On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Growing Up In Trengganu

Never let it be said that your childhood is lacking in cakne though many will contend that it is a growing-up pain. In the Hikayat Awang Sulong Merah Muda, a tale that purportedly took place in Pati Talak Trengganu, though it came mostly from the memory of that splendid folklorist of Perak, Pawang Ana, the wasterel came home when the cockerels were crowing and dewdrops were beginning to glisten like pearls on blades of grass, before taking on again the pomegranate colour of dawn. This was youth with gay abandon when gayness was an expression of your heart, nothing to do with your sexual orientation.
KT from the air
Kuala Trengganu from the air

Now, this is wayward behaviour that is born of dök cakne, and cakne is something I've been hunting like the snark and yet am still nowhere near the door of its birthplace. I hear though the mother's words, "Döh nök wak guane, dia dök cakne setabok döh le ning!" The boy's mother that is, not cakne's because cakne's Mum has left us without a trace. So without corroboration I can only say that one who is without cakne is one who does not pay any heed to what one's mother or elders are wont to say. "Döh nök wak guane, dia dök cakne setabok döh le ning!" What can I do, he doesn't listen to me any more these days!

These are the tekök boys brigade of the babe (pronounced bah-bay), two words to describe the lack of cakne. It is from little dök cakne that big waballagho lads do grow. And a waballagho person is a goner, neglectful of his duties, uncaring of behaviour and is probably also possessed of a loose tongue and looser morals. Waballagho and lere are two Trengganuspeak words that metamorphosed from one Arabic mother, lagha, i.e. to make null or void. Children may start by being a little naka (Standardspeak, nakal, naughty) though some may take it a little further and become songor. Where songor becomes bedo'oh may hang on the tolerance level of the adult beholder. But gong — an unnecessarily showy behaviour — may cling on till later life, to win, by popular denunciation, an act that is over the top, ddo'oh lalu. What's fascinating here is how one word that starts with one meaning in its source language ends up on a harsher note in another. Lere and laghö (from the Arabic 'invalid') finds its apotheosis in waballagho a word that now mocks its origin to describe someone probably beyond a glimmer of hope; while bid'ah, a word that is widely used by Muslim scholars to describe an innovative behaviour that leaves the norm, becomes aggravated in Trengganuspeak into bedo'oh or ddö'öh, something excessive and therefore unsound.

Hish, adults would sometimes say of certain types of childish behaviour, lekak pah ttua kö'ör! This is the type of speech that makes Trengganuspeak so out of grasp to outsiders and so foreboding of its youth. Lekak (Standardspeak lekat, stick, so, "sticks [it] to him/her..."), pah Trengganuspeak for 'until', ttua (from standardspeak tua, 'old'); but kö'ör? Well, kö'ör is an expression of anxiety or concern over the eventual outcome of a thing or act.

The essence of this is that every Trengganu parent wants his or her child to grow up tertib terning, another loan word from Arabic, tartib, but one that hasn't strayed too far from its original meaning of 'order' or 'sequence'. Tertib-terning is a form in Malay that I call ding-dong word-making, i.e. giving a word an alliterative or rhyming companion to strengthen its meaning and to embrace everything connected with it. So tertib-terning would mean not just doing something in an orderly manner, but embraces also everything connected to it. In Trengganuspeak we have many other ding-dong words, like ggura-selöröh (badinage), perosa-er (the fast in Ramadhan and other acts connected to it), and semayang-bang (the act of prayer and what comes with it), to name but three.

There's a catalogue of things that a child should not be when he or she is growing up. He must not be dök jjuruh, a mild admonition that is far removed from the standardspeak kurang ajar (Trengganuspeak kurang ajör), which is a serious charge. Dök jjuruh is a minor peccadillo, a mere lapse in good manners; but a kurang ajar person lacks good-breeding, spits out of turn and eats the akok before the Imam at a wedding (where he isn't even invited). This is many grades above gong and miles ahead of tebolah which, by the way, ends on a nasal note. Well, a tebolah is an awkward kid who eats his nekbat with his soup, wears his songkok with the sharp ends to his sides, and has a finger in every bee-hive. This is nanor without the Master's certificate, but nanor can be carried into adulthood. You just have to look around you to know that.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Pictures Past

I have taken this picture below from Winstedt's The Malays, A Cultural History because it reminds me of Pasar Tanjong but more than that, there's Awang Goneng squatting there, feigning disinterest but rummaging, no doubt, through his mental catalogue of mishiefs while counting on his little fingers the number of times he's got away with them. This is without doubt an Awang Goneng of Trengganu — head shorn, mentally alert, looking away at some fruit in another basket when the lady in front of him is proferring a 50 sen (samah) note. I have named the lady Mek Song or Som.

