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The Shrine of Datuk Panglima Hijau on Pangkor Island

The religious belief of the Datuk Keramat worship can be found in Malaysia, Singapore and along the Strait of Malacca. It is a fusion of Malaysian folk religion, Sufism, and Chinese folk religion in Southeast Asia.

In Malay, datuk means a village chief, a grandfather, or person in a high position and keramat is an Arabic loanword associated with Sufism that means "sacred, holy, blessed, mystical, supernatural, highly respected".

Worshippers usually offer flowers, fruits, rice and vegetable to the shrines. Benzoin is also burnt to emit a smoky fragrant smell as part of the ritual.


According to local legends, all datuks were once humans who had a standing in society either for their position or special attributes. They could have been an important leader, a renowned healer, a silat warrior, a landlord, a pious man or even a respectable dukun, pawang or bomoh. Upon their death, locals and their followers would sometimes offer prayers at their gravestones, in line with the concept of keramat. In several cases, a large anthill structure was present on the grave. With the arrival of Chinese immigrants who carried along with them the Confucian belief of Ancestral Worship and their respect for Nature, both practices converged and formed a new micro-culture as observed today. Datuks, referred to in Chinese as Na Tuk Kong, is considered a localised form in worship of the spirit of the land, along with Tu Di Gong (Earth Deities).


See also: Mazar (mausoleum)

Keramat is a small yellow-coloured painted shrines that can be found along sidewalks or under trees in Malaysia. These shrines are usually worshipped by residents living nearby. The shrines are normally of a fusion Chinese-Malay design, with Islamic elements such as the crescent moon decorations. Inside the shrine, a small, decorated statue or a piece of stone (wrapped in yellow cloth) is venerated, representing the datuk. Offerings are brought and placed around the datuk, or sometimes on a small altar in front of it.


One belief is that there are a total of nine types of datuks, and that each of them were once great warriors and expert in Malay local martial arts, the silat except for the last datuk. They were also known to possess great magical powers. Worshippers usually pray to datuks for protection, good health, and good luck, and sometimes seek divine help to overcome their problems.

Below are the nine datuks from the eldest to the youngest:

1. Datuk Panglima Ali (Ali)
2. Datuk Panglima Hitam (Black)
3. Datuk Panglima Harimau (Tiger)
4. Datuk Panglima Hijau (Green)
5. Datuk Panglima Kuning (Yellow)
6. Datuk Panglima Putih (White)
7. Datuk Panglima Bisu (Mute)
8. Datuk Panglima Merah (Red)
9. Datuk Panglima Bongsu (Youngest)

The structure of datuk worship is diversified according to localities. For example, in the old quarters of Georgetown, the presence of The Seven Brothers or Tujuh Beradik is common while in the royal town of Klang in Selangor, most of the spirits worshipped are believed to be members of the royal court (sultans, officers, warriors etc.), each with their own unique identity.

Worship ritual

Worshippers usually offer fresh flowers, sireh (betelnuts), rokok daun (local hand rolled cigarettes), sliced pinang (areca nuts) and local fruits. An important part of the praying ritual is also to burn some kemenyan (benzoin, made from a local gum tree, when burnt emit a smoky fragrant smell).

If their prayers are answered, the worshippers usually return to the shrine and make offerings or hold a kenduri (feast). Another common practise is for individuals to renovate the shrines to create a better looking shrine for the datuk. In most places where there is a heavy presence of datuk spirits, it is common to see shrines becoming larger over time, especially if individuals consider the datuk to be 'powerful'.

The kenduri items usually consist of yellow saffron rice, lamb or chicken curries, vegetables, pisang rastali (bananas), young coconuts, rose syrup, cherrots (local cigars) and local fruits.

Pork items are considered impure and are therefore forbidden in shrines; visitors are also asked to not show disrespect when inside or around a shrine.


See also