In recent news, a 65-year-old housewife overheard two Chinese nationals talking about a miraculous herbal tree that could cure any disease. She got interested, so she followed the two women into a silver car, where they told her that she’s got a chronic disease that have to be immediately treated before it spreads to her family members. They said that they can cure her, but she has to give them all of her money and valuables, which she did: foreign currencies worth RM195,000, two watches worth RM60,000, and jewelries worth RM600,000, bringing the total up to RM855,000.
In return, she was given a black plastic bag with the instruction not to open it until a month has passed. But she got curious, and on Tuesday she opened the bag. Instead of magical herbs, the bag was filled with fruits and fruit juices. She later made a police report, claiming that the two women were shamans and they put a spell on her that made her give them her valuables. While the case is currently being investigated under Section 420 of the Penal Code for cheating, what this housewife experienced was only the most recent of a string of alleged hypnotic crimes.
Last month, a 73-year-old Chinese woman in Sri Petaling (we’ll call her Ah Ma) was approached by a younger woman who asked her about an aloe vera remedy. While she was talking to this aloe lady, another woman came up behind her and tapped her on her shoulder, and out of nowhere warned her about a curse on her family. This is when Ah Ma reported falling into a trance-like state. Apparently one of Ah Ma’s sons will die in three days.
Both these women then took Ah Ma to see a third women, supposedly a healer. This healer then asked Ah Ma to give her all of her money and jewellery. Now here’s the weird part. Ah Ma took the healer home with her to gather up all her jewelries, then drove with her to a few different banks and withdrew all of her money. She put all RM86,000 worth of valuables into a plastic bag and gave it to the healer.
The healer then performed a ritual behind Ah Ma’s back that culminated with her dramatically thumping Ah Ma’s car window and bleating out the name of her allegedly dying son before giving Ah Ma the plastic bag back. Ah Ma, still in a daze, drove home and found water bottles and bars of soap in the plastic bag instead of her valuables.
Hypnotic crimes like these, known as ‘pukau‘ in Malay, are characterized by a sense of compliance during the robbery, and only realizing what happened after it’s all over. These robberies have an element of mystical mumbo-jumbo and mind-control to them, and despite us being two more years to flying cars…
Modern-day Malaysians are getting pukau-ed left and right
Unless you’re hanging out with Paris Hilton every other weekend, giving away valuables worth hundreds of thousands of ringgits to a complete stranger isn’t a common thing. However, stories of people being hypnotized into giving away their possessions (and in some cases, their dignities) aren’t that rare at all in Malaysia.
Earlier this month, Aminah, a 60-year-old Malay woman in Puchong was convinced she was hypnotized by a man who came up to her house to ask for directions while she was looking over her potted plants. After saying that she didn’t know who he was talking about, the man called up someone on his phone and loudly berated the person for not giving him an exact address.
He then asked Aminah lady about her daughter, whose name he knew, and pretended to call her daughter on the phone. After hanging up, he gave the woman a white envelope on which was written some numbers, and asked her to pass that on to her daughter. And that’s when she later said that she felt hypnotized.
The man then asked her to open the front gate and let him in, and told her that her daughter needed money, and asked her to give him all her money and jewelries. He also asked for a copy of her IC. She complied, and he left after receiving her valuables. Later, after she had recovered from being hypnotized, she called up her daughter to ask about that man, but her daughter knew nothing about it.
Ah Ma and Aminah were just two out of the many victims of hypnotists. Last year, a housewife in Sungai Petani lost RM50,000 to hypnotists. A poor 77-year-old grandpa in Sabak Bernam gave away his savings, RM6,000 in all, to two well-dressed men. Another woman in Seremban lost the same amount, and this year a 71-year-old man in Ipoh lost RM117,000 to hypnotists. We could give you more examples, but all of their stories had more or less the same flow with the details changed.
The victims would meet several people with some sort of gimmick, they feel hypnotized, they remember giving away all of their valuables willingly, and they all realized that they have been hypnotized afterwards. With so many cases, you might be wondering…
Eh? Isn’t hypnotism just a load of crap? Is it legit after all?
Hypnosis may sound like something that belongs in the same group as telekinesis and mind reading, but it’s sometimes used to help in psychotherapy. While the success rate of such treatments are up for debate, hypnotic therapy, or hypnotherapy, had been used to help people with phobias, depression, stress, control their pain, or stop smoking or overeating. When used in performances for entertainment purposes, the practice is called stage hypnosis.
But what is hypnosis, really? There are a few definitions out there, but to put it simply, when you’re hypnotized, you’re basically focusing so hard on something that you block everything else out, and you’re more open to suggestions. What hypnosis is not, however, is something that turns you into an obedient zombie. People under hypnosis (at least, medically) are still in control of themselves, and they will not do anything that they normally find very unpleasant.
