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Saturday February 10, 2007

Needles & thread

Feel like a doormat? Look like a hag? For some people, the solution is susuk, the ancient art of implanting foreign objects under the skin to make a person more alluring. But is it real or merely an illusion? 

It is almost midnight on a weekday, yet there are no fewer than seven people in the canary yellow living room of a tiny apartment in Pandan Jaya, Kuala Lumpur. All are seated on the floor, backs against the wall, waiting for their turn with Mas Ayu, 34. 

She is a paranormalist who dabbles in susuk, the ancient art of embedding foreign objects like gold needles, diamond particles, mercury and plant-based ingredients (fruits, betel leaves, turmeric, pepper, shallots, etc) under the skin to increase a person’s allure. The knowledge is usually passed down through the generations. 

Mas is not as I had imagined her. She’s wearing a black tunic and headscarf, and her eyes are lined with kohl. Her place reeks of tobacco smoke, not of burning incense, and on the floor is a tray lined with a yellow cloth piled up with roots, turmeric, betel leaves, flowers and different kinds of lime.  

“Did you by any chance visit another bomoh (faith healer) before me?” she quizzes.  

I nod.  

“No wonder he sent his people,” she says mysteriously.  

“Do you mean to say the bomoh I met earlier sent a medium through me to spy on you?” I blurt out.  

Mas merely shrugs.  

In the name of beauty: (Top) An X-ray showing susuk in a person’s face; (Above) Mas Ayu performing her ‘magic’ on a customer.
“I saw you were shivering. Felt any dizziness today?” she asks, concerned.  

“Not that I noticed,” I reply, recalling having run up and down the futsal pitch with relative ease barely two hours ago. 

“Just remember to read the Al-Fatihah (a verse from the Quran),” Mas reminds me.  

Najiha (pseudonym), 29, is one of those who have come tonight to seek help from Mas. She is quite reluctant to open up but relaxes when I promise not to name her. Her mother is chattier and tells me that her family has been the victim of black magic for years. Najiha has not been spared.  

“At work, I felt invisible. My colleagues treated me like an outcast. Even my employer acted as if I was never there. After Mas got a susuk berlian (diamond implant), I was promptly promoted. People finally started paying attention to me,” she reveals.  

In another corner of the room sits Nina (pseudonym), 27, an entrepreneur.  

Business has been slow for Nina, so she wants Mas to give her an aura that would make people spend more money at her restaurant. 

The ritual begins with a floral bath to get rid of bad karma. Wearing a batik sarong, Nina is bathed by Mas, who chants monotonously. Later, Nina dresses and sits opposite her.  

The ingredients and tools of various forms of ancient healing.
She is instructed to read a Quranic verse, while Mas rubs a red rose clockwise on her face until all the petals fall off. Then Mas announces that the diamonds have been embedded. Nina says her face feels itchy and she can feel something moving in her forehead. 

“Some practitioners insert objects which are visible to the patient. The method varies depending on the knowledge and expertise. The way I do it, only I can see the diamonds,” declares Mas.  

Costing a few hundred ringgit, susuk is said to help you win charm, charisma, confidence and youth. So, what’s the catch?  

“Nothing,” comes the curt reply from Mas.  

Susuk emas (a gold implant) and susuk berlian must be removed before one dies, otherwise death will be slow and agonising, leaving one begging for release,” says Awang Yahya Mohammed, 55, a fellow practitioner who is said to be popular with celebrities. 

Mas, however, claims her susuk will fall out a month before a person dies.  

The uncertainties about the consequences notwithstanding, people are not deterred. 

“I was frustrated with my boyfriend,” says Suhaili Maflinda Anwar, 25, “so I sought out Awang for susuk emas, but he recommended a susuk ayat (herbal implant) instead.”  

Recalling the ritual, Suhaili says it hurt when he used a scalpel to make an “incision” on her face which was big enough to insert a mixture of betel leaves and roots.  

“Awang then dabbed water on the cut and the scar simply vanished. When it was over, I looked in the mirror and was thrilled with what I saw. My face was slightly swollen, but I could see something different about me. Even my smile was more enticing,” she adds.  

Suhaili thinks the RM630 she forked out for the floral bath and ibu segala susuk (the mother of all susuk) was money well spent. 

