On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Friday, March 31, 2006

Ornamental Wonder

In the forest of columns in the Masjid Abidin, Bekas bara Masjid Abidin perhaps ten or fiften paces from the minbar (pulpit), was this baroque object, with protruding parts and dangling baubles, that I often sat beside it on crowded Fridays to look at it and then marvel how on earth it did get there. We'd decided among ourselves that it was the bekas bara, for the glowing embers of wood charcoal that made the bed for the incense to burn out its cloud of smell on some special nights or days of prayer. But the nights never came for us, not even before or during the Hari Raya festival. I never saw its lid raised to take in the burning coal, in fact I never saw anyone raise its lid at all.

I'd inspected the object closely as the adults were abuzz with chants and prayers, while waiting for the Friday Imam to walk up to the pulpit, and I saw many holes drilled between the raised hoops in the lid, as escape routes perhaps of the sweet smelling smoke from the crackling incense in the fire. There were dangling earrings of beads, and there were leaves, unmistakably of the paku (fern) variety of Malaysia. The shoots of the paku (fiddleheads) made delicous salads, and as I was ruminating this in my mind, a Tamil shopkeeper came and stuck incense sticks into those holes in the lid, and soon my eyes followed them in the air, thin trails of smoke from their lighted ends that rose and burst into wispy clouds climbing to the column tops in the Masjid's main chamber.

This fascinating architecture was of white brass; it came and indeed sprang — I had no doubt — from the minds of Tanjong people.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sultans and Scholars

I've been rapped on the knucklesZainal Abidin III with son Ahmad for having left a gap in my last blog by someone with the venerable title of Tok Pulau, who sent me an email saying: "You said that Sheikh Duyung Wan Abdullah died in 1890 after serving two Sultans, Sultan Baginda Omar (1839 - 1876) and Sultan Zainal Abidin III (1881 -1918), so who was Sultan between 1876 and 1881?"

Well, let me linger awhile on Baginda Omar. Baginda is a word of Sanskirt origin, meaning 'the fortunate', a title usually applied to a conqueror in those days of constant strife. As I've written in my earlier blog on Bukit Putri, Omar, a man who was by all accounts quite remarkable, was banished to Daik in 1833 during the reign of Mansur II. Mansur died the following year and was succeeded by his son Sultan Muhammad Shah I, who was remembered after his death as Marhum Télor. Omar took his nephew by surprise in 1837 when he returned and took possession of the Yam Tuan's palace, holding out there until the fourth day when an attempt to dislodge him was repelled quite easily. The Yam Tuan, an ignorant young man who was not only lacking in administrative skills, but also burdened with a speech impediment (télor) lost his life in this struggle. Omar crowned his triumph — as foretold by a wali (saint) known as Habib Sheikh in Daik — by setting up his base on Bukit Putri before coming down again to build another on the ruins of his predecessor's istana.

His victory was easy as the the people of Trengganu had little regard for the young son of Mansur II. Furthermore, as Clifford observed in his report on Trengganu and Kelantan in 1895:
"[T]he peaceful artisans of Kuala Trengganu and the fishermen of the coast villages had little inclination for fighting, and evinced far more anxiety for the safety of their possessions and for the welfare of their trade than zeal for the preservation of the existing régime."
Trengganu prospered under this strong, enlightened ruler who valued learning and spent much energy on the development of the state. Clifford said that it was he who built the "handsome stone mosque" in the town, which I take to be the one now known as the Masjid Abidin or the White Mosque (Masjid Putih); but I could be wrong here.

Clifford, who was no doubt sent there on an 'expedition' for the British, also made the following remark which looks now, on hindsight, to be more 'precious' than casual:
"With the exception of a rebellion in Besut, which was speedily and ruthlessly suppressed, no internal trouble impeded the progress of Trengganu during this reign; and though the British government bombarded Kuala Trengganu in 1863 no serious damage was done, and this incident represented all the external trouble which interfered with the prosperity of Trengganu while that state was under the rule of the Baginda." [My italics]
Baginda Omar was succeeded by his nephew Ahmad who became Sultan Ahmad II in 1876 and then, on his death, by Sultan Zainal Abidin III who ruled Trengganu till 1918. Zainal Abidin was not an astute man as his grand uncle Omar, but like him, he loved learning and learned people. Like his grand uncle, he too chose Tok Duyung to be his tutor.