Mek Som in the market

Click picture to enlarge

This photo could have been taken in Pasar Tanjong or Kedai Payang, or in the other market in Chabang Tiga, or maybe even in Gong Kapas of an afternoon. The caption merely states, "In the Market. Kuala Trengganu". What a handsome typically Trengganu lady is our Mek Som: interested in coconuts, haughty of mien, and right now, at this very moment, going for chillis for her ikang singgang. But if you look closely you'll see brinjals (terong) and ttupak pulok (wrapped in palas palm leaves) sticking out from her mengkuang handbag. Also note her terompah wooden clog. And no, she'll not have any langsat today (see basket left) but she's saying, "Derah lah sikik Awang eh, aku nök balek mmasök ning!"*
Mek Som detail
Close-up of Mek Som's handbag, filled with brinjals and ketupat.

This photo was taken probably in the early 1950s (Winstedt acknowledged the source in his 1953 'Foreword' though the book was first published in 1947) as was probably the one below showing Trengganu fishermen hamming it for the camera, looking at their catch. Ikan bilis do you think? The man in the water is probably the Tok Peraih, the middleman, waiting on shore then wading into the water to get the first glimpse of the fish.
Trengganu fishermen
Click picture to enlarge

* "Hurry it up young lad, I've got a kitchen to go back to!"

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Once On a Hot Day

Trengganu ceremony

This is Trengganu circa 1920s, a very hot day, and a procession of schoolchildren is moving away from the river, in a ceremony that must've seemed interminable. — sun beating down, adults palying their adult games, and dignitaries looking, and perspiring, under their little marquees (palanquin?) and umbrellas in the background. Handkerchief on head time: don't you remember that from your school sports days? Even the man in the foreground, who looks to me like one of the event organisers, looks hot and bothered, and has just produced his hanky to mop his brow. If you sweep your eyes further to the right you'll see a man in a trilby, a Tuan perhaps, about to unfurl his umbrella that looks like the green type that weathered many moonsons in our day.

Now, what is going on here? This photo comes once again from the collection of John Storm Roberts, left to him by a close family member who lived in Kampung Raja during that time. Written in ink in the back of the photo, in handwriting that you don't see anymore these days, is the short word "Treng" (for Trengganu); but was this Kampung Raja or the Kuala? The river in the background reminds me of both places, but the neat long road rising to the town, the well-trimmed lawn and the surrounding trees make me want to opt for the latter. But what ceremony this that seems to be rising from the river? What are those emblems that sit on top of those huge canopies in the background? Love those policemen with their topi jjambul (pomponed hat), but I never saw them with the lathi in my day (as in photo), just a short, well-polished ggandeng dangling from their belts. But even then I never saw them swung in anger.

If you have the slightest clue about what is happening here, please do not ( I repeat 'do not') hesitate to contact me.

John, who is at the moment incommunicado because of a 'plague' in his computer, wrote me this note re the Gong Tax photo (also from him) that I reproduced below:

I am still deeply suspicious of your gong tax. It smells strongly of a Goneng fantasy! In case it is not, I thought you might like the following, written by the great Sydney Smith in the early 19th century.

"The schoolboy whips his taxed top, the beardless youth manages his taxed horse, with a taxed bridle, on a taxed road; and the dying Englishman, pouring his medicine, which has paid seven per cent, flings himself back on his chintz bed, which has paid twenty-two per cent, and expires in the arms of an apothecary who has paid a license of a hundred pounds for the privilege of putting him to death."

Of course, things are just the same today, only we call it the a VAT or sales tax.

