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As Long as We Remember...

June 22, 2016

Blowing Up a Tradition

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – It has been unseasonably cool here for the past six weeks or so. The hot and dry days of June have been very wet with all day rains or heavy thunderstorms. Where we were supposed to only get a quick shower or two during the day, the skies have opened up. Really weird.


Yes, something has been bothering me, but it is so hard to explain to the western world, but let me try.


In the Malay world we have something called segamat. Segamat is a power inherited from others. In our world, we can say we got our gray hair from Grandma. We can tell we got out height from great grandpa Jones. That is not segamat.


Segamat is inheriting the ability to do things from past generations. For example, my wife has the ability to make a kris (a Malay dagger) stand on its tip. Her sisters, brothers and parents can't do that because she has the segamat.


Now, here is where things really get weird. The kris also has segamat. It can be strong or weak but it, too, has power. The kris got the segamat when it was forged by the blacksmith. When the kris was forged is anybody's guess.


So, we put the two segamats together, one from my wife and the one from the kris, then the kris will stand on its tip. At least I think that's the way it works. My wife's segamat was so powerful we had about 20 kris standing on their tips for about four or five days in the living room.


Now, of course, I didn't believe a word of it. I am a science person who has taught biology and chemistry. But, I knew to keep the peace I would believe in it. I marveled at her ability and said she had strong segamat. I was surprised to see the kris stand on the tip and knew it was a matter of physics. I asked if she could make something else stand.


My friend Gordon came over with his Bidayu wife and their two children. He is a white man with a doctorate in engineering from an Irish University. He works for a German firm which has something to do with computers here in town. We have been friends for about six years and have a child about a week a part.


We chatted and had some of Suriani's famous curry. We sat on the porch and looked over the kampongs and spoke of things guys talk about.


The kids were getting restless and it was time for them to go. His wife then said she wanted to see Suriani make the kris stand. Suriani obliged. My friend said he wanted to try it and I shook my head no, knowing full well he understood the physics behind it. I shook my head no again but he just had to make the kris stand. And then he did another one. And he made that kris stand also. I was so mad I was spitting bullets.


He was from Ireland, did not have the segamat and still made the kris stand.


Maybe I was wrong in telling my wife she had segamat, and it was just a matter of physics.


Maybe I was wrong at being furious at Gordon for crashing a belief people have had for thousands of years.


Maybe I thought it could last a few generations more within her family.


She, meanwhile, cried most of the night.


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