Sultan Baginda Omar returned to Trengganu with an entourage of about 50 people, half of them women, Clifford noted. I believe these were the people who settled in an area in the town centre, between the Masjid Abidin and the Bukit Putri, which became known as Kampung Daik. Trengganu has many pockets of settlements that reflect much of its history. The first Sultan of Trengganu, Zainal Abidin ibni al-Marhum Bendahara Seri Maharaja Tun Habib Abdul Majid arrived in Trengganu via Patani in 1725. (He was there to marry his second wife Nang Rugayah, better known as Raja Dewi Perachu Nang Chayang of Patani. Later he married another, the daughter of another remarkable man of Trenggnau, Sheikh Abdul Malik bin Abdullah, the man widely revered as Tok Pulau Manis.) He too arrived with an entourage, from Patani, and they, I think, settled in an area next door to the Istana Kolam that is still known as Kampung Patani.

Soon after writing the blog on the Duyung islands I met (in London) a Trengganu man from Chabang Tiga who told me that in the village where he lived, they were all related to one another as they had all come down from Patani. Chabang Tiga, like its neighbouring Losong(s), was a seat of learning with many pondok (madrasah) and many exits that were used in the internecine wars. Losong, I'm told, is old Trengganuspeak for 'escape route'.

I would hazard a guess and say that the Patani peple of Losong and Chabang Tiga arrived during the time of Tok Duyung Sheikh Abdul Qadir in the 1830s. This was the time of rebellion in Patani and Kedah, to shake off the yoke of Thai rule. Trengganu sent an expedition under the leadership of Panglima (warrior) Tengku Idris to help the Sultan's forces in Patani. When the rebellion was quelled, Trengganu and Kelantan had to surrender their partisans under threat of attack by Siam. Some 4,000 fighters were taken as prisoners to Bangkok, including some members of the Patani royalty who had fled to Kelantan.

The rebellion changed the course of the Patani Sultanate and started the diaspora of Patani scholars southward, to Kelantan, Trengganu and beyond in the Nusantara.

Photo: Sultan Zainal Abidin III, Marhum Haji, with his son Tengku Ahmad.

Friday, March 24, 2006

These Blessed Isles

Sometimes, in exasperation, Mother would say, "Seberang Takir is just across the river from us, but the people of Duyung are better by far."

Now, before I get irate letters from the Seberang people, please allow me to make this clear. We were connected to many people in Seberang Takir, with a few branches — but not roots — over there from the family tree. This was what Mother was getting at, for being let down perhaps, by our own side across the river.

Seberang Takir was sun-dried fish, the cries of fishwives and nets extended out to dry. A long strip crossed by winds reached out to us, like a dagger over the water, to our side of Kuala Trengganu. The other side was reached by penambang boats clinging to the breeze, then paddled ashore by grumpy men in khaki shorts kept beneath their batik kilts, hemlines pulled above their knees. There was an airstrip in Seberang Takir, the first I could remember in Kuala Trengganu, with the name of Telaga Batin that could easily trip from the unwary tongue and be transformed into Tenaga Batin (Sexual Energy), in one mad rush of the kundalini. Seberang Takir gave Trengganu Ibrahim Fikri, our first elected Menteri Besar, and then in 1961, A. Rashid Ngah, another son of Seberang Takir, wrote a novella called Di Bawah Alunan Ombak ("Under the Rolling Waves") that won him a national award from the Dewan Bahasa.

Upstream from the rumbustiousness of this shore, the islands of Duyung, both Kecil and Besar, reflected themselves with quiet dignity on the surface of the Trengganu water. These were homes of craftsmen and boat makers and scions of saints and religious scholars, islands of erudition and gentle people, unharried by the rush of fish to shore. A cool place as Mother would say — this tempat sejuk that nurtured many remarkable people.

Among these was an eminent Shafi'i scholar, Sheikh Abdul Qadir bin Abdul Rahman al-Fathani, who became known as Tok Duyung. Many scholars of renown in the East Coast then bore the tag al-Fathani, which merely indicated their original home of Patani, a Malay state that is now under Thai rule. The ease of movement between Trengganu/Kelantan people to Patani and vice versa was a continuation of links that existed since the latter Kingdom of Langkasuka that moved its hub over there.

