Walking down the streets of Kuala Lumpur, it’s hard to miss little red shrines on street corners, or facing a building. Although more subtly placed than the hindu/buddhist shrines of Bangkok, it’s easier to spot them, as they stand out from the shrubs or enclosures, being painted vermillion.
I’ve always wondered which gods are placed in these little huts, although some of them aren’t so little (there are some in hotels which are gigantic!). After asking around, i found that these shrines aren’t really for a god or gods, but really a spirit. Called ‘Na Tuk Kong’, ‘Na Du Gong’, or ‘Da Tok Kong’, it is said that the spirit is a guardian spirit, possibly a remnant of nature worship. I was told that so long as someone saw a strange man (wherever he might appear, for example, even in a garden of a home), a shrine would be built for the spirit.
Apparently, the spirit resides in trees, caves, riversides and in rock formations. I was told that even Malays and Indians used to worship the Na Tuk. In Malay, he was called ‘penunggu’. Apparently though, this was considered ‘unIslamic’, and therefore the worship of this earth spirit was halted.
Another friend told me that a Na Tuk can be invited to reside in the compound of a family home for protection and good fortune. According to wikipedia, it is never invited into a home. I wonder why… I also wonder why there is no English writing on this interesting little piece of Malaysian culture, aside from wikipedia.