On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

View From The Wakah

We dreamt up things in our waking hours and went to sleep on a nyiur komeng. That about sums up life on the wakaf. My brother once told me of an old school friend he sent out on an errand when he was back in Kuala Trengganu, and the friend came back — he did — but well after dark, because, he said, he'd fallen asleep on the wakah (standardspeak wakaf fr. Arabic waqf) in Pantai Teluk.

The wakah as Image hosted by Photobucket.comwe say it, had a well worn floor from regular games of draughts, and a gentle breeze blew across its boards, interweaving between the four pillars that raised the roof above the head, senggora tiles terracota coloured, and rafters of chengal wood. Fishermen stopped there on their way home from work, beachcombers piled their day's collection at its foot. There was no alfresco music then, thank God, so the wakah was an ideal place for a chat as the world walked by, as the game of draughts continued apace, moving pieces shaped from the tops of bottles of air lamnid; what jollity went there by day, what mischiefs passed there by night.

The wakahs were the landmarks of Trengganu, put up by anonymous donors along public roads and in the middle of sawahs, on beaches and under big trees, and in the middle of nowhere even, always sheltering people from the rain and heat, always a place for them to rest their feet and rest their heavy heads on the nyiur komeng. The nyiur komeng was a dud coconut that had no flesh and had little weight, so a dip was carved into its dried outer husk wide enough to take the back of the head. And that was where my brother's old school-friend rested his head as dusk crept slowly over his feet until he was totally draped and lulled to sleep by the gentle sea breeze and the dark, while the items he was sent out to buy for the evening's kenduri sat forlornly by his ankles, still in their plastic bags.

There are places Image hosted by Photobucket.comin Trengganu that are known by their wakahs, Wakah Ppelang (standardspeak, mempelam) and Wakah Tapir (standardspeak, tapai) to name but two without looking at a map, but there must be scores more in their wake. They marked the land, adorned a place, kept the weather out, rested the weary feet of travellers or sheltered them for the night. But the wakah by the roadside in a remote place was best avoided for you couldn't tell who'd be looking down at you from the rafters in the middle of a moonless night as light rain fell to earth.

Wakahs were landmarks in philanthropy for you could judge the disposition of a community by how its landscape were filled by the wakah. From the Tanjong in Kuala Trengganu where we lived I can still picture three wakahs in my head, but we were not really wakah kids so I can't tell you what transpired there among the wakah crowd besides the regular chorus of dang (standardspeak dam fr. 'dameh', the Egyptian name for this ancient game) terms that came to us as we passed by on our way to another place; and they were makang and bahang (both meaning 'capture') and the aji (the long-king) and darak (the ordinary game piece). Poor was a community without a wakah, and lonely a traveller that walked its place.

But wakah was more than just a stopping place, it was a vehicle for dreams and thought. A proper wakah with elaborate fretwork and wood carvings was first envisaged in the benefactor's head, then passed to the master woodworker by word of mouth. Then the latter gathered wood and craftsmen from the village to chisel and saw and nail or dowels as the patron saw fit, without benefit of any written notes, then as the last tile was laid on its roof, the workers would probably find cause to celebrate themselves by sitting there for a few days.

It is said that Image hosted by Photobucket.comthe haunting sound of the Trengganu Royal nobat ensemble came form noises heard from the sea, but I suspect that they were heard not from the Trengganu perahu besar that sailed along the coast to Singgora to buy the tiles, nor from the fishing payangs that daily left our golden shore, but by sharp-eared men sitting quietly watching the waves from the comfort of a sea-side wakah. Moooo the sea said, and he kept a mental note, waaaaah came another sound, and that went straight under his songkok, and then there were the wooos and the lilts and the mewling sound that could only be the wailing of our mermaids.

It is difficult to sit on the wakah on a moonlit night with eyes firmly fixed on the landscape without also hearing a distant call that causes a local pain in the heart. In Trengganuspeak as in the standard lingo, this is the sayu of one's longing — for another time, another place — and the pain, the pilu is the tugging of a melancholy heart. This is the pain in the heart of standardspeak's menyayat hati, which is closer to 'nostalgia' as it originally meant* but not its latter meaning. And what is the longing and the pain all about? Well, it's a feeling that probably has primordial roots, an atavism that no longer knows what it's for. For times past that really went perhaps, or that were presumed to be. It is difficult to pin-point the extent of this sayu except by defining it as a distant call, as people are often attracted by a 'past' that may not have been real at all. Trengganuspeak has no word for this, but the Portuguese 'saudade' may sum it all, 'a longing for a whimsical present or past.'

*Nostalgia Note: The word 'nostalgia' was invented on 22nd June 1688 by Johannes Hofer, an Alsatian medical student, by combining nostos ('return') with algos in his medical thesis Dissertatio Medica de Nostalgia to describe the sickness of Swiss soldiers kept far away from their mountains. — Alberto Manguel, A Reading Diary.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A la Recherche du Temps Perdu

There were clockfacess in the tower of the Pejabat Jam Besar, high over the needle-leaved casuarina trees, but it was elsewhere that time's shadow fell.

