On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Music in the Isle

Time flies, water flows, the sun sets and the moon rises. But the music goes on.
This is an old picture, again from the family album of my friend Chorekdaggarik who also sent us that delightful picture of women cycling in Chendering that I blogged about in Les Bicyclettes de Chendering.

This photograph was taken in February 1956, on an island just off Pulau Duyung. It touches me in many ways, not least because one of the persons in this photograph, the man fiddling on the left, is Wan Muhammad Dato' Perba, the photographer who set up his photo studio above Pök's shop [see, Snaps and Studios, GUiT, p.50;  "Nails, Ropes and Old Vinegar", p. 33], just a stone's throw from our house. I never threw stones at Pök's, I promise you, but we went there for odds and sods - nails, fishing hooks, bits of string and sometimes just for a chat. Pök was a genial man whose shop reeked of vinegar that he kept in clay pots in the back. He once sold my brother a hook and line and told him to go to the Sekölöh Paya Bunga (Paya Bunga School) for the rod. The school then had a hedge of thin bamboos.

We have many photographs in our family album taken at Wan Mohammad's photo studio with its cardboard Greek columns and the full moon backdrop.

The photograph also touches me in another way. In the back of the photo is this inscription:

It says, "Berkelah di Pulau Belakang Pulau Duyung pada 3/2/56 sekelian famili Dato' Perba dan Encik Omar, bèsangnya. Ahli-ahli muzik sahaja."

"Picnic on the island behind Pulau Duyung on 3/2/56, the entire family of Datuk Perba and Encik Omar, his bèsang. Musicians only."

Bèsang is the Trengganuspeak rendition of bèsan, a relationship that has no equivalent in English. He or she is the person whose child is married to one of yours.

Early mornings I used to look out from the windows of the front of our Tanjong house, to the activities in the market. Below us was a shop, run by a man named Haji Nik (we called him Ayöh Nik) and a very amusing and witty man we called Che Awang who could draw and tell jokes and do conjuring tricks. Che Awang was from the family of Dato' Amar (the Man of Oob in GUiT) and Ayöh Nik was one of the children of Encik Omar, but I doubt if he is in the photograph as he was a no-nonsense man not given to much music.

Thank you Chorekdaggarik for sharing with us this wonderful photograph.

Read Also:
Chainlink to Pok's Family

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Duyung Across the Water II

The history of Trengganu is in the hills.

A short walk from the old Kedai Binjai was Bukit Keledang, a dishevelled haunt of spooks and weird folk in my schoolboy days. It was now manicured and trimmed to shape, and there were steps leading to the top. I thought I'd give it a look.

After the Telanais ruled Trengganu, the first Sultan in the present lineage came down via Patani. His name was Zainal Abidin, son of Tun Habib Abdul Majid, the Bendahara of Johor. Zainal Abidin I ruled Trengganu, first from Tanjung Baru, in Kuala Berang, then travelling downstream through time until he was finally in Chabang Tiga and finally in an area now known as Kota Lama in Kuala Trengganu. Throughout, he was in the shadow of a man known as Tok Pulau Manis, Sheikh Abdul Malik bin Abdullah, born in Kampung Pauh in Hulu Trengganu in 1650 [d. 1736, at the age of 86].

Some say Abdul Malik was descended from Shariff Muhammad Baghdadi, whose tomb is in Kampung Jenagor, Kuala Berang, but there is some uncertainty about this. Muhammad in turn is said to have been a Shariff in Baghdad, a man who renounced his earthly trappings to embark on a spiritual journey that took him to Makkah, Hadramaut in Yemen, and finally to Trengganu. He is futher believed to be the man responsible for the Inscribed Stone (Batu Bersurat), the earliest manifestation of Islam in the Malay peninsula, carved into a granite block on the Gregorian day of 22nd February 1303.

The tomb of Sultan Zainal Abidin I [d.1723] is on Bukit Keledang, now an oasis amid the hubbub of Kuala Trengganu. The headstones on the Sultan's final resting place as I saw them were of recent design, but more interesting, as far as burial monuments are concerned, was a lone grave that lay just a few yards from there. The carved stones and their height above the ground showed that this was the burial place of someone of note: a member of the royal family perhaps, or some nobility. I was uncertain if this was a male person as the headstones were flat rather than round, for this person, whoever s/he was, lying there now, the stones disassembled by the hands of time. As I was pondering this, a man who had been watching me from a distance came forward to volunteer this information: that this was the tomb of Megat Panji Alam. How could this be?

I knew that the Megat was a Trengganu warrior, once betrothed to Tun Teja, who then found cause to take 4000 Trengganu men to attack Melaka. He was foiled en route by Hang Tuah and his intercepting party in Pahang, and was on his way to slap Hang Tuah before the Sultan for some slight when he was ambushed and killed by  Jebat and Kasturi (so says the Hikayat Hang Tuah).

