From a rock to a god; A study on the transformative journey of the Datuk Gong cult in Malaya.
If you have not seen the pitch video, let me introduce the campaign. My name is Mahen Bala and I'm the director of Datuk Gong: Spirit of the Land, a research and documentation project initiated to provide a rare insight into a religious cult found in Malaysia.
The cult of worshipping the Datuk Gong has been around for much more than a century, evolving through many different forms under different names over the years. While short academic papers have been written on it, the cult has never before been documented comprehensively in any form of media.
By contributing to our campaign, you'll be investing in an education. This documentary is only a small part of our bigger plan to revamp the current approach towards education; a 're-looking' at our understanding of history, accumulation of knowledge and appreciation of culture.
Get your passports out and your bags packed for an adventure into a world of mystery and intrigue. We're making a trip to Malaysia.
About the documentary
Datuk Gong: Spirit of the Land, is a feature documentary that comprehensively details the origins, structure, diversity and relevance of the Datuk Gong worship as observed uniquely in Malaysia, Singapore, and parts of Indonesia. A personal labour of love for the past 4 years and counting, the documentary is finally coming together with answers to some of the questions that has brought me across the country many times over.
From small shrines under trees to large temples of many shapes and sizes, the Datuk Gong makes his presence known through many different forms. Popularly dismissed as a common Chinese deity, the Datuk Gong has in fact been part of Malaysian culture across all ethnicities for more than a century. The Datuk Gong is most commonly known as a Malay-Muslim spirit, worshipped primarily by the Chinese community in Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Indonesia as a land deity, responsible for the safety and well-being of the community.
In a modern context, worship of the Datuk Gong is extremely important in the study of both Chinese and Malay identities in Malaya (present day Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore). Without a formalized structure or literature, the cult is in a state of perpetual change, adapting itself to local culture and practices. The cult observed today is an assimilation of Chinese ancestral worship and Malay keramat worship supplemented by rituals rooted in Taoism.
The documentary is primarily geared towards universities and learning institutes with a special focus on research in the field of social studies, Asian studies and anthropology.
Domestically, the documentation will be compiled into a feature documentary and made available online, and in academic resource centers. Present Tense Media will be organizing public screenings and presentations to share the material with those who matter the most, Malaysians.
Internationally, the documentary will make its premiere at film festivals around the globe and be available for viewing online on various platforms.
A Work in Progress
Right from the start, we knew crowdsourcing would be the ideal path in sourcing for funds. That's precisely why we made it a point to initiate the research and documentation on our funds before bringing to the public. We understand that crowdsourcing isn't something to be taken lightly so we went out there and started it on our own.
Here's a timeline of what we've been working on thus far:
And here's what's happening next:
Completing the research and documentation:
Interviews with remaining researchers we already have confirmed appointments with.
Document the remaining idols on our list of must-visit Chinese temples.
- Document the keramat worship in Georgetown, Penang and Pulau Besar, Malacca.
Post-production of the documentary
- Subtitling (English, Malay, Chinese)
How are we distributing the funds?Check out the awesome diagram below for a breakdown on how we are planning to distribute the $15,000 we need.
This is a not-for-profit campaign. Every dollar will bring us that much closer towards completing the project. Rewards
We thought hard about how and with what we should reward you guys and figured that the best way would be to share the little gems that make Malaysia our home. As part of the rewards for supporting us, we will be sending over selected items which are truly at the heart of Malaysian culture.
We’re not talking about your standard keychains and "I (heart) KL" t-shirts. We’ve even titled the rewards with the names of fascinating cities and towns around the country, each with its own unique character.
I’ll be honest here; in Malaysia, shipping is expensive. If you’re in the US then we’re almost exactly half-way across the planet. Pigeons don’t fly that far. We tried. So instead of asking you for more money just so we can give you more awesome items, we decided to find the absolute best ones we could find within our budget and put those up on the list.
The great list of Malaysian awesomeness
Just a postcard? Nope, not just any ordinary postcard. We will be sending you designer postcards with little stories on Malaysian culture.
Mention this to any Malaysian and be greeted with a smile. The 555 notebook has been used by Malaysians for many, many decades to store information. It’s used to store contact numbers (back when we had no cellphones) and more famously, to keep track of debts.
Recycled palm-paper Notebook
A notebook with a custom designed cover, with thick pages made of recycled palm-paper. In case you didn't know, Malaysia is the world's second largest oil palm producer in the world. The notebook is about the size of a sketchbook with empty pages so you can use it however you see fit.
DVD - Datuk Gong: Spirit of the Land
Get a DVD of the documentary, complete with the director's commentary and other goodies packed in a custom designed card wallet.
An icon of the rich, colourful heritage of the Indian community in Malaysia, the multi-purpose Pashmina scarf is a must have. Use it as a headscarf, or a neck scarf, or a shawl, it's really up to you. Scarfs are designed with a neutral pattern so they may be worn by both genders.
