happy.


We agreed on a price and he brought the potted plant with the stick in it to our condo and placed it on the balcony. As a sign of respect, I asked him to arrange it so the spirit would provide maximum protection. He now looks through the sliding glass door. We named him Joe after the shopkeeper’s son who had acquired the Christian name of Johanssen.


Before one makes a judgment call on this incident, please remember the western amulets of a four leaf clover, rabbits foot, $2 bill,, saying bread and butter, Feng Shui, leprachons and the many, many other amulets used to bring the spirit of luck to our lives. Think of the reaction of people from Malaysia that some of us carry the appendage of a hare, usually dyed red or blue, in our pockets.


I often go out on the balcony with a cup of steaming coffee to gaze at the sunrise that only varies by a few minutes between 6:40 and 6:45. I greet Joe with a good morning. My son knows him and points when I ask him “where’s Joe?” He is a treasured addition to the family.


However Joe is not doing his job of keeping evil spirits away. Since he arrived, I had a collapse and had to fly back to the states for emergency infusions. Dzul had a reaction to a German measles and Japanese encephalitis combo vaccination and Suriani caught a cold.


I will continue study the totem pole as we pass by the shop and think about acquiring it to join the menagerie on my balcony. I just hope the two carved figures are not the lay-about Joe is.


…life is good. . . . .


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