The date of Tok Duyung's arrival in Duyung is unclear. An account I've read says that he was grand uncle by familial rank (though younger) to another eminent scholar of the region, Sheikh Daud bin Abdullah al-Fathani. After studying in Mecca and Medina, Sheikh Abdul Qadir returned not to Patani, but to Trengganu, to Pulau Duyung Kecil where he planned to set up a madrasah similar to those found in his homeland. With this 'blueprint' for a religious school he returned to Patani to get teachers and the necessary funding, but his plans were torn asunder by a rebellion against Siamese rule that broke out in Kedah and Patani. Muslim scholars were involved in this rebellion, including members of his own family. So Abdul Qadir had to backtrack to Duyung where he continued to give religious instruction and became its Sheikhul Islam, the local religious luminary.

From these events I gather that Sheikh Abdul Qadir would have travelled between Trengganu and Patani in 1831 at the earliest, and his return to Trengganu was probably no later than 1834. From Duyung of his base he extended his reach to Bukit Bayas where he set up his 'academy' on the Patani model. Little wonder then that in later life he became known as Sheikh Abdul Qadir of Bukit Bayas. He died in Kuala Trengganu in 1864.

Tuk Duyung had twenty-one children ( 12 daughters, 10 sons). Of these, Wan Muhammad Saleh bin Sheikh Abdul Qadir, a religious scholar, was awarded the title of Datuk Sangsura Pahlawan (Tok Kaya Pahlawan) by the Sultan of Trengganu. Among his students were Sultan Omar (1839 - 1876) and Wan Abdullah bin Muhammad Amin al-Fathani, who himself took the mantle of Tok Sheikh Duyung after the passing of his mentor.

The Second Sheikh Duyung Wan Abdullah was also a trusted adviser to the Sultan Omar. In 1874, at the behest of his Sultan, he journeyed by elephant to the Royal Court of Kelantan, where he successfully persuaded the Sultan there to stop aiding disgruntled elements in the border district of Besut.

In 1853 he became the Mufti of Trengganu just as his predecessor the first Tuk Duyung did in his time, and this wasn't the last Mufti of rengganu came from these blessed isles. Sheikh Duyung Wan Abdullah died in 1890 after serving two Sultans, Sultan Baginda Omar and Sultan Zainal Abidin III (1881 -1918).

His children continued to contribute to the religious and intellectual life of the State. One, who took the title of Datuk Kamal Wangsa, was a skilled mathematician and astronomer with a deep knowledge of the tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism). A grandson, the Chief Judge Datuk Bija Sura, helped to draft the State Constitution.

I'd like to record here my thanks to Tuan Haji Wan Mohd. Shaghir, a man who is tireless in his work to keep the intellectual tradition of Patani alive. I have benefitted from his research. Jazakallah!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Family of Fruit

A throwaway remark by Ubisetela tampoi_ngekke ("Isn't buah ngeker...buah tampoi?", see Comments, below) has helped me discover a 'lost' fruit. I have mentioned buah ngekke a few times as a fruit from the old Pasar Tanjong that came with the busy downstream traffic in the morning on market days (and that's seven days a week). The buah ngekke had cream-coloured fleshy seeds that reminded me of the rambai, its skin was thicker than the rambai's and the fruit harder and bigger, but if you squeezed it between your palms, it'd split into three parts, leaving the seeds clinging to the stalk. And Kookabooras remembers it too, drawing similarities between it and the woh (i.e. buöh) seto (standardspeak, sentul) and setia as he remembers them from the market in Cabang Tiga.

RambaiLooking at pictures of the tampoi I'm convinced now that it is indeed our long lost buah ngekke (Baccaurea macrophylla) which, unsurprisingly, is related to the rambai (Baccaurea motleyana). On the west coast and in East Malaysia it is known as tampoi, a name you'll immediately recognise from the location of the second most famous psychiatric hospital on the mainland, in Tampoi. (The most famous, incidentally, is also located in a place named after a fruit, in Tanjung Rambutan, Perak). In Trengganu (and perhaps also Kelantan), the fruit takes the name of ngekke which sounds to me even more like bedlam, and it's puzzled me for a long time how the fruit acquired such a peculiar name until I'm told that it is called Lang-khae in Patani, in Southern Thailand.

The ngekke's pulp lesser tampoi does not go easily from the seed, but if you suck and roll it in your mouth it gives a sweet and slightly sourish taste, unlike the tart and laxative qualities of the rambai that will soon send you running to the little house. But the most flavoursome of all from this family, they say, is the lesser tampoi (Baccaurea reticulata), or larak which I've Googled with this mouth-watering result (above). I'm not sure what larak is called in Trengganu or if it is known at all there, so if you know, please do tell me. The best I can say is that it probably isn't a name it's got but a description because, as Winstedt says, larak means "close packed (and fleshless) of pips in fruit (e.g. durians)".

