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Taboo Presenter Says Black Magic Episode Triggers Memories Of Her Own Experience Of Being Cursed By A Bomoh

Syirah Jusni co-hosts Taboo, a current-affairs series on YouTube that looks at controversial topics in the Malay community.

Taboo Presenter Says Black Magic Episode Triggers Memories Of Her Own Experience Of Being Cursed By A Bomoh
A few minutes into 8days.sg’s Zoom chat with Syirah Jusni, a distant rumble is heard over from the Suria actress-host’s side.
 
“Is that thunder in the background?” I inquire.
 
“Yes, it’s raining here,” the host of Suria’s lifestyle and entertainment show Manja says, with a laugh.
 
Oh, boy. Should we continue?
 
Now, why would a grown man be rattled by a little thunder? On any given day, I’m not that timid, but at this very moment, it’s a faint yes.
 
Let me explain: Syirah, 33, is the presenter of Taboo — which she takes turn anchoring with Farisha Ishak — a current-affairs series, now streaming on  Mediacorp Entertainment YouTube Channel,  that deals with off-limits topics in Malay community, from divine readings to polygamy to sugar babies. (Each ep has a post-mortem show where experts weigh in on the matter at hand.)  
 
And it so happens that the episode Syirah worked on touches on how Islamic healing is used against black magic. And that’s not even the creepy part, but more on that later.
 
The supernatural-tinged instalment wasn’t exactly her first choice, Syirah admits. If she had her way, she would’ve done the ‘Sugar Babies’ episode which centres on young women who offer their company to older men in exchange for financial and material support. “I wanted that episode so much!”, she says. “Because there were so many things I wanted to ask people of my age who resorted to this arrangement.”
 
Instead, Farisha was assigned to that gig. What happened? Well, COVID-19 happened, says Syirah who fell sick in November.
 
She recalls: “Mine was the Delta variant. On the first night, I already lost my sense of taste and smell. I had all the full-blown symptoms: a 40-degree fever, flu, sore throat. I was going through so much fatigue, and my body was aching like crazy.”
 
When Syirah recovered, she was handed the dark arts story, not exactly a subject-matter she was eager to tackle for a good reason. 
 
That said, thunder or no thunder — is it a meteorological coincidence or cosmic warning? — our interview must go on.
 
8 DAYS: How different is hosting Taboo from the other gigs you’ve done?
SYIRAH JUSNI: Doing this series was definitely very different from all the other hosting jobs I’ve done so far. For this one, it was challenging because to get people to come forward and share their stories, you have to get the approach right. We’re discussing topics like polygamy and civil marriage, which are very sensitive in our Muslim community. On every shoot day, I have to really prepare myself on how I make these people comfortable with me at first. Because every time you go to their place, they will give you a sceptical look like, Should I share everything with youBecause this is a show, I don’t know how much I should share and all. My boss told me, “Syirah, you have to try and squeeze everything out of them and present them in as genuine and honest a manner as possible.” That’s my challenge between making them feel comfortable enough to share with me, and also not crossing the line because of these sensitive topics. That makes Taboo different from all the other shows that I’ve done because the other shows are quite light-hearted. It’s about learning your script and giving out the information. For this one, the interviewees are quite hesitant to share the entire story, so you have to make them trust you enough to open up.
 
What’s your secret to making them open up?
I think my strength is, I can get close and comfortable with people very easily. Before the interview starts, while they’re setting up, I always make it a point to speak to them and make them laugh, so that they know I don’t come from a place where I just merely want to interview them and get them on the screen. I come from a place of wanting to sincerely know the whole story, and not wanting to judge them. I really needed to find that middle ground where I needed to take care of their hearts at the same time while trying to get all these stories out. It’s a very challenging place to be in.
 

One episode that intrigued me was ‘The Work of an Islamic Healer Against Black Magic’, where you are seen visibly shaken, crying, in fact, as the healer is performing the ritual.
Yeah. The practitioner actually said some prayers, but I cried not because of what was happening. I cried because when he was reciting the prayers, it got a reaction out of me. Before this, I fell sick because of all these... disturbances. So when he was reciting the prayers, my body reacted. That wasn’t me crying — it was my body reacting naturally to the prayers.
 