For example, it’s possible to plant suggestions in a hypnotized person for them to cut back on their teh tarik intake or make them deal with some traumatic memories, but you can’t tell someone to push needles under their own nails unless they themselves want to do it. The person being hypnotized have to somehow or other want to do things that are being suggested to them.
So how can these hypnotized people gave up their life savings so easily to these hypnorobbers? Well…
There’s a chance that these people weren’t really hypnotized
According to Romy Rafael, a celebrity hypnotherapist from Indonesia, perhaps these people weren’t hypnotized at all. In an interview with Vice, Romy revealed hypnosis is essentially a hypnotist guiding someone into a very relaxed state where they’re more open to suggestions, but for that to work, the person being hypnotized must actively allow themselves to be hypnotized.
“I can’t stress this often enough: If the person being hypnotized resists hypnosis, nothing can be done about it. No hypnotherapist is ‘powerful’ enough to force somebody to do anything against his or her free will. Physical touch like tapping someone’s shoulder or shaking their hand is done to create an immediate physical connection with the victims, but it’s not how hypnosis is done.” – Romy Rafael, celebrity hypnotherapist, for Vice.
As an explanation for the seemingly magical ways people ended up giving strangers their money, Romy suggested that in these cases, the victims may be too embarrassed to admit that they have fallen prey to a con, so they exaggerated and told stories about automatic hypnosis through physical touch. And looking back at the stories on how Ah Ma and Aminah were allegedly hypnotized, there’s a chance that Romy may be right in that these crimes weren’t hypnotic or mystical after all.
Following Romy’s theory, it may be possible that the hypnotists created a sort of instant bond with the victims; Ah Ma through physical contact, and Aminah through receiving something. Both were then made to worry in some way. Following that line of events, both had reasons to give the hypnotist their valuables; Ah Ma to remove the curse on her son, and Aminah because her daughter needed it. And here’s the thing: in the moment the hypnotists were out of their sight, both knew that they have been hypnotized, even though they haven’t been hypnotized before.
However, this is all just conjecture as there’s no empirical way to either prove or disprove hypnotic robberies. So were victims of hypnotic crime like Ah Ma and Aminah really hypnotized into giving away their money, or were they just victims to clever psychological tricks? We’ll let you figure that out on your own, but at the same time you should know that…
Hypnotism is serious business in Malaysia, but you may be able to protect yourselves
If you were to ask around, you might find other Malaysians who would swear on their lives that robbing people using hypnosis is a thing. We asked a Malay lady, and she told us about nasi kangkang used by women to hypnotize men and genie-wielding shamans that can hypnotize people merely by chanting a spell and puffing some cigarette smoke in their faces.
When we asked our intern, she revealed that Indians also have hypnotism in their culture, from robbers staring at people while wearing eyeliner infused with black magic (victims will be stupefied for hours, or at least until someone comes along to snap them out of it) to housewives serving an abusive husband or difficult children drinks made from the water they’ve used to wash their faces in the morning.
We asked our Chinese colleagues, but all they came up with was
“Just wave a ringgit note in front of their faces lah,” – our managing editor.
Even the authorities are taking hypnotic crimes seriously. You might have heard earlier this year about a 56-year-old Chinese woman who was tied to a tree in KL because she was believed to be a hypnotist. The woman was alleged to have hypnotized some RM10,000 out of one of her victims, who later identified her and asked the public to help tie her to a tree until they can get the police. The suspect was remanded for four days.
In 2015, the Penang police believed that they had smashed the operations of a gang who robbed people using hypnotism. The arrest of three Indonesian men and a woman following a short car chase scene was believed to be the fourth case of robberies using black magic solved in Penang so far. And check out this PSA:
While we can’t verify the authenticity of the video, judging by the the credits it’s a PSA by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the PDRM in conjunction with Astro. In it, the video warns Malaysians about the dangers of talking to weird strangers (weird, because she’s asking for directions by referring to Google Maps) in case you get hypnotized, and tells us helpful steps we can take such as:
- Don’t engage in extended conversations with strangers.
- Keep your distance from strangers.
- Point persistent strangers to the nearest police station.
- Note down the suspect’s vehicle number.
- Walk away from the scene immediately, and
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
Following these steps will definitely stop you from being hypnotized, but for those of us who’d prefer not to build a wall between us and the rest of the world, Romy offered an alternative.
“It’s true that some people are more vulnerable to hypnosis, but it’s all in their minds. If you tell yourself that you’re grounded and strong, you can resist hypnosis pretty easily.
People who fall victim are usually in some sort of emotional or financial trouble so their defenses are weak. They are willing to believe that someone can magically cure their problems, and the criminals can see this. Just pray a lot and don’t ever trust strangers. This sounds like cliché advice for children, but people forget it again and again.” – Romy Rafael, for Vice.
As for ways to protect yourselves from magic eyeliners and cigarette smoke… perhaps it’s best to consult your local shaman or priest on the matter.