Sabahan school teacher Augustine Towonsing, 49, is not afraid of ghosts. He may not be a ghostbuster but, for the past 14 years, he has been going on ghost hunts alone.
Many of his friends, and even strangers, have quizzed him about his bizarre activities, and some even deem his to be “a dangerous pastime”.
“It’s a matter of perception, culture and beliefs,” he said.
He emphasised that it is dangerous if someone has no understanding of what he’s doing and who he’s dealing with.
Even his fellow colleagues have asked him if ghosts really exist, or requested further information (even consultation) about the paranormal.
Towonsing is the founder of the website Malaysian Ghost Research (malaysian-ghost-research.org) that is dedicated to this pursuit, and he is very serious about his work. His website has over 100,000 followers.
He is also an associate international member of the UK Geographical Association.
A Geography teacher for 25 years, Towonsing has a master’s degree in Geography from Universiti Sains Malaysia. He is also an assistant supervisor at SMK Gurun, in Kedah, as well as an outdoor education trainer, educational application developer, environmental researcher, photographer and videographer.
In his investigations into ghosts, he has conducted over 300 solo and 41 group researches in various sites in Malaysia.
He regards his research as “a systematic investigation and study of evidence collected in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions”.
Towonsing has been to jungles, cemeteries, abandoned houses, farms, buildings, historical sites and even by the roadside for his work. He has had many encounters with ghosts, with some captured in the videos which he shares on his website. For him, seeing ghosts has become “a norm”.
He said scientific evidence has shown that ghostly orbs, ecto balls, apparitions, ectoplasm, vortexes and voices (in the form of electronic voice phenomena, or EVPs) explain the existence of ghosts as forms of energy in a unique electromagnetic field.
He said that ghost attacks are not intended to target the body but the soul. Therefore, whatever the soul feels is manifest on one’s body.
While many people consider him a very brave man, Towonsing admits that he was once “too scared of ghosts and being alone in the dark”.
“I never thought one day I would become a ghost researcher,” he said.
Towonsing has been contacted many times by overseas TV reality shows related to ghost-hunter groups, including Ghost Adventures.
On his first solo research, in 2005, Towonsing was in a cemetery in Sungai Petani, Kedah. It was a very calm and quiet night. Then he encountered a tree that shook very hard. After he apologised, it stopped shaking. When he walked near it, he found a nameless tombstone.
So far, his scariest experience has been at Bukit Hijau in Baling, Kedah, also in 2005.
“At midnight, I was at the place for five minutes when I heard movement nearby but saw nothing. Even though I had introduced myself, the terrified feelings stayed on. Before leaving, I took a snapshot of where the movement had come from.
When the film was developed, it showed that an elephant spirit had been “captured”.
Towonsing recalled an unusual experience when he conducted research during one Hungry Ghost Month in an abandoned Chinese cemetery in Kedah, in 2009. “I could hear the sound of cooking, and smelled bak kut teh and beer in the air!”
In 2008, in Titi Hayun, Yan, Kedah, as he was setting up his video camera, he heard the voice of a ghost behind him, thrice taunting him about whether he could capture ghosts in such a place.
What does Towonsing do if he feels threatened during a ghost hunt?
“If you sense strange activity or feel as if you’re being threatened, stop for a while. You may have trespassed someone’s private area or be near a portal. Calm down. Tell the spirit who you are and your purpose for being there,” he said. “Start your line with ‘Forgive me for …’.”
Towonsing is aware that one should always remember that one was not invited to be there.
“We’re actually intruding into someone’s private home. So, be respectful to the owner. Also, show kindness towards the spirits,” he added.