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The bomoh's original role was that of a healer and their expertise was first and foremost an in-depth knowledge of medicinal herbs and tajul muluk or Malay geomancy. This was supplemented by Sanskrit mantera (mantras) owing to the ancient Hindu-Buddhist influence in the region.
Cosmology and function
Malay metaphysical theory holds that the body, and in fact the universe itself, is made up of the four classical elements of fire, water, earth, and wind. Illnesses are often said to be caused by an imbalance of these elements. To restore this balance, patients are advised to bathe in cool water to which lime juice is added. The bomoh also works with rituals and incantations, called jampi.
Some bomoh use cemeteries to summon spirits to fulfill requests by supplicants, while others only deal with a single spirit. It is said that sometimes the bomoh selects the spirit, while other times, it is the spirit who selects the bomoh. Spirits are said to be able to heal the sick, seek missing persons or even investigate reasons for bad luck. Spirits can also be used to attack people, cause sickness and misery and many other bad things. Bomoh who have a particular religion may incorporate their religious practices into their craft.
Traditionally, healing rituals of some bomoh involved music and dance, such as the main puteri or main peteri (a trance-dance from Kelantan and Trengganu often connected to mak yong), the main lukah (a fisherman's dance from Pahang), and the main saba (which re-enacts the heavenly princesses [puteri kayangan] dancing around a saba tree). The music is played by an assistant called the tuk minduk.
The bomoh's craft remained largely unchanged even after Islam became dominant until the Islamic revival in the 1970s and 80s. Bomoh were then seen as deviant from the Muslim faith because of their invocation of spirits and the potentially harmful black magic they were accused of practicing. This period saw a drastic decline in authentic bomoh and many fraudulent shamans filled the void. As a result, bomoh are today looked at with suspicion even though they are still commonly consulted for personal reasons.
2014: Bomoh attempting to locate missing flights in KLIA
After the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Bomoh Ibrahim Mat Zin was back in the KL International Airport as he had promised for a second session of rituals to help “locate” the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
Ibrahim, who calls himself Raja Bomoh Sedunia Nujum VIP with the title of Datuk Mahaguru, brought along “zam-zam” water, two coconuts, a “magical” walking stick and a “magic carpet” that served as a “boat” for him and his assistants.
The session that was held at Anjung Tinjau of KLIA attracted a crowd of people.
“The purpose of the rituals is to weaken the bad spirits so the rescuers can find the plane if it indeed had crashed,” he told reporters.
Ibrahim said the symbolic rituals had been used for many generations.
He clarified that he was doing it on his own free will and not on the invitation of any leader.
On Monday, Ibrahim used “binoculars” made of bamboo and a fish trap hook during his first session of rituals.
He had said then that he would be back in two days for the second ritual.
Bernama reported that Ibrahim, who has 50 years of experience as a bomoh, had become popular after offering his service to search for the victims in several major cases such as the Highland Towers tragedy and the Mona Fendy case.
A 25-second video of Ibrahim’s second session has gone viral.
Meanwhile, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin was not amused by the antics of the bomoh.
“Somebody should arrest those magic carpet bomohs,” he tweeted, adding that he had alerted Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom to take action against them.
Jakim, the national department of Islamic development, has also issued a statement that the bomoh’s method contradicts Islamic practices.
Ibrahim Mat Zin, the bomoh who drew international ridicule for his antics to locate Malaysia Airlines' (MAS) flight MH370, is now the subject of an online game application.
The electronic game, “Bomoh: Rescue Run”, was developed by Triapps last Thursday has since surpassed 100,000 downloads on Google's Play Store, a digital distribution platform for applications on Android.
Bomoh is now trending at the sixth spot on the list of Top Free applications downloaded in the country, and it is one step ahead of global photo-sharing platform Instagram and trailing at the heels of Clean Master, an algorithm used to detect and clean popular applications cache.
- Hikayat Aceh 127:7 "... gajah tuanku ini. Diperhamba suruh ubati kepada [bo]mo gajah tuanku. Berilah makanannya."
- Hikayat Aceh 127:7 "... this king's elephant. The king asked it to be treated by the elephant [bo]moh. Give it food."
- Midwifery And The Medicalization Of Childbirth: Comparative Perspectives By Edwin Van Teijlingen, George W. Lowis, Peter McCaffery
- A Dictionary of Malayan Medicine, ISBN 0-19-638149-5
- Hikayat Aceh