On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Monday, September 29, 2008

Selamat Hari Raya

Wishing all my readers a Blessed Eid.

من العاءدين الفاءزين المقبولين

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Boomtime Hills

The genta that clanged at sunset to signal the breaking of the fast (iftar) during Ramadhan was once the amok alarm. I don't know if the people of Trengganu were amok prone, but the last amok in folk memory happened probably in the early years of the last century. He was known as Pök Mat Ngammok (Pak Mat the amok), who, after some unhappiness in his domestic life, went completely out of control. We were told, in bedtime stories in our childhood days, that he was shot and buried under the coconut trees by the shore, in a place called Tanjong Mengabang, which in our day, was also known as Ladang Batu Satu after the milestone before the bend in the road that took us to the Ladang of the two schools and the roundabout of the turtle.

The genta rang bells in many memories [see The Sound of Heavy Metal, below] especially as it is now puasa, the fasting month. But what's unsettled in my mind is the cannon that boomed from distant hills. We were shoreline people in Tanjong, ever looking out to sea and the Bukit Putri, and the hill did the same too, looking to the sails and flags of ships in the horizon that brought to us Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He). But that was a long time before the genta clanged or the cannon boomed on the hill. But which hill? Looking to the hinterland from the shore I always thought that it was Bukit Besar (Big Hill) that gave our bbuka time its flavour of the 1812 Overture. But Syafiq, so proud of his corner of town that he has spelt it out in capitals, a BUKIT BESAR BOY, [see Comments, below] puts the blame on neighbouring Bukit Kecik or Bukit Kecil (the Small Hill), whilst Karim Omar (whose 13-year old daughter writes a fine blog) says it's Bukit Pak Apil. Can anyone help us here?

I am grateful to Wangrohing for having found hasidöh's distant cousin in Ambon, in the Maluku (Moluccas) archipelago where the natives have been chomping on it since — perhaps — time immemorial. But the introduction of hasida kantang intrigues me, would that be like sweet, greasy mashed potatoes? But hasida is defined by Chaumont Devin, compiler of the Ambon Dictionary as “ a sweetmeat made of raw dough, sugar and spices”; that's hasidöh to the core. Speaking of Ambonese, these other hasidöh people remind me of Bachok, our agile coconut tree cutter of Tanjong Pantai. Bachok, from Celebes, to the West of the Moluccas archipelago, came adrift to our shore in his boat and stayed with us till the end of his days. How he must have longed for his faraway home, and when he saw our hasidöh did we see a hint of a tear in his eye?

For more hasidöh memories, please go to Comments, but afore ye go please remember that hasidöh the sweetmeat is not qasidah that sometimes wended its tuneful way on Radio Malaysia with its “Ya lail, ya lail, ya lail.....” (“O night, o night, o night...”) in the Songs of the Desert slot.

For the photo below I am grateful to Ajideol of Kolang who sent it with his caption to salute the youth of Pulau Wang Mang and in memory of Bachok, the great Sulawesi man who lived among us and our coconut trees. Thanks Ajidoel. Thanks everyone for your memories. Selamat Berpuasa!

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Diamonds & Paste

Akök in the akök mould that we called the acuang, bottles of sirap all in a row lined up for the month, red and sweet as the day was long. Dried dates in slabs, compacted for travel from the ports of Basra or Izmir or perhaps the desert parts of Hindustan; and the fluffy pastry of nekbat, bland and light and drenched in syrup of the strength to curl the toes even of the most sweet-toothed of the sugar-bingers — Ramadhan was the sweetest of months.

From beneath the stove, in a dark corner that had been quiet for many months, Mother pulled out her heavy brass pot for the ritual scrub with asam. A stirring time was there to come, and time to make the hasidöh, for Ramadhan without hasidöh would have lost the taste that made the month. Hasidöh as I described it once, was more paste than cake, a tooth clinging sweetmeat in the literal sense, rich and fat, laid flat or rolled up by little kids, or pinched with the special hasidöh pinchers that laid grooves into the putty mix for the nestling of shallot bits, fried to golden brown and crisp as the morning with singing birds and trees waving in the soft sun. Our cousin Mat once took hasidöh and kneaded it and threw it and beat it to a pulp, then he stuck the resulting paste on to the wall of our house. We forgave him as he was very, very young.

