of the White-Blooded Lady
could have happened anywhere, in any age. The young wife talks
to a handsome stranger while her husband is away, and is accused
of adultery. But for Mahsuri, the wife of Wan Darus of Langkawi,
the price of indiscretion was death. The tragic legend of Mahsuri
has become synonymous with Langkawi, but she is believed to hail
from another famous island resort, Phuket.
could simply have resulted from a cultural misunderstanding between
two quite different Muslim societies. Seven generations ago, Phuket
was marginally Muslim, whereas Hadhrami Arabs already had a presence
in Langkawi and Kedah. The sociable behaviour of an islander girl
from Phuket was most likely frowned upon by the more orthodox
noble families of Langkawi.
Mahsuri's body was pierced, a fountain of white blood issued forth.
Those who witnessed the execution took this as indisputable proof
of Mahsuri's innocence. Her family and followers fled to Phuket
whence they came, bringing with them Mahsuri's son Wan Arkem.
What of Mahsuri's
white blood? The 'white-blooded lady' is a protagonist of several
founding myths in Southern Thailand. This legend has variations
as far south as Perak, where the first noble family of Perak is
believed to have been descended from a white-blooded Semang woman.
Both Kedah and Perak were formerly under Siamese dominion and
were culturally part of Southern Thailand, dubbed by a scholar
as 'the land of the white-blooded lady'.
legend of Mahsuri was recently re-enacted by the Phuket Rajhabhat
University with a budget of two million baht (about RM 200,000)
from the Phuket provincial government. This extravagant 'light-and-sound'
show was the highlight of the 'Halal Food, Hilal Town' festival.
'For this production,
I distilled the narrative from ten different versions of the Mahsuri
legend,' said the show's producer, director, script-writer and
acting coach, Sawit Pongwat, director of the university's arts
and culture department.
result was a Thai-style drama, with the tari bunga and tari kipas
performed by Thai university students. But the simplicity of the
plot was understandable - after all, this is the first time that
the legend of Mahsuri has been staged on Thai soil, in Thai language
and to a Thai popular audience.
At the start of
the show the main actors and their characters were introduced
one by one. Three different girls played Mahsuri, to avoid the
need for quick costume changes. The costumes themselves were magnificent
and the 'light-and-sound' was put to dramatic effect to simulate
the lighting, thunder and typhoon that struck Langakawi during
the end of the show, Sirintra and her extended family were brought
to the front of the line-up and presented as the living descendants
of the legendary 'Siamese Muslim princess'. Their dress and appearance
made me think that the Kamala folk could have come from a Malay
kampong in Malaysia. But this illusion of Malay-ness was immediately
dispelled by the playing of the Thai national anthem.
star of the show was Sirintra Yayee of Kamala. Hers is a modern
fairy-tale of sorts. Sirintra, whose Muslim name is Aishah, was
'discovered' as a child when the Kedah Historical Society confirmed
her as the first seventh-generation descendant of Mahsuri.
As a teenager,
she was whisked away to Malaysia to visit Mahsuri's tomb in Langkawi
and to meet the then Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed. She
was then awarded an Utusan Malaysia scholarship to attend the
International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur, where she is
learning English and taking a course in communications.
Although she has
a younger 13-year old brother, Mohamed Jihan, a direct male descendant
of Mahsuri, the Malaysian press have decided to focus on Sirintra,
hailing her as a true 'likeness' of Mahsuri. She appeared indifferent
to giving yet another interview. 'It's great that they (the Malaysians)
recognize and accept me, but sometimes I wonder why they did not
accept her (Mahsuri)', said the 19-year old.
lives in the main town of Kamala, just off the undulating coastal
road from Phuket airport to Patong. 'Kamala' is a Thai word which
denotes 'beautiful lady', but it was originally pronounced 'Gamara',
which some people believe comes from the Malay word pengembara,
meaning traveller or sojourner. Apart from the Langkawi families,
Kamala also had families whose forefathers came from Kedah and
Kelantan. The former Imam of Kamala Mosque came from Johore and
to the main mosque of Kamala, hidden behind some new concrete
houses, is a large Malay house, with tall, old fruit trees on
the hillslope behind it. Made of durable hardwood and raised on
posts with a stairs and porch (anjung) at one end, the ancestral
home of the Yayee family was built by Wan Hussein, Sirintra's
great-grandfather. It is one of the few vernacular buildings in
Phuket that could be said to represent Muslim heritage. The walls
have not been tarted up by modern paint, but retain the vintage
Like many Kamala
men, Sirintra's father Wan Nawawi alias Suwan Yayee is a tut-tut
driver. Her mother Wan Sumaini binti Karim alias Sunee Doomlak,
is also a Mahsuri descendant. Sirintra's maternal uncle, Khun
Wissanu Doomlak, is the provincial councillor (equivalent to a
state assemblyman in Malaysia) representing the district of Kamala,
Patong and Kathu.
During the previous
elections, the former Kamala school teacher helped to deliver
the minority Muslim votes to Democrat Party, the national opposition
which now controls the Phuket provincial administration. Throughout
the festival he was dressed in songkok, baju Melayu and samping,
playing his role as one of the festival organisers.
According to Khun
Wissanu, also known as Ahmad bin Karim, Mahsuri's people first
lived by the sea in Kamala. Then when the beach land was taken
up for tin-mining, the villagers moved to the foothills. The mosque
moved with them, leaving behind the cemetery. The Thai Muslims
in Kamala tended to fruit orchards and worked in the Chinese-owned
tin mines. When tin-mining collapsed in the mid-1980s, they looked
for tourist jobs in nearby Patong.
The beach and
coastal road in Kamala has already been zoned as an entertainment
district, where bars, discos and karaoke joints are allowed. 'Many
Kamala Muslims sell their land to outsiders,' said Khun Wissanu.
'In ten years time, Kamala beach will be like Patong. The beach
will be the place for business, the people will move to the foothills.
Only the cemetery by the sea will show that the Muslims were once
Khun Wissanu gave
me the geneaology of the Yayee family. Sirintra is the eldest
child of Wan Nawawi, the son of Wah Hasheen alias Chern Yayee,
the son of Wan Hussein, the son of Wan Hakay, the son of Wan Agim,
the son of Mahsuri. That makes her the the first-born seventh
generation descendant of Mahsuri.
Wan Arkem, had six children, two sons and four daughters. Their
descendants form six sub-clans in Kamala, bearing four different
clan names, Yayee, Doomlak, Samerpurn and Sungwarn. Other families
such as the Sangthong, the Sariya and the Sooksrisin also intermarried
with Mahsuri's progeny.
of Wan Arkem's sons Wan Hakay and Wan Heed carry the clan name
'Yayee'. Other descendants carry the names of the daughter's husband's
families. Wan Phau and Wan Maw married two brothers (or cousins)
of the 'Doomlak' family, Wan Deng married Mahsuri's guard 'Samerpurn'.
Wan Phek married 'Sungwarn', which means 'belt' in Thai. Wan Akerm
gave each of his children a dagger, which all the six clans still
possess as proof of their lineage.
Thanks to Khun
Wissanu's influential position, the story of Mahsuri has now been
retold to a Thai audience. A 'Princess Mahsuri Museum' is already
in the pipeline. Whether or not the Mahsuri legend becomes as
famous in Phuket as it has in Langkawi, the descendants of the
'white-blooded lady' deserve to be proud of their family heritage,
and the role they are playing to help reverse the fortunes of
Kamala after the tsunami.
and photos copyright Khoo Salma Nasution