We are still in Muar town and the year is 1960 and by now some of you readers, particularly the young ones have learn something precious, something that money can’t buy. Life in the 50s had always been good, even the weather was always kind; soft, warm and balmy. Malaya was a very young nation and we were lucky to have inherited many good things left by the British. The social life was slow but steady and we never complained, after all there wasn’t anything to complain about.
The past fifty years had been a breathtaking era of change. Since independence Muar town took its time to change and there weren’t any rush for changes although new opportunities were plenty. While the neighbouring districts of Malacca and Batu Pahat took the opportunity, time stood still in Muar town. Nevertheless, the people refused to be left behind and were able to ride in tandem to the growing needs, although slowly but surely, for a social transformation.
Preparation for the Hari Raya
Two weeks before the big day, the Muslim Malays would start to itemize the many things that need to be done; new clothes particularly for the young ones, new shoes and new songkok. Even the whole house need to be cleaned and beautified; new window curtains, some parts of the house need a repaint, shrubs that grew inside the drain must be removed, the grass must be mowed and flower pots need to be arranged.
But above all would be the preparation of food and delicacies. Unlike today’s communication speed, the last fifty years was done at one’s leisure.
For the Muslim Malays, Hari Raya is the height of all celebrations and this is prominent because of the one month of fasting during the Muslim month of Ramadan. The end of Ramadan is the beginning of the Muslim month of Syawal, the month of Hari Raya. Thus, the celebration will be the grandest of all.
Every house would have their set of meal; lodeh ketupat (which is Lontong), rendang daging/kambing/ayam, laksa Johor, nasi briyani, dalcha, salad, etc.
Cooking in those days were done manually. The oven as we know it today was hardly heard of although some well to do families were already using it and showing off to every visitor that dropped by. Those having seen it would tell everyone about a fascinating machine that could bake cakes and bread by using electricity. Few wouldn’t believe it saying it could be magic.
The most sought item would be the rubber woods. To purchase these woods, my grandfather would cycle as far as Parit Korma/Parit Raja only to book them first. Most of the suppliers were the rubber tappers/planters themselves. Grandpa would request a full load of these woods in a bullock cart. In most cases, the supplies would reach our home in a week’s time. So to get our supplies on time, grandpa must make the order on the second week of the month of Ramadan. A week before Hari Raya, I would be on full alert to wait for the bullock cart full of rubber woods to arrive. Normally it would arrive in the evening. From Parit Raja to our house was approximately 7 kilometers, a trip of that could reach our house within ten minutes if driven in a truck. The bullock cart would start in the morning and would arrive at our house in the evening. We had no choice because that was the cheapest mode of transportation. Further more there weren’t many trucks available. If the supplies could not be supplied at the appointed time, a messenger would come cycling looking for grandpa grinning unnecessarily to tell the not so good news.
To make the ketupat lodeh we need to look for young coconut leaves and these could be found in abundant along the coastal coast of the Muar district. As many Muarians would serve ketupat Lodeh during the Hari Raya celebration, demand for these coconut leaves would be great. Many would start cycling to these places looking for suppliers and these suppliers would look for the landowners where coconut trees were plenty.
Once these leaves arrived home, the women folks would start weaving them into small containers to be used for boiling the rice cakes. A big heavy pot would be used to boil these ketupat (rice cakes) and normally done immediately after getting confirmation the end of Ramadan. The lodeh would be prepared at the same time.
Making cookies would normally begin about ten days before Hari Raya. These cookies would be done by using a thick and heavy metal plate with mold of various designs. The baking process was done by placing another metal plate filled with burnt charcoal and coconut husks and placed on top.
These days, one can easily get cookies in the supermarkets and some other outlets but they surely had missed the great opportunity of witnessing the baking process of these cookies in the 50s. It was fun and full of excitement.
Of course we would be sending Hari Raya cards to our relatives, close friends, schoolmates and even to some boys or girls. Those greatly admired would get special cards. Hari Raya cards could be found in bookstores and even in some sundry shops. The price per card ranged between 30cents to $1.00 and we normally got ourselves the cheapest ones.
This was the only month the Post Office needed to work overtime. One week before the Hari Raya, these cards would arrive and everyone in the house would come out running like an Olympic aspirant when the ringing tone of the Postman’s bicycle could be heard. Those who posted their cards late, like three days before Hari Raya, their cards would reach the recipients very very late and some even received theirs after the Hari Raya.
Now with almost everyone having a smart phone, Hari Raya greetings are sent through whatsapp. The days of receiving Hari Raya cards are long gone and the excitement of waiting for these cards during the Hari Raya festival are slowing being erased from the Malay society. Technology may have given us a great leap towards achieving greater advancement but it has robbed us of the many wonderful moments of life.
Invitation to a wedding
Malay weddings of the 50s and 60s were a tedious affair as far as communication was concerned. As telephones were scarce, the invitation would be done in four ways:
- Through the postal service
- Through personal service
- Words of mouth
- Personal invitation
1. Postal service was the most efficient service of that period and quite cheap too. As this service was the most sought service, almost every town would have a Post Office. Letters or postcards sent within the town would reach the recipient the following day while those within the district would get theirs in two days. For the other states, the letters would reach between three to four days depending on the distance. The cost of the stamp was 10 cents as long as it was within the peninsula of Malaya. Before independence the stamp would print the picture of either King George or Queen Elizabeth.
2. We had relatives and close family friends whose addresses we did not know but we knew where they stayed. For these people, someone would have to cycle to their houses and hand over the invitation cards. Normally this would be done three weeks before the big day.
3. Malay weddings in the kampung was a big event. We would invite everyone we knew. The neighbours would invite their immediate neighbours without needing any approvals. The Kacang Puteh seller whom we had invited earlier would invite the rojak seller and he in turn would invite the ice-cream seller. Some neighbours woud invite their cousins and even their uncles and aunties…the more the merrier.
4. Inviting the elders in the family must be done in person. This is a show of respect that has survived for a long time. I remember my granduncle Tok Aziz came to the house to meet my grandfather who was his elder brother. A day before, Tok Aziz sent a messenger to my grandfather and told him that his younger brother Aziz would like to visit him and to extend his invitation for his son’s wedding. The next day at the appointed time my grandfather was ready to receive his younger brother. Grandpa was fully dressed with his baju melayu complete with kain sampin and songkok. When Tok Aziz arrived in a rickshaw, he was likewise fully dressed like grandpa. The two brothers would sit and talk and Tok Aziz would then break the news of his son’s wedding and inviting grandpa to be his guest of honour.
To those of us who can remember life in the fifties, the changes that are happening around us are nothing short of a transformation, an inevitable change that will surely come to face. Fifty years from now, when smart phones will be outdated, when some of you young readers will be 65, you’d be laughing at the way life was in 2017. But until that happen, let us enjoy and remember that there was a much wonderful life back in time some fifty years ago when time almost stood still.