Bès Chèm

Variations: Hantu Burong (Malay), Bird Spirit

Bès Chèm, “Bird Spirit”, is applied to a number of Malaysian spirits. One of them is a jungle bird-spirit that lives on big branches touching each other. As the wind moves the branches, they make a sound – e… e… e… – which means the spirit is on the branch. If anyone passes by underneath the branches, the bird spirit passes urine and scatters tiny, poisonous feathers onto the interloper. These cause anyone they touch to become thin forever.

Another bird spirit lives deep in the jungle and visits villages at night. It makes a sound – pok… pok… – which children are not allowed to repeat. If they do the spirit enters the house, prevents them from sleeping, and makes them cry.

Other bird spirits protect padi fields from destructive animals, cause headache and sneezing, possess little children and cause convulsions, steal the souls of sleepers, and cause children to be born with gap teeth.

References

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

16 Comments

  1. I really love your Bès illustrations! They really capture this strange otherworldly vibe, while at the same time paying tribute to the local aesthetic … I wonder, are they based off of specific illustrations or sculptures or off general Malay art?

    Liked by 1 person

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