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June 20, 2012

The Tree Curse and Village Ghosts

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – Once upon on a time there was a kampung that had a huge tree that shaded the houses into almost total darkness. The twilight would not allow a garden to grow the vegetables needed to prepare food. The people had to go into town to purchase the items.


One day it was decided to cut the tree down and plant orchards and gardens. Strong men took axes, but they could not even penetrate the bark. Finally the tree got tired of being banged by the axe on the seventh swing.


The tree spoke out and said: “If you want to cut me down, then I will curse those who wielded the axe for seven generations.” Ignoring the talking tree, it was felled and the spell was cast forth.


Those who assisted in the act will not enjoy a final rest but will roam in ghost form. The spirit will return to the family members at night and perform the tasks they did while alive. For example, if a woman was involved, she may return in the flesh to the kitchen and prepare food or wash up the plates. They can also make demands. If the man was a husband, he may return to his place next to his wife in bed. They only returned at night.


Of course, it was hard to convince others, outside the family, that the ghost had visited. He/she left footprints around and inside the house as proof he/she made the visit.


The original name of the ghost was Hantu Bangkit or Hantu Kayong, the ghost who arose from the dead. The British, during colonial days, were in charge of the educational system. The ghost was nicknamed Hamlet and no, I did not make this up.


Apparently descendants from the original tree cutters moved into my wife’s kampung, Gersik, and the one next door, Boyan. Everybody seems to know who they are, but it is unknown if the seven generations have yet to be completed.


Suriani, my wife, related stories of this ghost that she learned as a child.


One of many incidents she related about this ghost was a virgin passed away and the mother arranged her room because she knew she was returning. They were descendant from the original seven who chopped down the tree. Later, people heard noises in the room and they were attributed to the girl returning.


Another incident was when Suriani’s grandmother received several containers from a woman believed to be another descendant of the tree episode. She used the bottles to package traditional medicine donated by the dead woman. The bottle lady passed away and she returned to retrieve the bottles and jars. Suriani’s grandmother heard a commotion and peeped to see the ghost rummaging through the containers and in a screeching voice intoned she wanted her bottles back.


Another incident was when her uncle slept over and went out to go to the bathroom. Next to the kitchen door hung mango retrieved from an orchard that was owned by the cursed descendants. When he opened the door of the outhouse, he saw a figure wrapped up in funeral shroud (Myrtle?) asking for return of his mango fruits. The uncle was so startled he passed out. Suriani’s mother thought it was probably the fruit hanging near the kitchen door that Hamlet wanted returned.


During a kenduri arwah (meal for the dead), the dead grandma came back and changed the diaper of a grandchild. The elder sister of the baby, a four year old, was asked who changed the diaper and she answered it was the dead grandmother. The mother of the girl was startled as Hamlet in the form of the dead grandmother had returned.


A man passed away and the family members gathered to help with the burial and assist for 40 days. A young man, who was helping out, heard a noise from the kitchen where he saw a dead man trying to find food. An odor emanated from the ghost after touching kitchen utensils. The stench stayed even after washing, and the cooking implements had to be thrown away.


A lady paid a visit to her daughter, who lives in Singapore, and died there. The very next day she was found at her house roaming around. The daughter was half asleep but saw her mother when she peeped through her bedroom door. That’s how she knew her mother was dead.


Although I find these stories amusing, I would believe them if Hamlet would come around and change my son’s diapers.


…Life is good. . .


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