LOOKING FOR BAMBOO TREES WITH WAK JIS

Uncle Don and me.

This is a picture of me and my uncle Don. I was about five plus.

When I was seven years old, the year I began my first full day of fasting (only first day please) and grandma told me to sleep with my uncle Wak Jis in the same bedroom situated at the front portion of our house. That was the first indication that I was no longer a child. In other word, I must stop crying, I must act like a real boy and I must not be scared of ghosts any longer but I can still play with my three ‘sisters’ running here and there around the house. Well, as long as I could still play with my three ‘sisters’, I had no complaints.

Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Hamid is the youngest of my grandparents’ fourteen children and he is five years my senior. He is known among all his nephews and nieces as ‘Wak Jis’. Much as I can remember, Wak Jis liked sports very much and was a good footballer during his younger days. Another of his favourite game was ‘sepak raga’ (takraw) and would spend most of his evenings playing this game with his friends his age. Besides his sporting activities, Wak Jis liked to draw as well and he was a good artist. He could draw the portrait of Queen Elizabeth in near perfection. First, he would draw some lines both vertical and horizontal on the original picture. Then he would draw the same lines on a sheet of white paper and then he would draw the picture according to the lines drawn on the original picture. He used only a pencil and after he completed it, he would use his hand to do some shading at the portrait. Once he drew a picture of the late Sultan Ibrahim of Johor and it looked like the original.

Another of his ability was to create a ‘projector’ by using an unused shoe box. First he would draw some cartoons on a long sheet of transparent papers. When all the drawings were completed, he would roll these papers onto a wire that had been poked into both ends of the shoe box. At the top of the shoe box, he would have it cut like a square enough space for each drawing to appear. To look at these drawings, it must be in a dark room and a torch was needed to produce the light onto these pictures. It was like a silent ‘movie’. Very innovative my uncle Wak Jis was during his younger days.

Another three days, we would be celebrating the ‘malam likur’ and so we need lots of bamboo trees to light our house compound during the night. Ten days before the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, most Malays would light their house compound with ‘likur’ (kerosene lamp). It is a small oblong container made of metal. The cap is fitted with a gunny rope with its top end pointed upwards. The gunny rope will absorb the kerosene and when it is dampen,  light its end with a small fire and it will produce the fire by itself. Those days we did not have a lighter, so we used the matches to light every ‘likur’. This has got nothing to do with the Islamic religion and it is obviously a Hindu culture incorporated into the Malay culture.

Muslims believe that prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Quran on the 27th night of Ramadan. The Muslim day begins after the sunset, so if tomorrow is a Friday, the night will be known as ‘Friday night’ (which actually is a Thursday night). Supposing that Friday is on the 5th of January, then we will refer it as the 5th night of January (which actually is the 4th night).

So ten days before the end of the fasting month, the countdown begins. The first night is referred as ‘malam satu likur’ (the first night of likur), the second is ‘malam dua likur’ (the second night of likur) and so on until the end of the ten days when the month of Ramadan ends. However, on the 7th night is where it reaches its zenith. The 7th night of likur is actually the 27th night of Ramadan, a night believed by Muslims when Muhammad received the first revelation. On this night considered propitious, is the night most Muslims will stay late during the night reading their Holy Quran.

Back in the early sixties, we did not stay late during the night reading the Quran, instead we celebrated the night with great joy playing with some light firecrackers and fireworks. Only the elderly people like grandpa and grandma did their Quran reading but for kids like us, it was the most celebrated night. We referred this night as ‘malam tujuh likur’ (the seventh night of likur).

To add more delights, we also believed that on this 7th night of likur, a special angel would descend from heaven in a form of a man and we depicted him wearing a white robe, spotted a white beard and wearing the ‘songkok haji’. We called him as ‘Laila Tok Qadar’ and so this ‘malam tujuh likur’ is also referred by us as ‘malam laila Tok Qadar’ (the night of Laila Qadar). How innocent and naïve we were not knowing the significance of this propitious night. Never mind, we were still kids and we lived in a ‘world of kids’.

Yesterday evening I heard Wak Jis spoke to our neighbour Yem Tunggal of their plan to look for bamboos. Wak Jis did a mistake, he should have talked to Yem Tunggal in private and discreetly, but now that I knew, I would surely want to follow them.

