Borneo: Shaman Medicine

I was going to tell you about Malaysian Borneo when I got sidetracked by their neighbor Brunei. Moving on quickly (which is what we did as we flew over the sultanate on our way to the state of Sarawak), we landed in Kuching. What a lovely, lovely city. Kuching should get its own post, and likely will. We roamed along the riverfront walk and slurped down laksa noodle dishes with gusto. Kuching is a great spot to head out to various national parks to see wildlife.

Borneo is home of the native Dayak tribes. Remember childhood tales of the wild headhunters of Borneo? The Dayak call this ritual Ngayau. We visited Dayak long houses. Smoked skulls still hang at the hearth in the central long house.

The most important tribal figure is the head chief, closely followed by the shaman. This medicine man, also known as a balian [1] is responsible for the health of the tribe as well as interceding between the worlds.

During our time in Kuching I’d been glancing in shops without actually entering any of them. Among the streets of tourist trinkets, one store fascinated me. On the last day I made a beeline for that shop. [2]

And then I made a beeline for a shelf lined with containers topped by human figures.

Jerry Ang, the soft-spoken shop owner, kindly answered all my questions. He told me these were Dayak shaman medicine containers. The figures are hand carved from polished buffalo or cow bone. A shaman had hand-etched the jar with scrimshaw patterns. Dayak shamans used the containers to store herbs, magic powders and betal lime to make medical potions. Some still contained resins – Jerry and I opened each jar and sniffed.

The carved figure indicates the illness the potion was intended to treat. Some of the figures held their heads (aches and pains of the head) or their stomachs. Some figures even depicted a person crouched over… the traveler’s curse of diarrhea for sure.

My piece has a prawn carved on the back: Jerry thought maybe prawns were one of the main ingredients in the medicine. Or perhaps the prawn indicated the woman who made the potion (he said the figure was female), or an ancestor. An on-line source tells me the scrimshaw work represents animals that bring good luck. If anyone can give me more information, I’d be most grateful!

NOTES: [1] Balian is the term used for traditional healers on Bali, too. Healing arts are passed down through generations. Twenty years ago I did a massage exchange with the son of a balian there; he had been taught by his father. To learn more about the Dayak shamans go to http://factsanddetails.com. The article gives the following information: “Shamanic curing, or balian, is one of the core features of these ritual practices. Because illness is thought to result in a loss of the soul, the ritual healing practices are devoted to its spiritual and ceremonial retrieval. In general, religious practices focus on the body, and on the health of the body politic more broadly. Sickness results from giving offense to one of the many spirits inhabiting the earth and fields, usually from a failure to sacrifice to them. The goal of the balian is to call back the wayward soul and restore the health of the community through trance, dance, and possession.” [Source: Library of Congress, 2006] Or see Wikipedia: The Dayak People [2] See also Unika Borneo, the shop where I found my figure. I receive no commission for mentioning the store. I just think they deserve to be mentioned.  More figures can be admired at https://borneoartifact.com and https://www.esotericstuff.com

© Jadi Campbell 2019. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

What a Year!

2016 was the Year of the Monkey. Wong Tai Sin Medicine Temple, New Territories, China

I’m a little slow sometimes. I recently realized that my new-and-improved wordpress website jadicampbell.com had a birthday in January and is now a year old. (Yes, I’m aware it’s already March!) So, what did I do with a year of blogging?

My usual bounce of topics around the world….

If you want humor, dance to the world’s oldest Beatles cover band in A Boogie With the Bootlegs and survive a terrible trip at The H(ot)ell in Dubrovnik. Mess with the wedding caterers in You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It Too and listen in as I gleefully confess to embarrassing my long-suffering spousal unit in The Honeymooners. Attend an office party that goes south with a whole lot of alcohol in Holiday Insurance 1 & 2.

I weighed in on current events with both outrage and compassion: Ending the Year Pregnant with Hope, Our House is on Fire, Outrage, Role Models and Positive Acts, and my continued thread on refugees The Long Haul. Helping Refugees: Part 5, 6 & 7.

Last summer I lost my mother-in-law, an old friend, and my dad Bobbo, all within a shocking three-month period. Those were by far the hardest posts to write. But I discovered something: the most personal blog essays are the ones my readers (i.e., all of you) respond to most.

Phew. And, thank you for your comments regarding Breath, Loss and Remembering How to Feel.

I wrote seasonal posts about Christmas Holiday Insurance 1 & 2, A Guy Goes to a Christmas Market…, the Hindu Nandi Purnima in Holy CowsBazaar/Bizarre, watching the World Cup from The H(ot)ell in Dubrovnik, and the (in)famous Oregon Country Fair.

Somewhere last year I managed to finish and publish a new novel, Grounded. Here are excerpts: Holiday Insurance 1 & 2, Holy Cows and Bazaar/Bizarre, The Reluctant Pilgrim, Save the Recriminations, History’s Loop 1, 2, & 3.

I took part in wonderful projects with NEAT (New English American Theater) involving Gershwin 1 & 2 and The Vagina Monologues.

