Selung/Moken - Religion



Religious Beliefs. Traditional animistic beliefs are allied to Malaysian Orang Asli ideology. Islamic, Christian, and Buddhist beliefs have filtered into the belief systems of local groups to varying degrees. Moken of Mergui are the only group Islam has not penetrated. Orang Laut range from nominal Muslims who continue to eat pork and do not fast during Ramadan to more conservative Muslims.

Nineteenth-century missionaries and government officers recorded Mergui Moken belief in a spirit called Thooda (Thida), which Carrapiett argues derives from the Thai Theoda. A more widespread belief is in good and malicious spirits. Spirits are thought to cause illness and death, storms, thunder and lightning, or provide food and protection from other spirits. Moken believe that spirits require propitiation with food and drink left at temples and carved spirit posts.


Religious Practitioners. Shamans lead ceremonies; they communicate with and make offerings to spirits and exorcise illness from the sick. Shamanic ability is not inherited. Women may become shamans. Sorcerers are believed to be capable of causing sickness and death.


Ceremonies. Reminiscent of B'sisi' and Jah Hut on the Malay Peninsula, Orang Laut shamans pull pain spirits from the sick and lure them into carved figures that are disposed of later. Moken have an annual ceremony for which a number of neighboring boat groups come together to "feed the spirits" and ask for good health and a good year's sea harvest.

Medicine. Nineteenth-century reports of Moken all mention the decimating effects of cholera and smallpox on Moken populations. Illness and death are believed to be caused by evil spirits who enter a body through a wound. The shaman holds healing ceremonies in which he or she enters a trance and calls for spiritual help in bringing about a cure. Sick people propitiate spirits and ask for good health at the annual festival. Midwives assist in the birthing process. There is no ceremony following birth. Mothers name their newborn without ceremony.

Death and Afterlife. Souls go to the east but evil spirits remain near the grave. Moken fear evil spirits so cemeteries are located on an out-of-the-way island. The traditional method of disposal was to place the corpse on a four-post platform wrapped with bamboo sticks; boat owners were buried in their boats, which were cut in half. The boat then became part of the grave goods, which also included the individual's personal possessions. By 1850 platform burials were abandoned for burial on the beach.

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