Ever heard of a sarung? If you’ve been to South East Asia then chances are you’ve seen one. Locals use 2 types of sarungs, the checkered ones are worn by men and the patterned ones by women. There 2 types of batik art, a print which is made by a machine and a hand-printed one where dye is impressed onto the cloth manually. We’ll be sending you an original, hand-printed batik from the coastal town in Trengganu. Instructions included.
Get a taste of exotic Borneo with a pair of traditional tribal masks from Sarawak. These masks are usually used in traditional performances and storytelling sessions by the natives who live in longhouses.
We will send over a scroll with Chinese calligraphy, handwritten by a mobility challenged calligraphy painter from the historic city of Malacca. Scrolls usually bear blessings and well-wishes so let us know if you’d like one written for you personally, your family or even your business.
A well woven kain songket is a marvel to look at, let alone feel. What the sarung is to the commoner, the kain songket is to the well-respected gentlemen. When worn around the waist with a baju melayu, the cloth is a status symbol. The cloth is made of cotton woven with gold and silver coloured thread.
The keris or kris is a symbol of Malay culture and valour. Traditionally used by silat warriors and members of the elite, today the silat is still seen as a sacred weapon and admired globally for it’s long history and craftsmanship.
And no, it's never just about the money
Contributing is more than just about money.
In fact, funding is only a small part of it.
Helping us fund the campaign will be a great help but that’s not all you can do. Be a part of the documentary by sharing it with your friends, family and more importantly, your university. Just in the way you stumbled upon the campaign, thousands more could benefit the same with your help.
If you are overseas and live far, far away from Malaysia, 'like' and share our official Facebook page among your friends. We regularly post updates on the progress of the documentary, trivia on Malayan culture, behind-the-scenes insights and links to other interesting materials on our blog.If you live in Malaysia, then there are many ways you can contribute. We need help in marketing the campaign. You could introduce the documentary to universities or cultural institutes near you so we can arrange for a special screening. You could also share pictures of Datuk Gong shrines around your neighborhood or any related stories that you may have on the Facebook page.
Why Datuk Gong?
The cult of worshipping the Datuk Gong is very well known around the region and yet little is understood. With such a high degree of localization, each Datuk is worshipped differently according to local customs. No two shrines or idols are alike. This is unique compared to all other forms of pagan religions and provides a very valuable insight into local customs
How long did it take to research the subject?
Research started out of curiosity in 2009 and has continued until today. Over the years, I have travelled all over the country in search of shrines and temples, retracing the history of the cult mainly through oral history narrated by locals.
What are the risks and challenges in undertaking such a huge project?
We knew right from the start, many years ago that the project would present many unique risks and challenges. In the case of the Datuk Gong, the primary challenge was in uncovering the history of the individual Datuks as most of the information remain undocumented, only handed down orally from one generation to the other.
Communication was also a challenge as the locals in Malaysia speak a multitude of languages and dialects (ex: Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka, Tamil, Malay and English). The direction of the research is much more complex than conventional documentaries as the subject has never been explored in such depths before, and involves an overlap of different subjects in multi-ethnic Malaysia.
Who is Datuk Gong again?
Datuk Gong is a generic name used to refer to a local spirit who is worshipped as the guardian spirit of the land. The term Datuk or Dato (written in Chinese as Na Tuk 拿督) is a Malay honorific title used to refer to someone well respected within the community as a leader and in the Datuk Gong context, refers to the position of a protector for a specified area, very much like a Captain or Inspector in the police force. The term Gong 公 is essentially used the same way in the Chinese language to honour a well respected individual (example: Guan Gong, Tua Pek Gong).
Who worships the Datuk and why?
The Datuk Gong is worshipped primarily by the Chinese community as the land deity responsible for well-being and safety. WIthin the multi-cultural landscape of Malaysia, the Datuk is also worshipped by Indians and in some cases, Malay Muslims although it is considered forbidden in Islam. Worshippers seek the help of the Datuk for many reasons; personal health, financial help, blessings for safety and even fertility charms. The Datuk plays a role as the wise old man of the village, providing advice and help to the needy. During consultation sessions, the Datuk manifests himself through a medium and responds to the worshippers directly.
Where and when can I watch it?
The documentary is expected to be completed by mid-January 2014 and will be distributed through various platforms. Priority will be given to ensure universities and cultural institutes, both domestic and international, have access to it as academic reference in the field of anthropology and Asian studies. Locally, public screenings and lectures will be organized while premiering internationally on iTunes and other selected online platforms.
How can I be a part of it?
Be a part of the documentary by sharing it with your friends, family and more importantly, your university. Just the way you stumbled upon the campaign, thousands more could benefit the same with your help.
If you are overseas and live far, far away from Malaysia, like and share our official Facebook page among your friends. We regularly post updates on the progress of the documentary, trivia on Malayan culture, behind-the-scenes insights and links to other interesting materials on our blog page.
If you live in Malaysia, then there many ways you can contribute. We need help in marketing the campaign. You could introduce the documentary to universities or cultural institutes near you so we can arrange for a special screening. You could also share with us pictures of Datuk Gong shrines around your neighborhood or any related stories that you may have on the Facebook page.
Official website: http://presenttensemedia.org/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/datukgongdocumentary