Kain Songket Mysteries #2: Princess Play

By Barbara Ismail
270 pages
Published in Singapore by Monsoon Books Pte Ltd (2013)

The second book in the Kain Songket Mystery series involved much more deaths than in the first book. It was more tragic, with whole families destroyed, and all of that began from merely one thing: casual sex. What a waste of innocent lives!

Jamillah, a woman from Maryam’s neighbourhood, as well as a fellow fabric trader at the Kota Bharu Central Market, had been unwell and depressed for quite some time. Jamillah’s family believed that she had not been herself due to disturbances from an evil spirit or jinn. So the family decided to hold a main puteri (literally translated into princess play) ceremony, a form of exorcism ritual within the Malay community of the olden days.

Main puteri is a mix of curing ritual with some form entertainment: there are music, and when the bomoh (witch doctor) as well as his patient began to get possessed by spirits during the ritual, they may resort to things they had never done before, such as dancing or striking a silat pose. And these were the source of entertainment for the village people who came by to observe the ceremony.

Back to the story, apparently Jamillah had undergone a successful main puteri, and everyone was positive that she will get better soon. After the ceremony, which was held at night at the family home, Jamillah felt sleepy and tired and retreated to bed immediately. The next morning, she was found dead by her husband Aziz. Aziz insisted that she had been murdered, for he had found some marks on Jamillah’s neck, though the marks were quite faint. The doctors confirmed that Jamillah had been asphyxiated, probably smothered by a pillow while asleep.

And so the mystery began: who killed Jamillah? Who was capable of killing her right in her own home, while she was sleeping next to Aziz? And why?

Aziz was the first person to be questioned by the police, but he had been quiet – maybe not comfortable enough to talk, or maybe he had been perplexed by the death of his wife. Thus Kelantan Chief of Police Osman approached Maryam yet again to sought her help in talking to Aziz. Osman had initially wanted Maryam to help talking to only Aziz, but then she had begun to get a feel of the case and decided to carry on further.

Aziz strongly suspected his former business partner Murad, whom he had an argument with over some business issues. He saw Murad as an evil man who will resort to anything, including killing Jamillah, just to get back at him. Aziz also believed that Murad’s family kept a pelesit, a type of familiar spirit, which may have been sent to Aziz’ home to kill Jamillah. When Maryam went to meet Murad later, she confirmed that he was a very unpleasant man indeed.

However, as Maryam’s investigation developed, she assumed that Murad had no strong motive to kill Jamillah at all. Additionally, no witnesses had claimed seeing Murad anywhere near Jamillah’s house on the night of murder or during the main puteri ceremony, thus Murad should rightfully be eliminated from the list of prime suspects. And as Maryam’s list of suspects grew, she discovered that others have had a much stronger motive than Murad to ensure that Jamillah died. 


For one, Murad’s wife Hamidah was very jealous of Jamillah all along. She and Aziz were childhood crushes as they grew up in the same neighbourhood. However, her parents had married her to Murad due to his wealth – and her life had been miserable, lonely, controlled, with no freedom at all. She was not allowed to work, and she yearned for a life like Jamillah: happily married to Aziz, with lots of friends and a successful business in the market. She had wanted her son Kamal to marry Aziz’ and Jamillah’s daughter Zaiton, but both Murad and Aziz would not allow that to happen. Hamidah hated Murad so much and she also insisted that Murad was the one who killed Jamillah.

Meanwhile, Kamal was also not a very nice man, though not as bad as his father Murad. Maryam saw Kamal had no ulterior motive to kill Jamillah, but he was a very obedient son and might have killed Jamillah if one of his parents had asked him to.

Then there was Zaiton, who had been too desperate to marry her lover Rahim, but had to wait due to Jamillah’s dillydallies. Jamillah did not favour Rahim because he did not have much money, and she was afraid that he might not yet be able to support a family. As it turned out, Zaiton’s desperation was due to her current condition: she had actually got pregnant with Rahim’s baby, and wanted a marriage soon in order to make the baby appeared legal and avoid the village people’s condemnation.

