The compound of the house I grew with was quite spacious (can’t figure out the actual sq.ft.), spacious enough for me and my little cousins to play football and badminton at the front portion while at the back portion we had a small hut made by grandpa, a bangsal (shack), few rambutan trees, a ciku tree, two mango trees and few coconut trees. On the same plot of land was another house stayed by my auntie Mak Pon and her husband Pak Mat Rippin as well as their children. Their house was my second home.
Grandpa and grandma were both ‘planters’ in their own ways. Every morning grandpa would be outside the house cleaning the compound, sweeping every dried leaves and had them burnt beside our small hut. He would tend to all the fruit trees and trimed the broken twigs and branches. Grandma and her assistants would be at the kitchen to prepare lunch and after lunch it would be her turn to be at the compound. This would be their daily routine unless something else cropped up. No matter where and when they would be, they would surely returned home to perform their specific daily prayers.
Behind the boundary at the back of our house was a very small plot of land with overgrown lalang and tall grasses as well as some small trees. Malays call this as ‘belukar’. One day, she thought of turning this piece of unused land into something more worthy. She had the idea of turning it into a small tapioca ‘plantation’, after all it was not too difficult to plant tapioca. I was still in my primary school but old enough to assist her in her dream project. Grandpa likewise agreed to assist and Wak Jis (uncle Aziz Hamid) too was available. Of course not forgetting my three ‘sisters’.
Wak Jis is like my big brother and very reserved like his father. A very good man, kind hearted and would only speak when asked. He is five years my senior and was schooling at the High School during my primary education. However, he always made some attempt to be seen as a talkative person so everytime his older siblings came back home for weekends, he would always be the first to ask “Bila datang? (When did you arrive?)” and after recieving the answer he would ask the second question, “Bila balek? (When are you going back?)” It stopped there, well at least he made some efforts. He was a good sportsman during his younger days playing football almost every evening at the field of the Police Barracks which was a walking distant from our house. Sometime he would play ‘Sepak Raga’ (takraw) among boys his age.
On our first day, grandpa and grandma brought along two parangs, a cangkul and a pongkis (waste container made of rattan). Wak Jis and me would collect all the rubbish and stacked them at a specific place to have them burnt later (those days there wasn’t any law on open burning). Grandpa did all the rough job like cutting all the small trees, Wak Jis would clear the bushes while grandma would dig in all the areas that had been cleared. I would collect the rubbish everytime it had been separated from the cleared compound. We managed to clear approximately 500 sq.ft on the first day.
The next day grandma continued her digging using the cangkul on the ground that had been cleared while grandpa and Wak Jis continued clearing the next phase. It went on for almost a week until finally we managed to clear about 3,000 sq.ft and we began planting the tapioca. Besides our house where the ‘no man’s land’ was, we looked for few tapioca shoots which grew wild and cut them into small pieces and with theses, we just pocked them into the ground that had been dug earlier by grandma. By the third week, we could see small leaves coming our from these shoots and from afar it looked so wonderful and very green.
I was still in my primary school and since I was in the afternoon session, I would check our ‘plantation’ every day during the morning and to make sure that these tapioca shoots grew well. As weeks passed by, we began to notice the height of these shoots began to grow taller than us and the whole area became so conducive covered by the leaves. By the six month, we began to pull some of the shoots to taste our first harvest and from then on, our supply of tapioca was endless. Most of the tapioca roots we pulled were of high quality.
One interesting and common scene in our small ‘plantation’ was the appearance of two or three jungle fowls (ayam hutan) every morning. Wak Jis was an expert in making traps and on one evening, he made a trap out of rattan and some strings and put some rice (beras) as a bait onto the circle of the string which was placed on the ground. There would be a small wood placed near the rice and when these fowls stepped onto it, it would release the rattan with the string and if the fowl was unlucky, the string would grip one or even both its legs. So every time Wak Jis caught one fowl, we would be having chicken for lunch.
One morning when Kak Fuzi and me were trying to pull one of the tapioca tree, we noticed a small tiny snake sneaking into our area but the next thing Kak Fuzi was already running so fast like as though the snake was a big phyton. At times we noticed small iguanas sniffing for food and we even encountered bats flying on top of the branches.
Looking back, planting a small tapioca ‘plantation’ was practically hard works more than anything else. As we had few relevant utensils of our own, there wasn’t any capital needed. We did not have to employ any labourer and there wasn’t any need to use any kind of pesticides. Grandma did a good job in digging the soil before planting the tapioca shoots. The result of our hard works produced excellent products and because we did it not for any commercial gain, later we distributed the tapioca to everyone in the neighbourhood.
Grandma once told me that during the Japanese occupation, food distribution was controlled by the Japanese and there was hardly any good food for their daily consumption. Many resorted to planting tapioca for their daily food that tapioca eventually replaced rice as their staple food.
Since we had abundant supply of tapioca, our daily breakfast would be boiled tapioca eaten with grated coconut flesh and sugar. Sometime we would eat it with sambal ikan bilis and even ikan kering (dried salted fish). In the evening grandma and Mak Yang would cook many delicacies out of tapioca.
When both grandma and grandpa passed away, our ‘plantation’ was left unattended and soon the land regained its original status of being a land full of lalang and tall grasses and by and by all the tapioca trees just died off. What a waste.
It is so easy to plant a tapioca tree as our tropical climate is most suitable to plant it. Maybe those having a small area of unused land should think of planting two or three tapioca trees, at least for their own family consumption. Once I planted few tapioca trees behind my house but as it began to grow, our monkey cousins always dropped by to have a feast. Somehow they know what a tapioca tree is, I guess its their world.