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March 12, 2014

Everybody needs a god

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – Sprinkled about 70 miles off the coast of Borneo are many small inhabited islands. Most of the people are fisher folk of Malay stock with a smattering of Chinese. The young people are moving off the islands to seek their fortunes in the larger cities of Indonesia, foregoing the isolation and way of life of their forefathers.


As people move away, they sell off goods and other items held dear by their families for generations. Islam is the state religion and the artefacts do not hold the same connection to the past as it did for their grandparents. From this migration, I acquired two rare statues.


The first is a Chinese lady – about 14 inches high – holding a blue bodied rooster with cream colour back feathers. She has her hair in a bun with long flowing cream dress with brown and teal streaks down the front. She is missing her hands by design and not by carelessness.


The second one I have is also of a lady holding a rooster. She is an eight-inch bronze sitting on her haunches clutching a rooster on one knee. She has hands with fingers, which signifies superior workmanship. The dress is flowing with pleats and in the small of the back is a kris (Malay knife) ready for battle. She comes from somewhere in Borneo, a minor purchase in a shop.


They displayed in the flat until curiosity and time came together to research what they were. I didn't know men who dressed up as women have their own god and I possibly own two of their representations.


According to some research, the daughter of a member of a caste in India, who considers herself divine, was travelling in a caravan. A marauder attacked the caravan and the girl cut her breasts and set herself on fire. While flaming, she cursed the robber and made him impotent. The curse was lifted when the plunderer dressed up in women's clothes and started to worship the daughter. Apparently, seeing this, the transvestites of India claimed her as their own. I don't know where the rooster comes into the story, or how it could possibly relate to men wearing women's clothes.


The only problem here is that this goddess (Bahchura Mata) is always seen riding a rooster where my god is holding the cockerel in both the bronze and ceramic images.


Another possibility is that some of the Iban people believe the rooster and cock fighting was introduced to them by god. The idea is that they will, somehow, return to god as roosters, which will then guard the god. There is a large population of Iban here where I live and this is a distinct possibility except they are not known for metal working or ceramics.


The Taoists also have a rooster in their religion, and there are many who belong to the belief system in Borneo. In consecrating statutes, they believe the blood from the cocks crown administered by a Taoist priest along with some cinnabar will "energize" (my word) it to help one pick the winning lottery tickets or bring good luck.


I am not sure if my rooster is being worshiped by men in drag, believed that a person will be transformed to guard a god (s), or will spill blood to win a lottery. It is still fun to own and investigate and try to tease out these many mysterious of the Orient.


...Life is good. . . . .


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