Kuala Trengganu had a sun-dial that sat on a plinth opposite the Police Station in the intersection of Jalan Paya Bunga and that long and bucolic stretch that led to Sekoloh Sultang Slemang Primary. There was a padi field there on the left side of this road as you moved towards Cherong Lanjut, and a payamarshland as far as Batas Baru on the right hand side. Frogs and leeches and water hyacinth and lillies thrived there, and on the other side, on the road against the afternoon light, you could sometimes see the cycling silhouette of Mah Babu. But of course they are all gone now.

The sun-dial was an intriguing bit of metal, so we sometimes stopped there if we walked home from school through the hinterland of Pejabak Jang Besor. There was a vast expanse of old Trengganu graves there, round marker stones lying on white sandy earth, forgotten over the years and overgrown by lalang and bird nesting trees.
Launch of the KT sundial

We had to raise our legs over a stout chain that hung around the concrete plain raised three steps high, but a cursory examination of the curved intersecting metals of the sun-dial gave us no inkling of its purpose, nor did it give us the time of day. Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah (above, right) appears to be as bemused, and the other gentleman in the dark Malay baju appears to be giving it an equally polite nod, as the man in tropical suit and topi appears to be shielding it with his palm, the better to see the figures on the dial. Now, what advice can you give to a man who reads a sun dial by keeping the light of the sun away? He was probably the state's 'British Adviser'.

I don't know when this photo was taken, but I presume it was the offical launch of the Kuala Trengganu sun-dial, so our KT police force could set their clocks by it, and the referee in the nearby Padang could start the kick-off at the exact time of day. Mat Sprong would've stopped there, I'm sure, on his way to crack another case in the maze that he walked in the Trengganu underworld. His office in the pantry of the coffee-shop was just a stone's thrown away.

Trengganu folk may have been bemused by this device of the shadow clock, but telling the time by light and shadows wasn't an unknown in Trengganu. While the town moved along to the time kept by their watches and clocks, corrected against the time-checks on the radio, the mosques and suraus of Trengganu kept their movements according to what was then known as the jam waktu. The waktu time was kept in the prayer houses, and if I'm not mistaken, set the noonday prayer time close to noon-day. This was confusing to a person unaware of the different audits of time that were practised in Trengganu, especially if you kept check on your time by the clock in the Surau Haji Mat Kerinci as you waited for the bus that was to take you to school.

Once or twice a month, as the sun was clear in the sky, the bilal of the Masjid Putih of Sultan Zainal Abidin the marhum Haji, would take out his astrolabe and check the alignment of the sun to get a reading of the hour. And so was set the waktu clock that moved in a continuum that differed from the other clock that was generally known as the Jam Malaya.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Memory of Water

The funny thing about the suaru with the big fish (see, Fish Out of Water) is that it too stands in my mind, not quite a nightmare, but as a quaint dream-like picture. So I can understand Anonymous's predilection: was it phantasm, was it real?

The surau stood off-road, in the backwater, silently in its own shadows; you remember it vaguely from the by-way of your journeys.

On trips to Padang Malaya we stopped there in the walk home, and I don't remember now how we even got there. But suddenly, in my mind's eye, we were in the flickering light peremeating through the constant movement of the leaves of trees that caught the breeze coming inshore, and the surau's depth was enveloped in a grey stillness. It was a strange place, and there, in the ablution tank, was a fish, babbling out bubbles in its depth of moss and lichens in the stagnant water.

Even stranger is that I don't remember ever meeting anyone there. There was the kampung around us, but the people were elsewhere. They walked the road that lay outside of this insulated area, in a straight run from the Post Office to Tanjong of the pasar and then it met another suaru, the Surau Besar, before doing a bend in its travel to yet another, the Surau Haji Mat Lintar of Tanjong Kapor. But in the quiet where we stood now, staring in amazement at this babbling fish, lived many adult people we knew, as I am reminded now below. What does this tell you apart form the obvious thing that memories aren't real but merely vignettes imprinted on our souls?

But there are people with better memories. My brother wrote in to say (and I translate),
"Yes, there was indeed a well in front of the Surau (Tengku?). By the well was an Indian Jujube (bidara) tree. The people of Tanjong often took its leaves for preparing bodies for burial. In front of the well and the surau was the house of Pak Yek Telekom. A bit further was the house of Pak Kor, brother of Mat Tukang ("Habib") who lived in our Tanjong house. Pak Mat was in the merchant navy, yet couldn't swim at all...
So it was a bidara, a tree that rears its head in many surprising places: I've seen it named as the tree form where Adam took his forbidden fruit, and in a Malay translation of the Qur'an, it became the sidr in heaven, the lote-tree.

