Malay Poisons and Charm Cures by John D. Gimlette presents a clear account of the known poisons employed by the people of Malaya and their uses in medicine, for criminal purposes, and in the chase. A little less than half the book is devoted to a description of the Bomor, or Malay medicine man, and his work. An interesting account is given of the “medical practice” of these people who, in addition to dealing in magic and the black art, would appear in some cases to be of service to the community in the absence of a trained western physician.
The author displays a considerable knowledge of Malay spirit lore, and gives very full accounts of some of the charms and amulets employed by the Kelantan Malays for worthy and unworthy objects and in the treatment of disease and poisoning. The excellent descriptions of ceremonies of exorcism and translations of incantations render this section of the book of especial interest to the student of Malay customs.
In discussing methods of administering poisons the author observes that although the “Malay experts” do not admit the possibility of a time poison, of the kind attributed to the classical Italian poisoners of the seventeenth century, they believe that the action of a particular poison may be accelerated or delayed over a considerable period by the ingestion afterwards of certain vegetables or fruit.
The second part of the book is devoted to descriptions of Malayan poisons of animal and of vegetable origin, chemical poisons and physical irritants. The poisons are grouped into those of animal origin (derived from fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, molluscs and worms); those of vegetable origin, which are the most numerous and are arranged alphabetically; and inorganic poisons.
There are three important appendices: Appendix I. contains spells and charms rendered into romanised Malay; Appendix II. gives a classification in natural orders of the poisonous plants dealt with; and Appendix III. a list, in alphabetical order, of the Kelantan poisons.
Valuable features of Malay Poisons and Charm Cures are the ample lists of references appended to each chapter and the botanical descriptions of the various poisonous plants quoted in extenso from Ridley. The book is written in an interesting style and is a valuable contribution to the literature of toxicology. It is a matter for great regret that Dr. Gimlette’s work in Malaya was cut short by a serious accident to his health, and it is to be hoped that a worthy successor may be found to carry on this important work, for Malaya offers a rich field for toxicological research, and the Malayan Government is sympathetic.
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