‘Nak ikut besok’, (I want to follow tomorrow) I said to Wak Jis after we had our rice and some sweet delights for the breaking of fast. I did not fast that day but I was the most curious what would be our meal for the evening.

‘Tak boleh, tempat tu jauh’ (No, you can’t follow, the place is very far away), Wak Jis answered my request.

‘Nak ikut juga’ (I don’t care, I still want to follow), I said angrily as I stumped both my legs onto the ground.

Now Wak Jis was in a dilemma. He was a very quiet person and hardly talked just like grandpa. Throughout my entire life, I have never heard him saying anything bad or using foul languages to anybody and he would never utter disparaging remarks about others. If he disliked you, he would just stay away from you and such a noble character would never scold me. I have always looked upon him as my elder brother and likewise he had always treated me like his younger brother.

‘Ok lah, besok kena bangun pagi’ (Ok, you must wake up early tomorrow) and I grinned so wide and what a good excuse not to fast tomorrow. I fasted on my first day and did not for many days and fasted the second time maybe after ten days of fasting, then I fasted until 12.00pm considered a half day of fast and tomorrow I thought I wanted to fast. What a shame, I had to go looking for bamboos with Wak Jis and obviously I would not be able to fast tomorrow. Then I showed to grandma my sad face for not being able to fast tomorrow.

In spite of not fasting for many days, I insisted of waking up for my sahur (pre dawn meal) every early morning and so almost every morning grandma had to wake me up at least three times before I began walking like a zombie looking for the bathroom to wash my face.

Yem Tunggal is the step-son of our neighbour Uncle Lamdin and he was of the same age with Wak Jis. He was known as Yem Tunggal because at the concrete tembok of his house was an inscription “Kwini Tunggal” and so we all called him Yem Tunggal. We had another Yem who was also a neighbour we called Yem Potet. Whenever we met both of them together we would sing a simple poem ‘Yem Potet Yem Tunggal, Jangan Petik nanti tanggal’. One special thing about Muarians of my time, they would never feel agitated whenever we called them by their ‘funny’ nickames, they wouldn’t mind at all. In fact it could even foster closer relationship among us.

Yem Tunggal came to our house at around 9.00am and I was already at the tembok of our house. Wak Jis was at the bangsal (shack) looking for a parang to cut these bamboos.

‘I am coming along’, I shouted at Yem Tunggal and he looked quite surprised but did not show any sign of objection and just nodded and smiled at me. Wak Jis then came out with his parang and the three of us started walking.

‘Nak pegi mana ni?’ I asked Wak Jis as we passed Maniam’s house, three houses away from ours.

‘Gumah Mak Chik Yang Chik’ (Auntie Yang Chik’s house) replied Wak Jis. ‘Belakang gumah dia banyak pokok buluh’ (Behind her house there are plenty of bamboo trees), continued Wak Jis. Muarians of my time pronounced any word beginning with the letter ‘r’ replaced with the letter ‘g’. So, rumah is gumah, ramai is gamai, rumput is gumput.

Auntie Yang Chick was my grand auntie, grandpa’s younger sister. She stayed right across the Muar High School and behind her house there were many bamboo trees. It was a walking distant from our house.  At the end boundary of her land was a small wooden shop/house occupied by a barber and his family. His name was Pak Jalil. He was my barber during my primary schooling days. Every time before he began cutting my hair, he would ask me what style of hairdo would I like and my answer would surely be ‘like P.Ramlee’. After cutting my hair, he would take a mirror and asked me to look how my hair was done and most of the time I really looked like as though my head had been scooped with a cooking pot. His fee was thirty cents and later increased to fifty cents. Maybe to keep up with the increase of living cost.

When we reached the back of auntie Yang Chik’s house I ran straight to the bamboo trees. While running, Pak Jalil noticed me and asked. ‘Din tak gunting gambut?’ (Are you going to have a hair cut?). ‘Tak lah, belum lagi nak gaya’ (No, it is not the Raya festival yet), I answered as I kept running.

