The religious belief of the Datuk Keramat worship can be found in Malaysia, Singapore and along the Strait of Malacca. It is a fusion of pre-Islamic spirit belief, Sufi saint worship and Chinese folk religion.
According to local legends, all Datuks were once humans who had a standing in society either for their position or special attributes. They could have been an important leader, a renowned healer, a silat warrior, a pious man or even a shaman. Upon their death, locals and their followers would sometimes offer prayers at their gravestones, in line with the concept of keramat. With the arrival of Chinese immigrants who carried along with them the Confucian belief of ancestor worship, both practices converged and formed a new micro-culture as observed today. Datuks, referred to in Chinese as Na Tuk Kong (earth spirits), is considered a localised form in worship of the spirit of the land, along with Tu Di Gong.
Around the Malaysian countryside some small, yellow-coloured painted shrines by the roadside or under a tree can be found, and these shrines are usually worshipped by the residents living around the neighbourhood. The shrines are normally of a fusion Chinese-Malay design, with Islamic elements such as the crescent moon decorations. Inside the simple room, a small, decorated statue is venerated, depicting the datuk. Around the statue offerings are brought, sometimes on a small altar in front of the datuk statue.
One belief is that there are a total of nine types of Datuks, and that each of them were once great warriors and expert in Malay local martial arts, the Silat except for the last Datuk. They were also known to possess great magical powers. Worshippers usually pray to Datuks for protection, good health, and good luck, and sometimes seek divine help to overcome their problems.
Below are the nine Datuks named according to their seniority from the eldest to the youngest:
1. Datuk Panglima Ali (Ali)
2. Datuk Panglima Hitam (Black)
3. Datuk Panglima Harimau (Tiger)
4. Datuk Panglima Hijau (Green)
5. Datuk Panglima Kuning (Yellow)
6. Datuk Panglima Putih (White)
7. Datuk Panglima Bisu (Mute)
8. Datuk Panglima Merah (Red)
9. Datuk Panglima Bongsu (Youngest)
The structure of Datuk worship is diversified according to localities. For example, in the old quarters of Georgetown, the presence of The Seven Brothers or Tujuh Beradik is common while in the royal town of Klang in Selangor, most of the spirits worshipped are believed to be members of the royal court (Sultans, officers, warriors etc.), each with their own unique identity.
Worshippers usually offer fresh flowers, sireh (betelnuts), rokok daun (local hand rolled cigarettes), sliced pinang (areca nuts) and local fruits. An important part of the praying ritual is also to burn some kemenyan (benzoin - made of a local gum tree, when burnt will emit a smoky fragrant smell).
If their prayers are answered, the worshippers usually return to the shrine and make offerings or hold a kenduri (feast). Another common practise is for individuals to renovate the shrines to create a better looking shrine for the Datuk. In most places where there is a heavy presence of Datuk spirits, it is common to see shrines becoming larger over time, especially if individuals consider the Datuk to be 'powerful'.
The kenduri items usually consist of yellow saffron rice, lamb or chicken curries, vegetables, pisang rastali (bananas), young coconuts, rose syrup, cherrots (local cigars) and local fruits.
Pork items are considered impure and are therefore totally forbidden in a shrine; visitors are also asked to not show disrespect when inside or around a shrine.
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