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  • *Picture was taken at an exhibition of women artists in the University of Malaya Dewan Tunku Canselor's foyer in 2013. No, that's not how Malay princesses look like unless they are going for some kind of cosplay event.

    Traditional healing practices of the Malays in the olden days often invoked supernatural elements to assist in healing. The Malays in the east coast of the peninsula have a ritual called Main Puteri (literally translated as Playing with the Princess / Princess Play / The Princess Ritual). During the ritual, the Seven Princesses of the South China Sea are summoned to help heal the sick, usually someone who has lost his/her semangat by the medicine man. This condition is hard to describe; I think it's a kind of post traumatic stress syndrome, as it is usually observed after some kind of dramatic event affecting the patient, like an accident or a severe illness. The patient is often listless, shivers non-stop even when it's warm, lost all appetite and plagued with unnerving visions and night terrors. With the advent of modern medicine and the rise of a more conservative Islamic influence in the peninsula, this ritual is no longer practiced with any regularity except as a cultural exhibition in the form of a dance.

    When I was in Form Two (14 years old), the Cultural Club in my school had performed the dance of this ritual for the annual cultural show at the end of the school year. It was pretty authentic, what with the Javanese frankincense and coconut flower and other items used in the original ritual. My classroom was the closest to the school hall where they practiced and I could hear the song for the dance over and over again until I could sing it myself.

    If you are interested to hear the song that is sung during the ritual; you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52BOUGmjroc.

    The Cultural Club have begun practicing for the event even before and during the exams. It was during one of the papers that the first inexplicable incidents happened. We were arranged in alphabetical order during the exam and I was seated at the back of the class right against the wall. For some strange reason the teacher, Mme. Alainal Hasani, kept coming around to where I was sitting, and giving me such intent looks. After several times of her looking over my shoulder, I looked up to her and inquired politely, "Yes, Teacher?" in hope of putting an end to her disconcerting hovering. She simply murmured, "Nothing ... nothing ... carry on ..." and went back pacing around the class. But still she kept loitering around my seat.

    After the paper was over and we were all discussing about how badly we must have screwed up the exam, a friend who was sitting at the front of the class asked me, "Hey, were you singing just now during the exam?". She eyed me with great suspicion when I indignantly said no. Soon after a few more classmates who were seated near her asked me the same question and all were giving me skeptical looks when I denied such a thing.

    Finally one of them said that they had heard someone singing softly at the back of the class. They couldn't pinpoint exactly where the singing came from except that it was from my direction. Funnily enough, none of us who were seated at the back heard anything. It was a feminine voice, soft and sweet, singing without any accompaniment. The words were indistinct, but they clearly heard a woman singing at the back of the classroom.

    The second mysterious event was when my class monitor, Jasmine, went to the washroom. Our washroom was on the first floor though our classroom was on the ground floor. She came back from the washroom, pale and breathing hard, begging for someone to keep her company while she peed. According to her, she had just entered the stall that was designated for our class when she heard the door to the next stall slam shut. She thought nothing of it until the smell of frankincense wafted to her. When she came out of the stall, she found no one else in the washroom with her, but the smoky fragrance of the Javanese frankincense grew stronger. Freaked out, she hurriedly left without completing her objective. When she finally persuaded someone to come along with her to the washroom, only faint traces of the frankincense scent remained. I joked that the smell was probably better than the original smell of the water closet.

    The much anticipated Cultural Night finally arrived. It was only during events such as this that outsiders were allowed into our school, a tightly regulated all-girls mission school established by Franciscan nuns. I did not attend the concert since I wasn't keen on coming back to school at night. The Monday after it was over, the school was abuzz with the weird things that happened during the concert. Some people saw traditionally dressed ladies floating over the school field, giggling. There were others who smelled bunga melur while they were in the washroom all by themselves. Some said that they could hear another voice singing over the taped music of the ritual dance.

    That week was punctuated with several incidents of hysteria in my school. Out of the blue, one girl would start screaming. The screaming seemed to be infectious as soon after one began, another will follow. Luckily, none of my classmates were affected, but we could hear the hysterical sobbing from the upper floors and across the block on at least two separate episodes.

    Those who went to the Art Room kept hearing the piano being played in an aggressive manner in the music room next to it. We no longer have music lessons and the Music Room was unused except perhaps by the band girls during practice. No one knew who were tickling the ivories. Washroom visits became a paired activity, no one was willing to go by themselves.

    These funny events stopped by the next week. Word out was that someone was summoned to help "cleanse" the school over the weekend. The person who came to do the cleansing explained that when the Cultural Club were performing the dance ritual, it was so authentic that the performers had successfully called the Seven Princesses of South China Sea to come over the Titiwangsa range. Unfortunately, they didn't perform the closure of the ritual correctly; the princesses did not go home and had instead, hung about the school and agitated the girls who were susceptible to being "disturbed".

    There are many skeptics out there who deny the existence of the supernatural among us who could explain away all the events I described above. Perhaps it was just a collective hysteria that made us see, hear and smell things during that time. One would think that someone who have received scientific training like me would scoff at such fantastical stories. However, I hesitate to deny the possibility that there are things out there that have yet to be detected and measured by our instruments; which for now, goes under the category of "funny things". After all, once upon a time electricity was considered as a mysterious element, right?
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