Why Are Malaysians So Superstitious? | The Full Frontal

Why Are Malaysians So Superstitious?

I remember when I was around 11 years old and just got back from playing in the dirt with my friends and found a snake in a bush beside my mum’s car. I thought it looked pretty so I brought it back home. 

My mum wasn’t angry so much that I was dirty, more so that I brought in a snake. At first, I thought it was because she thought it was dangerous or something, but I was wrong. She believed very firmly that bringing serpents in the house was bad luck and screamed at me to throw it away. 

Nowadays it’s a different story. I find myself sort of implementing the same thing my parents had told me when I was younger. Some superstitious beliefs were drilled into my head for so long that even I have started to believe them.

But it can’t all be that bad, yeah?

What’s Up With Old People and Superstitions?

a girl singing and an old person proposing
How can singing in the kitchen determine who I marry? Source from Youtube

Where did this belief of superstitions originate from, actually? Who was the first person who thought of all these weird events and related them to your normal life and thought it all made sense? To be fair, though, some of its a little bit ridiculous, no? 

Like when you’re having a conversation with someone and you hear a cicak making noise; it means what you’re saying is true. I thought all cicaks made noises? Or the one where you shouldn’t sit on pillows or you’ll get boils on your butt.

Turns out, most of these superstitions are just something to scare you from doing things your parents are scared of. Having a snake in the house is just because you’re bringing in predators in a place where you sleep. They’re just unpredictable creatures and hunt for a living. Why can’t you just get a cat or a hamster, like everyone else?

The thing is, the origin of superstitions came from logical thought processes, but maybe they just found that advice is taken in a lot better when you scare people?

Should We Continue Believing in Them or Let Them Die Off?

a man with a lot of superstition in his path
Some of the superstitions are just too ridiculous to continue believing. Source from KPOP Foods

In some ways, although we consider some superstitions to be ridiculous and in some religions, syirk (sin of idolatry or polytheism). Some superstitions aren’t even scary, they’re more annoying in their ridiculousness. But there still are a few superstitions that leave us in a cold sweat when we’re faced with it.

These are just usually used by people older than us as a scare tactic to get us to listen to them. You’re lying if you tell me that none of them stick with you even as you grow older. I’m almost in my 30s and some of these still freak me out. I may not 100% believe in them but I have found myself thinking about them before doing something questionable. 

Like a few weeks ago, after a hard day’s work, I went home late. By the time I had finished showering and dried my hair, it was well past midnight. But I remembered my grandmother mentioning that you shouldn’t ever brush your hair past 12am because a ghost is just waiting to hang on to your hair.

Did I think it was all just nonsense? Yes. Did I want to prove that saying wrong by brushing my hair anyway? No.

I don’t know the logic behind it but seeing as I was tired and afraid, I slept with uncombed hair. Waking up with tangled hair was rough but at least I didn’t get possessed? 

They’re Scary, But… Helpful?

Some superstitions are silly and harmless. Others are just plain scary and something you’re not really willing to test out. Here are some that may haunt you even though you’re a grown adult who knows better:

1. Don’t Whistle, Especially At Night
Whistling itself is a bad habit, but pairing it with ghosts? Source from Culture Trip

According to Muslims, whistling, in general, is frowned upon because it is said to shake the walls of heaven. At least that’s what I was told by my dad growing up. But for Asians in general, whistling, especially during nighttime, is bad luck because it means you’re inviting evil spirits to follow you home.

I would like to think that the logic behind saying this is that when you’re walking home while you’re whistling, it just attracts attention to yourself and would most likely cause you danger. Especially if you’re walking home by yourself. I’m not talking about ghosts, though. People can be hantu too!

2. Don’t Play Hide and Seek At Night
playing hide and seek
There’s always someone else that’s uninvited playing with you. Source from The SmartLocal

This is mainly said to kids who are misbehaving or refuse to sleep. I remember my grandmother used to say this to us when we visited her and wanted to play in the garden even after dark. She said that if we played hide and seek after maghrib, hantu tetek would hide us under her enormous boobs and our parents would never see us again.

It’s a little bit funny when I think back on it as an adult. But I’m still scared of hantu tetek to this day. I haven’t been playing hide and seek for 20 years but most of my cousins have kids now, and they’re starting to want to play actual games like “Lompat Getah” and “Ting Ting” rather than LEGOs.

3. Take Precaution When In The Woods
monster in woods
When you’re out in the woods, don’t stray from the track. Source from Culture Trip

If you’re a person who likes the outdoors and is constantly looking for places to hike or take your family on a stroll, there are still precautions you need to take. The woods, like any other place, although barren of humans are still said to be home to some form of entity.

When you’re in the woods, you shouldn’t play around too much and joke about getting lost because that would most likely happen. 

You also shouldn’t take anything from the jungle and bring it back home. It isn’t yours to keep. There’s not really a logical reason behind this other than believing that we humans share this earth and land with other beings as well, and sometimes we may wander into their territory. So, it’s better not to keep things you find in the jungle as souvenirs.

4. Don’t Write Your Name In Red Ink 
red ink
But what if you’re a teacher and your whole life is red ink? Source from Culture Trip

I’ve been told that writing your name in red ink causes death — your death. I heard it when I was in third grade and wanted to write my name with a red coloured pencil. I liked the colour but was stopped by my friend because her mum told her it’s bad luck to write in red. 

This superstition could have stemmed from the Chinese culture of writing a deceased person’s name on the family register in red ink, or it could have come from the system of having prisoners sign their names in red ink before they were executed.

5. Don’t Sleep In Groups Of Three (or do anything in threes, really)
If this is how they sleep, then they probably deserve it. Source from Pinterest

It’s said that if there are three people on the bed with you, the one in the middle will die. I’m not sure where this superstition came from because it doesn’t seem to stem from anywhere — anywhere that was logical, that is.

But it could be linked to the ones that say you shouldn’t take pictures in threes because the fourth person would be jealous. I don’t know what that says about sleeping arrangements, though.

It’s like the poem that adults used to say when we were kids that goes “yang tepi aku titih, yang tengah aku mamah.” It can’t just be my childhood, can it? I’m not going to discover that I’ve been pranked by my own parents after 28 years, right?

To Believe or To Not Believe, That Is The Question 

In the end, it all depends on what you want to keep on believing. Some of these just act as a moral compass for us to keep being the good people our parents raised us to be. *side eye emoji*

Others are just brought forward to scare the next generation like how we were also scared. 

Another thing that was made to scare us are urban legends. You’ve heard of those, right? Like the lady in the red kebaya that walks along the path of a highway looking for a ride home. Or that Volkswagen that drives itself on Karak highway. 

If you’d like to know more about Malaysian urban legends, check out:

Urban Legends of Malaysia: When Life Imitates Art?

urban legends feat
Do the scary stories we tell in the dark hide a sinister truth in life? | Source