On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ramadan Mubarak

Ramadhan's a good time to take a break. I shall stop blogging awhile.
May I wish you all a peaceful month, and to my Muslim readers:

Ramadhan Mubarak!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

News From Elsewhere

The light of winter is upon us so surely now, but even with our north-facing prospect the light's still coming in quite strongly even at tea. Twenty-ninth September isn't the time for picking blackberries, says an old English lore, as that's the time when they would have been spat on and cursed by the devil.

We've spent the entire summer — my son and I — clearing up our much neglected backyard that had been overtaken by brambles. And brambles are a tough customer when you've let them hold sway for so long to send out their wide network of tendrils of tough, sinewy stems that branched out like barbed wires. The thorns were well, a devil to get through, piercing even our thick gardening gloves and catching hold of our trouser legs. But once we've got hold of the root end, we pulled and pulled out a whole long section of canopy, and then we had to dig at the roots with a special multi-pronged digger that twisted them out till they were exposed, roots sticking out in surrender. This was more than nnebah as we knew in Trengganu, even nyaddak wasn't quite the word for the pulling and the digging and the tugging out of roots and tendrils. We pulled out long roots coming from beneath the flagstones until we discovered they belonged not to the bramble but to the neighbour's sycamore.

This year, because of the sudden burst of more than a month of very hot summer, the blackberries came out early but we caught none of that because of our early work to reclaim our soil. We ended with a little mountain of displaced bramble that dried out in the sun to become more needle-stack than hay. Little wonder then that when the devil felI to earth as English folklore says, and as he landed on the bramble, he spat and cussed. Even I was more than once tempted to say something uncharitable in my Trengganu way.

But even Photobucket - Video and Image Hostingthe summer's now going too quickly. I'm comforted though by the work that's been done and for my bold attempt to try out a receipe sent me by my friend Aquacool. As you can see in the picture, my first attempt at home made makdous which I enjoyed this morning, drenched in olive oil, with Arab bread and flaked chilli. Thanks AquaCool!

Our back garden is now 'clear' compared to what it was before summer. The ground's full of bits of sticks and logs from our last adventure with the pussy-willow (which we had to cut down because of its guttering and drainpipe blocking tendencies, and there's a huge mound of dry bramble beneath the dead crab-apple tree that is still standing. The latter gave beautiful preludes to spring, then summer with its many changes of clothes, but it soon died due to the act of a well-meaning but misguided neighbour. The acer tree is standing magnificently with dark leaves and hefty stem that wound itself at base around a metal pole that I used as prop for it when it was still small. Now that it's a hefty tree it shall live — I hope — for a long while with the metal standing stick that is now half embedded in its body.

I sit in the garden each morning or if time allows in the afternoon and sip a cup of tea or two with dunked-in shortbread fingers. Autumnal light comes with a coloured in melancholy, yellowing even in early morn, though soft and bright till well after the tea's gone cold. We who were Trengganu born are used to the seasons though ours changed only from bright to heavy rain during the jo'ong months that brought ubi and pisang bakar.

I shall now enjoy the light while we still can, and look out to the unfinished work in the backyard, and look forward to the night of 5th November when we shall gather the dried brambles with all their thorns, and those logs of the pussy willow, and then light one big bonfire.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

6. How to...Ngellik

It is a useful rule of thumb that you don't ngellik behind something thinner than you. So you don't do it behind a bean-pole if you've been eating too many nekbat, but if you're wearing a shirt with stripes running down its front, you may get away with hiding behind many upright sticks that are of the same colour as your verticals. And you don't, as another useful rule, hide behind someone who is in the shape of an ayang ketik ttunga as that often describes a wasting sickness that is akin to our modern day anorexia.

As you may have guessed, ngellik is a many faceted pursuit with an as many faceted character. Old people take to doing the quick ngellik when they espy unsavoury folk coming down their way, or, as more likely than not, someone they've been indebted to to the tune of more than a few keneri. Sons-in-law take a quick dive behind anything of an obscuring nature when they spot their fathers-in-law coming down a lane where both of them shouldn't be, and the fathers-in-law coming down merrily down the same way would've done the same had the vice been versa.

