Last year, I was attracted to a book called "Don't sit on this book" written by Philip Cheong. It was an interesting book as it is a collection of Chinese taboos and superstitions. The things the Chinese can or cannot do. Philip Cheong is a Master at the Fung Shui Academy in Malaysia. He pointed out that one of the interesting things about taboos is that as they are passed down from generations to generations, almost no questions were asked and no logical explanations were given. But surprisingly they have a nasty habit of staying in our minds.
Similarly for the Brunei Malays. There have been many times in the past when I have been told not to do certain things and when I asked why, the usual answer of 'andangnya, nda kuasa tu' is certainly far from satisfactory. But as one grows older, sometimes one gets into the same exasperating phrases when one addressed they younger generation. Why do we do that? With all these taboos - there must be some explanations about them - and you would have thought by now someone must have written something about them.
I have been searching for an equivalent of Philip Cheong's book and I found it last Monday at the DBP booth at the Book Fair entitled 'Pantang Larang Kitani'. The book written by Hadijah Haji Hassan and printed by DBP (2001, 2006) costs only $7.60. It contained 115 taboos of Brunei Malays ranging from the more ghostly taboos like 'Bermain tapuk-tapukan di dalam rumah kelak ditapuk hantu kalindahau' to the more horrifying taboos like 'melangkahi sesaban kelak mati kena cencang'. I have to admit some of the taboos listed in this book are new to me and I did not realise that they existed. Some obviously are so common that everyone knows them.
What the book tried to do was other than to list them down but also to explain the reasons why there was this taboo and also to list down what the taboo is trying to teach. Though the book also gave up on some taboos like 'bergambar bertiga kelak pendek umur' stating that there is no particular reason why this taboo exist and it can be 'kurafat' if one was to persist in believing it. For the non-Malays, 'kurafat' loosely means it is against religious belief if one believes in it. I checked this particular taboo - it also existed among the Chinese. Philip Cheong tried to explain it by saying that this belief started in the days when camera first started and the Chinese then believed that the flash will take away one's soul.
In most cases, taboos or pantang larang existed to teach us. Sometimes they may sound riduculous or far fetched, but in general most hold some measure of truth. The most important thing is that we should have an open mind and respect our elderly advices but not follow them blindly without asking why. A sound judgment will beat taboos in any situation.