On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Great Shame

I have received in my mailbox, a stirring description of bbalöh in Kampong Kolang within the borders of Dewang Bandörang Kuala Trengganu (before it became a city). There was a tall tamarind tree there (with ghosts, some say, dangling from branches), and there used to be an old istana at the bend in the roadway. There was the house of Mr Isaacs almost opposite the tamarind tree (he was the founder of the Grammar School on the hill), and next door to him, going towards the masjid, was the finely carved old Malay house of my friend Hashim Pök Long whose father (Pök Long) made ma’ajong tupai melompat (the jumping squirrel herbal paste for men); and deep in the interior of Kampong Kolang was a vast old cemetery that stretched all the way to the Malay School of Paya Bunga. Nobody seemed to have any memory of who was first buried there, nor when the last person was interred. Kampong Kolang seemed to have had two names, the other one was Kampong Petani and this may have connections with the group of Patani people who came down with the first Sultan of the present ruling house of Trengganu.

The Abraham family lived in Kampong Kolang, next door to the house of Hashim Pök Long, and their daughter Elizabeth was my classmate in school; and further down the road, still on the same side, was the house of the Paul family, two of whose daughters came to my book-signing at the MPH in Mega Mall last January. In Penang I met another one of the Paul sisters, and she touched me greatly by her display of a small Trengganu flag on her gatepost. And further still down the road, at the junction with Jalan Paya Bunga, once stood the house of the family of Sayyids, but in Trengganu the head of the family was known simply as Che Mat Riau. They were Kolamers all.

Reading what I wrote on bbalöh, my old Kolamer friend Ajidoel wrote in graphic detail the piece below that shatters somewhat my picture of Kolang as a placid place:
“[A]mbe teringat kepade satu kejadian di Kolang ketike zaman awal remaje dulu. Ade dua orang ppuang mude ‘bbalöh’ dan akhirnye ‘beggöcöh’. Wui! Dahsat, dahsat! Tadak sape yang berani meleraikan pergaduhan itu. Masing2 tengok saje je! Free show laa kate kan! Macam kucing ggömöl je , wa-wa , kerekar- mengkerekar , senjöh rambut, ggigit- menggigit , gguling-bating , baddi kerekoh, telanjang bulat … hei huddoh kejenis !! Akhirnye, orang ppakat simböh air kepade mereka … dan barulah mereke berhenti beggömöl . Döh nök buat ape lagi … Mereke pun ternyate baru seddör dari ‘rrasok’ iblis gamöknye. ‘Aib! ‘Aib ! Pahtu, mereke pun tergese2 mencari dan mmakai semula kain yang sudöh koyak-rabak . Hai, besar sunggoh keamaluang mereka tu !!
“I remember an incident in Kolang in the early days of my youth. Two young women were involved in an argument that finally ended in their exchanging blows. Wow! It was really bad! People just looked on without daring to do anything! And what more, it was a free show! They were like cats in a scrap, two noisy, scratching, hair-pulling females trying to sink their teeth into each other until they were both starkers … what a horrible sight!! Finally the onlookers decided to douse their heat with water … and only then did they stop grappling. What was there left for them to do… Having been brought back to their senses they realised that they'd probably been possessed by the devil. It was shameful, shameful! They hastily retrieved their sarongs to put them back on, but the sarongs were then in tatters. Oh my, how big was their shame!!”

I suspect that Ajidoel may have inserted a wicked pun in that last note of shame. The word kemaluang [stdspk., kemaluan] is rooted in the word malu, which means ‘shame’. In another sense, kemaluan also means “that which causes shame”, a sense that I can only explain through the Latin pudere [“be ashamed”] that you will probably have met through its derivate ‘pudendum’.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

On Dök Rök

Now that Ramadhan is near, many people will tell you that they feel dök rök, that enervating feeling that comes with the weather, or when you’re feeling under it. With dök rök sometimes comes dök sedap tuböh, which is a condition that requires specialist attention, preferably by a good tok bömöh with a good pouch of herbs, potions and talismanic dangly thingamagigs.

Even the best of us are prone to feelings of dök rök, of being tired and not game for anything, but this is different from dok ddalang rök which you sometimes do when you’re involved in a game, such as to or hide and seek. This rök is the small untended herbal patch that adds to the gaiety of kampong life. It is full of small trees, and tendrils and shrubs and little creatures that rustle and hiss. And the squatters of kampong life who are not really the homeless type but who are there to do some private work.

