We had few animals as our livestock and pets.
Once we had few pigeons flying around at the back of our kitchen looking for food. Grandma gave them some cooked riced every morning. By and by many more pigeons came, maybe some of them had said to their buddies ‘hey guys, come to this house as there are plenty of food. Few weeks later more pigeons came and grandpa thought of building for them a ‘home’. It was built by using some planks with a very square design with a door and two small windows. The length of the birds’ house was approximately four feet, one and half inches in height and three feet wide. Inside it were four poles attached to the wall for some of these birds to rest upon. The ‘house’ was then placed on top of four strong long woods. While grandpa was making the birds’ house, some of them watched from the tree branches looking very anxious. When it was finally ready, these birds came flying one by and one as though they knew that this strange looking object was their home. Somehow their population grew within weeks and I can safely assume there were almost a hundred of them.
Now we had extra mouths to feed. Grandma had to cook extra rice everyday and so every morning, she and our maid servant Mak Yang would feed these birds. In the beginning they were never tame but later they became aware that these humans were not predators but friendly parties who would feed them every morning. I used to feed them in the morning and while they were enjoying their breakfast, I would slowly squat and pat them and I really enjoyed doing it.
The female pigeons later laid many eggs and small chicks could be seen inside the pigeon whole. They were so cute especially when we noticed their efforts in their first flight trial.
As years passed and as I grew older, somehow these pigeons began to disappear one by one and eventually there wasn’t a single pigeon could be seen. According to some old folks, this was a sign that our house would be having less people staying very soon. Months later our auntie Mak Ru got married and left home to follow her husband. Later our maid-servant Mak Yang and his son ‘Mat Siput’ too left home as she had to look after her first grandchild in Segamat. Grandma’s adopted girl we called Jah Piji decided to leave home and she went to London and got married to an Englishman. Later when she returned home, she insisted that she be called Jah London in place of Jah Piji. Much later, our auntie Mak Chu too got married and left home. Soon uncle Wak Yem left home for Johor Bahru and finally Wak Jis the youngest of our uncles too left home. To me, this could just be co-incidental as we all have our own destiny ahead of us and leaving home is part of the reality of life. But whatever it may be, what made these pigeons leave us suddenly is quite a mystery to me. They had good food everyday without having to look for it and a good comfortable place to stay. Well I guess animals too have their own destiny. These pigeons however were never our pets nor livestock.
The only livestock we had was chicken and we had plenty of them. We reared chicken because we could eat their meat for our lunch and dinner. There wasn’t any need to buy chicken at the market or from the hawkers. Sometimes we took some of their eggs to fry or boil. Chicken during my time was expensive and having chicken for lunch and dinner was a fine dining. Every time when grandma announced ‘today we are going to have chicken for lunch’, all of us would shout with great joy because we ate fish everyday.
Both our houses (including the house of my three ‘sisters’) had a chicken barn each and they were placed at the back of our houses. Every time when grandma asked me to look for chicken eggs inside the barn, I would put on my handkerchief and tied it onto my face from the nose to the bottom. I would look like Zorrow minus the eye mask. I had to do it because finding eggs inside the barn was like you were being put inside a deadly gas chamber.
Rearing chicken behind our house where there were many bushes attracted few uninvited guests during the night and the most common were the foxes and the snakes. The local foxes looked more like big cats and very wild. Whenever we heard these chickens ‘crying for help’ during the night, grandpa would come to their rescue with a long parang and a torch light. Once he encountered quite a sizeable python swallowing one chick which was already dead and halfway inside its mouth. He was scared to go near the python and let it enjoy its meal. The rest of the chicken ran outside the barn when he opened the door. Later in the afternoon the snake was gone. To avoid the snake from coming near the chicken barn, he put sulphur dust, a light yellow, highly inflammable element around the barn and since then the python and other snakes was never heard of. The foxes however were not perturbed with the sulphur and they kept coming and so grandpa had to wake up whenever he heard the chicken’s cries.
We had roosters made for fighting. I had one rooster white in colour and I called it Jalak. He was the hero among the chickens we had. Roosters have a sharp pointed object just above their legs. Malays called it Taji. Whenever they fight with one another, they will use these as their weapons. Once Jalak fought with a neighbouring rooster belonging to my childhood friend Othman. It was a fierce fight that took quite a long time, maybe almost an hour. Finally Jalak won the fight and Othman was very angry and challenge me for a fight instead. We were both about seven years old. At first I was scared of fighting him and always avoided any fight with him but when he called me pondan, that was it. Nobody called me pondan.
