Our Good Ship Raya
They made ships, do you remember ships on the eve of Hari Raya?
I was reminded of them by my good friend Wang Ripéng ( who now resides in Kemamang). Wang Ripéng was a handsome besepctacled guy, a couple of years our senior at school, and he wielded a stout staff, for he was also a stalwart of the 1st Kuala Trengganu, a wanderer in this life of happy wandering, a tier of knots and a reader of Scouting for Boys, by Lord Baden Powell. How times have changed, if someone were to write a book called Scouting for Boys now he'd surely be taken away in a Police car.
Wang Ripéng wrote to me yesterday asking if I still remember the ships that were on shore, but for some reason I've completely forgotten about them now. Until, that is, I received his mail:
"Abg Pin teringat pada masa dahulu semasa warga Kg Tanjung menyambut Hari Raya. Tiap-tiap rumah yang ada laman, akan membina kapal dengan hiasan bendera serta lampu2.""I remember those days, how we members of the Tanjong community celebrated Hari Raya. Every house with a compound would have a ship in it, decorated with flags and lights."
Why ships? Perhaps because we were coastal people, used to seeing those vessels coming in from Singapore - the Rawang and the Chusan and the Hong Ho - bobbing up and down in the water, all lit up and smoke churning out from their funnels as we looked at them from the sands of the Ujung Tanjong shore. These were vessels laden with our cargo of dreams, what waters had they been through? What surprises for us in store? They were normally rice for the shops and sugar for our tea, and a few other less mundane things like agar-agar from the Borneo waters and vanilla essence and oranges and fruit preserves from China.
We built our Raya dreams in a ship, constructed from bamboo frames and made over with glossy coloured paper from the Indian shops, and crepe paper streamers in pastel colours. There were coloured pieces in triangular shapes, all hanging in a row on a line that stretched from stern to funnel, and this was our good ship Hari Raya.
"Di kawasan dekat kedai Awang Tahir, pemuda2 akan membina bangsal yang dihiasi dengan lampu warna warni. Mereka akan adakan hiburan musik serta dengan nyanyian serta joget. Kita akan buat kereta dengan roda dari tin susu dan di control dengan tali guni yang diikat pada kedua2 hujung roda, serta dengan lampu yang dinyalakan dengan menggunakan minyak tanah dengan bersumbu kain burok, atau dengan damar yang dicari ditepi pantai, dibakar dalam ppurong.""In the area near the shop of Awang Tahir, the young people would put up sheds that they'd decorate with multi-colured lights. They'd play music and sing songs and dance the joget too. We would make cars with milk can wheels, controlled by strings of jute tied to their rims. We also had paraffin lamps with wicks made from old rags, or powered by resin that we picked from the shore. We lit them up in coconut shells."
This was the atmosphere of Hari Raya, the feast of Eid, when all sadness descended for the passing of the fasting month and its rose syrup in clear glass bottles, deep red in hue and scented with pandan flavour, the abiding taste and smell of the fasting months of bulan puasa. We slurped it by the glassful, now that it has turned pink with the additioon of evaporated milk, and made cold with ice from the ice factory in Bukit Besar.
The ships appeared for the night of the tujuh likor, a landmark night for the fast of Ramadhan, for the likor is twenty in Malay reckoning that you add to the preceding number. So tujuh likor is the twenty-seventh of Ramadhan, a mere two or three days before Hari Raya, time for ships and flags and paper lanterns, and bamboo cannons startling old ladies into sudden jolts of hysteria, and for this one time in the month we were allowed to stay up and wander into the wee hours.
What I remember from this night long ago, when the kampong began to come aglow and the children came out to play was the gripping pain that gnawed in you when, after all the raucous laughter and the lights had dimmed from the sparklers and chinese lanterns and the cannons ceased their seasonal roar, was the sudden bereftness as I clambered the stairs up to our house, the yellow light flickering still at the end of the blackened wick, but the paraffin was going low, and the night was almost lost and little children were nearly all in bed after saying their last hurrah.
I didn't know if they were singing and dancing still in front of Awang Tahir's shop or if all those ships that sailed so brightly into the night on this prelude to the Hari Raya had dimmed their lights and reached ashore, but going up those stairs with those noises ringing still in your head while silence was taking hold everywhere, and Mother from behind the door peeking out and beckoning you to come in, her hands still fresh from mixing the flour, it was time for more than just a little melancholy.
Thank you Abang Péng for your wonderful ships and for that precious memory.
Pelita pics borrowed from saifulislam.com, with thanks.