Variations: Hantu Ulat (Malay), Maggot Spirit, Riverside Maggot Spirit, Tip-of-Leaf Maggot Spirit, Caterpillar Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Jě’la, Hantu Ulat Duri, Thorny Maggot Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Sòk, Hantu Ulat Bulu, Hairy Caterpillar Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Těrbang, Hantu Ulat Terbang, Flying-Maggot Spirit
The Bès Kěmwar, “maggot spirit”, is one of the many bès or disease spirits known to the Jah Hut of Malaysia. A polyvalent spirit, it is depicted as a maggot or caterpillar, with variants distinguished by hair, thorns, wings, and other details. It eats rice, vegetables, and other crops. It is responsible for aches in bones, joints, and muscles. If its caterpillar hair falls into water and that water is drunk, it causes coughing and bleeding in the throat. Maggot spirits are also known to live in rotten tree trunks and feed in them. Anyone who approaches the fallen tree will be bitten in the leg by the spirit, causing redness, swelling, and itching. All the toenails fall off but the swelling will be gone by two or three months.
The riverside maggot spirit lives by the river and appears only during the jungle-fruit season in February. It flies onto the heads of old people and causes all their hair to fall off.
The tip-of-leaf maggot spirit feeds on the leaves of coconut and rice. To prevent this attack on crops, a pawang must bless the plants with a pounded mixture of daun setawa and kunyit mulai, which is burned to ashes and scattered over the plantation.
Bès Kěmwar Jě’la, the thorny-maggot spirit, lives on leaves. It causes restlessness and rheumatism.
Bès Kěmwar Sòk, the hairy caterpillar spirit, lives on the tips of tree branches. Its hair drops into drinking water and causes irritation and swelling in the throat. This affliction can be cured by a poyang while in its early stages, but untreated victims will eventually die as they cannot eat or drink.
Bès Kěmwar Těrbang, the flying-maggot spirit, lives in bushes and eats the leaves of the daun mengkirai tree. Its urine and stool falls on anyone who passes under the tree, causing the victim to become bald and swollen. In the evening it flies onto the roofs of houses and opens them up. Children seeing its eyes reflecting like mirrors will be terrified into crying. Burning daun-kesim keeps this nocturnal nuisance away.
Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.