Further light was shed on this surau by fellow Tanjonger, WA, writing from Kemaman who remembers not only its location, but also claims it in a snippet of autobiography (and again I translate):
"The surau that you mentioned isn't in Kampung Longger. It was near the house of Tok Ku Tengku Timah where I went to learn to read the Qur'an. Across the road from it was the [Catholic] door to the house of Datuk Nara. After the Qur'an class, the pupils of Tok Ku had to take water to the house from the well; towards the lagoon was a shed where planks were sawn from timber. There was indeed a pohon ddara [Indian jujube] and a pohon terajang near the surau.
So, Anonymous (see, Comments,, below), I hope this answers your question.

My grateful thanks to all of you who contributed comments to Fish Out Of Water, and to my brother and WA. Much appreciated.

For more uncertain memory, see: Morning Chiaroscuro.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Fish Out Of Water

Fish was the mainstay of the Trengganu meal, they were caught in the sea, entangled in the jala, lifted out of ponds with the tanggok or caught with the bare hands in the padi fields or paya. In a little known surau hidden behind the trees in Jalan Tanjong, going towards Padang Malaya, past the more prominent Surau Haji Mat Kerinci, and in the vicinity perhaps, of SSS61's [see, Comments, below] delightfilly named Kampung Longger, was a huge fish in the koloh that went with its mouth open and shut all day in the lichen-filled stillness of the water. It ate, well, lichens, and the sleep that fell out from the eyes of worshippers as they dozily washed their face in the koloh before the dawn prayer.

There were fish that were simply forbidden to some, like the ikang kkacang that was avoided by members of certain families for fear of breaking a promise made to the fish by their ancestors aeons ago, and the ddukang came into our teluk after sharpening the nail that stood proud on its back that you sometimes stepped on with a cuss and an ouch!, and there came occasionally in our teluk the buta (Standardspeak buntal) that puffed itself into a ball in moments of distress but was otherwise of no use at all.

And then there was the jebong and ikang cerming and ikang kerapu and selar kuning and the kerisi and all your regulars like the tambang and the kembong, your yu and the kerah ekor. And the ikang lolong stared at you straight in the eye. For a treat some mothers would buy the pari and the ttuka (standardspeak setoka or toka-toka) both varieties of skate, that went down very well with chilli and vinegar.

A friend sent me a photo she took with her hand-phone some time ago in a Kuala Trengganu pasar, and she said they were the ikang kkepas and I've kept it ever since, intrigued by their look of awe:
Ikang kkepas
At the Masjid Putih we knew a man who built a house on the paya, and he lived on all the kangkong (water convolvulus, Ipomoea reptans) and the ikang keli that he could fish through a hole in his floor. I never asked what he gave the fish back by return in life's cycle, nor how many holes he had in his floor.

We had men going home with a dangle of fish on their handle bars, all hooked to loops called nyocok of thin strips of bamboo. The nyocok was how fish were made portable, a dozen at a time, or six if bigger, and they cut a groove in the flesh of your index finger. The bigger ones like the aya and tenggiri were sliced into steaks and wrapped in newspaper and dropped as soon as you got home, into the kuali with a coat of shallots pounded with turmeric and salt in coarse grains taken from sea water.

The easiest way to make fish into a dish was in an earthernware belanga where it was left to gurgle with asam and lengkuas and red chillies whole and salt to bring out the flavour. The ikang panggang was held in a cleft bamboo and left to grill on a coconut-husk fire, while some left over portion from the previous day's meal was shredded and chillied and shallotted and pounded in a stone mortar with a stone pestle. Then there were calong balls of fish and the justly famous kerepok lekor.

There are ways to eat a fish as is expected of coastal people. When one side of a fish, the ikang panggang for example, is eaten and the bone is left holding more fleshy meat thereunder, it is taboo to turn over the fish or the next time you go in a boat it will, in no time, turn its keel over. And the head of the fish, the succulent one certainly, is taboo for learning kids as it'll make them benok, and cloudy in the head, and prone to forgetfulness and a weakness in the grey matter.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Nasi On the Apor

For deft hands you had to give it to Mak Som.

Mak Som sat behind her deep basket, round and woven from bamboo strips, lined with banana leaves and filled to the brim with nasi dagang. The steam from it rose and curled in the morning light, throwing more than a whiff of banana leaf scalding in the freshly cooked rice, glistening with the fat of coconut milk, flavoured with the seeds of fenugreek, and water from a well in Kampung Pantai.

Mak Som scooped out more rice with her sodek, more steam escaping into the air, into the olfactory triggers of the awaiting crowd who were mostly her regulars. They looked, impatient to the core, at the plate of cucumber acar, cut into little fingers, and soaked overnight in vinegar by the dainty hands of Mak Som's daughter. They swallowed a little — acar did that even to grown men — as Mok Som took her ladle to the enamelled basin of lauk in an orangey sauce of coconut milk, curdled in the swim with many other: asam gelugur sliced and dried to a dark hue, belimbing masam pulled fresh from its dangle in the tree, red chilli taken whole and thrown into the bubbly mix and stirred till they became soft and ready to release the seeds of their fiery innards into the thick pot of Trengganu tembaga. But pride of place in this swirling mix was the thunnus tonggol, ikan tongkol in standardspeak, our native Trengganu ikang aya.

