Believing in magic

Here’s a true story, just related to me today over a coffee at my kitchen table.

The woman chatting to me has recently had a medical problem diagnosed (after an CT scan and ultrasound) as kidney stones, and is due to go for laser treatment in the local hospital here in Selangor. Her close relative, however, said he knows a very good traditional medicine man (bomoh), and why doesn’t she try him first for some non-invasive treatment, especially as he is renowned for his treatment of kidney stones.

Having a “try anything” attitude, she said OK, and off they went to visit the bomoh in Durian Tunggal, Malacca. Her first shock was the number of people lining up to see him. So many that he had a “Take a number” system. He was giving out between 50 to 70 numbers a day, 5 days a week, and sometimes there was more than one person to a number. The fee was a “donation”. The woman and her relative both paid 20RM (about $US6 or $AUD8 each).

Do the arithmetic. The guy is earning considerably more than my husband who has a Ph.D in science.

So the bomoh asks the woman what’s the matter, she explains and he cautions her not to have the laser treatment because it is dangerous. In other words, he is actively advising her to go against her doctor’s advice. He then massages the area over the kidneys and produces, one after the other, three “kidney stones” which he gives to her. Problem solved, no need to go for that pesky hospital visit.

Woman – highly suspicious – phones her doctor and asks to have another ultrasound. He very kindly doesn’t scold her and obliging sets one up. Of course, the kidney stones are still there, and woman is still scheduled for her laser treatment.

I dunno why I write stories about magic (which stories no one believes for a minute) and get paid so little. I should be setting up a bomoh clinic, have everyone believing in my magic, and earn a fortune at the same time (apparently immune from the law too, on the grounds of…what? Traditional cultural practices of cheating the public are sacrosanct?).

This man is a menace. He is a crook. He is ripping off the gullible public and possibly putting people in danger at the same time by persuading them to avoid medical treatment. Why is he allowed to practice? Why on earth do people believe in this crap?


Believing in magic — 11 Comments

  1. Because science is evil and Western! (Nevermind the fact that modern medicine has its roots in the Islamic world…)

    I’m curious what those stones the bomoh produced looked like.

  2. Less ideologically based…surgery is scary, and the average person will jump through hoops to avoid it! It isn’t logical, but even otherwise intelligent people can convince themselves of what they WANT to believe.

    (yes, I know that’s a convoluted sentence, but I’m tired, ok??)

  3. Ted – I asked the same thing. She said they looked like bits of worn coral from the beach…

    Some kidney stones are made of calcium. Hard corals are calcium carbonate skeletons… hmm – maybe he has some rudimentary science this fella?

    Joanny – yep.

    Alex – double yep. You and I ought to use that as our mantra.

  4. I agree with Joanna, people are scared of surgery and in many cases lack of education makes that worse. A lot of cures can be effected by these people when they are psychosomatic – if you believe it, it happens. I have always believed many illnesses are caused by oneself.

    I’m not explaining this well. Sorry

  5. May be is it because people wants to believe in things they don’t understand, something unusual. Some not rational things wich may balance in their mind the disease they do understand so much. Something of that kind.


  6. Trouble is Gynie, wanting to believe and convincing yourself to believe are in fact very dumb things to do when it comes to your health in particular.

  7. Illness can be a scary thing, and professional medical help expensive. So I can understand people being willing to give the bomoh a try if he has a good reputation. That of course doesn’t excuse the man for being a charlatan and a crook, exploiting people’s fears and vulnerability.

    Is there not some procedure within the religious or cultural system for denouncing false prophets and false bomohs? (given that they appear to have laws for damning just about anybody else that they want to…)

  8. What is a crime or not a crime in this country is sometimes baffling.

    You can get arrested under a law designed for traitors and terrorists simply because you suggest that a loudspeaker beamed into surrounding houses is a tad too loud. And please don’t ask me to elucidate more – I could be arrested.

    Pretend you know about medicine and can cure people is fine as long as you don’t ASK to be paid but just wait for people to make you filthy rich with donations, and – as an added protection against the law – it is probably advisable to pretend to do it in God’s name, and be conspicuously present at the house of worship of the mainstream religion.

    The moment there is a whiff of something not quite kosher (to mix up the religious metaphor), you are probably doomed. It is sooooo easy to be a con artist in the land of the gullible, and who is more gullible than the deeply religious? Mess with their health and they will pay you with thanks and praise you to the skies throughout the land; deviate from their religious rites and you are doomed.

    Curiously enough, this man is visited by people of all religions and cultural groups.

  9. Can't blame those who are skeptical on the hidden side of the spirit dimensions-sometimes there are quack doctors & there really are energy & spiritual healers. Please do not criticise as yet, do more search & validate (time to wake up)

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