Singapore has a reputation for being modern, squeaky clean and orderly and we tend to think of Singaporeans as generally well educated, worldly and sophisticated.
So it came as something of a surprise to come across an interesting shop window in an ordinary Singaporean public housing estate displaying curses, spells, voodoo and other dark arts.
Then again, perhaps it should not be surprising since belief in black magic and the supernatural runs deep in South East Asia.
As most of the signage in the shop window was in Chinese it was not clear to me if the shop-keeper, presumably some sort of medicine man, was selling curses or the cures to them (or neither). Surely it cannot be legal to sell curses?
Not sure what the ‘flying needle’ is all about but it has been claimed that an evil bomoh (witch doctor) could cause foreign objects to appear in a victim’s body through an incantation. There was a case reported in the Singaporean media in 2008 of an Indonesian woman who had metal wires growing out of her stomach and chest for 17 years, much to the mystery of her doctors.
The ancient Malay dagger, the kris, is often believed to have magical powers. There is a kris exhibited at Taiping Museum which is said to thirst for blood and will fly out of its sheath on full moons and seek people to kill before returning silently to its sheath. (See The Kris Mystic Weapon of the Malay World by Edward Frey for more details.)
Scorpions, centipedes, snakes, spiders, corpse oil, strands of hair and bits of fingernail are associated with making powerful charms for revenge, love or change of luck.
Love potions are said to be particularly potent. A woman looking to cast a spell over a man might prepare an unsavoury dish called Nasi Kangkang by dripping her sweat and other bodily fluids onto a bowl of steaming white rice, rendering her victim incapable of resisting her charms.
Should the man break off from the woman he could be in trouble. The famous author W. Somerset Maugham, who liked to base his novels on real people, in his short story P. & O., wrote of a planter who died of hiccups brought on by a spell cast by his jilted Asian mistress.
Newspapers in this part of the world often contain reports of charlatans and con-men preying on the gullible and superstitious. But who is to say that all this black magic stuff is bogus? These sorcerers are certainly keeping up with the times. There is a dukun in Indonesia who claims to be able to administer a lethal spell via text message. It would be terrible if he dialled a wrong number!