sign in a cave in Laos

9 November 2011

Earth god statue in cave temples

Normally in Malaysia, different religions do not mix. They all have their own beliefs, and apart from Islam, have their own statues of their different deities. However in cave temples I have seen a mix of Chinese, Christian, Hindu, Taoist gods etc in one room. This can easily be seen in the Sai Baba cave temple near Ipoh.

One statue that has always intrigued me is the Malay figure seen in Chinese shrines. The shrines are usually outside the cave temple.

6 statues at Huat Tian temple, Bercham,

I wondered how a Muslim statue could appear in a Chinese altar. I've seen this Malay figure in shrines in Chinese temples that are not cave related.
When the Chinese immigrants came to Malaysia, they brought with them their beliefs and gods. As the people were working in fields, rubber plantations, tin mines etc, they set up shrines to house their gods. They also included the Malay figure.

He is often shown as having very dark skin and wears clothes that are worn by Malays, notably the songkok (cap).
This first statue has dark skin and has a songkok and walking stick
This figure has a more pink colour face, wears a songkok and holds a keris.
The next one is similiar

The Chinese believe that all places have a resident spirit, whether it is a building or a piece of land. This spirit, known as Ti Chu Kung, acts as a guardian. The Chinese thinking is that in a Malay area the spirit must be a Malay, hence the statue.

The image is generally found in the entrance area of Chinese temples or under the main altar. Offerings and incense are given. In Malay his title would be Dato or Datuk, in Cantonese it is Na T'o Kung or Na-tik. Wikipedia page on Na Tuk Kong.

These statues are in Jingang Jing She cave temple in Perak.

These are at Miaw Yuan cave temple in Perak

At Gunung Kanthan in Perak, the Zhi Nan Gong (Green Dragon Cave) has these datuks -

And also at Gunung Kanthan, Confucius's Window Cave has this datuk with alcohol bottles, of beer, lager and stout. There is also a pile of empty bottles nearby.

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission


  1. I think you can find more details using " Chinese folk religion" in the internet.
  2. Thanks. I did that...... so much information. Seems the Chinese Earth God is Tu Di Gong. But I'm quite curious about the Malay figure.
  3. Liz, you must give some reasonable doubts - some or most of these punters are no experts.

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