Ngellik done by adults is mostly for survival: to keep reputations intact or to keep their set of teeth whole. Failure to ngellik at these crucial moments may result in the failing person receiving a fist sandwich in the mouth for some sins done to the irate person in times immemorial, or his reputation may be tarnished for being seen in another place by an enthusiastic crowd that's just emerged from the mosque fresh from Friday prayers.

For children doing the ngellik is something par for their course and cause, and is generally regarded as what they are wont to do. They ngellik for friends, behind trash cans, a steam-roller or the heavy-duty bicycle of the bai man that is heavily draped with bags of roti, and then they pop out with a "Boo!" once the friend is approaching near. They ngellik in all manner of places to hide themselves in a game of to which involves many manouevres to make yourselves hidden from the general eye. Needless to say it is easier to ngellik in the night than in the day, but I know only adults who ngellik in the after hours for reasons that only adults know. You can generally pin their mens rea by their night-coloured clothes or their very flitty eyes.

Another way to ngellik is also called lik for quick, because in some situations you have to put it into effect in the flash of an eye. Say a spear is coming down your way, and a companion who is more alert to such things than you cries out "Lik!", it is something you'd better do immediately. This lik is done by lowering yourself on bended knees, or by raising your shield if you happen to have one handy (but in a real emergency a dustbin lid would do). This style of ngellik or lik is different from the other one where you needed an object for shelter, unless of course if you're like the person with the shield who happens to have one that is portable. This ngellik is pure evasive action against an approaching danger, and is not recommended for someone with a heavy bout of lumbago.

You may, if you're compelled to, grab someone who is standing nearby in the face of a hurtling stone or spear, and use him (but never her) as a shield, and you may save your bodily self by doing that, but be assured that the person thus grabbed will not be talking to you for a long while. This emergency measure is best avoided the way you would the flying stone or the hurtled spear; but if, for some extreme reasons it becomes essential, it's best then to do it with a total stranger.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Growing Up In Trengganu #297,196

For a time Sulong set up shop above Kedai Pök Che Amat, the man with vinegar reeking from his backroom and enough strings and ropes to stretch from Tanjong to Batu Rakit; and if on some bedevilled nights, high-pitched ngilla laughter issued in the moonlit air, Pök had enough nails in the front of his shop to rein in the whole cacophony of pontianaks back to civilian life. We lived in the comfort of Kedai Pök.

But in Sulong’s above the shop the high-pitched ngilla was out of place so you merely smiled and kept perfectly still. Sulong was our photographer who poked out from beneath his blanket the bellow and his magic eye, and then, a week later — never less than that — he’d have your image ready on a square negative with your teeth all black and your hair prematurely white. Accompanying that of course were the crisp photographs, printed on matte, of you and your accompanying adults, smiling beneath his flat moon, standing as more likely than not, by his fluted pillar that stood on a brick base that was made from fibre board.

Sulong took the colour from our lives and gave us only black and white, but in our family we wore mostly white as Father believed that white was very apt for Hari Raya in Sulong’s studio, and then later for our daily wear to school. One day not long after our pose, Sulong rolled down his canvas backdrop and took his hollow column and his bellowed camera down the stairs and spent the rest of his career as an itinerant photographer. I think I saw him again once stretching his black but now moonless backdrop between two sticks in open air, doing a brisk trade in passport and i.c. photographs.

