Banned amulets with animal parts on sale online
Sellers on local online marketplaces offer illegal amulets made from animal parts
These small trinkets carry big hopes for those who seek them.
They promise wealth, protection, business success and even sexual attraction to those who acquire these Thai amulets or similar items with "magical" properties.
You will not see such amulets displayed in shops here because it is illegal to sell or buy them.
But go online and you will find these exotic charms, made from the parts of protected animals such as the tiger, leopard cat, crocodile and python, readily offered by sellers, The New Paper discovered.
Mr Ricardo Choo, a businessman who has been trading in amulets for over a decade, told TNP that the illegal trade went underground after a crackdown by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) several years ago.
Said Mr Choo: "Of course, you can still buy them, because these shops know their regulars and will show them what's not on display."
AGAINST THE LAW
When TNP checked with 10 amulet shops in the Golden Mile and Chinatown areas, all of them said they did not deal in contraband amulets.
They said it was against the law to trade in such amulets, which are also known as animal Takruts.
On the flip side, online amulet peddlers brazenly display photographs of their wares and their contact details
TNP saw close to 50 online posts for items containing protected animal parts on Facebook and online marketplaces Carousell and Gumtree.
This is despite Carousell having a policy against the promotion of items involving protected wildlife.
Nine sellers in Carousell were ready to meet a reporter who posed as an interested buyer.
The banned amulets are also sold, auctioned or rented out in members-only online groups.
Mr Choo, who published a book titled The Spirit & Voodoo World of Thailand in 2011, said: "During my travels to Thailand, I was told that people buying these non-mainstream (amulets) are basically from Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore.
"When something is banned, there's always a market for it."
The amulets or items that are said to contain magical powers can cost between $60 and $4,500.
While most of them originate from Thailand, others also come from Indonesia or Cambodia.
They are often referred to as "barang", Malay slang for "spiritual thing".
Typically, the amulets, which the sellers claim have been blessed by famous Thai monks, feature sacred scriptures wrapped in tiger or snake skin and are encased in plastic tubes smaller than an adult's palm.
Parts from cats and tigers are used in the amulets as they are believed to give the owners a sixth sense or make them feared.
Others sell animal parts strictly for business. Among the prohibited parts sold are tiger claws, teeth and skin, and elephant molars, tusks and tail hairs.
One online seller, who gave his name as John, insisted that the tiger claw and skin he advertised on Carousell were genuine.
He offered to sell a piece of tiger skin the size of a small book for $150.
The chief abbot of a Thai Buddhist temple in Singapore told TNP that people should not confuse culture with religion.
Phrakhru Udom of Wat Uttamayanmuni in Choa Chu Kang said: "Buddhism has nothing to do with these things (amulets and charms). They are all cultural beliefs."
He said amulets were traditionally made in the past to remind people of their Buddhist masters' teachings.
Hence, they were designed in the image of the Buddha, temples or religious figures.
The abbot said, tongue-in-cheek: "If these things work as claimed, then you don't need security, you don't need to work. With an amulet, you can become rich."
When something is banned, there's always a market for it.
- Mr Ricardo Choo, a businessman who has been trading in amulets for over a decade