I wrote about Nature’s waterfalls and snakes.

As always, I blogged about places we’ve visited on this incredible planet. Hong Kong, Laos markets & waterfalls, Hampi, India here and twice again in The Reluctant Pilgrim & Bazaar/Bizarre; Croatia and (the bus) to Canada.

2017 is the Year of the Rooster! Wong Tai Sin Medicine Temple, New Territories, China

What you can look forward to in the Year of the Rooster: a huge blog thread for my father Bobbo that I’m calling The Animal Kingdom. Occasional notes about my volunteer work with refugees. Lots more quirky posts about places Uwe and I visit. And on-going musings about life, the Universe and everything in-between as I deepen the process of saying goodbye to those who have left.

May you find something here that makes you laugh, creates a spark of connection, and moves you enough so that you reenter your own life with a sense of touching upon mine. That would make the new year of blogging – and all the years to come – worthwhile. As Mae West says, “Come on up, I’ll tell your fortune.” [1]

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I’m now posting once a week!

NOTES: [1] Quoted in She Done Him Wrong (1933). Photo of Mae West courtesy of Worth1000.com at http://jeanrojas.tripod.com/ Copyright © 2017 Jadi Campbell. Photos Copyright © 2012 Uwe Hartmann or Jadi Campbell. More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Gods Aren’t For Sale

I had an encounter with magic in southern Laos. I mean this literally. We flew to Pakse, in order to make our way down to an area called 4,000 Islands. Laos’s border to Cambodia is a stretch of the Mekong River with wild waterfalls and rushing waters. [1] The French ambitiously (and quixotically) tried to build a train through the jungle at Don Det-Don Khon. The rapids defeated them. D31_6937_DxO8 We hired a driver and sweet young man named Ley to guide us around. We made an outing to Paksong on the Bolaven Plateau, home of small, superb Laotian coffee plantations. D31_6495_DxO8D31_6496_DxO8On our drive back we stopped at a market hall. Taxis were filling with local workers who stopped to buy groceries. D31_6481_DxO8Rows of vendors sold grades of rice, D31_6488_DxO8eggs, fresh fruit, coffee (natch), bolts of cloth, dried fishes, D31_6478_DxO8D31_6479_DxO8vegetables and herbs, freshly cooked food and plastic bags of marinades and sauces.

D31_6491_DxO8D31_6489_DxO8The variety of fresh produce is tremendous: alone in these photos I can identify three different sizes and shapes of eggplant, tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, Thai basil, oranges, peppers in every size and grade of hotness, cucumber, bitter melon, carrots, zuccini, onions, garlic, bok choy, green and Napa (Chinese) cabbages, ginger, limes, long beans, shallots, spring onions, chives, squash, rose apples.D31_6476_DxO8
D31_6474_DxO8Women from the hill tribes had wares for sale. An older woman had set up a stand away from most of the others. Curious, I walked over.D31_6487_DxO8She had images of the Buddha, and  items for religious and medical purposes. Talons, hooves, D31_6486_DxO8deer skulls, D31_6485_DxO8bundles of herbs and animal horns. D31_6483_DxO8

Bottles of herb tinctures. Bark. Dried leaves.D31_6484_DxO8

I was pulled like a magnet to her strange pairs of roots. I couldn’t tear my eyes from them. I felt fascinated, and somehow frightened, too. She’d tied male and female roots together. They’d been carved to accentuate their human forms.D31_6483_DxO8
D31_6483_DxO8The pairs called to me on some strange level…. “What are they for?” I asked. Ley explained to me that they are placed in a home to protect it and the family that lives there.

“Would you ask her how much they cost?” I asked. She gave me a sharp look and hesitated. “Ten dollars,” she said finally.

“Ten dollars?” I was beyond surprised. $10 is a paltry sum in most parts of the world. Here, in one of the poorest countries on the planet, the price she wanted was outrageous. [2]

Ley looked confused as well, and talked to her for a while. Her voice rose. The two discussed the transaction so long that I became uncomfortable. At last he turned to me. “She says, these are their gods, and it would be wrong to sell them to outsiders.”

In an instant, desire to be near the figures left me. “I’m so sorry. Please apologize to her and tell her I meant no disrespect. They are very, very powerful.” Ley translated and she gave me a grudging looking-over.

I’ve thought a lot about that strange encounter with foreign magic. Even my husband says he wondered about me that afternoon; he watched with growing concern as I was drawn to something I didn’t understand. All these years later I recall the power that emanated from those male and female roots, and I tremble.

NOTES: [1] For a little while longer, anyway. Hydroelectric dams are being built by northern neighbor China, with breathtakingly little regard or concern for how this impacts the ecosystems further downstream. [2] She purposely asked for a ridiculously large amount of money.

Go to my posts The Salt Pits and The Waterfalls of Laos: North for more on Laos. Photos Copyright © 2012 Uwe Hartmann. More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

http://www.paksong.info
Don Khon narrow gauge railway

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