“Shortly after leaving Awang’s place, I noticed men giving me a second look even though there were other more attractive women around,” she claims.  

“My mum asked whether I had done something to my face. I told her the truth and she was OK with it because it was susuk ayat, which unlike susuk emas, is not a sin since metal is not implanted. I’m a more confident person now. People who used to hate the sight of me have become friendly.”  

Despite the flattering attention, Suhaili has a small regret.  

“A susuk wearer will become too irresistible. There was a man who came to my house asking for my hand in marriage after only three days of knowing each other. I fear what would happen if they become infatuated.”  

Normally, susuk wearers are advised to adhere to certain taboos, and the taboo depends on the practitioner they visit.  

“Awang reminded me not to scratch my face for three days. I was also prohibited from eating bamboo shoots and passing under a clothesline for one month and 10 days,” Suhaili says.  

Each keris has a story to tell.
Mas prescribes other prohibitions.  

“For 44 days after the susuk is implanted, one has to avoid eating chicken,” she says. If these taboos are not followed, the susuk will become ineffective, or even pop out.  

Before he became a paranormalist, Awang, who sees about 15 to 20 people seeking services from him aside from susuk, used to be an actor. His last role was as tok kadi (a cleric) in Ratu Jamu.  

“It was Nasir Tan Sri P. Ramlee (the eldest son of P. Ramlee), who nicknamed me Bomoh Artis Malaysia (faith healer of the celebrities),” he chuckles.  

Pictures of Awang and his customers adorn the walls of his office in Pandan Indah, Kuala Lumpur.  

“I have been involved in this practice for 30 years. I learnt the skill from my father Tok Ki Yahya Wok, a renowned bomoh in Pahang. My customers are from all walks of life – flight attendants, businessmen, everyday people, guest relation officers, even foreigners,” he says pointing to a picture of him treating a Caucasian woman.  

Awang Mohd Yahya doing a susuk demonstration.
Disturbingly, one of his clients was a 15-year-old schoolgirl who wanted susuk for her face and pubic area to enhance her sexual prowess.  

According to Awang, the most common reason for wearing susuk is to make one attractive. Without having to do anything, the wearer is said to be able to cast a spell over others.  

For those having trouble holding a tune, Awang recommends susuk suara merdu, (mellifluous voice susuk), a form of susuk ayat where organic ingredients are inserted underneath the folds of the chin.  

There are also people who come to Awang seeking supernatural powers, usually associated with invincibility, especially policemen. 

“Gold is popular in susuk because its beauty is reflected in the wearer,’’ claims Awang. “When you wear a gold ring you will draw attention to your hands. Similarly, susuk planted in areas like the face, hips, breasts and even pubic area draw attention.’’  

Both Awang and Mas have contrasting opinions on the permissibility of susuk in Islam. 

“Wearing susuk emas and susuk berlian are forbidden because once implanted they will not decompose,” claims Awang.  

“Susuk ayat, on the other hand, is all right because it is organic and will eventually be absorbed by the body,” he adds.  

Prof Dr Phrabhakaran. — GLENN GUAN/DARRAN TAN/The Star
Mas says differently. 

“I recite verses from the Quran in my practice and I do not perform anything that goes against religion, so my susuk is OK to be used by Muslims.” 

Most susuk wearers want to keep their talismans a secret, but needles show up on radiograms which are widely used by dentists.  

“We have yet to discover the adverse effects of susuk. However, there is a possibility that if not properly done, it can dislodge important facial muscles or organs,” explains Prof Dr Phrabhakaran Nambiar, the head of general dental practice and oral maxillofacial imaging at Universiti Malaya (UM).  

A study on susuk by Associate Prof Dr Shanmuhansuntharam, also from UM, has revealed that there are patients who are not aware that they have needles in their bodies, as they were probably put in when they were young.  

“Although susuk can be removed surgically, in some cases, it can pose a challenge because the metals may be trapped between layers of fat,” says Dr Phrabhakaran.  

o Susuk, a black magic thriller about the forbidden practice, will be screened in cinemas sometime this year. It’s directed by Naeim Ghalili and Amir Muhammad and stars Diana Rafar, Ida Nerina, Adlin Aman Ramly and Sofea Jane.  

Related Stories:
The alternative
What the sceptics say
Susuk just a crutch


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