Excerpt from Traverama magazine, June 2007
By Amie Xu
The fishermen of this region have a number of superstitions. One of them is not wearing anything green when going out to sea because green is the royal colour of the Spirits of the Sea. Another is to touch the water when arriving at a fishing spot, and asking permission from the Spirits before throwing in the net. Other superstitions include ritual bath ceremonies, sacred offerings, and even worship to the Spirits of the Sea. While most, if not all of these sacraments are no longer practiced in Malaysia today, one particular myth has evolved into a cultural dance masterpiece. It tells the story of man’s encounter with the Spirits of the Sea. This is the legend of the Ulik Mayang.
The story of this dance began a long time ago. According to legend, a band of fishermen living on an island off the coast of Terengganu went out to sea one evening to catch fish. They rowed their sampans (narrow wooden boats) far out to sea where suddenly, they encountered a terrible storm. The wind blew unnaturally from every direction and waves crashed into all their sampans. All the fishermen were tossed violently into the sea, where each of them struggled to keep their heads above the water and swam with great difficulty towards the shore. Eventually, they tired out and submitted themselves to the mercy of the raging waves. A stormy night passed and the next day, the bodies of the fishermen washed up to the shore. Miraculously, the fishermen woke up one after another, thankful to be alive. Almost all that is. One fisherman remained in a deep state of unconsciousness. He remained motionless, as if dead. The other fishermen were saddened by this, as he was a great friend of theirs. They suspected that while physically he was on the beach, his soul might have been enticed to wander into the another world. And so they summoned a bomoh (shaman) to bring their friend back. The bomoh prepared...