It is well known amongst Malaysians that any illness on earth can be treated by drinking the appropriate 3-in-1 instant coffee. Diabetes? High blood pressure? Sakit jantung? A few micrograms of goat’s milk, morinda, mangosteen, ginseng, or acai berry in with your morning coffee, sugar and non-dairy creamer will set you right.
Here in the tropics, we are surrounded by a wealth of biodiversity. Researchers travel from afar to analyze this cornucopia of species, looking for novel compounds that may hold the cure to cancer. Locals have also been combing the woods and identifying valuable plants, animals and minerals since time immemorial. From durian to leach oil to gambir Sarawak, it would appear that the real contribution of the rainforests to humanity is less in treating mundane illnesses like AIDS and heart disease, and more toward preparations that give increased … energy. Manly energy. For masculine purposes.
No herbal medicine is as popular for boosting potency as Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia). Every MLM in the country from CNI to Omegatrend has their own proprietary instant coffee tongkat ali blend. In the grocery aisle too: Longjack, Powerroot, Livita. To be honest, it has a nice flavor and aroma, a bit like the taste of coffee brewed with chicory root famous in New Orleans. But it isn’t there for the taste. No. The plant is felt to have its power from its long, hard tap-root that extends straight down, penetrating through even the hardest soil. By the principles of sympathetic magic, drinking a concoction made from that root – well you get the idea. Now you may scoff at the idea of sympathetic magic, but our newfangled scientists have determined that tongkat ali may indeed contain substances that can stimulate male properties [1,2]. Modesty prevents me from confirming or denying such things one way or the other. Look upon the glint in the eye of those two ancient Hajjis there and reach your own conclusions.
Tongkat Ali is the Staff of Ali, but a tongkat simply means a staff, cane or crutch, as in the following pantuns:
Carry a staff in the field
With a basket to harvest your crops
How short this life feels
And yet how the day never stops
Simpan ubi dalam keranjang
Keluar kebun membawa tongkat
Hari terasa amat panjang
Dan hidup terlampau singkat
Timber is famous for its strength
A staff should be made of sturdy timber
Malays are famous for their culture
A culture of seeking out mutual consent
Terbilang kayu karena kuatnya
Kuatnya elok menjadi tongkat
Terbilang Melayu karena adatnya
Adatnya elok mencari mufakat
I’m a hopelessly lurus bendul kind of guy, so when I came across a dead tongkat ali tree in the garden, I harvested the slender trunk to make a walking stick, a tongkat tongkat ali. I’m turning 40 this year, you see, I need to make preparations. After stripping the bark and working it with three grades of sandpaper, I gave it two coats of polyurethane. I would have liked to treat it with tung oil first, which is supposed to be a traditional Chinese equivalent of linseed oil, but I can’t find either of those products here. So there it is. I now have a cane made of Michigan Musclewood, and a staff from the Staff of Ali, and yet somehow I remain the same soft-in-the-middle schlub as before.
1. The study is cited on WebMD.
2. A lot of “bioprospecting” is done on plants already identified as potent by locals according to their systems of magic and medicine. The interesting point to me here is modern science feels it has a lock on what works and why, but traditional heuristics allowed people to identify and make use of these substances too.
3. It is likely that the Ali here is Sayyidina Ali Abi Talib, may Allah ennoble his countenance, since he was renowned as a paragon of manhood. As the saying goes, “There is no manliness except in Ali, no sword but Zulfiqar.” Such a man was Sayyidina Ali that in the heat of battle he knocked down his opponent. As he moved to strike, the enemy spat in his face. Immediately he sheathed his sword and raised the man from the ground. He said, I was going to despatch you for the sake of Allah, but when you spat in my face I wanted to kill you out of anger. It is forbidden to fight except for the sake of Allah. The enemy instantly raised his finger and entered Islam, declaring there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.
4. Malay pantuns courtesy of UKM’s Malay Civilization database. English translations mine.