If we feel trapped in the tradition of our upbringing, it would be good asking ourself who started this in the first place? How this came about? In spite of growing in an urban upbringing, I grew in a world full of traditional beliefs and as I became more aware of our society’s overwhelming respect for tradition, I began to question the authenticity of these beliefs and the answer is obviously in a form of childhood indoctrination. This handing down of beliefs or customs from one generation to another comes from the parents who likewise received it from their parents. When I began to understand the surroundings of my upbringing, I was too young to know where I stood on such issues and blindly followed and accepting them as established tradition. In most beliefs there must be some form of supernatural influence which have some connection on our religious beliefs and this is beyond the reach of science. Let me share with you few of these beliefs which were strictly followed without questioning the reason:
1. Chanting of ‘tabatyadah’ continuously whenever faced with a dog.
Whenever grandma needed some ingredients for her cooking, she would ask either Kak Fuzi or me to buy it at the nearby sundry shop. Kak Fuzi is like my sister and she is a year older than me. We would always oblige grandma because every trip could earn us ten cents reward. We were too young to learn how to ride a bicycle and so we walked to the shop but we had one problem. Few houses away from ours was a Chinese house with a ferocious looking dog and always unleashed.
“Ingat, bila sampai dekat rumah ada anjing tu, baca aje tabatyadah’, reminded Kak Fuzi before we began our journey to the mamak sundry shop. So we set foot walking slowly closed to each other and our eyes kept focussing on the area of the house with the dog. As we reached the front of the house, there was the dog lying on the ground. Maybe it smelled unfamiliar human odour passing by and it immediately stood up looking at both of us. I was trembling to the bone but kept on chanting the tabatyadah continously but Kak Fuzi’s chants were even more louder. The dog just stared at us wondering what on earth these two humans muttering about. Then it began to walk slowly toward us and Kak Fuzi held my hand tightly fearing that I might run and that would excite the dog. Then it stopped and just stared at us. Kak Fuzi then quipped assuringly, “Aah tu, dia takut bila kita baca tabatyadah”. I nodded and just focussing on the dog and as we passed by the house, that was one problem solved. We had to face the second problem when we had to return home but we were always assured that dogs would not go near to those chanting the tabatyadah continously. So everytime when I met any fierce looking dog, my mouth would immediately chant tabatyadah without stopping for a moment until the dog was out of sight.
Of course I don’t do this any longer but somehow I still meet some elderly Malay folks who still believe that chanting the words of tabatyadah can easily tame a notorious dog. How ludicrous.
2. Those who sleep at the center will be eaten by ghosts.
At the side hall beside the kitchen of the house I grew was a sizeable wooden bench we called ‘ambin’. This would be the place grandma enjoyed chewing her sireh (beetle leaf) along with those who were addicted to the sireh. When I was very small, I would frequently sleep on the ‘ambin’. Sometime during the night I would sleep on the ambin together with Kak Fuzi and Kak Arah but we always argue on our sleeping position. I was always in a dilemma because I had always wanted to sleep at the center but that would be ‘disastrous’ because I would be eaten by ghosts, but to sleep at the side was even worse because you don’t have a shield on one side. So if ever I slept at the side, I would place a long pillow to sheild me from any undesirable elements.
Waking up in the middle of the night and unable to continue sleeping was the most torturous moment. I began to have many wild imagination like some ghosts looking at me, some smiling at me and of course not a single ghost would be good looking. My only antidote was to wake up Kak Fuzi and Kak Arah who were fast asleep.
“Aah, bangun pergi sekolah?”
That would be the answer if you wake someone while in a deep slumber. The next morning she complained to grandma, “orang tengah sedap sedap tidur dia pegi kejut kita, pastu kita yang tak boleh tidur”.
None of my children knew such beliefs were staunchly enforced during my younger days but I prefer to keep it silent until they grew big enough not to believe in this kind of nonsense. However, I don’t seem to notice that today’s children practice this kind of foolish behaviour any longer which is a very good sign.