The aya was a coarse fish in Trengganu, not normally chosen for our everyday meal by the ladies of our house who preferred the classier tenggiri. But as far as the nasi dagang was concerned, the ikang aya was de rigueur, a fish of choice whose excellence for this purpose was beyond par. Mother would put it first in water, and added salt and a slice maybe of asam gelugur, and I'm sure Mak Som did much the same soon as her fish came ashore on the afternoon of the day before, as she was nodding off after her afternoon tea.

The process was called mmati air which meant practically killing the flavour in the water. The blood of the tuna, the taste of the sea, the fishiness that could overpower, all that were leached in the salt water and the asam flavour, then left to baste in the pot till the ingredients were ready for the boil. In this first cooking the bony parts of the aya also softened, and became softer still when cooked again in the coconut milk and all the ingredients that lent it all the taste and its colour.

Nasi dagang aficionados knew this as kearapoh the softened bony parts that gave their taste buds the added thrill. After scooping out the rice and putting in a dollop of fish and a tablespoonful maybe of the fishy sauce with its coconuty richness and the pungent flavour and the hint of tartness from the belimbing tree, Mak Som would look up to the waiting customer. This was the window that waited for the obvious answer, "Beri kerapoh sikik, Mok Song!". And Mak Song would deftly scrape out bits of the softened bones, parts of the tuna cheek, or that tasty bit around the eye. Knowing when to butt in or how to respond to the question in Mak Som's eye was the mark of the true cognoscenti.

You could stand there and watch all day, Mak Som's ergonomy in full flow; but you wouldn't want to do that as you had a shop to open or the office to go to, or school would start in just another half an hour, and besides you had people at home waiting for you (and the nasi dagang) at your table. And those who knew knew that came eight o'clock Mak Som would have had her basket empty of nasi dagang and her beseng drier than the back of an iguana. But to recap I'll try to itemise the deft movements of Mak Som as best as I can remember: first she'd pick up the the moist rag to wipe the surface of the banana leaf, cut out in the right measure, then she'd ask you if you wanted your rice laid open on the leaf (apor) or wrapped in a cone-shaped parcel (kelosong). Then she'd reach out to the basket that was almost in her lap for the rice, and reach out to the basin of gravy and the fish that lay therein, then she'd give you the kerapoh look before the kelosong was finally sealed with a short spine of the coconut leaf that also served as the tooth-pick for your finale.

Eating your nasi dagang on the apor was the sign of a man in a hurry, and was the serving choice of the barrow boys in the fish market who came to Mak Som at the first beep of the delivery lorries, with sleep still dangling in their eyes. Nasi Dagang was all set and matched and brooked little else besides, and was best left as it ought to be. To have your nasi dagang with a side-dish of meat curry was the hallmark of a gong person in Trengganuspeak, and to have fed it to your brood with some left-over fish from the previous evening's eat was infra-dig, and shouldn't have crossed your mind at all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Best Detective Agency In Trengganu VIII

Mat Sprong has been missing, the mystery of his client Song's case remains unsolved. Where has Mat been, has he been abducted by aliens? His friend Cik Kaleh makes an astonishing discovery. Now read on...

Previous episodes: I, II,III, IV, V, VI,VII.

Ddalang bilik panjang jjujok, katil dderek; bbunying batok, orang tua dok gerohok. Budok-budok dok nnangis wek, wek, mata meroh nnyale, baju Misi puteh selepuk. Cik Kaleh masuk tengok kiri kanang, tangang dia bimbit tenong kuning, terus dia pegi ke katil bbira pitu. Orang ddalang katil tu dok tengoh merekok, selimut denge kaing gebor Sepita Besor Kuala Trengganu. Bile Cik Kaleh cuik, keluar mata sebutir meroh mmerang dari tepi selimut. Bile jari-jari kurus hak selok kaing tu angkat lagi baru napok muka pucak dok ngellik ddalang gelak.

"Mak!" keluar sebutir perkataang dari muluk Cik Kaleh. "Mak, aku baru dengor mung sakit!"

"Kalu mapuh kerah pong ssorang dak hera. Dekat sebulang dah aku dok makang nasik kawoh sepita ning, tawor hebbe, macang air kecing budok-budok."

Cik Kaleh suka gelekek. "Mak, mung sakik pong dok ingak nak makang jugok. Nasib baik aku bawok orang darak ddalang teksi aku dari sepita takdi, dia kata ada mata gelak ddalang wad. Aku teka mesti mung Mak, sebab aku lama dah dok cari mung hilang lesak."

"Leh, kalu takdok orang darak di sepita habih aku lapor kelak-kelak. Dialah dok beri aku makang ikang belara, ubi torok. Dah lah aku demang ngokkor ssining mung ssorang dak kesoh."

