Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Jungle Juju

In 2010, The Bomoh's Apprentice by gwailo expat Geoffrey S Walker was quietly published. Until the manuscript for its sequel hit my table, I had no clue it would become a series.

What I thought was the usual jungle tale with magic, folklore and indigenous cultures... wasn't. Working with this manuscript had been fun. So far, I'd never written so much author correspondence as I did on this project. Ah, what tales I could tell...

The Bomoh's Apprentice (left) and Blood Reunion.
A "Harry Potter in Borneo" in the making?

Both books are written in a very anachronistic - albeit at times, long-winded - tone that begs the reader to just sit back and enjoy the ride. They can also easily make the leap from paper to screens big and small. I'm thinking, Saturday morning cartoons. Or maybe CGI, ala Upin & Ipin. As always, your mileage may vary.

The early years
This budding series begins deep in the jungles of Borneo, at a village named for a tree god who resides in the twilight realm of Inworld. It is this realm and this god, Tuan Pokok Tertinggi (literally, "the Lord Highest Tree"), that the bomoh or witch doctor Katak Hitam ("Black Frog") will eventually serve and protect.

One day, in the aftermath of a gruesome murder, Katak Hitam adopts a young boy whom he names Kutu or "flea". For years, the large, black-skinned bomoh patiently coaches Kutu in the magical arts and the ways of the spirits, preparing the boy for the day he becomes bomoh.

Then, one day, tragedy strikes.

To save Kutu's life, Katak Hitam takes drastic steps and as a result, is trapped in the realm of the tree god. Though the old witch-doctor designates Kutu as his successor, the villagers do not believe the boy, who is exiled for allegedly murdering his mentor-father.

The boy's problems do not end there. With Katak Hitam gone, Ketuat, the pompous, self-important headman of the village, seeks the means to become the bomoh. When things do not go according to plan, however, his pride and lust for power threaten to push him over the edge...

...but it all works out for Kutu in the end. At least, as far as this book is concerned...

The schemer and the skeleton
In Blood Reunion, it's been four years since Kutu succeeded his adopted father Katak Hitam as the bomoh of Kampung Pokok Tertinggi and installed the cool-headed, sagely hunter Pak Sumpit as its headman. Life in the village has never been better, but not everyone is happy.

Seething with anger at the loss of his assumed birthright as the village's headman, Sulung wanders into the abandoned hut where a young mother met a violent end and encounters another ghost from the past.

Seventeen years ago, midwife Mak Cik Bidan fled Kampung Pokok Tertinggi for her life, leaving her young charge behind to face the murderous wrath of a madman, taking with her a toyol - an undead familiar conjured from the spirit of a stillborn child. She has returned after years of wandering to rid herself of the curse that hung over her head since that day, and to find her toyol a new master.

In his great-aunt's supernatural pet, Sulung sees the chance for wealth, stature... and revenge.

Meanwhile, Kutu is informed of an unexpected visitor to his hut. He enters and finds the skull-less skeleton of Panglima Awang, once a fearsome headhunter, warrior and Casanova, looking for his missing head. The young bomoh later introduces the headhunter to Pak Sumpit and the two become friends.

But with trouble brewing in the horizon for Kutu, Pak Sumpit and the village, is the presence of this Skullduggery Pleasant a good or bad thing for everyone?

The second book in The Bomoh's Apprentice series, Blood Reunion evokes the rich traditions of ancient Malaysian folklore while tapping the universal themes of love and hate, greed and self-sacrifice, honour and betrayal.

Geoffrey S Walker first read about Borneo as a young boy, and his fascination with the island stayed with him ever since. In 2004, following a successful career in advertising, he left the United States and settled in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. As a member of the Sabah Society, he has had the opportunity to explore many parts of Borneo that are well off the beaten track, and these experiences helped shape his first novel, The Bomoh’s Apprentice, and its follow-up, Blood Reunion.

Cover illustrations for both books are by graphic illustrator and art teacher John Ho; visit his blog at

The Bomoh's Apprentice is now (or should be) in all major bookstores. Blood Reunion, the second book in the series, is scheduled for release sometime next month.

The Bomoh's Apprentice
Geoffrey S Walker
MPH Group Publishing
389 pages
ISBN: 978-967-5222-81-8

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Blood Reunion
Geoffrey S Walker
MPH Group Publishing
420 pages
ISBN: 978-967-5997-61-7

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