After more than a month of paperwork and social networking to get the word out on our Indiegogo campaign, we are finally back on the road. This time we paid a visit again to the unique Lian He temple in Klang to witness their regular consultation session. We arrived much earlier so we could get some insert shots of Klang town.
We spent a few hours in the shop, witnessing an artist put the final touches on the many idols available at the shop. The owners of the business were kind enough to let us shoot whatever we wanted around the shop which, I must say, is quite rare compared to most of the business premises we have visited in the past. It was an interesting experience, almost meditative, to be surrounded by rows and rows of idols wrapped in plastic while the careful paint strokes of the artist gave a unique trait to all the idols.
The traditional method of crafting the idols was markedly different from how it was being made here. The spirit, through a medium, would ‘prescribe’ a yellow paper with inscriptions on it to the craftsman. After burning the paper, the craftsman would then dream of the Datuk and craft a statue out of blocks of wood in his image. Sculpting and painting the idol would take weeks and sometimes months, depending on the complexity of the design.
The modern method is fast and efficient. Fiberglass models are cast with only slight variations in design. Idols are purchased off the shelf just like in a supermarket. It is interesting to note that in Klang, representing the Datuk in the form of an idol is still preferred over an ancestral tablet, unlike larger cities such as KL, PJ or Penang.
We stopped by for a quick dinner before the consultation session began at 9pm sharp.
As we approached the temple, a long line was already beginning to form. Many of them locals, it was clear that this was a regular affair. Parents were there with their children, business owners with favours to ask, old people with illness and the gamblers hoping for a lucky number. The medium went into a trance and donned a songkok (Malay traditional headgear) before addressing the line. For those with illness, the Datuk gave out blessed sirih leaves with specific instructions.
A woman even came forward to ask the Datuk to ‘check’ if the property she is about to purchase is lucky and for help in making her debtors pay up. For those looking for a lucky number, the Datuk wrote a charm on their palm before scribbling , which one would assume to be numbers, on a yellow paper shrouded under a black flag. At the end of the line, our producer went up to ask the Datuk his name and origins, to which he replied “Datuk Tun Mustapha” and that he has been here for a very long time.
A young Malay boy also came up to me with questions of his own.
“Bang, dia tu orang Melayu ke?”
“Takder la, dia orang Cina.”
“Dah tu, kenapa dia pakai baju Melayu?”
“Sebab Datuk tu Melayu kot.”
“Hah!? Datuk tu Melayu? Siapa nama dia?”
“Patung besar tu nama dia Datuk Haji Keramat.”
“Bro, is he a Malay guy? (referring to the medium)”
“No, he’s a Chinese.”
“Then why is he wearing a baju Melayu?”
“Perhaps because the Datuk is a Malay.”
“Huh? The Datuk is a Malay? What’s his name?”
“The big idol goes by the name Datuk Haji Keramat.”
The surprised look on his face was priceless although he soon lost interest when he found out that we were not shooting for Astro.
After the session, two of the uncles asked if we would like to have a drink. One of them was the assistant to the medium and the other I could not recognize. The other uncle was telling us many stories though I had to rely on translation to understand bits of it.
On our way back to PJ, I casually asked my producer about the conversation earlier:
“The uncle we spoke to earlier was the assistant right? Who was the other uncle?”
“What do you mean? He was the medium.”
Admittedly, I was very surprised. I documented the session for more than an hour and yet I could not recognize the medium when he was standing right in front of me. Was it the clothes he was wearing or something much more, I honestly could not say.
Research and documentation for the Datuk Gong: Spirit of the Land feature documentary continues with more fieldwork in various parts of the country. Follow our blog for regular updates on the progress of the project or join the hype on our Facebook page.