"Pasa ape mung dak beritahu aku Mak? Kalu aku tahu aku mari selalu tengok, kalu ada pasenje teksi pong aku tingga ttepi jalang mari tengok," Cik Kaleh senyung ssengeh.

"Leh, dah nak wak guane, aku lengoh sangak, tidor ppata, aku demang dua hari atah wakaf, ketor gelitik, dak leh ggerok. Nasib baik ada budok-budok mari mmmaing dang tolong panggil kereta sakit. Rupanya aku demang kura, kena ketek nnatang nyamok tirok. Nasib baik doktor cocok aku cepat denge obak, kalu tidok aku koh lama doh."

Cik Kaleh buka tenong. "Ning aku bawok mung kerepok lekor Awang Hitang. Mung makang mesti baik selalu. Nasib baik mung demang je, aku ingak Song pepoh mung pulok!"

Mat Sprong terus ambek kerepok goreng seputong, cicoh denge lada merah pekat likat. "Mung jangang sebok nama Song Leh, aku nok makang kerepok ning puah-puah, lepas tu kita ccakak, aku dah rasa segor doh-doh ning tengok kerepok Pak Awang kita buak!"

"Aaaaaak!" bunying Mat sedawa bila dia ssandor atah katil, lada merah nnelleh mmuluk. Kerepok hak Cik Kaleh bawok dia makang sapa nak habih, mata dia dok keleh ke pitu, lepah tu dia jeling pulok ke meja Misi ttengoh bilik. Bila Misi keluor sekejap, dia ppaling ke Cik Kaleh.

"Leh, mung tubek cepak-cepak denge beg plastik aku ning, mung tunggu aku lluor. Cepak!"

"Tapi Mak..." Cik Kaleh bantoh.

"Mung jangang cakak banyok, gi lluor cepak, kita ccakak di nung!"

Cik Kaleh keluor bilik dengang beg plastik. Mat cuba nak bangung dari katil, lutut dia masih lemoh, tangang dia ketor sikik-sikik.

"Jangang ggerok!" Tiba-tiba dia ssetok. Dari jauh napok misi jjalang gi ke katil Mat. Muka dia masang ccatung, kaki dia jjalang kedek-kedek.

"Bukang apa, Misi, ambe nak gi jjambang je, nak kecing ketek-ketek," bunyi suara Mat, serak-serak takut.

Misi serengeng: "Ba'ape yang dak leh kecing kkatil tu. Tadi aku dah beri boto, mung buak macang sokmolah. Mung sakik kang?"

Suara Mat macang nak keluor dak keluor. "Dak apa, ambe buleh gi jjambang. Rasa dak tegamok pulok dok selok kaing ddepang Misi ning."

"Ambo, selama ning dak apa, hari ning nak buak ek pulok. Dak apalah kalu ggitu, gilah, tapi kalu jatoh, padang muka, jangang kata aku suroh!" Suara Misi lagi bekeng, kuak macang guroh.

Bila sapa lluor, Mat dak tengok kkiri kanang lagi, dia lari teruh. Cik Kaleh dok tunggu ttepi teksi, bbawah pohong jambu golok, mulok dia dok tengoh polok kerepok.

Mat hungga naik atah teksi, dia leloh bedoho, dak leh ccakak sepatah pong. Bila sapa ddepang polis di Jalang Paya Bunga baru dia reda sikik, baru buleh ccakak.

"Leh," kata Mat ke kawang baik dia. "Mung hator aku balik dulu sebab aku nak jerengeng sekejak. Lepah tu aku nak Mung gi hator surak ning ke Song, kemudiang sebelong waktu asor mung mari balik kita gi ddarak, ada ha mustohok. Mung mari jjugok!"

Mat tunggu Cik Kaleh habih beleber, lepah tu dia tamboh pulok: "Dak apa Leh, lepah ning aku bayor hutang mung habih. Tapi mung ingak, petang ning, belong asor, kita gohek, gi ddarak."

Dari kawasang Pejabat Jang Besor, teksi Cik Kaleh kkelik ddalang cahaya matahari, lalu bbawoh pohong ru, lalu ddepang dua butir bedil pejabak. Lalu-lintah ddepang pejabak macang biasa, sebok sikik. Ada dua buoh kereta Ford Prefect, lima orang budok sekoloh Sultang Selemang dok naik basika ketek-ketek, ada basika kaki tiga dok bawok guni beras. Sapa dekat cabang jalang, Cik Kaleh pusing kiri, making lama making kecik, sapa akhirnya dia hilang balik rok.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Spinning On A Word

In Trengganuspeak piang is sometimes used instead of musim. So piang boh, piang jo'ong, piang buoh describe the seasonal floods, broody sky, and the fruit season. It is difficult to trace the origin of this word as dictionaries I've consulted have not been a great help. The Kamus Nusantara (published by the Dewan Bahasa of Brunei), for instance, says that pian is Trengganu and Kelantanspeak for 'season' while in Perak, it says, pian or piang-piang means to rotate spin; whilst the Kamus Besar (Utusan Publishing, Kuala Lumpur) is silent on pian it varies slightly on the Perak spin, giving it as piang-piung.

