Happenings, News

A Dyak spirit?

Trying to help one of the pupils in the girls’ school in Sibu, Sarawak, missionary Rev J. M. Hoover tells of the strange encounter he and his wife had with …

‘SEVERAL years ago two Chinese girls from the bazaar came to the girls’ school. They were not Christians.

The older sister later married one of our Christian boys, but the younger girl, Ah Lim, married a Chinese trader who was not a Christian and who lived some thirty miles up the river from Sibu. This man had formerly been married to a Dyak girl who had died, but before she died she urged her husband to marry her sister after she had gone. She said if he married any other girl she would return to haunt her.

After Ah Lim’s marriage she was taken to her husband’s home which was the same in which the Dyak woman had lived. Soon Ah Lim complained of being disturbed in her sleep – a voice called to her in Dyak continually but nobody heard it except herself.

She became so nervous she could neither sleep nor eat and after a while returned to her own home in Sibu.

Her parents used all sorts of charms and devices known to Chinese, but still she could not sleep. If she did, she cried out in her sleep in the Dyak language, and soon awakened in an exhausted state. When she was in her ordinary condition she could speak no Dyak at all. She had no appetite and nothing she ate stayed down. This state of affairs went on for days.

Mrs Hoover visited her several times. While Mrs Hoover was there she was much quieter. I went once or twice but nothing happened while I was there.

I was very sceptical about the whole affair. I thought first it might be a ruse to get her home, or perhaps she and her husband did not get along, but inquiry proved the facts otherwise. The little sleep she got was worse than none, being very disturbed. She had had no nourishment for days.

Something had to be done, so we asked whether she would like to stay in the school for a while, assuring her that no evil spirits could get her there. She agreed at once.

We brought her to the school, gave a little cocoa, and then she went off into a sound peaceful sleep. This was about 4 pm. At six she was still asleep.

Inquiry at eight brought the same answer. I was convinced I had broken the spell – a little suggestion had done the work.

That night I was sitting at my desk doing some bookkeeping (our house is next door to the school). About ten o’clock all was quiet and still when a voice from the front of the school called out in Dyak, “Ah Lim, Ah Lim”, I was quite annoyed and told Mrs Hoover I wished those people would go home and leave Ah Lim alone. She  went to the window and said: “What do you want?” The answer came, “I want Ah Lim to go home.” “Where to?” asked Mrs Hoover. “Back to the plantation,” came the answer.

I was working away and thought nothing of it, but when Mrs Hoover turned from the window, she said in an awed whisper, “It’s the voice.”

I took in the situation at once, dropped my book and rushed out. It was too dark to see, so I lost a few seconds returning for a lantern. We searched every place and turned out the neighbours but could find nobody, and another strange thing about it was that nobody nearby heard the calling except Mrs Hoover and me.

Ah Lim slept right through it. None of the girls or the matron heard it. The Chinese preacher and his wife who live on the other side of the school and are nearer than we, did not hear it either. We made all preparations to catch that voice if it returned.

We hid in the hedge the next night but it never came back.

A few days after this Ah Lim said she must go back to her own home in the bazaar. We tried to keep her, but she insisted on going, so we let her go. She had the same trouble all over again. Then she left the place and we did not hear of her for months. She is back now, is well and living in the bazaar, and is a regular attendant at church. — MM, Aug 1926, p.13.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.


I still believe that there is no voice without a body, but I never went to bed with stranger feelings. To this day I can offer no explanation, and to talk of it gives me the creeps. — The Rev J. M. Hoover on “the voice”.