A Phi-Phob

A Phi-Phob

Published: 1887 – plays in Burma

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Excerpt from: Inn-Nu-Woh To Merhameh, Lulu.com

The company was in the middle of eating their food, consisting only of baked fish. They carried on a conversation during the meal that seemed to deal with an interesting subject, because everyone endeavoured to shout as loudly as possible and the Chinese tjung-fu demonstratively rattled his two status symbols. Only the Englishmen remained quiet because Mr Phelps had half a fish in his mouth and Mr Shower tried in vain to extract an impertinent fish bone that had slipped a little too far back.

“Tin shat kwei tin, ti shat kwei ti, all misfortune from Heaven shall return to Heaven and all misfortune from Earth shall return to Earth!” the Chinese exclaimed. “I’m a descendent of the Pat-phai, the eight most famous tribes and have no fear! The tju-kia-tjin said that if the Mang-thra have committed the evil deed, then the crime will return to them! They shall receive their punishment and return what they stole.”

“Yes,” Lao-pung-khao, the white-bellied Lao agreed. “My phi-phob tells the truth. He’s never been mistaken. The Mang-thra are the thieves. They must give the watch back.”

“And receive their punishment, like I ordered,” the Chinese added. “If we leave now, we’ll be there in one hour. I was once yao-tjang-ti and know how to deal with such scoundrels. Ta-kang is too good for them. I’ll give them a taste of it with a terrible beating!”

He rose and cut several lengths of hollow canes from the rampantly growing rotang and put them next to the sabres in his belt.

The Englishmen had received a visit from several natives of the Mang-thra tribe the night before. They wanted to trade fruit for tobacco. The deal was made; but after the Mang-thra had left, Mr Shower’s valuable watch was missing. It boasted no less than six dials and only needed to be wound up once every fortnight. All searching was in vain and so they fetched a bigwig from the next Pegu village who was to talk with the phi-phob of the white-bellied Lao.

All members of the Lao tribe had a phi-phob, a house ghost and guardian spirit in one, which they carried with them when they travelled. The spirit could inhabit any old object and answered every question that his charge directed at it through a bigwig or a khru, a ghost buster. Lao-pung-khao’s ghost seemed to be the soul of a prehistoric dinosaur, because it inhabited a hollow crocodile egg, which the white-bellied Lao wore suspended on a string around his neck. The bigwig heard the report, went away with the egg for a short time, and then, against payment of about twelve cents, explained that the phi-phob had told him the Mang-thra were the thieves. The two Englishmen secretly laughed about the ghost stories but also believed that the watch was to be found with the Mang-thra and, therefore, were also prepared to visit them. The company got ready to depart after they had finished their meal in the morning, especially upon the Chinese’s urging, to persuade the scoundrels to hand back the watch. Mr Phelps had swallowed the mouthful of fish successfully and Mr Shower had extracted the fish bones just as victoriously. They left.

The tjung-fu had taken the lead. Behind him followed the two Englishmen and behind them the others in single file. Because of the luxuriant vegetation, walking was difficult.

Soon the banyan forest was behind them. They wandered along beneath slender palms, tamarinds and kapok trees in full bloom. Brightly coloured hibiscus flowers glistened below the light parasol of the pawpaws, and even the wild Bengal rose made itself at home there. Clove trees grew where the ground was dryer and all types of dammar giants, from which the raw materials for the production of varnish and rubber were extracted, stretched their canopies high into the air.

Just as the company passed a banana thicket, four men walked towards them from another direction. The one in front was of near-white skin colour and wore the clothing of a Hoei-foei; the other three were natives. Hoei-foei, the local name for Muslim, represented a substantial number of inhabitants in the region and most were prosperous traders. As soon as the Chinese spotted the Muslim he extended to him an exceedingly polite tjing-tjing. The other stopped, gave him a surprised but disdainful look, and then replied:

“You here, sse-pen-tse? Is there no place safe from you?”

Then, he turned to the Englishmen, whose suits revealed their nationality, and continued in English:

“This person was a tax collector; but because he kept the tax for himself he had to get away. Now he’s everywhere and engages in anything that’s dishonest. If you have hired him as a translator and guide then watch your pockets! Nothing’s safe from his fingers.”

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