Malay Magic

Reprint 24
Malay Magic: Being an Introduction to the Folklore and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsula
By Walter William Skeat
764pp. Size: 146x222mm. Hardcover

A century and more has passed since Walter Skeat (1866-1953) wrote his monumental Malay Magic as an ethnographic record of rural Malay life in Selangor, as he had observed it in the 1890s. During that interval social anthropology, which was in its infancy when Skeat was at work, has passed through major developments or theoretical analysis of field data. But Skeat's book has stood the test of time and has indeed become a classic which has already been reprinted more than once.

Skeat designed his book as a description of the Malay world-view and of techniques - Malay magic - for dealing with its uncertainties. He begins with the Malay traditional picture of the world, the creation of it and Man's place in it (Chapters 1-3). Then comes an account (Chapter 4) of the supernatural beings with whom the Malay villager, often using the services of the local magician (pawang), had to deal, in order to conciliate or even manipulate them. After putting Malay village life in this context of tradition and belief, Skeat comes to his main subjects, which take up about three quarters of his main text. Chapter 5 describes the rituals for coping with the forces, sometimes anthropomorphic, of nature, and Chapter 6 is a long description of Malay life from birth to marriage and finally death, with the amusements, sports, warfare and divination that make up its texture. Thus Malay Magic extends widely over the Malay way of life as it was in Selangor villages of the 1890s.

Although he lived a busy working life, Skeat made time, often into the night after a day's work, to question and observe Malay informants, writing careful notes on what he had learnt. He attended many ceremonies and collected artefacts, many of them illustrated in this book. He recognised the importance of verbal expression of ideas and practices, and has an appendix of almost a hundred pages giving the formulae, charms, invocations and popular chants used in connection with particular rituals.

This MBRAS reprint contains the complete and unabridged text of Skeat's book, with an introduction by J.M. Gullick, a formidable authority on Malayan studies, and an appendix that makes available for the first time the extensive notes made by Skeat, as he read and corresponded over the half century by which he outlived the first publication of the book. For his convenience he recorded this additional material by annotating a copy of his book, and these notes are here presented separately but in such a way that the reader may see what passages these notes - mainly additions - relate to without intruding directly upon the original text.

About the Author:

Walter William Skeat was the son of the Rev. Walter William Skeat,the Elder (1835-1912), a professor of Anglo Saxon at the University of Cambridge. Educated first at Highgate School, Skeat entered Christ's College (Cambridge) in 1884, where he took the Classical Tripos, graduating in 1888, the same year that the promising young scholar was awarded the Sir William Browne Medal for Greek Epigram. In May 1891, Skeat joined the Selangor Civil Service, and thereafter acted as District Officer in the Klang, Ulu Langat and Kuala Langat districts of Selangor successively. In 1898, he was promoted District Magistrate, Larut (Perak). Following an exhausting but remarkable expedition to the Siamese-controlled northeastern Malay States in 1899, Skeat became so ill that he was forced to resign his post and leave Malaya in early 1900. In 1914, Skeat took up the Studeley Lectureship at the British Museum and held the post till his retirement in 1934. For his valuable contribution in the field of Malayan studies, Skeat was made an Honorary Member of the MBRAS in 1951. He died after a short illness in London in July 1953 at the ripe old age of 86.


Introduction by J.M Gullick

  1. Nature
  2. a. Creationof the World
    b. Natural Phenomena

  3. Man and his Place in the Universe
  4. a. Creation of Man
    b. Sactity of the Body
    c. The Soul
    d. Animal, Vegetable and Mineral Souls

  5. Relations with the Supernatual World
  6. a. The Magician
    b. High Places
    c. Nature of Rites

  7. The Malay Pantheon
  8. a. Gods
    b. Spirits, Demons, and Ghosts

  9. Magic Rites Connected with the Several Department of Nature
  10. a. Air — 1. Wind and Weather Charms; 2. Birds and Bird Charms
    b. Earth — 1. Building Ceremonies and Charms; 2. Beasts and Beast Charms; 3. Vegetation Charms; 4. Minerals and Mining Charms
    c. Water — 1. Purification by Water; 2. The Sea, Rivers and Streams; 3. Reptile and Reptile Charms; 4. Fishing Ceremonies
    d. Fire — 1. Production of Fire; 2. Fire Charms

  11. Magic Rites as Affecting the Life of Man
  12. a. Birth-Spirits
    b. Birth Ceremonies
    c. Adolescence
    d. Personal Ceremonies and Charms
    e. Betrothal
    f. Marriage
    g. Funerals
    h. Medicine
    i. Dances, Sports, and Games
    j. Theatrical Exhibitions
    k. War and Weapons
    l. Divination and the Black Art

Notes on the word Kramat
List of Chief Authorities Quoted
Appendix with W.W. Skeat's Annotations
List of Illustrations

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