Unlike the air strop or the beleda kering that were shaped like cut diamonds — to name but two plots in the dreamwork of little children — hasidöh was an adult’s idea of fun. It was ghee that gave hasidöh its luscious richness, flour that glued all that mingled in the merry mix, and sugar of the sweetness that peek-a-booed with the fat and wheat gluten that made that teeth clinging, angst ridding, cloying taste to satisfy a host of ancient longings — and then, ah, the savouriness of the crisp bawang (shallots) to blunt the sickly and the sweet. I mentioned air strop because who remembers now this mix of yore? But somewhere in a Terengganu house, someone must now be stirring and stirring some hasidöh in the pot while humming the joys of Ramadhan.

As Mother rolled the sticky paste in the deep brass, we waited for the heat to rise and the hasidöh to land with a plop on the tray, and then, spoon in hand, we scraped the hasidöh crust that came off like wood shaving, crisp and brown, and better than fried egg-dipped bread.

These were trying moments, when children clung to every crawling minute and the clock seemed to have warped and turned laggard like the persistence of Dali’s time. It could have been five in the afternoon, when plates were laid out and the ice had come back in a block from the ice merchants on the tarmac in front of Bhiku’s coffee shop. Pök had closed his shop and had probably joined the iftar crowd still waiting beneath the henna tree of the masjid, and fish was going cheap on the slab of fishmongers dying for a fag.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Sound of Heavy Metal

On the plates in the afternoon light, the akök took on a golden pallor. There were many colours of the day: green and opal and the transluscent yellow of sugar-encrusted beleda and the blood red stain of the sirap water. There’s sweetness in the air and the aroma of pandan and vanilla, and green shoots clinging to their limp over-cooked stalks in the brass pot of bubor lambok, in the off-white starch bed of the soft-boiled nasi (rice). It is hard to say what goes into this bubur from looking at this thick mixture; rice of course, and green shoots and do I see fish meat broken into pieces here and there? There’s salt, certainly, but go easy on the salt, they say, if budu is used for added flavour.

Our cousin Dah once felt nausea coming up just before the genta clanged on the hill and was quickly offered an antidote of akök from the plate, much to our envy. She took a bite and then thought better of it, and quickly spat half an akök into the sinking end of a Trengganu puasa day. We were full-day fasters in our house, not the half-day dodderers that we met at school.

We lived within hearing distance of the genta on the hill, which, given the spread of our town, meant practically the whole of the Kuala. Even on gloomy spray-filled days we could still see the hill from our front window. The genta was the big bell that clanged the key hours of a Ramadhan day. It clanged in the dark close to dawn, the time of day we Trengganuers called the göcang hour (fr. Standardspeak goncang, the ringing of the bell), and then it clanged and clanged as the sun sank into the sea, to mark the end of our fasting day. I once thought that the genta was made by our brassmakers in the brassmaking quarter of our Tanjong area, but recent enquiries showed that it was cast by Trengganu bellmakers in the earth of the Istana Maziah not far from where it still hangs today, at the peak of Bukit Puteri. Hefty men must have hoisted it to the hilltop once the brass had cooled and the moulding clay knocked off the skin of the bell, bearing its weight up the steep path until they finally reached the eastern side that overlooked the sea, huffing and puffing and lelöh bedöhö; but as they must’ve been urged on by one or all seven of the Tuan Puteri that lived on the hill, it was a mighty deed of the day.

Sometimes, when the sea wind blew the hill away from us, it took the genta sound with it too. Some days we heard the cannon roar from Bukit Besar; but along the stretch from the Kedai Payang to the Ladang of the turtle was a chain of prayer houses that carried the relay of the azan call from surau to surau, from the one in Kampong Datok to the one with the big fish in its water tank by the shore, and then onwards to the suraus of Haji Mat Kerinci to our very own Tok Sheikh Abdul Kadir until it reached the Surau Besar and then meandering shorewards, to the Surau Pasir and back again to the main road to the Surau of Haji Mat Litör opposite a place marked by the green public convenience in the neighbourhood called — unfortunately — Jambang Ija — the green lavatory.

In the fading light there were people hurrying home and the clanging of the genta, and the boom of the big gun on a distant hill as fishermen and market traders hurried to the coffee shops and Indian shopkeepers paused to pour out the cha from their metal kölèh. The day was ending in Kuala Trengganu and the muezzin made his call from the tower of the Masjid Abidin to the dusk chorus from the suraus. Someone, waiting by his glass of chilled sirap clinking with fractured ice in the stirred in sweetness of condensed milk and cane sugar, walked to the big drum in the rear of our own surau and pounded a rhythmic beat on its hide. And it marked the end of the fast, the time for our bbuka.

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