It was late in the afternoon and I was feeling a bit tizzy by these heady thoughts. I walked down the steps and turned right, walking past the Hotel Malaysia, past a huge gap where once was the Sultana flea pit, and then along the sunlit walkways towards Kedai Payang, the market, the hole in the ground where once stood a majestic row of shophouses, the Abdullah alYunani bookshop, kedai Yamada, Redi Photo Studio, the satay house in the corner that led into a narrow lane that took us to the house of our maternal grandmother.

Behind the ersatz Turkish Bazaar opposite the Kedai Payang market, on the ruins of the historic Kampung Datuk Amar, stood another hill, Bukit Puteri of the fortress, the tumult of battle in Sultan Omar's wars of succession still undiminished by moving time, and fairy Princesses looking longingly at this past haunt of theirs from a yet undiscovered corner of Redang isle out at sea, far away in place and long ago in time.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Duyung Across the Water

On a hot day last February, after my walk from Pasar Kedai Payang to the heart of Kampung China in search of lost hopes, lost places and lost people, I saw a hotel that did and still does irk me more than just a little. It stood in what was once the taxi stand of Kedai Binjai, a place where you could immerse yourself in thought and watch the river flow.

And there was Duyung across the water.

I was annoyed because the planners of our town never felt that a good scenery should be shared by all, and that it should never, never be obliterated by an ugly man-made thing from where only a select few could see the river. Well, it has been done, and it is there now, a hotel that blocks a view of the Trengganu, built on the tumult and the people and the tyre-marks of an old taxi centre that took people from Kuala Trengganu to Besut and Tepoh and Wakaf Tapai. It is built on the shadows of hefty market women carrying on-head bundles of goods, on the silhouettes of kampung folk, their lips gripping thin cigarettes of rolled, dried leaves, and there on the ground, the shadows of their heads showed the outlines of their semutar.

There was dust on their shadows, but dust is the end of us all. There was a cool breeze that bore faint whiffs of the sweat and toil of the Duyung people; and Duyung, as Mother used to tell us, was a cool place. She used the word 'cool' (sejuk), to convey to us that it was special, a place of contemplation and much learning, and a blessed colony of boat-builders. She was quite right, I'm sure. Duyung gave us in Trengganu its sons as kadhis (judges) and muftis, and Tok Duyung was a well-known saint and scholar.

I decided to walk into the hotel at just after noon-time and found it quite empty. Deep into it, walking through the dining tables, I found an open annexe that looked out to the river. The few people I saw sipping their drinks chose not to sit there as it was cooled by overhead fans and lacked the air-conditioned comfort that is now the climate of built-up Malaysia. I sat there and ordered my pot of tea, and occasionally (I went to sit there more than once), a plate of mee. On the few occasions I was there the book that I was trying to read just closed itself; more alluring was the water.

I looked across, and my head and heart ached a little.

[To be continued...]

Photo Credit: Top photo of Ferry to Pulau Duyung courtesy of Backpacking Malaysia.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

As Above, So Below

I looked in the grass this morning and saw this beautiful formation. It reminds me of crop circles. Did a mini Martian land in last night to give this mini-message to Earth's people? Or could it have been etched by the sun that also painted the sky blue with its spectrum rays of varied colours, that shaped the dandelions too and planted dock leaves in the ground as it waits for the long summer?

Is this the prickly weed - a variety of thistle they tell me - blown in by the gardening hantus to make gardening such a chore? I am quite laid-back by nature, and true though as they say that a garden is not made by sitting in the shade and saying "Oh, what lovely flowers!", I give the weeds a little nod for someday, who knows, someone will say they are a cure for cancer or some minor ailments of the knee. A garden is beautiful to the eye, but the weeds, they are forever.

A prickly weed, a variety of thistle, perhaps someone will tell me; but this one looks like a mandala ( so I shall call it Nelson for the while).

I looked up and caught the acer springing its blooms that put the light in the sky and rid it of the burdensome grey that hung for most days of winter.

I was in Trengganu for the harshest part of last winter, but I shall do penance when the time comes for the acer to shed its leaves, and rake them all into a pile.
*           *          *          *          *          *          *          *          * 
Tis May; and yet the March flower Dandelion
Is still in bloom among the emerald grass,
Shining like guineas with the sun's warm eye on--
We almost think they are gold as we pass,
Or fallen stars in a green sea of grass.
They shine in fields, or waste grounds near the town.
They closed like painter's brush when even was.
At length they turn to nothing else but down,
While the rude winds blow off each shadowy crown.

Poems Chiefly From Manuscript,
by John Clare

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