Jalan-Jalan Cari Datuk

OF THIS PLACE An Exhibition about the “Datuk”
George Town Festival 2017

Big, bold and beautiful – the six images along Lebuh Chulia, in front of the Cantonese Association, introduce a Malaysian story that is close to my heart. I’m an historical geographer and the worship of the “Datuk” deity is about as historically geographical as a story can get. It’s about place and spaces and rocks and trees and rivers. It’s about the movement of people and their adaptation to a new environment. It’s about learning about others and respecting place and the values and beliefs that exist there. It’s about co-existing and being neighbor's and being grateful for what home has given you.

The images in OF THIS PLACE have been positioned on Lebuh Chulia to draw attention to the current “Chinese” nature of Datuk worship. They are also adjacent to two Muslim mausoleums, that reflect the association of the Datuk with older, established practices of worshipping the holy man.

Kota Bharu altar

What Goes In To A Datuk House?

March 17, 2022

Malaysians like to respect the Datuk by building him a house. There are so many interesting versions of a Datuk house, a place that gives him cover and provides a place for worship. Sometimes the houses look a lot like local housing. Sometimes they are given Muslim features, like domes and other geometric shapes. Many…

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An altar

The Datuk – What’s In A Name?

March 16, 2022

In Tanjong Karang, Datuk temples and shrines abound. The Datuk helps protect the fishermen who hail from a sea-faring background in Fujian province in China. There are 5 Datuks worshipped in this shrine and some of their names are indicated, suggesting that they may represent respected personalities in local history and former community leaders. Datuk…

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A sacred statue

Provider And Protector Of Prosperity

July 25, 2017

I went to the rice paddies of Malaysia, to symbolize the Datuk’s associations with creating prosperity. Nothing symbolizes health, wealth and prosperity to the Malaysians like a field of rice. Here the Malay Datuk holds a kris (the sacred knife) to protect the land for the benefit of his people. In keeping with the idea of the…

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A ritual altar

The Spirit In The Trees

July 25, 2017

A friend once told me that, when he was a little boy, his grandmother wouldn’t let him pee on the trees when he was out walking, “because the Datuk lives there”. Trees are very important to Datuk worship, giving shelter to Datuk shrines and sometimes representing the strength and energy of the Datuk himself. This…

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An altar with a statue and flowers

The Jugra Connection

July 25, 2017

This Datuk resides near Bukit Jugra, on the west coast of Malaysia, at the mouth of the Langat River. The image of the hills behind him reflects the importance of that area to Malaysian history. The Jugra hill was a landmark for early travellers to the peninsula and was home to the first Sultan of…

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Sacred idol statues

The Datuk – Adaptation To Place

July 25, 2017

All along the coastlines of Malaysia, at the mouths of rivers, early immigrants arrived with hopes of making a living. They found landowners willing to rent them land, tin-mine tycoons who would give them jobs, and towns and cities in need of services. They also found a local population that paid homage to elders, advisors…

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A red altar

How To Worship The Datuk

July 25, 2017

Datuks come from all walks of life. They are most often of Malay origin, but they can be Chinese, or Indian or Indigenous. They are most often men but sometimes women. Datuks have very individualized personalities. Many have warrior characteristics, while others are gentle and benevolent. Ways of worship would be different for all of…

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How “The Datuk” Found A Home In Malaysia

July 25, 2017

No one really talks about the history of Datuk worship. So, what I am writing here reflects my musings on the historical geography of Malaysia and makes no claim to be “correct”. I’m taking some educated guesses. It is interesting to note that this is a religious custom that only exists in Malaysia and some…

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An altar on the floor

The Datuk – “Orang Bunian”

July 24, 2017

This image is of the “Orang Bunian”, considered to be a Malay spirit of the forest with strong associations to place. “Lan” means blue and “Zhou” means Fairy and this deity is often depicted as a warrior with a blue aura. I like the green plaque to symbolize the forest, and they even use a…

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