On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Thursday, May 24, 2007

15. How to...Tebèng

Somehow you have to tabék (salute) those who tebèng, but tebèng is a perilous word that deserves credit as much as a whack on the head. Now, there’s drama and pathos and bathos all wrapped into one in these words: “Dok kata döh takdi tu, tapi dok tebèng jjugök!” and aficionados of Trengganuspeak will savour the way that the last word jjugök is used as an emphasising raised terminal or dipped in a flat mournful tone for scahdenfreude mixed with uncertain regret.

Whether tebèng is an act of folly or the pursuit of the stout-hearted is open to debate, but the one quality that makes it stand out is its willingness to persist. Sometimes the word babé comes to mind, as in a child who doesn’t listen to the wise words of his Mother, or an adult who, knowing the odds against his ability to make it to the top of the stairs, huffs and puffs and stops midway for the Ventolin to be sent up. Babé is the cousin of tekök and are both stubborn, not-listening-to-wise-counsel words. They are endemic among adults and kids, but nothing babéd nothing won, nothing tebénged nothing got, if only a smack where it hurts. While kids will only look in wonder, you can almost hear now the words of head-shaking adults rushing up with the Ventolin puff, Hör babé tu, nök tebèng jjugok! What a stubborn old goat you are, pushing yourself like that!

There are things that you can tebèng for yourself should you be so disposed. One is tuah which requires a screw-driver to prise open an old safe, another is a bitter concoction that’s supposedly good if poured down your throat. It is tempting here to say that it is not advisable to pour down the old throat an even older concoction found in an old safe, but that will only bring the presumption that it is commendable to be prising open an old safe in the first place. To tebèng really for its own sake you must leave moral conundrums to mindful others, what is required of you is a single, persistent, determined act.

Before scientific method came to Trengganu, it was tebèng that moved ahead. No sailor would have gone out to sea in a raft of weeds without the companionship of tebèng and it is the stout-hearted not the kèngè lad who wins fair maids. And then the sun faded behind the storm clouds and all the housewife had was just fish and some sago dust in the pantry and salt to flavour the mix. So she pounded and persisted and rolled and tried even more when her husband scoffed at her work. And still unsure of the result, she threw the lot into the boiling water that her husband was preparing to mix into his bath to assuage the chills of the monsoon gusts.

That was tebèng in action, and of the first kerepok lekör, out of the bath-water and into the plate.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mass Movements

Under the henna tree, on the weather-beaten bench in the compound fenced by a grill of thin metal spears over the low brick wall sat Pök Mud, wizened by time and jangling with a ring of keys that hung from his Haji's belt that was broad and green with pockets for loose change and the odd dollar. Hajis wore that belt to punctuate the middle of their elaborate gear, trousers underneath their kain pelikat dropping to the ankles, and an undershirt of silky material, collar buttoned halfway down the chest in a style that Father sometimes referred to as kanciperat, a word that's as elusive as its flavour's regal. At a wild guess I'd say that it's a marriage between kancing [buttoned] and sekerat, [halfway] from the style of its collar. Over this kanciperat went the baju melayu with its two patched front pockets to dip into when the conversation came to a standstill, and then the turbaned head, tasseled and tailed, that swung round quite breezily when talk turned to raucous laughter.

There were men who wore the kanciperat as de rigueur in Kuala Trengganu, firemen walking around in their off-duty hours wore it too as they loitered in their fenced area in Kampung Daik opposite the 'flowered shop', our kedai bbunga. But Pök Mud wasn't a fireman; he was a genial man and a retired warder as he'd tell you. In his working days he carried a heavy bunch of keys on his belt that held up his regulation trousers in the Kuala Trengganu gaol. I saw Pök Mud on his bench seat under the tree in the compound of the Masjid Abidin for many years before learning the true meaning of that glint in his eye. It transpired that in the last year of his wardering days he took into the prison walls some tiny brightly coloured laxative fruits of a palm tree that was known in Trengganu as buah manjikiang and dosed it liberally into the prisoners' meals. It was the day of the mass breakout of diarrhoea among the inmates of Kuala Trengganu.

Going back two generations or so before Pök Mud, prisoners were lucky to have found food in Trengganu gaols. Walter Skeat, who went on a 'scientific' expedition for the British in 1899 to Trengganu and beyond, illustrated Sultan Zainal Abidin III's 'original mind and a shrewd sense of humour' by his answer to the question why he did not pay off his debts promptly. His creditors would be constantly praying for his continued well-being for as long as they were waiting to be paid, answered the great man, deploying, no doubt, the Trengganu penchant for the leg-pull or mengayör as we call it even now. Unlike other states, Trengganu did not provide free food for its prisoners then; when tackled by Skeat on this matter the Sultan replied, according to Skeat, that if it were so then the entire population of Trengganu would be clamouring to be gaoled.

Pök Mud the prankster warder would have loved the humour even if there wasn't enough manjikiang fruit to set the population going behind those walls.

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