We'll have to keep the seto (standardspeak sentul, Sandoricum indicum) and its cousin setia for another time now that Bergen's described them so enticingly.(see Comments).

Pictures {top to bottom): Tampoi ( courtesy: Bin Gregory); rambai; lesser tampoi/larak.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Growing Up In Trengganu #284,332

Cupolas catching the morning light, glistening as they came out of the oven, six to a row, then six times again, shoulder to shoulder in the tray. Pak Mat pulled the roti paung then dabbed ghee on them, the gleaming domed tops baked to light brown. This was Trengganu ghee, the minyök sapi from the milk of cows of the orang darat poured into clear glass bottles, then bunged with a rolled-up banana leaf. It curdled on rainy days into a corally yellowish-white cloud, or tidur as Mother used to say, it'd gone to sleep. In the heat of Pök Mat's kitchen the minyök was now wide awake, spreading easily on the bun tops, the roti paung, lending them its rich, salty taste, and the aroma of ghee on a hot surface that was an absolute gourmet's delight.

Pök Mat went by many names, he was Che Mat Che Senani, or he was Pök Mat Nasi Minyök, but to most he was just their Pök Mat. He was a bulky man, tallish if I remember him well, as he stood there with his baker's paunch, in a white T-shirt that buttoned halfway down the chest. And his sarong — for he was always in his sarong, except on formal occasions — held loosely around his waist, but I can assure you that it stayed there all day long.

There was a crowd already at Pök Mat's gate, a couple of feet from his baking shed, and it was not yet 7 o'clock. The sunlight was soft this time of day, and the bicycling crowd of school children and the rickshaws were breezing back and forth in the morning traffic of Jalan Pantai that used to cut the coast from the hinterland of our Tanjong. The paung kept coming out from the oven, catching the early light in their sheen, as Pök Mat stood and looked the look of satisfaction, and then he looked again as he pulled up the sarong around his waist, and twirled the coil of cloth atop his head.

His young assistants wrapped up the paung in newspaper sheets, two maybe for a boy to munch en route to class, or six for a family man to take home where spouse and offsprings were waiting to break the dome and set free the head of steam from within, to dunk the bread into their hot cups of milky tea or Milo carried home from the stalls in cans that once contained condensed milk.

The roti paung was the art of Pök Mat but to me he was always the beluda man. The beluda was baked in a cigarette tin and stood taller than the paung, with its shallow dome top that rose above the open round rim of the tin. You don't see or hear much of the beluda these days, but those who remember will remember it as a spongy bread, sweet and lemök to the taste, and was halfway between a bread and tea cake. Lemök (standardspeak, lemak) is a problem word as it stands between a little sweetness and richness and a little fat, and is sometimes used to describe a pleasing voice. I can feel the lemök-ness of Pök Mat's beluda and its soft texture in the mouth, and I hear birds singing in soft rays of light as Pök Mat's coil of rag-cloth rises like a halo above his head.

Sometimes Pök Mat abandoned his baking altogether and sold only the nasi minyök for which he was also famous. He cooked the rice in a huge brass pot lined with a layer of fat (ghee perhaps) and when the time was right, he'd mix in green rice and red from smaller pots. So this was the nature of the mix — you'd find green grains and red in the main body of white of the nasi minyök that came with a dab of ground chili and chunks of meat cooked in the light Malay gulai sauce.

In coffee shops and tea stalls they served bread that stood like rows of terraced houses, baked in tins in the Chinese bakery in Ladang or in Pulau Kambing. This was the plain all-purpose bread to slice and toast, and then eaten with the kaya spread. It was dipped in curry sauce, and in hot drinks of course, and when its soft inner dough was dug out and rolled into a ball between the thumb and index finger, it served as a useful bait for the cicak lizard.

We bought our roti bata piping hot from the bakery by the cemetery in Ladang, but the better loaf reputedly came from the other side of town, from the bakery of Pulau Kambing that served the best tables in Kuala Trengganu and did even better than that. In a story that many swear is true, a young would-be-ustaz (religious reacher) was interviewed by Tuan Haji Salleh "Misbaha" bin Awang (a well-known local historian and official at the local department of Religious Affairs) when the Tuan Haji pulled a surprise.

