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Sunday morning with a bomoh

A bomoh with 35 years of experience talks about the start of his career and the cases he has come across.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
4 minute read
A client removes his slippers before entering the home of Atan, a bomoh who has been in the business for more than three decades.
A client removes his slippers before entering the home of Atan, a bomoh who has been in the business for more than three decades.

It's early on Sunday morning – barely 8am – but already, a small army of slippers is heaped at the entrance of a two-storey terrace house in an upscale residential area.

Outside, a group of men chat as they smoke, keeping one eye on the children running around the compound.

The neat line of cars parked next to the house suggests the presence of more people inside.

 In the foyer, about 10 people are seated in a row, waiting for their turn to be called into a private room to meet with Atan – a bomoh who has been in the business for 35 years. 

Over the past three decades, Atan has provided his services for clients from all walks of life, including figures of authority. 

These clients come to him seeking a cure for all manner of problems, from mysterious diseases to supernatural disturbances, to find lost items or for consultation on evil forces and fortune-telling. 

At times, he is called on to help the authorities and rescue personnel to solve crimes or deal with emergency situations. 

"When the police meet with a dead end in their investigations, I am called in," he said. 

"I used to do a lot of work like this on a voluntary basis. After so many years of being a bomoh, they know me well."


Atan realised what he described as his gift when he was about 14 years old. Even as a young teenager, he said, he could see things that others could not. 

For three years, his parents sent him for traditional Islamic treatment in Terengganu. 

But fed up with the endless trips back and forth from his home in Pasir Mas, Kelantan, Atan said, he finally decided to accept his fate. 

"I have a 'companion'," he told MalaysiaNow, settling into his chair in the inner room. 

"He is the one who assists and guides me in treating my clients and solving the cases I come across."

At 19, Atan decided to migrate to the south of Thailand, to study with a shaman. He stayed there until he was 24. 

In Thailand, he followed his teacher, looking for clues in criminal cases and conducting ceremonies at the scene of tragedies where many lives were lost. 

There, he learnt the ins and outs of investigations and how to help the authorities find new clues.

After leaving Thailand, he spent five years in Kuala Krai, Kelantan, before moving again to Gambang in Pahang. 

Eventually, he got married and moved to his wife's home state to continue his work as a bomoh. 


Atan's shaman friends, whom he said come from all manner of racial and religious backgrounds, keep in touch through the use of social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram. 

Sometimes, they pool their resources to help each other solve cases. 

Through the use of digital communication, he said, they also stay abreast of business developments and identify regular, repeat or new customers as well as those who are just "one-off". 

Technology has also helped him speed up his assistance to those who request his services, through the sharing of pictures and videos. 

While their work is usually associated with superstition and old wives' tales, he said that taken together, he and his fellow shamans have more than 10,000 followers and loyal clients each. 

For him, the numbers are an indicator of the desperation among those looking for a solution to their problems. 

"If they weren't desperate, they wouldn't go looking for a bomoh," he said. 

"This is the case with every client I meet – all of them are at the end of their rope.

"For example, a client works hard for many years to buy something, or inherits a family heirloom, and this item is stolen. 

"Two years ago, a woman from Labis, Johor, was being badly abused by her husband of 11 years. Her aunt came to me and I helped calm his temper so that he became less inclined to beat his wife."


As Atan speaks, his door opens and a woman enters, accompanied by her son, a tall and quiet boy. 

The woman begins to speak, telling Atan that she and her husband drove 200km just to see him. 

Her request is for Atan to "check" the potential of her son in his studies, ahead of the Form Five SPM examination. 

She says her son is often sluggish and lethargic after coming home from school, even though he spends his holidays sleeping. 

He is also reluctant to go to school as he is afraid of "something". 

Her concern is that his fear will cause him to fall behind in his studies. 

"He is a smart boy. When he was in primary school, he did well and his teachers all liked him. Please help him," she said. 

Atan nods and begins to chant. After a while, he stops and asks the boy: "But you can go out to loiter around on motorcycles with your friends and come back late at night? You're not tired when you're out doing these things?"

The boy shakes his head, and Atan continues chanting. As the session ends, he asks the boy and his mother to wait for him outside. 

Then he leans over and says: "I'll tell you a secret. There is no cure for laziness. Even meeting a deity in Bali will do you no good.