But there you are, piang, piang-piang... you could put it to music, as Pete Seeger did to similar words from the Book of Ecclesiastes that he turned into song: "There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)..."

Both dictionaries, however, agree that a dull, cloudy day is joon with only the Nusantara attributing it to East Coast speak. It is difficult to tell how this word came about, though it's tempting to take an informed guess. When I took a peek in my Arabic dictionary, I found the word junun which means 'to cover, conceal', or hide', and to put a junun over something produces darkness, as in the night. This could be a plausible origin of the dark, dull days of jo'ong, for there are many Arabic loan words in Trengganuspeak.

I remember a teacher in our school once who dismissed Trengganuspeak as bahasa jo'ong in a tone that was more pejorative than jocular. He was, sadly, a man of Trengganu himself who rose, in his perception, to greater heights. I think he trained as a teached in Kirkby or another place called Brinsford Lodge, in Wolverhampton. Unbeknown to him was the erudition that existed, and still does, in Trengganuspeak. Listen to the words of Tok Mek, a frail lady with rheumy eyes who visited us most days. She was unletterd, and untutored in many things, but once I heard her punctuate her conversation with waïme (pron. wa-ee-meh) In fact many old people of my Trengganu childhood used this word in their everyday speech, waïme nak gi ke, waime dok... ("Whether to go or not..") And this gives a clue as to the origin of waïme, and that's the Arabic waimma, be it this or that, either this or that.

Tok Nah and folk of her generation peppered their daily conversations with many surprising words, pe'el, tobak, harang jjadoh, gelemat, to name but five. They all came, no doubt, from nnadoh kitab, opening a book. There were many pondoks in Trengganu then where people gathered to hear discourses from an 'opened book', in Losong, in the nooks and crannies of Kuala Brang where the Inscribed Stone (Batu Bersurat) was found, and where, in the 1700s, Sheikh Abdul Malek bin Abdullah (Tok Pualu Manis) probably wrote his commentary on the sufi aphorisms of the Kitab al-Hikam of the Egyptian Shaykh Ibn `Ata'illah (d. 1309).

If musim's origin was definitely Arabic (mausim= season, so 'monsoon'), and jo'ong too perhaps, where then did piang come from? The two dictionaries mentioned above were not very helpful in this, but here Winstedt may be able to shed some light, even if he was silent on piang or pian. He found piantan in Johor and Perak, which he defined as 'auspicious' or 'usual time'. And he went even further: piantan hujan, 'usual time for the monsoon rains'; and piantan kuala kantup, an East Coast expression that meant, he said, the North East monsoon.

So there you are, piantan and the Trengganuspeak piang; and as for the musing tutup kuala, your fishmonger probably said that, with a shrug.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Long March of the Cik Ru

As it's approaching yet another new year let us now turn our minds back to the Cik Ru.

The Cik RuThe Cik Ru has made many appearances in these blogs, often under the Sekolah Ladang where they were buried in sand. I mentioned once that we used to fish them out of their conical holes with a strand of hair. How we caught them was one thing, and what we did with them was another. And the answer is mostly, nothing at all. They were just fascinating creatures with a round body and pincered in one end. They had six legs which they put to good use, burrowing deep into their inverted cones. Once I was even rude about the Cik Ru, saying that they were of no use to anyone. I now regret that unwarranted solipsism, forgetting that there may well be Cik Ru bloggers who've indeed questioned the relevance of men, who are of no discernible use at all, and whose little ones sometimes appeared beneath the school-house wreaking havoc with their lives with strands of hair.

For a while I thought I was veering off the edge because no one else spoke of the Cik Ru, while here I was on my knees in sand, looking, and even writing a paean to it. But help came just in the nick of time. Joninho wrote in to say that this creature that was a Cik Ru to me was a Cik Mek to him. He wrote:
"I didn't have the clue what cik ru was but ur description of its habitat of inverted cone shaped hole gave it away. During past times, we often caught cik mek@cik ru but we had to catch it quickly before it went deeper into the soil. The interesting part was we creatively invented 'laga' or fight between cik mek with poor 'kerengga' in a bottle. Sometimes cik mek won and vice versa but we were kids and we didn't know it was sinful to torture animals.."
And then d'arkampo wrote in to say:
"Ambe ingak agi Cik Ru..duduk dalang pasir. Kalu nok ngail cik ru, ambik bunga loceng and peel it. Use only the stigma/pistil and put it in the sand.
To other readers, no..we don't eat Cik Ru."
Now — happiness — I've found another Trengganuian who also baited the Cik Ru in his childhood, and he is Prof Madya Dr Mat bin Zakaria who mentioned the Cik Ru in his long and interesting reminiscence of his Trengganu childhood. And he even has the proper name for it, cecurut, and I'm ever grateful to him for that.