In the Lay Sing Studio across the road from the Masjid Abidin we hired the Rolleiflex twin-lensed camera with a viewer in a deep hole in its top. Lay Sing was more of a photo processing and cameras-or-hire-shop than a photo studio with a still moon stuck in motionless clouds. Lay Sing, if that was he, was a lantern-jawed man who seldom smiled when he emerged occasionally to grab a bite or to shout orders at his young lads. It must have been the fumes of those chemicals in his darkened room — with, I think, some light omitting ingredients added as our photographs turned out mostly very dark even if taken in broad daylight. His eldest son Ah Leng, who like us spoke Trengganuspeak, kept telling us how we could have got our snaps right. “It’s the f-stop!” he’d say, “It’s the f-stop!” and that was the nearest to swearing at us that he got.

Photographs were Ah Leng’s life, the good ones that he printed from his day on the beach or the bad ones that we took in the unperceived darkness of our Trengganu light. He let us loiter in his shop to ponder on his exhibits of Trengganuspeakers frozen passport-sized in black and white; and most of the time that we saw him he was never with a shirt. One day a man walked into the shop and for some reason we never fathomed, plunged a knife into his shirtless top. The light was taken from Ah Leng’s life just as I was losing interest in the f-stops.

Without Ah Leng we ventured further out after our dusk prayer at the mosque to while away the time before the next . There was the Redi photo studio in Kedai Payang, twenty steps and more from the bookshop of Pöh Yunang, where loitering was discouraged by the fortress-like front of the shop. There was a glass case of films and disposable flash-bulbs that kept customers on the outside, and there were photographs in the display windows that were viewed from the outside colonnaded walk, of people with smiles that seemed a world away from our Ah Leng or Sulong. Large sized portraits of men with epauletted shirts and songkoks adorned with rich trimmings, sons and daughters of Trengganu towkays smiling out their happiness, and school teachers and civil servants in passport sized formats or on postcards.

Workers behind the glass-case counter, none of whom we knew by name. Saturday mornings there were underaged girls helping out with the trade, one of them I knew because on school days I sat beside her in class. There was a narrow entrance on the right of the glass, taking you spiralling up on the staircase, to a full moon that rose above, in a studio of fame amid painted clouds. I saw them all, I think, with all those happy people in those photographs of varying sizes amid the baubles and the Agfa publicity boards and the instant cameras made by a company we called Ködök.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

5. How to...Nnetter

Sometimes it is better to netter than just to hang around, but nettering can also give rise to loitering with intent, which abruptly raises a frown and degrades it into another social dimension.

To nnetter in the old fashioned way almost always involves a quarry, partly due to the fact that there were simply too many things to do in olden times, like tethering the goat and feeding them fresh leaves of daung bbaru, plucking coconuts to cream for the top half of the tok aji serbang, or having too many fish to fry of an afternoon. Nowadays, with shopping malls and automation, there's just too much idle time, and idleness as you all know, does give the devil a free hand to make the pursuit of nnetter even more available far and wide. People nnetter as a matter of course before shop windows, around stairwells and up and down the escalators of the Twin Towers.

There's a fallacy abroad that netter is an art for little children, when they hover around a plate of bepang in the hope that they will soon have the benefit of one. It is true that children of a mischievous mien are prone to nnettering once they've spotted a soft target, and the object of this could be merely to ccari pasa (q.v.) which may end up in the ggocoh (q.v.) if there is adequate response, or merely to persist in an act of ggedik (q.v.) if the quarry is the sole beneficiary of the said sweetmeat called bepang. Ggedik is an endless plea for comestibles that rightly belongs in the mouth of another person, and failure to desist may also end in ggocoh, ggomo (q.v.), or gguling bating (q.v.). It is hard to think of another seemingly innocent act that can give birth to myriad untoward consequences, but nnetter in its pristine form is an act by design to catch the eye of the quarry, and then perhaps to biff him some.