Suggested caption for the gong police -- "gong fishing"
Nice one John, I wish I'd thought of that "Gong Fishing" myself. And of course, thanks for sharing the photo.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Game of the Name

One day, while entangling my mind in knots trying to remember the name of our second cousin, I remembered that we called him Ssipo. He had a brother called Mat Yeh who has since departed this mortal coil; and then — and this is the news that brought this on — their father Abang Wè who has just departed to the realm of souls.

The embellishment of names and the forsehortening of some is the way of remembering in Trengganu.

There was Tuan Beng, an Englishman who, I believe, was a banker (hence the name); and there was a Pök Heng, a tropicalised lobster-red man who drove an open top sedan from one end of town to another. I believe he was in money, counting them in an imposing building at the foot of Bukit Putri that was the Chartered Bank in my day. "Nök gi duane Pök Heng?" kids would ask him whenever he appeared in Trengganu light, and sometimes he'd toss them a few coins for their trouble. But I must add here that those where're-you-off-to words did not put us in our busy-body mode, but was just our way of saying hello. And then there was Mr Preedy who wheezed past us on his motorbike and surrounded himself with many boys in his Batu Burok bungalow.

At school, behind the sales desk of our canteen, was Pök Awang and his Earth Mother wife Mök Mek, who were from good old Chinese stock on the riverside of Kuala Trengganu. There was Koheng our coffee shop man, and Tokeh Jing and Tokeh Luga, two opposite characters in opposite shops in Tanjong whose shops dealt in spokes, wheels and bikes and the tracing and patching of our punctures. Luga is of course a Trengganu word that describes nauseous feelings and stomach acids when you've not had a bite come mid-day. Its close cousin is loya, that surges up once the nausea has taken over. By association luga is a down-and-out-word for someone who probably had one sen but not another to rub together. Our Luga was a prosperous man who was touched by the inverse effect of his misnomer. Looking back across the road you'd expect to see an enormous man among his bikes, but our Jing was an average sized man who was nothing like the jing of Trengganuspeak that describes the djinn of the Arabian Nights that sometimes came fizzing out of a bottle. I suspect Jing, like Koheng, got their names entangled in our Trengganu tongues and became — like Wè (Ismail) and Ding (Din) — more Trengganuised by the day.

I came to learn that Ssipo our second cousin had not a name to describe his mien, all entangled and knotted up like the Trengganuspeak ssipo (standardspeak, tersimpul), but he was just an ordinary person with the sharp-edged name from the Arabic saif (for 'sword'), and so Saiful. Now this puts him in the same class as Zainal, another popular Trengganu, and indeed Malaysian, name that is left a-hanging in the air. Now saif is 'sword' as zain is 'jewel' but whence the al or ul? The answer lies in the Arabic definite article that latched the character to the noun that came with him; as in Saif al-Din (pron. Saifuddin) for instance, a name given to warriors of the faith (din) or Zain al -Abidin for someone who's the jewel of worshippers (abideen). But Malay and Trengganuspeak being foreshortening tongues, they slip off the latter more easily as Saiful ('Sword of the') or Zainal ('Jewel of the' ). The way we looked at it in Trengganu, Saiful became shorter still and popped off our palates as Ssipo. I am not too sure though of Mat Yeh, but he was probably our Muhammad Idris walking about in mufti.

That's not the long and short of it though for we have another way with the monicker. We simplify names and make them short for ease of grasp and to make them easy to remember just as people do all over the world: my cousin Ding (fr. Dziauddin) is one such, and there's Mat Ming (Muhammad Amin) and Mbong (Embong) and Sop (Yusuf) and Munöh (Maimunah) and Ttimöh or Möh (Fatimah). Then there's Ping (Ariffin) and Yik (Taib) and Yang (Mariam) and Song (Kalsom) and Nab (Zainab).

Sometimes the job became the name as in Pak Mat Bbiang, who was Muhammad of the Customs Department (bbiang fr. standardspeak pebean), or Ddolloh Teksi (Abdullah the rickshaw man) or the character became the name: Mak Jeng Tonjeng (Muhammad Zain with the clubfoot), or Leh Birat (Salleh with the scar in the corner of his mouth), or Mang Gong (Abdulrahman the show-off) or Minöh Janda (Aminah the widow).

But of the names that I remember there's one that I treasure most for prosody, and she was the lady that we only knew as our Mök Döh Pök Mat Kupi.