Spirits have been sighted. Bizarre behaviour recorded. An adventure in the jungle may just turn into a horror story. Are you ready?
Entering the jungle? Respect the place and don’t “talk big”. Don’t relieve yourself anywhere you like. Don’t call out your friend’s name. Break these traditional taboos and unseen spirits may just wreak havoc on you – for instance, a “voice” may just imitate your companion’s name and lead him far astray from the path.
Or you may end up in an unseen dimension, perhaps even meet a nice old man who invites you to a fabulous ‘mansion’ in the jungle.
This week, we feature interviews with four people who have had weird spiritual encounters in the forest. Two of them have a bomoh or medium as a close relative.
Next week, we speak to the healthy sceptics, two conservationists and an ex-guide who think that, whatever it is, we should respect the forest anyway and err on the side of caution.
Plus two staunch disbelievers, a nature guide and a senior psychiatrist, who think that these are merely psychological hallucinations amplified by superstitions.
Or are they? News reports over the past few years lend a disturbing credence to these tales.
In May 2002, Mohd Khairi Abdul Ghani, 15, went missing for five days on Gunung Tebu in Jertih, Terengganu.
A search-and-rescue operation involving some 100 people combed the area repeatedly over five days and failed to find him. Finally, the boy was found unharmed, a mere eight metres from where he was last seen in an area of picnickers.
He was wearing a towel, gazing out over the river rapids. Khairi himself, a school army cadet, was surprised that the rescuers, including his own mother, could not see him even though he was merely “hanging around the area”.
He heard the helicopter and even his mother’s calls. But somehow, he testified that he “couldn’t do anything”.
Four boys were lost on Fraser’s Hill in June last year after walking along the Bishop’s Trail, a short (1.5km) well-defined path.
When a 160-strong search and rescue team, including police, resident volunteers, tracker dogs, helicopters and the famed Senoi Praaq Orang Asli trackers, still could not find them after three days, there was speculation that the bunians (goblins) had “hidden” them from sight.
That was just one of seven cases of lost trekkers in Fraser’s Hill between 1997 and this year.
Leong Chin Awau, 55, a resthouse caretaker there recalled that years ago, several children were lost for three days in the jungle. When they were found, they reported that they had met an “old man” in the forest and stayed with him in a mansion for a few days. Is there more to this than meets the eye?
If age-old forest-dwellers’ wisdom asks us to take certain safety measures, including spiritual ones, when trekking, are we being foolhardy in ignoring them? Or should we, as they say, do as the Romans do when in Rome?
However, sightings of ghosts are also widely reported in cities. So let’s not jump into phobia-mode and forget the tremendous beauty and utility of the forests – our green lungs, source of life-giving water, biodiversity treasure house and eco-tourism goldmine.
Thousands trek through the forest and emerge recharged and refreshed by communing with Mother Nature. As in any adventure or sport, there are certain safety guidelines to follow, which, in this case, are simple ones of respecting the forest and life therein – in ALL its forms.