Traditional Massage

By Eric Chong, cartoon by Billy Tan

My cousin, Joshua, was happily riding his motorcycle to school. Happily because he had just gotten his motorbike license, and happier still because his girlfriend was hanging tightly for her dear life behind him. Yep, he couldn’t wipe that smirk off his face even if you slapped him silly.

As he was weaving out to overtake a slow moving trishaw still with that smirk of his, a bus suddenly loomed out of a junction. It was only then that the muscle that pulled his lips up to a smirk lost its strength. Down came that silly smirk of his, and down he and his pillion rider went. His pillion rider was thrown clear and being the fairer one, she had more than enough hands picking her up. She was quite stunned both because of her broken arm and also because of all the attention she was getting. She was duly sent to the hospital. Meanwhile, the passerbys helped to pick up the motorbike which was half pinned under the bus. At this time the trishaw rider was scratching his head and saying that he could have sworn that there were two riders on that motorbike. Where is the other?

Joshua could hear all the commotion going on out there in the bright sunlight. He didn’t feel any pain at all. He could smell the diesel fumes. He could also make out the rear axle of the bus. But, he couldn’t make any sound. Maybe this was God’s punishment for smirking so much earlier. As much as he tried to say something, not a syllable came out. His mouth just couldn’t move. Nobody had noticed him sliding under the bus and being pinned under the axle.

Half an hour had gone by before the realization sank into the trishaw rider that there was a foolish looking boy, whose face looked as though it were etched with a permanent smile, missing. The trishaw rider had been too engrossed with the more eye-pleasing casualty to have remembered anything else until she was sent to the hospital. When he realized that there was yet another rider, the bus driver was ready to drive his bus out to make way for the traffic. As the trishaw rider bent down to look for my now unsmiling cousin, the bus lurched forward as it was put into gear. Two ear-piercing shouts were heard over the roar of the engine. Luckily the bus driver had the presence of mind to kill his engine. As the trishaw rider muttered incoherently in his Hokkien mother tongue, the bus driver looked to where the trishaw rider was pointing.

Whether my cousin’s leg was broken before the bus lurched forward or not, nobody knows. But, everyone could tell that there was something broken after he began yelling. Moaning and groaning on top of his lungs, he could make out a dozen or so pairs of eyes peering down on him. The crowd gingerly jacked up the bus and sent him to the hospital. With the amount of moaning and groaning that my cousin made, nobody could differentiate that with the sirens – nor could anyone say which was louder.

At the hospital, they set his shin (fibula) bone back. It was broken in two places. Three months later when the cast was taken off, only one part of his shin bone set correctly. The other broken part had calcified in such a way that made the leg an inch shorter that the other. That worried his father no end. His son didn’t seem as bothered because of all the attention he was getting especially from members of the opposite sex.

This was when the father decided to seek the help of a Langkawi witch doctor or locally known as the “bomoh”. Those days the bomoh used to live near Padang Matsirat. They were known as bomohs because some people believed that they had supernatural powers. Some even believed that they derived their powers from keeping spirits. Such was the belief of this bomoh.

During the first treatment, the bomoh applied some warm concoction onto Joshua’s shin. Then he proceeded to massage the leg with increasing pressure. With the increased pressure, the patient also started to feel the warmth of both his sweat and tears. After two hours of massage, he asked Joshua to walk. Naturally, after that session, he was still hurting and he hobbled around, not daring to test his injured leg. The Bomoh asked him to return after three days.

In keeping with tradition, the father presented the bomoh with a small gift. Bomohs believe that they can only use their powers to help people, not to make profit. If they abuse their powers for money, they will lose their powers. As such, it is my opinion that he derives his kicks from seeing how high a decibel he can make his patients howl.

When Joshua came back, we measured his leg and found that it was of the same length. What the bomoh must have done was to break the calcified part and reset the bone to the correct length. We could not come up with any other explanation.

A day after the pain of the massage subsided, the cousin on mine was up at the Batu Ara rock waving to us. We could see him jumping around with my other female cousins. It was as though he never had a limp. He was laughing and jumping so much he fell off the rock. We all thought that he had broken his leg all over again, but no, he was soon up and jumping again.

The second treatment was more or less a check by the bomoh to see if the bone had healed. After giving my cousin the thumbs up, he went on his merry way albeit a bit more careful on his motorbike.

The question is how did the bomoh do what the hospital with all its sophisticated equipment couldn’t? Is there a rational explanation?

Many years after, I had the opportunity to study sports massage and this is what I learnt.

Most of the traditional massage cause more pain than what the person is experiencing before the treatment. Why does the traditional method hurt so much?

Traditional massage is what most English speaking people know as acu-pressure – acute pressure. In this method of massage, pressure is applied at certain parts of the body. The traditional masseurs say that there is wind or “angin” in our body. By applying pressure on a particular part of the body, the traditional masseurs says that they help the “angin” to dissipate.

Science has shown us that when acute pressure is applied to certain parts of the body, our pain receptors are triggered off which in turn releases a type of hormone called endorphins. Endorphins are our bodies’ natural pain killers similar to morphine. When endorphins are released, our bodies react to it in the same way as we would to morphine – we go on a high.

In short, traditional massage produces a kind of high which lingers in our bodies for several hours. During this time, our bodies react to the endorphin high in several ways. When endorphin is released into our blood stream, our bodies react to it by speeding up our metabolism. This promotes better circulation. With better circulation, our bodies are able to absorb more oxygen and nutrients needed to repair the injured cells. At the same time, waste products produced in our bodies which cause the bruises and swelling are carried out from our system.

This is one of the reasons why massage or physiotherapy is being recommended more and more for certain injuries.

How the bomoh managed to lengthen the leg of this young man after three months of hobbling around is difficult to explain scientifically, but if you ask any of the village people, they will be able to tell you of similar healings by the village bomoh.

Whether you believe it or not, bomohs are part of the local community and will keep on healing people with their unique methods. Traditional message worked for my cousin who had one leg shorter than the other. It is said that traditional massage works best for people with a high tolerance for pain. Are you game for a massage?

Most major hotels now provide traditional message services for those of who want to get rid of that nagging pain or you may just want to loosen up.

About The Writer

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