Tales of witchcraft, murder at Malaysian palace

A bizarre tale of a bewitched palace, sexual jealousy and the murder of a beautiful royal bride is holding Malaysians spellbound as it unfolds in a sombre courtroom.

The cast of the story, which vies with the Iraq war for frontpage newspaper space, includes Raja Jaafar Raja Muda Musa (62) second in line to the Perak state throne and his first wife Raja Nor Mahani Raja Shahar Shah (61). The raja’s second wife—as a Muslim he is entitled to four—is the murder victim, 26-year-old former model and actress, Hasleza Ishak.

Five men, including two ‘bomohs’, or witchdoctors, have been accused in the Taiping High Court in Perak of killing Hasleza. One of the bomohs, Mat Saad Isa (50) confessed to manslaughter and has been sentenced to 14 years in jail. He admitted kidnapping Hasleza on October 6 last year, chopping her on the neck with his hand and throwing her off a bridge. He told the court that the first wife, Princess Mahani,

masterminded the killing.

In a former British colony obsessed with titles and social rank, professing Islam as the official religion, the case has created a scandal to eclipse the tabloid travails of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana. The royal families of each of nine states are held in particular esteem, as Malaysia’s unique system requires the position of king to be rotated among them every five years.

Princess Mahani, a mother of two whose fading beauty is poignant beside that of the fresh-faced Hasleza in newspaper photographs, appeared in court herself this week to deny ordering her rival murdered. She said she simply asked the witchdoctors to lift a black magic spell which she believed was causing her husband to act strangely

and be cold towards her.

“Throughout our marriage, (my husband) had often been out of line but our household had never been invaded by supernatural beings,” she told Judge Mohamad Noor Abdullah. After her husband confessed last July that he had used his right as a Muslim man to take another wife, and had married Hasleza in

February, things began to get weird in the palace, she said.

The Raja took to sitting cross-legged in the dark and shunning her company. Headless birds were found in the palace grounds, a sanitary towel appeared on the roof and big flies followed her around. She developed a rash and vomited crystals, babies cried although there were no babies in the palace, snakes vanished and the strange thwak of bamboo being struck on the ground was regularly heard

after midnight.

It was enough, Princess Mahani said, to convince her that Hasleza had put a ‘santau’ (evil spell) on her. So she asked ‘bomoh’ Rahim Ismail, one of the accused, to kill

the ‘santau’. She did not order Hasleza killed, she told the court, “because it would jepardise my high position and mar the good name of my family and the state”.

Princess Mahani was detained for questioning for a week shortly after the murder, before being released without charge. A ‘santau’, she told the court when she appeared in defence of one of the accused, who is her nephew, “is like a ‘hantu’ (ghost) or ‘pontianak (vampire). ‘Santau’ is a devil. That’s why you have to kill it.”

Among the methods employed by the bomohs to free the princess from the spell and rekindle her husband’s affections, was something which became known in the Taiping High Court as “the buffalo nose string”. Rahim told the bemused judge that he soaked the string in a bottle of mineral water, which he gave to the princess with

instructions to put a few drops in her husband’s coffee, as this would make him more loving towards her.

Judge: “What is the name of the string?”

Rahim: “It is put through the nostrils of the buffalo, so it is called buffalo nose string.”

Judge: “So the wife can make the husband obey her and likewise?”

Rahim: “Yes, but mostly it is women who ask for this to be done, because it is usually men who stray.”

Belief in witchcraft is widespread in Malaysia, a country of 23 million people, where around 60 percent are Muslims and the rest Buddhists, Christians and Hindus. The trial is continuing. - Sapa-AFP

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