So, by the act of it, and by its foreseeable consequences, nnetter is unrestricted in its pursuit by age or sex or social station. Adults hover around at the right places to gain an invite to a wedding feast or a feast before a circumcision, though children, especially boys if they are too young, avoid the latter like the plague because of the insight it will give them of horrors to come. I think in the old Hikayat it was said that the Melakan boy Hang Tuah arrived with his band of men on the Pahang coast where one began to throw his spear, and another practised his silat art, as the warrior boy himself hemmed and hawed whilst awaiting the appearance of their supposed quarry our Trengganu Megat. This was nnetter on an epic scale that resulted — the Hikayat said — in grievous bodily harm. It is fine as stories go, except for one tactical problem. If you choose to nnetter at whatever age and for whatever intent, it is better to nnetter in the present tense, i.e. both you and your quarry are living in the same street at the same time, and not like the Melaka men and the Megat, who seemed to be nnettering in anachronism.

Friday, September 08, 2006

An Ancient Ritual

In his journey to Central America (written in 1985) Patrick Marnham wrote of fires burning in 'Nestlé thuribles' on the steps of two imposing Catholic chruches in the famous market square in Chichicastenango, Guatemala.

Tourist brochures politely say that they gather on the steps to burn copal, a resin like substance much like our kemenyan, to avoid too much smoke in the Church, but in truth, copal burning by the Indians predates Christianity, and the Indians of Guatemala are in fact indulging in a shamanistic ritual.

What interests me is the 'Nestlé thurible' and Marnham's description of it:
"In the market there are stalls cluttered with used Nestlé milk tins which have been perforated with a skewer and threaded with a wire handle."
Many men (and women) walked around our market square in Tanjong in my day, all bearing steaming thuribles marked with the word Nestlé. Many more were emblazoned with the labels of Cap Api (torch), or Pitis (coins) or the then ubiquitous Dutch Baby. These were milk tins, emptied and re-used as takeaway containers for kopi susu or 'o' or our teh tarik dear. The tea-sellers opened their milk tins by cutting around the inner edge of the top but leaving about an inch or two still connected to the tin, to act as a 'hinge' for what was now the top flap through which a hole was punched. A looped raffia or hemp string was then pushed through this hole for you to hook your index finger.

Our Uttar Pradeshi tea-man-in-the-shed Basir poured in his piping hot brew maybe to a third of the can, swirled it around to take in all the condensed milk that was still clinging to the inside of the can, and then he filled in some more very hot brew and added more milk and sugar that he stirred very briskly. The whole was poured out again with a flourish into a koleh and then poured out again from a height back into the can, giving you hot tea (or kopi) with a nice head, concocted with a mixture of things and the air of Kuala Trengganu. Looking at this left you without a doubt that this was an ancient Indian ritual. Now with the tin filled, time to push the flap down level for you to lift the pok by its string (why was the milk tin called a pok?) with the crook of your finger, to make your merry way home or — if with friends — to repair to the shade of a tree.

These were days when condensed milk was condensed milk, not the gooey stuff that are called 'topped milk' (in smaller print) these days. Topped milk is probably wholly or partially hydrogenated palm oil, and its devastating effect on the health of 'condensed milk' users in Malaysia now is beyond doubt. You may want to read more about that here.

"So Far From God...A Journey to Central America", Patrick Marnham; Penguin Books, 1985

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

4. How To...Gguling Galök

Gguling galök is difficult to do with things in your head, but when you're in the heat of it with head tumbling over your heels, you sometimes forget what it was that caused you to do the gguling in the first place.

It is always advisable therefore to do the gguling galök with a clear head, unencumbered by matters of the moment such as the price of fish or the real purpose in nature of the goat's beard. As the phrase implies, gguling with its companion galök shows a certain lightness of being, an atavistic return to a simpler age when animals gamboled on the earth and the grass was green on yours as on the other side. It is the galök in fact that defines the gguling which is just the act of rolling about. Galök is the playful element that gives the gguling its abandon. So if gguling galök is almost like its near neighbour gguling bating this recognition comes with an important caveat: while both acts involve rigorous acts of rolling down and further acts of being on your side or back with extremities thrusting gleefully about, only in the gguling galök is there a deliberately joyful act.