"What do angels eat?" he asked the aspiring ustaz.

"Why, roti Pulau Kambing of course!" he replied.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fruit of the Loom

perah stamp The buah perah came in enamelled metal basins carried on the heads of the orang darat. They were dark-shelled seeds soaked in water, heaps of them like dead beetles, pre-cooked till their shells cracked.

We bought the buah perah for 10 sen, for ten or maybe twelve, wrapped in newspaper that soaked up the brine. We imagined them picking the perah fruit from a shrub, or the branches of a medium sized tree on the edge of the forest, then sitting on their haunches while the seeds gurgled over the fire in a leger drum that's been trimmed to half its industrial depth.

How wrong we were.

Perah fruit Perah seedI know now where the buah perah came from, and they were not a fruit at all but seeds of a three-valved fruit that grew in the branches that spread out like arms from a tall-stemmed tree (Elateriospermum tapos) with leaves of many colours. One source says that eating too much buah perah can make the world around you spin a little, but twelve must have been a safe number as we never saw our Tanjong spin when we finished our ten sen's worth. The orang asli, the same source says, pound the seeds and bury the paste in the ground, and there it stays until they come back again to retrieve it, fermented, for use as condiment on their food.

My friend in Kemaman — Wang Ripeng — tells me that the buah perah makes an appearance still in his local market, and are yours to take away for 12 seeds a ringgit, wrapped in little plastic bags.

Pohon Bbaru I am also thankful to Wang Ripeng who, even as he eats his buah perah and feels slightly dizzy in the head, is still able to take some delightful shots of local trees before they disappear from this earth. He sends me this picture of the pohon bbaru which I must've mentioned at least three times a propos the diet of Kuala Trengganu goats. When we lived in Tanjong (in Kuala Trengganu), says Wang Ripeng, we kept a goat beneath our house, so we planted the pohong bbaru near our kitchen door to keep the goat in supply of its favourite snack. But in Kemamang, adds the crestfallen Wang Ripeng, the goats here care little for the pohong bbaru, preferring to chew on tufts of grass and bits of yesterday's newspaper and whatever's available in the market.

If Winstedt is to be believed, the pohong bbaru is actually pohon baru in standardspeak, so the shaddah emphasis in its Trengganuspeak version (bbaru) must've been put there for balance, as we do sometimes in our speech. It is, says Winstedt, from the family of the hibiscus (hibiscus spp.)

Terajang I've mentioned the buah terajang a few times as a fruit from our Kuala Trengganu childhood (and here I pause to shed a tear for Long Ladang who used to write in to say how lush his Kampung Ladang had been, with fruit trees from the Sekölöh Arab to Kampung Paya, jambu arang,and buah terajang...). I am pleased to record here that my attempts to find out more about the buah terajang has borne fruit, and that far from being near-extinct, it is flourishing still throughout the land, even lending its name to a famous town in the peninsula. Yes, Bukit Mertajam is the town of buah terajang, and terajang (Lepisanthes rubiginosa, Eriglossum edule) is indeed mertajam in standardspeak. For this I'm thankful to Angela Hijjas whose Rimbun Dahan is a rich seam of information about Malaysian trees.

Photos, [top to bottom] Malaysian buah perah stamp; the perah fruit (left); the perah seed (right); bbaru leaves; Buah terajang/Mertajam fruit and leaves.

Orang darat - People from the interior, as opposed to people from the kuala, the river mouth. cf. orang ulu, people from upriver. Both orang darat and orang ulu are sometimes used in the pejorative sense.

Leger - The oil drum.

Orang asli - 'Original people'; a term used for the aborigines of the jungle.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Me Old Mate

If you've been to Bergen's hilarious blogs and read the names of some of his childhood mates (Biding Hidung, Li Bulb Lampu, Mamood Botoq) you will have caught a glimpse of how people in Trengganu gave colour to folks in their midst, and how every name had a story attached. In Tanjong, fifty miles from where Bergen lived, we had Mök Döh Pök Mat Kupi, Pak Mat Bbiang, Kor Tonjeng, Semek Mura, and Mök Teh Spring. We had a lady who lived near us whom we knew only by the name of Makiong, because, on some nights she'd go into an involuntary trance and sing like the performers in the Makyong.

