Saturday 8 September 2012

Oil upon the Palm

Kamisah - Hamid's Wife - Pasir Panjang - 1949 (?)

A young mother in the 1950s and 1960s  like my Emak was untutored in the sayings and quotations in her Holy Book the Quran to enable her to embellish and strengthen her objectives  in trying to bring us up to be
decent, moral, hardworking, humble, considerate, grateful and resourceful children.

There was one aspect of our upbringing which tickled me to laughter till today.  It had to do with emak and abah's female offsprings.

 Eventually all parents  have to face up to one fear - when their daughters reach puberty.

This was my father's cautionary note to me - in English.  "You're now a woman.  Remember, men are crocodiles."  I could not really digest what he was getting at but I could guess because I remembered the Girl Guide song   "Never smile at a crocodile....." and the phrase learned in school about "crocodile tears".  You see we still believed when we were 15/16 that we could get pregnant if we sat on a seat (the bus especially) that had stains of male sweat on it.  We were told of this dark horror by Lee Beng Hong and  she knew a lot about stuff like that.  The Hock Lee and Keppel Bus conductors used to swear blue murder at us schoolgirls because we refused to sit on such seats that had been vacated by a boy, sweat or no sweat.

As for me ole mum, she resorted to Malay Proverbs to remind my sister and I to keep on the straight and narrow.  There was a vacant piece of land next to our house which was quite swampy  and had a number of coconut trees growing on it.  Then in the early 60s a family with two grown-up sons decided to build a house  - a rumah panggong on this site.  The village was abuzz with all sorts of guesswork and talk about these two sons.  One was a clerk and the other was a teacher.  Very, very eligible indeed.

And of course like any other village there would be puberty and post-puberty young ladies waiting for a hero to sweep them off their feet to the pelamin.  When the rumah panggong containing the two very eligible bachelors was completed, we would observe a gaggle of maidens parading and walking past our house and the rumah panggong in the evenings - when the eligible bachelors would be back from work.

This became my mother's opportunity to teach my sister and I about decorum and dignity in young Malay ladies. Here are some of her proverbs.
1. Beri betis, hendak peha.
2. Semut mati kerana gula.
3.Sebab nila sa-titek, rosak susu di-belanga.
4. Menconteng arang di muka.

This particular proverb had an especially beautiful imagery.   She described the parade of young ladies as timba mencari telaga.  We used to have our own perigi in our previous house and I visualized these young ladies in a timba hip-hopping around hunting for a perigi.  What a hilarious sight!

Like my father, my mother was intent on us ( including her daughters) getting a good education.  Any whingeing and grumblings from us about school would be met with reprimands in the form of :
1.Jangan jadi macham katak di-bawah tempurong.
2.Belakang parang jikalau di-asah, neschaya tajam juga.
3.Sebab tiada tahu menari di-katakan tanah lembap.
4.Malu bertanya sesat jalan.
5.Kalau beneh yang baik jatoh ka-laut menjadi pulau.
6.Yang di-kejar tiada dapat, yang di-kandong berchecheran.
7. Biar lambat asal selamat.
8. Ikut hati mati, ikut rasa binasa.

We were aware of incidents and regrets pertaining to human frailties, frivolities and failings that occurred in our parents' experience.  I recall some of her sayings:
1. Seperti menchurah ayer di-daun keladi.
2. Di-tepok tangan sa-belah ta'akan berbunyi.
3. Enggang sama enggang, dan pipit sama pipit juga.
4. Kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang,
5.Besar periok, besar kerak-nya.
6. Buat baik perpada-pada, buat jahat jangan sa-kali.
7. Lidah tidak bertulang.

Emak, born in 1923,  was unschooled in both the secular and religious disciplines.  She was brought up in a fundamentally Malay tradition - applying selective Malay sayings and proverbs which had been passed from parent to child.  We were English educated but my mother gave us the proud heritage of living the Malay proverbs that shaped in many ways our strength and resilience.

Kamisah bt Suboh  brought us up:

"As a vessel full of oil is borne upon the palm -
A loving woman's anxious care to shield her charge from harm."

Seperti menatang minyak yang penoh

NB.  The proverbs were extracted from "Malay Proverbs" by A.W. Hamilton, 1947.  I'm just being perverse about using this book because I love the old spelling.  It's what my mother would have used if my grandfather had sent her to school.


Sally said...


anak si-hamid said...

Dear Sally,

Thank you very much. I so enjoyed writing this posting. And I found a good 'home' for one of my most favourite Beatles' song.

Sally said...

Your post reminds me of those days when Malaysians were more gentle and tolerant of each other, and especially of my late mother.
We lived in the police barracks where my family was one of the three chinese families. My late mother was a very good cook and when she cooked aromatic curries, malay lady neighbours (they called her Kak Wan) would come around and exchanged recipes and in the evenings, my mom and the ladies would chat and we children would run and play with each other.

koolmokcikZ said...

yes ..very beautiful indeed

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Sally,

Like you, I mourn those halycon days when life and people were not as screwed up as now.

Often I've been told I should stop thinking and extolling life in the past - I'm like a dinosaur and should 'get real' and accept the present.

All parties in this beautiful country will have to give and take, to accept and respect (not simply tolerate) and celebrate their differences.

It's touching how your Malay neighbours called your mum Kak Wan.

We had a Peranakan neighbour who called my parents Abang and Kakak.
Also our road sweepers call me Kakak and my Ang Mo spouse Abang - which sometimes raise a few eyebrows.

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you koolmokcikZ,

I wish I had said all these to my 'mak when she was still here.

Anonymous said...

And i'll get 'ketawa banyak tu tanda nak menangis' before 'sikit saja luka tu, jauh dari perut'...


anak si-hamid said...

Thank you Feb 29,

You deserve the telling off especially after you dismantled her bedside clock just because you wanted to learn how it worked!