From there I have been able to trace the glorious path of the Cik Ru Cecurut through many cultures and many folklores. In zoological parlance, the Cik Ru is a myrmelrontidae, a classification derived from the Greek myrmex (ant) and leon (lion) because in many cultures, our Cik Ru is the Ant Lion, an insect that waits and waits in its conical hole for an ant to drop in. And then zappp! the ant is dead, held between its pincers. So who says the Cik Ru has no purpose at all in life? Its business is to devour ants, and that's that.

The Ant Lion is apparently the larva of a winged insect of the order neuroptera which includes dobsonflies and lacewings. And what's more, in the United States, these voracious ant-eating larvae are called doodlebugs because of the "doodle" tracks they leave in the sand.

So, here again is the paean to the Cik Ru, and it's well worth it. What a trouper, dancing those doodles in the sand, what a resilient member of an ancient order of insects with a complete metamorphosis!
Cik Ru, rumahmu
ddalang pasir, bbawoh tanoh;
Macang mana mu dok ssitu,
tiba-tiba ada ccokoh,
ddalang lekok pasir ceru
mu pegi buak rumoh.
Cik Ru asal mu
boleh korek tapi susoh,
sebak ddalang sejaroh Teganu
mu duduk lama ddo'oh,
bila tanya orang tua, dang-dang kena jerkoh:
"Buak ape nak tahu, dak buleh makang kedaroh!"

Follow the Cik Ru Trail:
Ant LionCik Ru mentions:
With Ru My Heart Is Laden.
Gonen With the Wind
Lightness of Being

For the complete paean to Cik Ru, go here
For a comprehensive account of the Cik Ru and its lore, go to this remarkable Cik Ru page.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wind Over Troubled Water

In the monsoon months the sea became a demented beast, lashing with a mighty roar, eating into sandy ramparts and piling tangled heaps of debris: sodden branches and dead animals, seaweeds ploughed up in knotted balls and tree-trunks fallen far away. And once there was a dead body that drifted to our side of the shore. Fishermen came home and snuggled under extra sarongs draped over shoulders then pulled tight to the front into a fold. They sat and munched on verendahs, boiled tapioca dipped in white sugar, teeth blackened by residues of strong coffee, sweet as the village damsel.

Flood in Kedai Payang
Banjir besar di bawah Jam Besar

In normal months the waves merely dissipated at the sea-edge, fizzling out in a sigh, and scattering surf and sending crabs scurrying sideways to their bolt holes. In the monsoon months the sea was a cauldron of grey pulled to shore by a hazy curtain of the sky that wore a coat of matching colour. The water lashed, chopped and growled, eating into our beaches and pulling sand into the turmoil. When the rain let up we walked to the coast and picked up what it threw on shore — the flat shelled buah gomok, tough and dark as ebony, or the slender rumput jjuluk with its core that we pushed out like long, spongy spaghetti. The buah rengas was fist-sized and laid in wait, but was avoided by those who knew. It gave an itch and God knows what else besides, and ditto too to the jelly fish that laid in a daze after being tossed and rolled in the water. We took the buah gomok home and bored holes in them and kept them on an ant's colony. Once the ants have had their feast and left the gomok shell light and hollow, the skilled in this gomokcraft took them home to fill with molten lead, its shell to love and polish with spit and Kiwi, then bandied about as gleaming objects of desire. The weighted gomok were used as hurling objects in our games, or smashed against rival gomoks as children do with conkers in other parts of the world. While waiting for the buah gomok to fill we gave vent to the art in us and soaked the long pulp of the rumput jjuluk in ink or the red dye of the kesumba and shaped them into pretty flowers.

The monsoon was the wind that blew in the chill, not the rain that clung to its coat-tail. Starting life as a Siberian draft, it turned a corner on Chinese shores and became the northeasterlies that blew November to March in Trengganu. There it turned the hang-down mops of our coconut trees into straight hair blown to the backs of their ears, it lifted thatch from our rooftops and lifted the sarongs of the unwary; it brought changes and material upheavals, blew umbrellas into a 'V'. As the tail-wind it steered the ship of Ibn Battuta, and brought Hadhrami men to our shores, sailors and preachers of Yemen, chanting the hizib (litany) of the bahr (sea).

In the market of Tanjong the fruits were covered in glinting beads of fallen rain as women vendors snuggled beneath plastic awnings and their pea-green umbrellas; fish was scarce and roots were thrown into the fire — the tapioca and varieties of ubi and keladi — eaten with sugar or scraped coconut with salt, while watching buyers and errand boys, middlemen and kuih vendors scurry by, celebrating the numbered days of the samir. The samir were dried palm leaves sown into a hood-shaped top with a cape that flowed down your back to reach down to your heels.