This was what we called lupa, a state of forgetfulness, when you lost your sense of self and became another person, and spoke and sang in another's tongue. Makyong was a Malay operetta that centred around an elaborately dressed lady, often wielding a bundle of sticks that she used to whack a long suffering man in order to punctuate her songs. I used to watch these antics for hours in Padang Malaya on festival nights, without gaining a clue as to what it was all about; but the lady's songs were haunting and long, and when it was heard wafting in our direction in the darkness of night from the house of our neighbour Makiong, it sent shivers down our spines.

In my recent blog Growing Up in Trengganu #194756 I mentioned Alias Songkok (a person I knew only by name) because we had to walk past his house on our way home at the time of ggarik. I am grateful to Pok Ku for providing us another snippet on Alias Songkok in his comments to the blog:
"Alias Songkok was not generally seen in a songkok because he loved and nurtured his hair too much. We (his schoolmates) called him Alias Songkok because his dad was Cik Mat Songkok.This Singer salesman was never seen in public without a songkok covering his head for reasons known only to a few."
And then, a few days after that, I received an email from a friend who lives in Kemaman. This is what happened to him on a recent visit back to Tanjong:
"[M]y 2nd son wanted to buy some murtabak [mak tabak in Trengganuspeak], so I took him to Kedai Pak Lah. I parked my car in front of Wan Wook's [coffee] shop. While crossing the road, a man rushed towards me and held my hand. I couldn't recognise him. I asked him to join us at Kedai Pak Lah, we sat at a table that faced the road to our [old] house. After a while, he asked, are you Pin? Then only from his voice, I knew that he was Alias Songkok. I had not met him for over 30 years. He told me that he did try to look for me, even his mother always asked about me...That was Alias Songkok or Alias Botok. His grandmother's (Mak Da Sipit) nasi dagang was one of the best in Tanjong!"
The story of Alias Songok gives an interesting vignette into life in Kuala Trengganu in days when oil was found only in the kuali for frying keropok. I was very pleased to receive another email from my Kemaman friend on the life and times of Alias Songkok:
"Actually they called him Alias Botok but he wasn't bald. In class at school, before he sat, he'd lay down his handkerchief on the seat, so that his white trousers wouldn't get dirty. Outside the class he'd fold the handkerchief lengthwise and place it between his neck and shirt collar, so it'd stay clean! Many students at school did that in those days. Alias's father was Encik Mat Songkok, a talented violinist."
Distant memories of the violin and the Makyong, and P.Jalil on his trumpet in nearby Ladang. And my friend had this to add: he sat in the old Kedai Pök Löh (now known as Kedai Haji) with Encik Alias Songkok, and they reminisced and ate roti canai dipped in the kuah (sauce) of gulai ikang nnecek (a Malay fish curry). Some things don't change; and only in Trengganu can you do that.

Perhaps someone will now be kind enough to send us a picture of the ikang nnecek.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Talking to Animals

Sometimes on sunny days, when the plants were bright green and our front gate was ajar, a call would come from the kitchen of our house to the corner of our front yard beyond the well. It came in a threatening note, and probably a few scales below the speaker's normal register. "Bok! Bok!" it went, sometimes accompanied by a drumming on the kitchen door.

We had plants in our front yard, the sukun (bread fruit), and pohon jarak (castor oil plant, ricinus communis), a flowering plant called the tikam seladang that sat on a pergola and a common plant called the ubi gajah of straight stem and broad canopy, that looked and behaved very much like your common or garden ubi kayu (the tapioca), except that its roots were poisonous to the human palate but when chopped into fine bits, it slid down the gullets of hens and ducks without giving them as much as wind trouble. We had no poultry in our front yard but we grew the ubi gajah in any case, as any old stick would sprout leaves in those days if you poked it in the right soil.

The goats that squeezed through our front gate cared little for all these but went straight for the banana tree. They clambered its stem on their forelegs then tugged the tip of one frond with their bare teeth to break it at base, till it drooped limply for it to tug and chew while standing firmly on all fours. It was for them that the bok! sound was made, for in the lore of Trengganuspeak bok! was a dread sound for goats that came from the human animal.

The goats spoke back to us of course, in sounds that we called ddembek because the language that goats spoke consisted mainly of bek, bek, or so it sounded to our ears.

To call the goats, their owners made a sound that went bah! bah! as they proferred them leaves from the bbaru tree.