The prayers made your body react?
This is quite a personal experience about being in the industry, when you have someone who’s not really happy with whatever you’re doing... long story short, I also kena lah: I have fallen sick because someone who was not happy with me, and did something to me.
 
Do you mean like a hex?
Yes. I actually fell sick about six years ago and I went for Islamic healing. I was told that someone in the industry was apparently not happy with me, or was not happy with what I’ve achieved, so they resorted to black magic. They went to the bomoh (Malay shaman) and the bomoh made me sick for many years. When I was told to cover black magic as my first topic for Taboo, of course, I was very concerned. I know that I am not 100 per cent healed from my own sickness.  During the shoot, I also had to follow the healer to his client’s house to perform the ritual. When he recited the prayers, the lady, who was ‘sick’, started screaming. Because I’m not fully recovered, when he was reciting prayers, I started having the same reaction. It was quite an eye-opening experience. I thought I was just doing my job, but I didn’t know I was also going to be absorbed into this whole black magic thing.
 
When you said you were sick, how sick were you?
Back then, I was doing Manja every Monday. But on Sunday, I could never get out of bed — I would feel paralysed, sick. I couldn’t even eat,. That’s how bad it was. And sometimes when I was doing my live show halfway, I felt like someone was poking my chest. It felt so sharp. There were a few times, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and by the end of the show, my fingernails turned blue because of maybe a lack of oxygen while I was having my panic attack. Those were the things that affected me, physically and mentally.
 
Did you see a medical doctor first?
I always make it a point to see the doctor first. They actually said there was nothing wrong with me. That was when I went for Islamic healing and found out [I was hexed].

My skin is crawling. And there’s thunder. Maybe we should call off the interview.

It so happens that just as I was about to go on Zoom, it just started raining very heavily.

Should I be worried?

No lah, don’t worry. It just happens to be a rainy season (laughs). 

You also interviewed an ex-black magic practitioner in another episode.
Initially, I was very scared lah. When I heard about an ex-black magic practitioner, I was like, oh my gosh, he has fully given it up?. So I was actually very, very scared to see him. But when I interviewed him, he was a nice guy and he has stopped his practice entirely. But it so happened that for his case, he didn’t do it to people. He came from a place where he was always very engrossed in horoscopes. He got so absorbed that he suddenly learned about black magic and he did it upon himself — he did it to make himself look young; he didn’t do it to people. That was the difference, so I was quite comforted in that sense. He was trying out for a bit, but realised he went too far and wanted to stop it. But it wasn’t that easy to stop. It turned him very crazy after that.

 

What kind of feedback have you received for the episodes you’ve done so far, especially the black magic one?
From the black magic episode, with regards to how I reacted in that video, a lot of people were not surprised because they have already known about my situation [when I shared it on another show]. But when they saw how the client was screaming and everything, of course, we had comments from people saying they didn’t know this really existed and them finally understanding that such a thing does exist. As much as you don’t want to believe it, you would believe it when it happens to you. And [black magic is] increasingly practised among younger people. That’s what I found out. I also did a story on civil marriages, one topic that is also very sensitive in my community. Generally, all the topics I’ve covered — like black magic, polygamy, and civil marriages — are things I’ve always wanted to know about. [If we don’t find out] why this happens, of course, we misjudge people. For example, [people with preconceptions about] polygamy will be like, “Yeah, this guy can’t get enough with one woman, must marry four,” that kind of reaction. So when I interviewed the man and found out why he chose to marry more than one wife, whether you agree or not with him, you learn to respect people. You learn to know and understand their story. So I think from all these topics that I’ve done so far, it has made me learn to understand people better, instead of judging people.
  
Are you game for a follow-up episode on Islamic healing?

If that would actually educate a lot of people and shed light on the subject, I would still do it.

Taboo is now streaming on Mediacorp Entertainment YouTube Channel. In Malay with English subtitles.
 

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