“Do you know about the Datuk Gong?”
“Sure I know la, I’m Chinese ma. Datuk is a Chinese deity lo.”
A common misconception held by most Malaysians is that the Datuk Gong is just another regular Chinese deity. In actual fact, most Datuks are considered Malay Muslim spirits. There are also Chinese, Indian, Siamese and even Orang Asli Datuks present and they are all considered independent from the Chinese pantheon of gods. The function and position of the Datuk varies across communities but his position as the spirit of the land remains the backbone of the belief.
One temple I visited claimed that the Datuk is a medicine man who hopes to continue healing people, even after death. Manifesting himself through a medium, he would help people with ailments by giving out herbs, medicine and guidance. In some cases the Datuk is included incorporated within the Taoist belief as ‘Captains’ under the direction of a higher ranking General.
In most Chinese temples, the Datuk is almost always outside of the main building, either on a small altar of his own or a small shrine on the ground. Only in temples dedicated solely to the spirit will the idol or tablet be placed at the main altar.
Pictured above is a Datuk Gong shrine located just outside a large temple dedicated to the patron saint of wealth and virtue, Tua Pek Kong or Dabogong. The temple guardian explains that it is the duty of the Datuk to police the area and keep the community in check while reporting to the Tua Pek Kong.