This is a continuation of an encounter with a spirit (http://borneoexpatwriter.blogspot.com/2011/02/two-sides-to-every-story-encounter-with.htmllink) that my mother-in-law is convinced that she had that I wrote about yesterday. She has not fully recovered and seems to be getting worse, a concern for the family who are now looking to find someone to care of her during the day until she recovers.
The incident, whether a spirit was involved or not, reminded me of my own encounter with a spirit that took place at my mother-in-law’s house about 14 years ago, during my first visit to Quop, which I recorded in my journal the following mornings and then wrote about ten years later for a non-fiction writing workshop that I was presenting, a significant personal experience, for illustration purposes.
THE SHADOW SPIRIT
While visiting Benuk, a mostly abandoned Bidayuh longhouse in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, where some of my fiancé’s relatives used to live, my fiancé and I were about to enter the head house, a ceremonial room where we could see suspended from the ceiling a fishing net containing more than a dozen human heads.
My mother-in law tried to convince us not to go inside. She didn’t want us to disturb the spirits. Even though she was a Christian, she like many Bidayuhs, still practiced animism. She believed that spirits haunted everything—caves, rivers, large boulders, and, particularly, the nearby jungle. We shrugged off her concerns and went inside. The room felt eerie though, and knowing that the heads were dangling above us from the rafters didn’t exactly help. Still, I took a photograph of the heads.
Later that evening, I went to sleep using the single bed that had been set up for me in what used to be the living room, upstairs. Downstairs, a room had recently been added in front of the house, which was the new living room. A wire had been strung across the room upstairs and a blanket hung over it to give me a semblance of privacy. My fiancé, who opted to sleep with her sisters in her former bedroom, kissed me goodnight. The blanket, having been taken out of storage, smelled strongly of mothballs. At times I felt like I was suffocating. It was fitful trying to sleep because of the smell, the mosquitoes biting me, and the strange noises outside that sounded what I assumed were frogs croaking.
Around midnight, still half awake, I saw a shadow presence come in by way of a locked door that led out to a small balcony. The shadow, the size of a large animal, floated toward me. As it hovered over me, I could feel my body arching, trying to resist it, yet I felt powerless, as if a force were holding me down, pinning my shoulders to the bed. As the shadow spirit entered through my chest, I screamed – the loudest, blood-curdling scream that I could muster. But nothing came out of my mouth.
The following morning I told my fiancé what had happened. I wanted her to know in case anything happened to me; in case I started to act weird or “possessed”. I wanted her to monitor my actions, keep a close eye on me, and if I started to act strangely, to get help. At the same time, I hoped the spirit hadn’t stayed inside me. That it merely visited me and left.
“Don’t tell my mother,” she urged me, a concerned look on her face, worried what her mother would say. We both knew she would blame it on our visit to the head house.
My fiancé then admitted that she had heard similar accounts of the shadow spirit before from some of her Bidayuh friends in the village, right down to the suppressed scream. So had her uncle who lived next door.
My fiancé also told me that no one had ever slept in that room before. She asked me if I wanted to sleep elsewhere, but there was nowhere else I could sleep without inconveniencing someone else, so I opted to stay where I was. That night, before I went to bed, she retrieved a cross made from palm leaves that had been saved from Palm Sunday and put it inside my pillowcase. She then suggested that I sleep with my head away from the balcony door and that I pray before going to sleep. I agreed, though I felt silly saying a bedtime prayer, which I hadn’t done since I was a child repeating my nightly, “Now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep . . .”
Now I prayed for my son from a previous marriage; my fiancé and her family; my father and stepmother; my mother and brothers and their families; and for my own safety from any harmful spirits. I tried to go to sleep, but then I heard something, or someone, rattling the handle at the balcony door. There was no way to reach that door from the ground. When I heard it a second time, I thought, what the hell is trying to get in!
I stared at the door, willing the shadow spirit to go away, afraid that if it entered my body a second time it would stay. I prayed, feverishly, over and over. The sound eventually stopped; exhausted, I fell asleep.
The following morning, I remembered the photograph that I had taken of the suspended heads and vowed to destroy it. At the same time, I tried to imagine the Bidayuh warriors carrying the dripping-with-blood heads back to their longhouse after doing battle, and also the massacre that took place in Quop in the early 1840’s at the hands of the Saribas and Skrang Ibans. I dreaded to think what might have happened to me had I not followed my fiancé’s instructions that night in Sarawak. Nor will I ever forget the shadow spirit that had entered my body and, thankfully, left.
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