One day Othman called me ‘hey pondan’, and when I looked at him, he placed two pebbles on the ground. Then he said, “This is the head of your father and this one is the head of my father. Now I going to step on the head of your father”. He then stepped the pebble supposed to be the head of my father and then said, “If you are brave enough, then try to step the head of my father”. I became so angry that I ran straight to him and punch him right on his nose. I think it must be a hard punch because his nose began to bleed. He ran straight home and called his mother while I ran home hiding under the bed. Othman later became one of my close friends but later he moved from the neighbourhood following his parents. In later years I was informed that he joined the police force and became a Superintendent. Whenever I watched the movie Labu dan Labi, I would surely remember my growing days when the scene of Labu stepping on a pebble supposed to be the head of Labi’s father. I would smile alone reminding me of those days when Othman stepped on the pebble supposed to be my father’s head.
We had four chicken catchers; my three ‘sisters’ and me. We were the ‘expert’ in catching chicken and Kak Shidah was our leader. Catching chickens need a lot of strategic planning; the selection of chicken, how to catch them, the slaughtering and the final process of dressing the chicken. Except for the slaughtering and cooking, we did the rest of the planning. When it was cooked, I would always reserve the drum stick. I liked the neck too but according to the old folks, if we ate the part of the chicken neck, we would grow up being dumb and your neck would look like the chicken’s neck. (Refer my article Today we’re going to have chicken for lunch in the March archive).
The chicken feathers had few purposes for our use. Whenever we played the red Indians, some of the feathers were placed at the back of our head tied with a rubber band. A lot of these feathers were collected and made into a toy game we called chaptay.
Grandma and Mak Chu had no use of the feathers but they surely had some use for the chicken shit. It was used as manure for the plants producing big and beautiful flowers especially the roses.
We had some ducks too but because Malays of my time seldom ate ducks, we did not take much attentions to them and after yew years they just disappeared. Whenever a group of ducks walked together, they normally walked following one after another just like soldiers marching. They would leave their barn early in the morning and came back later in the evening. Maybe during one night they had a serious discussion among themselves and decided to leave us because we never looked after them.
At one time we had a pair of turkeys and we liked to chase them. Whenever we chased them, they would produce sounds of clock clock clock. Turkeys are bald headed and we always shout at them ‘botak’ and immediately they would shout the same sound. I can’t remember what happened to the two turkeys.
For pets we had cats and quite a number of them. Most of our cats’ names were comel and cantik for the females while belang, jantan and tuah for the male cats. Of the many cats we had, there was one I liked most. It was orange in colour with a black stripe and its tail was white. It was a male cat and maybe among the males, he must be the most ‘handsome’. I called him matahari. One day matahari came home limping. He had a fight with another male cat and maybe he lost the fight because I noticed some deep wounds over his body. I was so sad and tended to his wound often. Then one morning I noticed he was dead and I informed Kak Fuzi crying. We both then looked for a site next to our house and buried it. After burying it, we sat at his ‘grave’ and recited Al Fatehah three times. Today whenever we recall this moment, we both would laugh out loud especially when we both prayed after burying him.
Besides the cats, I kept some small fishes as ‘pets’. At the back of our house about fifity meters away was a monsoon drain. Before going to look for these fishes, I had my bottle filled with water ready. At the drain I would look for these small fishes and I usually catch them with my bare hands. These fishes were black in colour and sometimes I mistook the tadpoles as these fishes. When I returned home, Kak Fuzi shouted at me, ‘hey ni anak katak lah’.
Sometimes I would look for grasshoppers and kept them in an empty match box. I even had some spiders and likewise kept them in the match box. One day grandma told me to let these grasshoppers loose because it was cruel to the small creature and so I let all my grasshoppers had their freedom back.
There was one kind of small green coloured creature that looked like the grasshopper we called mentadak mentadu. Whenever we encountered with these creatures, we would say, mentadak mentadu, macam mana Fuzi tidur’ ( mentadak mentadu, show us how Fuzi sleeps). When the creature moved, we all laughed and said to Kak Fuzi that’s how the position of her hands and legs when she was asleep. Then we asked the creature how the rest of us sleep. Somehow every time when we asked the creature, it would move.
I liked watching butterflies but I never kept them as pets because their wings are too soft. At the back of our house we could see many butterflies of many colours and they looked so beautiful. Whenever a butterfly entered our home, we always predicted that we were going to have a visitor soon but we always had visitors everyday even when none of these butterflies entered our house.
We had so many weird animals and birds passing by our house and we never liked the crows because they always sneaked into our kitchen looking for food. I hated the lizards most and would kill it whenever I bumped into one. Poor innocent lizard.
Those were the days but now I don’t kill lizards anymore, but I will cry like as though I had seen an ugly looking ghost whenever a lizard nears me.