To grow up in Malaysia is to be surrounded by taboos and superstitions. Living in Europe now, my friends can’t stop laughing when I tell them about the things that we weren’t allowed to do. We were severely warned against stepping on the remains of burnt candles on the side of the road because the spirits would come looking for us. My European friends wanted to know why there were candles littering the streets in the first place. Our parents never let us roam cemeteries at night while my friends here let their kids zoom about the graveyards with their little plastic tractors. We weren’t allowed to stare at the full moon because rumour had it that the back of your ear would split open (gross, I know) and the Europeans sit outside romantically watching the full moon with their lovers (oh, now I get it. That’s why we weren’t allowed to).
Every culture has its superstitions. Brooms, spilt salt, ladders and black cats: all items pulled over the centuries into the conspiracy of our forefathers. Some are quite logical while others make you wonder how we evolved in the first place. Below are my personal “favourites”:
1. Do not leave your clothes to dry outside overnight as wandering spirits will attach themselves to said garments and take over personality of owner (oh man, I can’t even stand ONE of some people.)
2. Never whistle during a night time stroll or the spirits will follow you home.
3. Men should never peer at a woman’s underwear for this will bring about bad luck (yes, probably in the shape of a good beating)
4. If you step on poo, good luck will come your way (well, it can’t get any worse, can it?)
5. When eating, never point a fork or knife at someone as the other person will have an accident (like your cutlery jabbing them in the eye)
6. It’s bad luck to open an umbrella in the house (another eye injuring possibility)
7. Never swim in the sea at night or the ghosts will get you.
I can already see my nieces and nephews quivering. I’m usually shivering along with them, especially if the taboos have anything to do with hospitals.
So why do we believe in so many illogical things and still strut about boasting our technological advancements?
“…Wanting more control or certainty is the driving force behind most superstitions. We tend to look for some kind of a rule, or an explanation for why things happen. "Sometimes the creation of a false certainty is better than no certainty at all, and that is what much of the research suggests," says Stuart Vyse, PhD.”—Sarah Albert, ‘The Psychology of Superstition’, http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/psychology-of-superstition
I just avoid ladders and clipping my nails at night because I was raised in a culture where fear preceded all need of certainty. We adhered because we were just too scared of the consequences. No one wants to be accused of bringing a stray ghost home with you.
As a storyteller, I personally love the existence of superstitions and cultural taboos because it proves that no matter how many people we send to the moon or how much thinner our flat screens become, there will always be someone screaming, “Finish your rice or your future husband’s face will look like your plate!”
Ah, our colourful, unpredictable world: a maze of psycho-debris and sporadic enlightenment for some, a goldmine of inspiration for others.