Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I Heard The Owl Call My Name

“I Heard The Owl Call My Name” is a novel by Margaret Craven in 1967. It is believed that when one hears an owl calls his/her name; death is near. Likewise in Southeast Asia regions, any disembodied voice calling one’s name also brings death.


Local folks believe jungle and mountains are haunted places and they should be paid with due respects. There are some taboos that whoever wanted to venture into a jungle or mountain must observe. Whoever breaks these taboos may find him/her trapped in jungles for a long time and this person may not return to civilization again. Ali, my retired local forest ranger friend once told me rules of engagement once I followed him on a jungle tracking trip:


·         One must not horseplay on entering a jungle. If one doesn’t respect the jungle, then the jungle will not respect the person.

·         It is good to bring some offerings such as tobacco, pop rice or burn some coconut husk.

·         If a person smells fragrance or foul smell, he/she must keep silent as this means there is a spiritual presence around. If one speaks out, then the spirits of the wild may play a trick on this person and cause him/her to lose his/her ways in the wilderness.

·         Likewise if one sees an apparition he/she should also keep quiet. Ali and I had seen a white figure with long hair flown across our tents while we were camping in jungle at night. When I wanted open my mouth to ask Ali about the creature, he just gave me a stare and hinted that I should not ask about what we have just seen.

·         If the person is in a group, he/she must address his/her partners by the partners’ nickname only. For the mountain spirits once learnt of a person’s real name, they may steal the person’s soul by calling his/her name; with the condition that the person responded to the call.


My late grandpa was a rubber tapper in Kuala Kangsar, Perak after migrating from mainland China in the 1940s. His first house was situated in the middle of a rubber plantation at the edge of virgin jungle about half a century ago. I can barely remember that it was up to the early 80s, there were no electricity and water supply; so you can imagine how remote his house was then. Besides tapping rubber trees, my grandpa also helped people to chop down trees as firewood.


Whenever I visited grandpa and grandma, I like to sit beside them as they would tell me their own experiences living in the jungle like environment after dinner. Well, there weren’t too many things to do under the candle lights but to listen to the grandmother’s stories.


Grandpa gave me many advices concerning old Chinese taboos and amongst one is as the above last point:


“Don’t answer to any voice that calls your name at night, in the open!”


Below is grandpa’s story:


There are many tree spirits around the old house. These tree spirits wanted to get rid of grandpa because grandpa has chopped down many trees. So, one night one of the tree spirits came to the front door and call, “Grandpa, grandpa! The mountain god is calling you!”

Apparently grandpa didn’t dare to answer his call as he knew that was the tree sprit seeking revenge. Had grandpa answered the call, grandpa would die soon…


Likewise, people believed that a hospital is another place that one shouldn’t answer to any disembodied call as there are too many dead souls in any hospitals that want to seek a ‘replacement body’ (替身). Similarly, that explains why all those who committed suicide by falling from buildings would fall to death at the same spot.


Mrs. Wong is one of my customers and she has told me her own experience after surviving the enchantment of death:


My hubby, Wong was in debt for a few millions after a bad business investment. At the same time, I had fallen ill and bedridden in a hospital. The living of the whole family depended on my daughter alone. I wanted to die in the hope to relieve my daughter’s burden.


One night, I was flip and turn in my bed and just couldn’t fall asleep. Suddenly I heard a voice calling my name. I answered and I automatically got out of my bed and walked towards the direction of the call where I saw a young lady was waving her hands at me. So I just walked straight at her.


At the same time, the scene of debtors, daughter crying, voices scolding me and blaming me for causing difficulties to my family; if I die, then their burden would be alleviated and they would also get a handsome payment from insurance…


I could only feel that there was a cold breeze indicating that as if I was at a certain height. The young lady as if floated in the mid air continued to tell me, “If you jump down, all your problems would be solved. Only if you jump down, all the troubles would be gone; only if you jump…”


Though I wasn’t myself, I continue to walk forward…


Suddenly, a cleaner yanked me down from the edge of the roof, at that time I was just a step away from falling to my death!


Had it not for the cleaner, I would have been the 3rd person falling on the same spot!”


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