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MGG: A bomoh couple are hanged, with their assistant
By M.G.G. Pillai

3/11/2001 2:00 pm Sat

Malaysia hanged a couple and their assistant yesterday for murdering an UMNO politician. There is nothing unusual about that. Murder is a capital offence; murderers and those who commit sundry other offences, like drug trafficking, are hanged, without mercy and with no extenuating hope of a reprieve. What made yesterday's hangings so unusual was that the three were involved in the occult, and the murder itself was, so the court was told, a means to give the victim the power of a rejuvenated political life. That the husband was the stepbrother of a prominent Tan Sri gave it an additional interest, although you could scour the newspapers this morning and find no mention of that. The crime was dastardly, the victim chopped in 18 parts, buried in cement beneath an uncompleted house, but in the eight years between the murder and the execution the crime had almost disappeared into the darkest recesses of one's mind -- except when they appeared for their appeals.

And so Mona Affandi, 45, her husband,44, and their assistant, Juraimi Husin, 31, were hanged at dawn. The counsel for the assistant, Mr Karpal Singh, said his client did not have the customary final meeting with his parents, although they lived in Kajang where the prison is. The father had received the notification of the final visit until Thursday afternoon, and after the visiting times were over. But the execution was treated with kid gloves, the stories in hallowed tones, with one prominent commentator talked of the couple, but not the assistant, "laid to rest" in a commentary on bomohs.

Bomohs hark to a pre-Islamic presence, more cultural than religious, and very much a valued an important adviser for many Malays. No self-respecting UMNO politician would be without one and often, so we are made to understand, that a man's victory in a crucial election or a takeover bid or a prominent but unattainable lady is all do to the charms, philtres and the like the bomoh dishes out. Even the Malaysian police now resorts to bomohs to resolve crimes: many crimes are committed by Indonesians, who the police insist resort to "black magic". So this sepulchorous prose in reporting the final moments of the trio is in part the reporter's fear that the bomoh's reach would remain after his or her death.

I know of one former judge of the Federal Court who had an array of charms he wore on his person, at the instruction of his bomoh. He found that many who appeared before him in court had so many of these items on him to cloud his mind that he resorted to it. He is not the only one. UMNO enemies of one mentri besar (chief minister) sent an emissary to seek out a bomoh known for his ability to stop politicians in their tracks. In a comedy of errors, the chief minister's gardener was mistaken for the bomoh, paid a large sum of money and brought to Kuala Lumpur and ensconced in a leading hotel. He was then visited upon by the chief minister's enemies. This man, instructed by his master, to pretend, which he did so well, and had photographs taken with each of the UMNO worthies present. And a set of photographs ended up in the hands of the man they wanted to destroy. Soon, photographs were floating around the country. Most of those involved in that episode include some the brightest and the best of UMNO society.

This penchant for bomohs is not about to go away. They are in the pre-Islamic, animist cultural weapons in the Malay's armour for centuries longer than he had been a Muslim. Bomohs are officially verboten, but no one, not the Malay ministers in the cabinet, not the state ministers can do without them. Some have a half dozen or more of them. I know of two men, bitter political rivals, who kept adding bomohs to their armoury during a bitter political election until they each had a dozen men. It did not help. Both lost. Islam in Malaysia frowns upon them, but cannot erase them. Once it was only PAS which wanted the bomohs and other pre-Islamic cultural trappings are banned.

Now, with UMNO on the Islamic bandwagon, the position of bomohs would become an issue yet again. UMNO believes, so we are told, in "moderate Islam" and PAS "retrograde Islam". There is little different between the two except in rhetoric. PAS talks of an Islamic state but promises to look after the interest of the non-Muslims; UMNO preaches moderation but in practice pass laws in the state more extreme that PAS has done in Kelantan and Trengganu. The bomoh will inevitably be the target in that battle for the hearts and minds of the Malay. Can he be wiped out when his servives are asked for before an important function: weddings, openings of parliament, important football matches, the opening of an international conference, to ensure a rain-free Islamic Aid-il-fitri holidays. So, I am not surprised how the hangings were reported in the local media.

M.G.G. Pillai