Following the author’s books Mah-Meri of Malaysia: Art and Culture and Jah-hĕt of Malaysia: Art and Culture, published by the University of Malaya Press in 1974 and 1975, Bomoh-Poyang: Traditional Medicine and Ceremonial Art of the Aborigines of Malaysia documents the practise of aboriginal traditional medicine in West Malaysia. After many years of work with the Mah-Meri of Selangor and the Jah-hĕt of Pahang, the author pleased to have the confidence and the co-operation of the people, their elders and their traditional healers (Mah-Meri bomoh, Jah-hĕt poyang). Aboriginal traditional healers have a profound knowledge of herbs, roots, woods and animal substances, and they sustain a close relationship with their spiritual world, which has a great impact on human behaviour in everyday life and exercises special precautions and procedures in times of personal or community disease or mishap.
After half a century of western medicine in Malaysia, the traditional healer remains the only convenient and relatively inexpensive medical help available outside the larger towns. For although the number of physicians in Malaysia is steadily increasing (4,476) in 1985, the ratio of population to doctors in rural areas like Kuala Terengganu continues to be unsatisfactory. It is not that people of the kampungs (villages) are ignorant of or prejudiced against western medical facilities and techniques-they are aware of the efficacy of intravenous injections and surgical procedures. Nor is it the expense involved for these poor people to make use of western medical facilities—all medical fees incurred, travelling costs and lost earnings for a day or more. It is the strong spiritual beliefs of the people of the kampungs which make them prefer the services of the traditional healer. Skilled bomohs do not consider that western medicine challenges their position but believe there is a place for both systems.
A shown here through a detailed accounting of various ceremonies and 743 photographs and drawings, Aborigines have an intense belief in the ability of supernatural powers to prevent and cure illness. Revealed for the first time is the sacred ceremonial art of the Mah-Meri bomoh, complete with illustrations of secret objects like the sembuang (spirit tray), the ancak (spirit basket), the balai (spirit house) and the sampan (spirit boat). Also presented is the complete collection of sepili, the ceremonial wooden figures that serve as spiritual carriers of disease away from the sick, as used by the Jah-hĕt poyang. The author’s documentation of ceremonial procedures, prayers and chants is exhaustive. To retain authenticity, he has recorded the therapeutic and spiritual concepts just as they were conveyed to him orally or as he experienced them in the field, without comparing them to make modern medicine.
Bomoh-Poyang: Traditional Medicine and Ceremonial Art of the Aborigines of Malaysiacompletes Roland Werner’s definitive works on Aborigines in West Malaysia begun with Mah-Meri of Malaysia: Art and Culture and Jah-hĕt of Malaysia: Art and Culture, both published by the University of Malaya Press. These three volumes bear witness to the author’s immense energy and dedication to the work at hand.