Rahim might have the same motive as Zaiton if it had been him who killed Jamillah: he wanted to remove the obstacle that prevented his marriage to Zaiton. Aziz liked Rahim, thus Jamillah was the only obstacle to get the marriage done. And not long after Jamillah’s death, Rahim did got married to Zaiton.

As Maryam continued to investigate, she realized that Aziz’ family had stopped pushing the investigation on Jamillah’s murder case. The family had suddenly gone quiet as if they did not care if Jamillah’s killer will be caught at all. And that brought suspicions to Maryam that the murderer might be someone from the family; they might keep mum in order to protect the murderer.

When Maryam met the family again, Zaiton tearfully confessed that she might be the one who killed Jamillah, albeit accidentally. Zaiton admitted that after the main puteri ceremony, she confronted Jamillah to beg her to allow Rahim to marry her. But Jamillah had been too tired and sleepy, and had ignored Zaiton. In her exasperation, Zaiton pushed Jamillah on the bed and she fell on her stomach, with her face buried in the pillows. Jamillah fell asleep in that position and Zaiton left her that way. Aziz went to sleep beside Jamillah later, and only realized that Jamillah had died when she did not wake up the next morning. Zaiton believed that Jamillah had suffocated because she had been asleep with her face in the pillows, and she was the one who caused her to sleep in such a position: thus it must be her who killed her own mother, albeit unintentionally. Due to this, Aziz as well as Zaiton’s sister Zainab had suddenly kept mum about Jamillah’s death. They had already lost Jamillah, and they could not afford to lose another family member if Zaiton was charged with murder.

Soon after, words spread across the neighbourhood that Zaiton had killed her own mother Jamillah. Rahim’s family heard it too and asked him to divorce Zaiton. Rahim refused to divorce Zaiton, but he left Zaiton with Aziz and he went to live with his family in Patani after being ordered by his parents. Then Zainab’s husband had also threatened to divorce her, as she was the sister of a criminal who killed her own mother. The family was devastated.

One night, Aziz – who was no longer able to contain his feelings over what happened to his family – went amok. Aziz stabbed both Zaiton and Zainab, and neighbours who tried to stop him also got injured. Eventually Aziz stabbed himself in the madness, taking his own life. Zaiton died due to a huge blood loss, and Zainab remained in hospital in a critical condition.

After learning about what happened to Aziz and Zaiton, Rahim returned to Kota Bharu and he turned himself to the police. Then he confessed that he was the one who actually killed Jamillah in the first place. When Zaiton tried to talk to Jamillah after the main puteri ceremony, Rahim also went inside Jamillah’s bedroom to help Zaiton convince her mother about the wedding. Rahim went into the house through the bedroom’s open window. But when Jamillah showed no interest to talk, Zaiton just left the room in frustration. Rahim saw the opportunity to get rid of Jamillah once and for all – so he smothered Jamillah with a pillow. Then he left the house through the window. 

And all the tragedy that befell Aziz’ family was, due to Rahim from the start. From Zaiton’s pregnancy to Jamillah’s death, and then him keeping quiet and letting Zaiton take all the blame for the murder, and he even dared to leave Zaiton and not support her when his parents believed that she had killed her own mother. He had been afraid to admit to the killing because he worried that Zaiton would be angry at him. What a tragedy!

And the tragic tale was not just that. Preceding the misfortunes of Aziz’ whole family, Murad’s family had actually suffered first. Murad and his family – who were questioned about the murder they knew nothing about – had been uncooperative with the police, being the unpleasant people they were. They had been kept in custody in jail. While in jail, Hamidah, who usually obeyed Murad, suddenly became bold and provoked Murad over and over again, as if to avenge her miserable life with him. They quarrelled, and during the heat of the quarrel, Hamidah – who had kept a small dagger with her and brought it into the cell – stabbed Murad to death. Hamidah was charged with murdering Murad, and Kamal was depressed after seeing his mother killed his own father right in front of him.

The tragedy that befell both Aziz’ and Murad’s family all happened because Rahim had not confessed to his crime sooner.

What a waste of people’s lives!


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