3. Seeking permission before easing yourself in remote places.
Both Halim and me were cycling home one night when we both shared the same thought of easing ourself. We must pee immediately as we were quite a distance from home. We cycled to some remote areas where passing cyclists were rare. We stopped near a place where big trees and bushes grew wildly by the road side. As we were about to do our business, both of us said in tandem, “Salamulaikum datuk, anak cucu tumpang kencing” and somwhow after saying that, we felt safe.
Later I asked some elderly folks what happened if we forget to seek permission before easing ourself? He replied in a most convincing tone, ‘nanti kena tempeling’. Now, that’s a very high risk.
Believe it or not, there are some others who still seek permission from the ‘spirit’ that resides within the area before easing themself. The old folks told us to give some respect to these ‘spirits’ for encroaching into ‘their’ territories.
4. Beware of an old Indian man with a gunny sack and a sickle
Kak Shidah called me and told me to listen attentively. Kak Fuzi and Kak Arah were already at the tembok waiting for Kak Shidah’s lecturing moment.
“They are going to build a bridge, and to build a bridge they must collect alot of human heads”, began Kak Shidah with a very serious face.
“Why do they want human heads”, I asked Kak Shidah.
“Because near the river where the bridge is going to be built lives a very big jin. This jin likes to eat children’s heads and lots of them. Then only he will allow them to build the bridge,” explained Kak Shidah briefly.
While we were the midst of our serious discussion, our neighbour Nora came and when she heard what Kak Shidah just said, she confirmed it by saying, “Yes, yes, my grandmother also said the same.” Now Kak Shidah’s lecturing had made it even more definite. I became more terrified after listening to this as quite often I would bump into an old Indian man with a gunny sack with a sickle. Then I asked Kak Shidah, “Is the old Indian man going to cut our heads?”
“Yes, after he cut the heads, he will put it inside the gunny sack. Then after it is full, he will go to the river where the bridge is going to be built. Then at night the jin will come out and eat all the heads, only then they can build the bridge,” explained Kak Shidah even more convincingly.
From then on all of us began to develop the phobia of fearing the sight of an old Indian man carrying a gunny sack and a sickle in his hand. Personally I encountered with one while walking home alone from my Sekolah Bandar school as the beca man was absent due to some illness. I was truly scared and ran to a nearby bush along the roadside and hid silently as the poor chap passed by. The poor grasscutter himslef was oblivious of such rumour circulating among children how wicked he was.
Years later when I visited Kak Shidah at her home in Johor Bahru, we played back those moments when we were so innocent and gullible that such nonsense could easily penetrate into our mind. We laughed and laughed out loud but in retrospect, we truly enjoyed those moments no matter how absurd some may be.
Believing in this kind of nonsenses had been in existence long before I was born. What I have illustrated is just a fraction of the many Malay beliefs that had existed during my younger days. There are many more that had been taught to us which are today a laughing matter. Take a deep breath and ask yourself whether would you like to believe the following:
1. Do not point your index finger towards the rainbow. Your index finger may be deformed.
2. Do not open your umbrella inside the house for by doing so you are inviting a snake into the house.
3. Young girls must not whistle while in the kitchen otherwise she may end up being a spinster.
4. Do not eat the crusts of rice for that would make one a very stupid person.
5. Do not eat under the stairs for that would invite a ghost to share your meal.
There are many more beliefs that had managed to influence not only young children but even adults were equally duped. My memory bank still preserve these hilarious events, sometime I feel ashame to reveal them but I need not to because it happened during a time when I was beginning to understand so many ‘extraordinary’happenings that could amuse many.
I wonder whether my non-Malay contemporaries of Muar town have their own set of beliefs as primitive as the Malay beliefs? These traditional beliefs are now fast eroding from the Malay society and this positive trend is most encouraging. However, in spite of propagating not to entertain in these kind of primitive thinking, I do not wish to depart the memories of those moments when I truly believed them as true, not so much of trying to influence that such tradition should be preserved but more so to entertain ourself of the many hilarious happenings during my younger days in a small town called Muar.