If gguling galök can be a solo act or a pleasure shared, gguling bating may be the result of a good trip, say when you are falling down the stairs. If done with another — usually someone of the same sex — gguling bating can easily degenerate into a ggömö which is actually a fighting art (or lack of it) with both opponents lying and grappling on their sides.

As gguling galök is, by definition, a frivolous and raucous and energetic art, it is best done away from walls or bushes with thorns or someone trying to take a nap. Other advocates advise the practising of it before eight, your age that is, not the time on the clock. If you've gone well beyond that and would still like to do the art, then it is better for you to do so with someone consenting, if an adult.

There is no mention in old treatises of our warriors doing the gguling either in the galök or its bating state. This is probably because you could not be a warrior without also being dignified, and it is difficult to be so when you're lying and grappling in parallel with the mud.

If you've never done the gguling and would like to try it out, it is best to start with the gguling galök before going on to do the gguling bating and its more rigorous cousin the jereba jerebuk. This last one involves endless attempts at diving and trying to stamp on your partner's (opponent's?) head.

Another reason why you should go for the gguling galök is because it's a spontaneous art that can be done with a quarry or a mate. But whatever gguling you choose to do, remember always to do it on an empty stomach.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A German Man in Trengganu

We had a man named Bachok who climbed a coconut tree whole and climbed down again with the tree tumbling in his wake. He was a legendary trimmer-down of coconut trees, an art that he acquired in his native Sulawesi (Celebes). We had Pat Mat Perancis who went out to sea to fish, and whose blue eyes are still seen in his progeny of the day. There was a refugee Bosnian doctor who drifted to our midst and was finally laid to rest in the Kubur Sheikh Ibrahim. There are Arab-Yemeni families extant on our monsoon-blown shores, and Habaib families that paddled upstream to the Kualas Telemong and Brang, one of whom carved out in stone — as some believe — the letters of the law of the Batu Bersurat in the hazy mists of the 14th century.

On the 11th of April 1846, the East India Company ship Phlegethon stopped by in Kuala Trengganu after fulfilling a mission in Kelantan. It had stopped in Trengganu eight days earlier on its way up, when it was visited by Sultan Baginda Omar; now homeward bound, anchored once again in the Trengganu river-mouth, to the Phlegethon came the Sultan's uncle and a man in his entourage who greeted the ship's captain with a 'Good morning, Sir!"

He was a German adventurer named Martin Perrot.

Perrot, according to an article written in the Journal of the Indian Archipelago eight years later, 'carried on his original trade of blacksmith' in Trengganu, after he had become 'Mahomedan' and taken to wearing native gear. He struck him as an Albino, said the anonymous article writer, when he saw this reddish-brown skinned, white haired and blue eyed man 'in his native attire'. "I am a Waterloo man," declared Perrot.

It was a long way from Waterloo to the waters of Kuala Trengganu, but Perrot had beaten some strange paths in his blacksmithing life. He had been a conscript in Napoleon's army when very young; fought in Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal, and then, by a twist of fate, fought on the British side in Waterloo. Or so he said, though the article writer doubted that very much, but he didn't doubt Perrot's military skills. Perrot came to the East in the service of the Dutch, and then, when Melaka was finally given to the British in 1825, he drifted to Trengganu.

I sometimes wonder what use the Sultan made of Martin Perrot seeing as he was close to his uncle. Would he have been the Father of all those Trengganu blacksmiths in Tanjong Haji Mat Tokeh and Ladang? Was it by his inheritors' skills that Bachok was able to wield the sharp golok that he used so devastatingly on our coconut trees?

There were, in my day, Trengganu monickers that indicated ancestry in distant places on the map — children and grandchildren of Pak Mat Perancis, of Bachok from the Celebes, and of Pök Löh and Pök Ali Yunang, and Che Mat of Surabaya, but none that I've heard that were descended from Pak Mang Jermang or of anyone descended from a distant Marting the tukang besi who had come to Trengganu via Sepanyul, Itali and Peringgi and then Waterloo.

Do you have a Perrot in a branch of your tree? If so I'd like to know.