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A Review of "Healing Sounds of the Malayan Rainforest" by Marina Roseman

Updated on March 11, 2021
Nyamweya profile image

Nyamweya is a columnist with a Kenyan print media.He is also a freelance writer with various online and offline media platforms

In the book "Healing Sounds of the Malayian Rainforest", the author, Marina Rosemary recounts her experience of the Malayan Rainforest. In her adventure of the forest, she gets fascinated by special songs of the Malaiyan culture which are referred as Nong.The word Nong in English can be converted to mean the “way” or “path”. She comes to terms that these songs are used ostensibly to offer treatment to patients of different diseases and they prove effective in essence. She as well notes that these special songs for the Malayan people are acquired through insights (learning) from human or inhuman spiritual beings. These insights or revelations from the spiritual are usually carried out in dreams. In essence, this nong acquired by a person is translated to mean the spiritual guide for healing power. Roseman further notes that it is through that way people receive spiritual power that is used to perform healings. She as well observes that those who possess this healing power are labeled as halaa.

In her observation, Roseman notes that the association of the nong and halaa is a very important phenomenon for the Tarmiar people in terms of spiritual essence. This is because, without the interaction of the halaa and his or her spiritual guide, there could no source of healing power. Another reason is that this is what summarises Tarmiar people’s concept of spirituality.

In Tarmiaer religion, it is believed that spirits can either be enclosed in a body (it may be human, animal body or an object) or roaming freely. However, even those that are enclosed can still come out of their embodiment and wander freely. It is further believed that those souls or spirits which are enclosed could wish to come out of their bodies and interact with other beings.

According to Roseman’s experience, Tarmier people believe that illness or death is caused when a person’s spirit fails to return to its original body after detachments. When the souls of human beings or objects are detached from their original bodies, they generate a liquid substance that is called kahyek. This liquid substance is what is believed by Tarmins to cause healing to the host body, In this case, the patient. It is directed by special people in a healing ceremony to the patient. According to Roseman description, kahyek appears not be conscious being. Although it is neither visible nor touchable, it is believed to be the healing source of power.

Kahyek can not however act on it’s own; it must enter the host body which is termed as halaa, by Tarmier people. From this body, it is activated through a religious ceremony that involves either blowing the spirit into the patient or transferring its purported power using a whisk. According to their beliefs, this ceremony is meant to make the spirit of the patient return to its original body. Roseman affirms that although this healing substance can not be confirmed physically of its existence, its powers can be felt among the Shamans and their patients. She equates the substance to the difference between plain water and holy water which can not be substantiated either. As we discovered earlier, Kahyek is transferred to the host body halaa through a spirit in a dream. The spirit guide teaches the human being special songs and these songs are the ones believed to be the source of the healing power.

Roseman furthure noted that the Tamier spiritual culture is a very complicated issue altogether. They believe that the interaction of human and other forms of spirits can have either a negative or positive impact on human beings. The effects become beneficial if the interactions are directed, for instance in dreams, and it becomes destructive if the interactions are not directed. The detached spirits of things other than human can also roam around and may even cause illnesses to human beings. This may be attributed to the fact that nonhuman souls may not be controlled or control themselves.

Accordingly, the spiritual being in Termiel culture chooses a person who will act as a medium (halaaI) . It is not the person who chooses to be a medium but the halaa is chosen by a spiritual being. The head or heart of the spiritual being also chooses either the head (rewaay) or heart (hup) of the human. This spiritual being comes in a dream and teaches the medium a special song or a song that gives the person (halaa) healing powers.

Roseman uses the term "interactive-self" to describe Termier views of the detached souls since in essence; we are told that in nature, souls prefer wanderings and interaction with each other. Roseman also notes that the “interactive qualities of all things in Temier is neally universal” The phrase by Roseman may also be based on the Termier understanding that souls that are embodied wish to get free and interact with others.

Contrary to what you might think, the function of the heart souls (hup) according to Temier beliefs is for thinking and storing information while those of the head souls (rewaay) is to communicate with other beings. Roseman clarifies that when interpreting the function of the two souls, she explains we should no take them literary as one would view the function of the head and heart in a physical being. This is because their meaning is much far different from this common view.


Marina Roseman, “Healing sounds of the Malayan Rainforest”, 1993, University of California Press, 278 pages. Amazon books.


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