When we reached the area full of bamboo trees, Wak Jis and Yem Tunggal inspected the trees and trying to decide which tree could give a better quality to make the stand for the likur. As for me, I was running around and looking at the bamboo trees. Then I caught hold of one of the trees and swing my body like the ‘merry go round’. Wak Jis and Yem Tunggal began cutting the trees and stacked them at one side while I did the counting.

While doing my counting, I touched the upper end of the tree and my hand became so itchy. Suddenly I felt my body feeling so itchy as well and I began scratching. Then my face and even my head felt itchy and I continued scratching. When Wak Jis saw me scratching all over my body, he approached me and said, ‘Jangan keruk lah, nanti makin teruk’ (don’t scratch your body, it will be worse).

I looked at him feeling so angry and said, ‘Macam mana tak boleh keruk, badan gatal lah’ (Why can’t I scratch, I feel itchy all over). Wak Jis was very uneasy looking at me scratching like a monkey and he just stood looking at me while Yem Tunggal just smiled.

‘Balek je lah’ (Let’s just go home), I commanded and Wak Jis somehow agreed that we might as well go home. And so we did. All the way home while walking, I was scratching endlessly and I could feel some pains over my body.

When we reached home, I ran towards grandma and showed her the condition of my body and I began scratching vigorously. My body was reddish in colour and when grandpa saw my condition, he scolded Wak Jis for bringing me along. Poor Wak Jis, he had to pay the price not of his own doing.

Grandma said I must not bathe immediately because that could get my condition even worse. Grandpa went to a nearby bush looking for some leaves and then he soaked them into a pail of water. Grandma then washed me slowly with the water and while she was doing it I asked her ‘what’s cooking’ at the kitchen?. Then I told her I would not be able to fast tomorrow because of my condition and what a shame. But she still had to wake me up for the pre dawn meal,

The next morning Wak Jis was missing.  I looked for him at every nook and corner but he was not at sight. I asked my three ‘sisters’ whether they had seen Wak Jis but they knew not of his whereabout, even grandma did not know.

Later in the evening, Wak Jis returned home with lots of cut bamboo trees and of better quality. He went with Yem Tunggal to the place of their original plan but yesterday they changed their plan because of my company. I looked at Wak Jis and asked him, ‘kenapa tak ajak Din?’ (Why didn’t you bring me along?).

He looked at me smilingly and said, ‘Din tidur, kita kejut berapa kali tak bangun bangun’ (You were asleep, I tried to wake you up a number of times). I knew he was lying because I woke up very early. I guess he did it to avoid my mischievous conduct.

From that day, every year during the month of Ramadan I would follow Wak Jis to look for bamboo trees to light up our house compound for the ‘malam likur’. As I grew older, I became more responsible and finally when Wak Jis left home to work at the Lembaga Letrik Negara (now TNB) in Pontian, I became the eldest boy in the family.

I did most of the preparation for the ‘malam likur’ whenever the twentieth day of Ramadan approached and I did it alone. When Wak Jis returned home for the Hari Raya festival, he would inspect my works and liked it or ot, he would surely give me good credits,

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2 Responses to LOOKING FOR BAMBOO TREES WITH WAK JIS

  1. Farida Salleh says:

    Another interesting story. I can feel that I am in that era…Trying to recall my childhood days… Well shared Din. I like the malay verbatim.

  2. lau pei pei says:

    Its an interesting story din, well i more or less i knew what tujuh likur is all about, i had malay friends who look forward for that grand nite.Ha ha.. i agree fully with u that maurian pronounce anything beginning wit ‘R’ will be replace wit ‘G’ and that is the trade mark of muarian. so much so and until today i pronuounce ‘rambut’ as ‘gambut’, gunting as runting, goreng pisang as gompisang and many more. my kids use to comment my muar bahasa malaysia. I will always laugh at those comments and told them if u want to know whether a person is from muar , u have to listen carefully when they speak anything beginning wit ‘R’ it is replace wit ‘G’ and anything wit ‘G’ is replace wit ‘R’.. I think dewan bahasa has to do something with muarian pronouncation he. he. .By the way if i m not wrong many muarian heads dewan bahasa pustaka in the past namely datuk jumaat, datuk hassan, datuk sujak and a few others maybe din could recall but unfortunately muarian still keep to its originality. LET IT BE….

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