Wednesday 21 March 2012

Alimah bt Awang - Anak Jati Singapura

Talking to Alimah bt Awang at her home in Boon Lay was an unforgettable experience.  At 86 she remains  one of  the very, very few remaining voices of the history and birthright of  Malays in Singapore, specifically the Orang Laut or what we Malays in Pasir Panjang describe as the Orang Pulau.

I call her Ma'cik and she has always referred to me as Che'gu because in Jai's family I am known as the teacher from Yusof Ishak Secondary School or Sekolah Menengah Yusof Ishak.  Mariam, her daughter, was one of my students and we became close friends with Ma'cik because of our close friendship with her son Jai.

Jai has been in and out of my blog in my postings :

We  went to Singapore to keep company with Lely  (one of my former students from Jurong Secondary School) when she had a stroke.  Glad to say she is now back home and undergoing more therapy.  She has been putting heart and soul into getting better and I know she will. She is one young plucky lady.

We caught up with another plucky lady of 86 and we got her talking about her childhood days growing up in Tanjong Kling.  She's a wonderful story teller and  a fount of information about her people, the Orang Pulau or Orang Laut.   The topographic map below shows the significance of Tanjong Kling as a landing post for connection to the Southern Islands.

Tanjong Kling is located near the number 68 on the map.  PS (just above the letters Tg) indicates a Police Station and Ma'cik Alimah's late husband was a policeman.  Ma'cik and her husband come from a line of the  "Orang Laut; the aboriginal seafaring people in the Malay Archipelago since an early time."    There was no  intermarriage with people from the Malay Peninsula, or the Bugis or the Javanese or the Boyanese or Chinese or Indians.

Tanjong Kling, Pasir Panjang and Pulau Samulun have been immortalised in this Lagu Melayu Asli - 'Nasib  Panjang' :

Pasir Panjang Pulau Samulun,
Nampak lah dari Tanjong Kling.
(Nasib lah Panjang)
Hilang sebulan rasa setahun,
Bagailah mana hati tak runsing.

Listening to Ma'cik makes me realise - too late - about the tragedy that fell upon  her people and her islands. I don't pretend to be a historian.  However, as I begin to read  about the pre-Raffles inhabitants of Temasek, people like the Orang Laut of the Rhio Archipelago, people like the Orang Galang (Geylang), Orang Seletar, Orang Selat and Orang Biduanda of Kallang, I soon realise just how their place and existence in Singapore's history have been marginalised and relegated into insignificance by both the British imperialists and the PAP machinery.

We care and battle for the rights of the aboriginal tribes on terra firma in  Malaysia.  But the seafaring people of the Archipelago, the maritime nomads of the Malay world have been ignored and denied their 'human rights'.  They were always a threat to the Imperialists' trade and profit.  They were conveniently labelled as pirates - as pests to be controlled and confined.

This map, however, might make us rethink our perception of the Orang Laut, of the aboriginal Malay seafarers and how they construct their world and their  'homeland'.  They, like the Malays, perceive their place of origin not as a homeland  ('tanah/rumah' ).  For them, home is 'Tanah Ayer' -  Land and Water.  How do you demarcate boundaries and allocate  deeds and titles of ownership over such a maritime topography?
The Malays'  'Middle Kingdom' - the Riau Archipelago. The Southern Islands of Singapore in the Northwest corner have been circled.
I shall write more about the demolition job done on Ma'cik Alimah's world.  But first do listen to her oral history of Tanjong Kling.  Jai and I are determined to draw out out as much story and history as possible from this lively lady's recollections - from this Anak Jati Singapura.

P.S.   I have spent all morning trying to upload a video of Ma'cik Alimah - but it has ended in tears.
I shall try, the next session, be it in print or video.


BaitiBadarudin said...

Salam Kak Maznur & Abang Iain, Glad to hear you're both doing great and that you've embarked on this project. I look forward to listening to this precious piece of oral history. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

i will definitely be waiting for the writeup... i'd buy if its a book.


Awang Goneng said...

I love this schoolmarm. I feel like going (to Bata and then) back to school.

anak si-hamid said...

Salam to you too Baiti. Indeed I should have done this ages ago.

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you very much for the support Batcha.

It's all for wonderful old lady from another old lady!

anak si-hamid said...

This schoolmarm thinks you may need an Adidas. No red-blooded school kid nowadays wants to be seen in Bata shoes.

Great to see you and thank you Awang Goneng. What about our date at Watford Gap?

rohaya28 said...

MH, my ancestors are seafarers too esp on my father's side. If I am not wrong they're from Selat Senke and when he was still alive he spoke alot about family in Tg Kling. Thank you for this piece of history. Looking forward to the next chapter

Anonymous said...

baju kurung telok belanga,the moon shaped collar embroidered on the edges..worn by both men and women, the man's version must be complete with sarong berdagang dalam..on friday i make it a point to wear it to solat Jumaat..its our Johor Riau heritage.

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Hamid,

Many thanks for the beautiful tribute to my mum and the world that she represents. She was so delighted to know that someone is taking an active interest in her history. Of course, she has not the faintest idea about the world of internet and how her picture could have actually appeared on your blog - after all, the language of internet is something so remotely strange to her. Just as we, the younger generation, has become so removed from world that she once grew up in. I am glad at least a part of her life and her community is now being re-created. Otherwise, those stories and episodes shall forever be buried dead through indifference and ignorance by the young, including myself. Thank you once again for bringing back the spirit of Tanjong Kling.