It rained heavily in these tengkujuh months that we also called musim gelora, and when it rained for days on end, Kuala Trengganu became a big puddle. Musim is from the Arabic mausim (= season) that also begot the word 'monsoon' and gelora was the sea in bad temper. Nature spoke to us then, in the rustling of the trees and the susurration of the tall meninjau that stood outsdie our east-facing window. Rain prattled on corrugated roofs of coffee shops and tyres splashed constantly over puddles; and the sea was a mix of sounds: of distant wails and tiger's roar, trapped under a broody sky.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Growing Up In Another Place

Growing Up In Trengganu started just over two years ago, on November 11, 2003, in another place where it (and subsequent pieces in the series) sat uneasily among other topics of discussion. When I moved Growing Up here, the earlier ones were left in situ but like orphans they stayed, in an environment that's troubled by the miscreants of this world. So now I've decided to move them to another place, to this address, to be exact, while the rest of the Growing Up continue to grow here.

If you have the time, please do go there to see how it all started in a bottle of red, Red Rose...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Pays au Chocolat

In the house where I first learnt to read the Qur'an they rolled a sticky brown paste still hot from the pan into a thick long string, then cut out inch-long sections that were individually wrapped in square bits of newspaper.

Some days they changed the recipe and turned sugar into thick caramel, then buried a peanut in each blob and shaped the glassy outer layer into the shape and size of a bullet that came wrapped in transparent coloured paper. We paid five cents for three of those, and placed one in our cheek to put some sweetness into the time we spent from one errand to another, those sugary bullet-shaped buah guling wrapped in transparent colours of green and red and blue. For the richer taste of palm nectar we had to hold our walk to peel off the newsprint wrapper that finally came loose with a word or two sticking still to the brown sugar. But you popped it into your mouth nevertheless, knowing that you had the skill honed by your many years as a muncher to spit out the papery words through your teeth as the sugar melted in the saliva. This was the cokelat nnisang born of the fluid tapped from the spathe of the coconut, then boiled in a heavy pot to be reduced into a brown colour.

The nnisang that came from the standardspeak manisan, meaning 'sweetener' was sugar of the kampung, sold as flat round discs, with a surrounding rind of tough, sinewy leaf that cut deeply into an unwary finger. It was this nnisang that lent the sweetness and the colour to our cokelat, a word that in Trengganuspeak described a variety of sins from the gobstopper to the luxury of its cocoa-born father. When we tired of this kampung made sweets we took our five cents to the grocery shops to swap for two bits of clear glass called the cokelat ra. The 'ah' in rah was a nasal sound that described the effect of the mint as it burnt a hole in our palate and rot our teeth to the core.

On the bridge in the road to the town's masjid was a shop called kedai bbunga that probably had flowers in its wall-papering (so hence the name) but it had more delightful things than that in jars. They were sweets from many lands, and dried fruits wrapped in Chinese paper, and Cadbury's fruit and nut, and fruit pastilles that turned your teeth a bright colour. Needless to say we visited the shop only rarely because of our limited means, but sometimes — budget permitting — Father brought home biscuits from there from an exotic place called Reading, or a bunch of grapes that brought an enticing aroma into our childhood, or canned cocktail of fruits from Tasmania. In a cylinder made from heavy paper came thin red dried discs of gambir China, and there was buah kerecut that are now known as Chinese dates, and buah kana that looked and tasted like rugby balls. There was buah ssemak that was actually the Japanese kaki fruit, dried and flattened and exported in a layer of white mycelium or fruit sugar (tick whichever is applicable). It was a veritable cornucopia on the bridge shop opposite the fire brigade and diagonally across from the corner prayer house that was the fishmongers' surau.

Father had a little debt book kept in his name in kedai bbunga which the Bbunga brothers pulled out of a 5kg Planta margarine tin that was hung on the ceiling to a long string that rolled on a pulley. They could not have been brothers at all, but we assumed that they were: one man was round in shape with his head completely shorn, who wore a button-necked T-shirt and the blue Chinese precursor to the 'boxer' (whom Mother called Awang, the name she gave all Chinese shopkeepers), the other was a man fully hirsute in the top but wasn't as merry as his bald other (so Mother didn't give him a name at all).

We were sweet-toothed in Trengganu and loved our nekbat and our dodol which was white and came wrapped in the dried spathe of the palmyra, and wrapped again on the inside in a delightful crust of white sugar. As our house was cheek by jowl with our surau, we were treated at least twice a year to some chanting by our local South Indian shopkeepers during the mawlid of our Prophet and of a famous saint from Nagore. After finishing the prayer at dusk our Imam Pak Leh moved over to the side for our spice vendors and textile traders to hold sway, first in a gentle murmur that set the tone, then into the crescendo that led to the salawat and the finale of the qasidah burda.

We were often not allowed to venture out into the night but heard it all in full shout as we sat around our dinner table. We knew we were missing out on a lot when the pleading noises started to roll as the food parcels were handed out; but the following morning as we were preparing to go to school we were seldom disappointed by Yusuf our contact man in the spice trade who would bring to us parcels of nasi minyak from the night and something else that always made me smile: thanks to the goodness and the sweetness of ladoo.