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April 6, 2016

Kris and Semangat

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – Semangat is the ability one has to force an object to defy the laws of physics. For example, the person who has semangat can make a metal object rise against gravity. They can slide a coin across a plain surface without touching it.


The object must also have semangat. It can acquire semangat from the person who forged it or from being associated with the owners of the piece. The piece can be imbued with semangat.


It is only when a person with semangat and an object with semangat come together that the laws of gravity can be defiled. I don't have any semangat, so I cannot make an object disobey the laws. Most people don't have semangat. My wife does.


She is a lady from a kampung across the river whom I married. She said she had powers, but I just ignored them. Over the six years we have been together, she has told me of experiences she has had where her supernatural powers have healed people, or done something inexplicable. I just ignored those tales and said there must be some kind of scientific explanation for what occurred.


As the years passed, I ignored her tales of her ability. I didn't believe in semangat; in fact, I couldn't even pronounce the word. It was just voo doo, imagines from the kampung. She put away her powers to please me. Everything was going well.


A kris is a Malay dagger. The blade is about 35 cm long (about 13 and a half inches for the Americans). It is topped by a hilt or a handle. It usually is encased in a wooden sarong which can be highly decorative. There are also swords that have the same configuration but are much longer. They are also called kris. I have a kris collection of about 40 items. They are in my living room covered in yellow cloth to keep them from flying around at night. But that is for another column.


We also have an ancient kris collection of about four objects. They are rusty, without the hilt and sarong and have been exposed to the elements for a long, long period of time. One we date back to 1100 A.D. They are neat conversation pieces.


We had Mike and Kerry over for dinner. They are an Australian couple in their 70s we met who are collectors of old fine tapestry from what is now Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. We exchanged tales of our collecting, and we showed them the old kris, plus some of the newer, more interesting pieces. They told us about their collection.


We had dinner and Mike, very interested in old kris, agreed to come over and help me clean them. They left and I curled up to watch some Netflix, which had just come from the states. I briefly heard some excited chattering in old Sarawak Malay, but I ignored it because Aunt Siti was here and she and my wife usually chatter.


I woke up the next morning and got my cup of coffee and looked in front of the television. There were three old kris standing on their points. I stared in disbelief as they certainly surely must have fallen over but there they were perfectly balanced. The thing was they were not equal on each side but a heavy piece of metal was on one side. I walked around and sat down dumbfounded. Still am.


My wife, Suriani, now has nine kris plus the three naked ones balanced. Some of the others she said did not have enough semangat to balance. She talks to them, lights some incense and rubs them with oil from Dubai, called one thousand flowers.


I am a biologist, taught it for years, and did not believe in this voodoo kampung stuff. Until now.


See pictures in my Facebook page.


...Life is good. . . . .


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