So goats had ears for sounds that came up from the throat, but cats had more sibilant ears. As they approached the plate of fish waiting to be thrown into the fryer, they'd be warned with a shhhhh! but if they proved to be persistent animals, the come back admonitory word took a harder edge that went chis! chisss! and a wise cat would be good enough to withdraw.

Stray chicken pecking and treading on the keropok laid out to dry were warned off with a siok! that leapt out from the mouth, and then maybe another one for good measure.

At times when the animals had to be called, in the morning when Wang Dolloh fed his ducks with ampas sagu the fibrous waste from the sago stem once it had been pressed dry, he called them with a dum-dee-dee. "Diii-di-di-di-di!" he'd cry out, in a voice that rose to a higher note as he sprinkled the feed out to the ducks. "Diii-di-di-di-di-di!"

Cats came when they smelt fish, but early mornings when they were still curled up by the stove, they answered to the sound made by the meeting of the tip of the tongue with the roof of the mouth, the ch-ch-ch... sound that was reminiscent of the gecko.

Bigger cats were best avoided especially if they had stripes on them, but if you had reason to visit their lair to forage for goods, the general consensus was not to mention them by name or wake them up from their slumber, but to offer a general salutation like the salam, and then claim kinship for your right of way. Something like "Assalamu alaikum! Anök cucu nök tumpang lalu!"* would probably work for you (but please try it first on your domestic animals).

* "Peace be on you. Your kith and kin asks for permission to enter."

Friday, March 03, 2006

Seeing the Light

We had a man in Trengganu called Che Ali Pailet. I think he was a 'pilot' on a ship, and the lady with the lamp in the sand of the coast (see, Growing Up in Trengganu #194,756) was helping her husband the pailet of another boat, to navigate the kuala and bring him safely home. I never found out who he was, though we often spoke to the lady as she waited patiently for the light to blink from her husband's boat in the horizon, then she'd wave her hurricane lamp and placed it on the pole. And then it was time for us to go home as it was ggarek.

I was talking yesterday to an orang Inggeris about our problems in Malaysia with their 'Good evening'. Malaysian speakers of English generally don't know what the phrase means, and of course our Selamat Malam is now troubled by their 'Good night' (which is a goodbye). So, in the Malay language now (but not in Trengganuspeak) people are uncertain when they say selamat malam, unsure if they're coming or going. (In Trengganuspeak we just say Hör guane! when we meet acquaintances at any time of day, and Nak gi döh! when we wish to depart). But back to the evening, maybe, the orang Inggeris said, the problem arose because you don't have an evening as such. In summer in England the light peters out very slowly as it gradually gets dark at 9 O'clock. Even in winter, it takes awhile before the light is completely out. This poses a curious problem for Muslims who are observing the fast of Ramadan which ends at sunset. The sun may be setting, but there's still enough light in the outer 'dark'.

In Scotland they have gloaming, a beautiful word to describe this time of day. The closest we have to that is our senja or the Trengganuspeak ggarek. But senja alas, is too short, but ggarek conjures up all sorts of activities at a time when setang dök tengöh gelibuk (when the devils are busy doing their work). I have dwelt on buah ggarek too often so I shall just give it a passing mention now, but ggarek is actually the peak before the night. And nights were not very raucous in Kuala Trengganu then because we spent them mostly in winding down. Folks walked to Kedai Payang to catch the shops before they closed with loud clatterings of wooden slats. The Kedai Pök Löh Yunang stayed open till — well, till the newspapers arrived on their long journey from somewhere behind the hills. And that was how we got the day's news, when we were ready for bed. Sometimes the rivers overflowed their banks in Dungung and Kemamang, so the papers never arrived, and all the news we had were those carried by the winds of the jo'ong that brought the chill of the North-East monsoon.

In the waning light of the ggarek, if it was a Thursday night, we'd look out for cigarette packets and folded the thick paper into chevron shapes, as bullets for our lastik (slingshot made from strands of rubber bands, attached to the Y of a tree branch) then zap! zap! as they impacted against the slats of the closed shops, paper chevrons on the backs of the gecko cicök. This was a strange ritual that was supposed to be virtuous, especially if done on a Thursday night; but I'm glad that the practice is dying now or completely dead as it manifested nothing but the hunter-gatherer instinct that was still lolling in our Trengganu heads.

I used to catch a gecko lizard in my palm before shaking my sister's hand, and seeing it jump out of her hand as she screamed and screamed was more delightful than seeing it dead.