Jai - Alimah's son

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you Roy for popping in.

You can see 'Selat Sinki' at the bottom of the topo map.

Get what you can from your mother about your late father's family, for the sake of your children and grand-daughter.

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Anonymous March 23,

Thank you. I can sense the beat of a proud anak Melayu Riau.

Keep the flame alive for the younger generation - so that they can stand proud of their heritage while living and managing the modern world - both secular and religious - around them.

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you Jai,

Salam to Ma'cik and tell her it's my greatest pleasure and privilege to do this.

And as for you young man - we have lots to do. Or do I have to make you stand on the chair?

Awang Goneng said...

I used to sing this at school:
"A sea gypsy's life
Is the life for me,
I care not where
The harbour be..."

Er, Watford Gap? I'm a sea gypsy, not a Traveller. How about Rockall, German Bight, Dogger...places like that, immortalised by the shipping forecasts on the Beeb Bee Cee. Are you here or there? If here, heck, Watford Junction it'll be.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this the same thing your umno friends are doing in Malaysia?

anak si-hamid said...

Anonymous 24 March,

Thank you, but:
Firstly, support your statement with specific examples please.
Secondly, I do not have UMNO friends, just friends.
Thirdly, wait for my next round so's you can judge better.

anak si-hamid said...

Dear AG,

Do you think Watford Gap will allow for Malay gypsies?

nunu said...

Hi.. my name is Nasir.. im from Singapore and Im 14 this year.. my paternal grandpa is also Orang Laut/Orang Pulau.. the original inhabitants of Singapore.. if im not mistaken, his ancestors originated from Pulau Ubin or Pulau Tekong

nunu said...

Hi.. my name is Nasir.. im from Singapore and im 14 this year.. fyi, my paternal grandpa (atok sebelah bapak) is also an Orang Laut/Orang Pulau.. the original inhabitants of Singapore.. his ancestors originated from Pulau Ubin/Pulau Tekong

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anak si-hamid said...

Dear Nasir Roslan,

I am so happy to get your comment,from someone as young as you.

You have a very, very distinct and proud heritage - you are from a line of the original people of Singapore.

Please read up more about it, from the internet and from the library and even from the blogs and YouTube.

Record all you can (in print and on video) from the memories of those remaining islanders; make your own script and your observations even though they will differ from the official versions. Don't allow your heritage to die without trace.

Once again, I am so overjoyed to get your feedback. Thank you, young one.

Anonymous said...

OMG !!

Jai tu Orang Laut !!


anak si-hamid said...

OMG!!! Didn't you know that Jai is from the 'keturunan' of the indigenous settlers of Singapore - the Orang Pulau?

Rawa by Isa Kamari gives a good insight to the life of the original Malays in Singapore's history.

I taught 2 classes of these 'keturunan Melayu Asal Singapura' - other than Malays from Melaka, Pulau Jawa. Sumatra etc - when I was teaching at Yusof Ishak Secondary School as of the mid-1960s.

Unknown said...

I'd love to trace my paternal grandfather's ancestry! But, how do I get started? My fathers & his siblings don't know much. I've tried asking my paternal grandmother (she's pure Javanese BTW), but she doesn't know, as well. They only know that my paternal grandfather's ancestors were the original inhabitants of Singapore (orang laut/orang pulau). I think I'll just trace his ancestry after O's! HAHAHA
Btw, were your ancestors orang laut too?

Anonymous said...

There are some orang laut kampungs across the straits in JB. They too have been marginalised. The mangrove swamps which they consider their tanah adat have been filled for development causing pollution and threatening their traditional livelihoods. Many have been kicked around and made to convert by authorities with little regard for their needs. There is a documentary about them on YouTube. It is a sad story indeed.

Unknown said...


My name is Aisha and I am a history student from Nanyang Technological University. NTU is currently conducting research for a book which aims to document the history and heritage of the archipelago (Nusantara) communities in Singapore. I am in charge of the research for the Orang Laut community in Singapore.

Hence, I was wondering if you are a descendent of the Orang Laut or whether you still keep in touch with these individuals (such as Jai and his mother). If so, you could contribute in preserving the history of Singapore’s archipelago (Nusantara) communities.

I can't attach the poster for this project here but you could let me know your email address and I could drop you an email. Thank you and I look forward to your reply.

Also, I just wanted to say that I enjoy reading your posts, they are thought-provoking and especially your comments

Aisha Omar
H/P: 84538943

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Hamid,

I'm a freelance writer writing a story on the Orang Laut in Singapore and their cultural identity, and Nasir, a descendant of the Orang Laut that I'm in touch with, told me about your blog.

I'm trying to understand how descendants of the Orang Laut in Singapore are preserving their cultural identity e.g. through the way they cook and prepare food, food beliefs and superstition.

I was wondering, through your interactions with the late Macik Alimah and with your students during your days at YISS, if you would have any insights on the Orang Laut or the influence of Islam and Singaporean mainland Malay culture on Orang Laut food.

You don't have to publish this comment, please feel free to send me an email at weelingsoh at gmail dot com if you could spare a bit of time.

Let me know. Thank you.

Wee Ling

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Hamid, Let me know how I might contact you ? Thanks.

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Anonymous 2 July.

I'm sorry but I do not transmit any of my contact details on this site.

However you can give me your name and details and InsyaAllah I shall get back to you.