When Badang, that strongman of our folklore, was still a fishing boy in his village stream, he engaged in a conversation with a friendly ghost who soon discovered that not only was he a puny five-stoner, but was also burdened by feelings of dök rök. “Eat my vomit,” said the ghost without batting a ghostly eyelid, “and I promise you mountains for you to move.” Badang, presumably too dök rök to even argue his case for gourmet food, soon lapped it all up and became, well, a ghost of his former self. He became the life and spirit of many parties and was constantly on the call of feuding lords. This happened many, many years ago of course, when ghosts gave you the time of day and food supplementation was passed on by word of mouth (but our hantu took it even beyond that). I feel duty bound now to urge caution on your part and to think carefully if, on a fishing day by your rök you too chance upon a happy ghost who engages you in conversation and then urges you to eat his puke. There are many people nowadays who go about looking like ghosts but who are not.

A corollary or a cousin of dök rök is dök cakak which is used not only when you’re physically tired but it embraces even more than that. Dök cakak is a state of the body, and also of the mind, signifying nothing less than exasperation, or, as we often say, fèddak [origin: ‘fed up’, Eng.]. A stock phrase in this context would be, “Budök ning…aku dök cakak nök kata döh…” (“I’m tired of warning you, boy…”), and signals a going for the rod.

You will have noticed that even though the speaker is in a state of dök cakak and is presumably also dök rök, there is still some energy left to wield the rod.

Mothers, you will have to give it to them for that.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

20. How to...Bbalöh

Whilst ggöcöh and bbalöh stand like feuding cousins at arm’s length from each other, it is the main feature of bbalöh that gives the game away. In bbalöh the Richter measure is the örat merèh which is the heaving windpipe that pops up with the rising decibels. There’s arm-waving, finger-pointing in bbalöh, but its real measure is in the spittle-in-the-face windpipe raising sound of door-slamming vocals.ArguementTo make ggöcöh bear fruit it is essential that the proponents are at close quarters, but bbalöh as verbal assault can be done across time-zones and many miles, though a bad connection may blunt some of the bluster such as the jereköh which may just drop out as a damp squib out at the other end of the wire. For the jereköh to be effective it must come with full ingredient of boom and spittle and the full cerlöng of the glare, but in this age of internet telephony even the cerlöng that appears as a cross-eyed portrait on the frozen screen will have to do. There are many phrases that one can pick from the repertoire of time-tested bbalöh vocabulary, pickled over the centuries in bitter acid and barbed with the sharpest of ancient brier, but even that can be defeated by the travails of modern fiber-optics, stretched and mitigated as it is by the wows and flutter. In this context, even the sharp taunt of ppala bapök mung! (your father's head!) may just land at the opponents lap as gently as a soft hello.

So to keep bbalöh in its true nature of battle royal one must, if separated by distance, take the Easyjet and come to the venue of the chosen quarry. When push does finally come to shove, it will make it easier for one party, after having drawn a dividing line in the sand, to step on the opponent’s side and say, “Aku jirék ppala mök mung!” (“I step on your mother’s head!”) though this is not a line recommended for siblings in battle. To take it to the brink in this latter feud, it is better for the thumb and index finger to be placed in full stretch over the opponent’s face as a seriously defiant and demeaning gesture. This is called, in ancient Trengganuspeak, the jeka muka, the ‘face measure’ which, for some reason, is insulting to the core. These are acts in extremis which will only end in drawing blood, something that will be avoided at all cost by a true proponent of the bbalöh as the vocabulary of fisticuffs is unsurprisingly poor compared to the rich pickings from the windpipe raiser.

The sound of bbalöh is generally said to be wöwa-wöwa, which can also be used to describe the scene in old Tanjong on market day, which also happened to be the place where most bbalöh duels took place in the heyday of the verbal. For bbalöh to be effective it must be in public view, savoured by attentive ears, for bbalöh in a deserted alley is like punching with the ghosts of shadows. In the thrusts of bbalöh it pays to be a hard hitter, and even better for the spectators if one or both party in the fight is hard (kerah) in the kèng (jaw) or hard in the head (ppala). But even in bbalöh there are dirty-fighters who think nothing of raising their sarongs on days when their smalls are out at the dhobi, but such practise is fortunately extremely rare as most bbalöhers, when the verbals have taken too long to win the day, will just be content with inviting their opponents to follow them to the pata (beach), which was a signal for the bbalöh to take on a different tone in a different place. But as the pata is normally far from the place of bbalöh, it raises the question of what to do or say in the long walk to the continued saga, so the arguments fizzle out then and there, ending the bbalöh in a draw. Both parties then repair to different stalls for a teh tarik where they separately indulge in a long belèbèr (rant) in solo.

To see the elements of bbalöh in practise, go here. This is a good example of good bbalöh in full swing, with everything thrown in - the devil, animals, cerlöng and bluster. And an invitation to another place. The one person out of his depth here is the man called the Speaker.

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