21 Sep 2008

Ramadan in Banda Kaba days

Since coming back from Singapore, I've been in Melaka with my mum in law. I love staying here for the fasting month because its so easy to go for Tarawih and the neighbours are great. We always get cake exchanges - just as in the kampungs of old. Tradition has not died here - or at least this tradition is still very much alive. I remember Ramadan when I was young, living with my grandma. Normally we'd be woken up by a guy who goes around the kampung beating a drum or gendang. THis would be about 4 am. He'd call up the words, " Sahur!" as he walked. Then Grandma would wake up and cook the rice, fry some fish and heat up some curry from the previous meal. By 5am we'd have woken up, my sister Laila and I. Then we'd all take the sahur together - my grandparents, Lela, Yusof and myself after which we kids would go back to bed while my gran waited for the fajar prayers. This was the norm throughout my growing up years. The guy who went around waking us up was Ismail Botak - from infront. At that time I think he must have been a teenager but I wonder where he is now. Breaking fast also has a tradition. We'd normally gather at the dining room, where the food is already spread. There were no tables or chairs in those days - we all sat cross legged on the mengkuang mat and waited for the siren from the fire brigade to sound off the time for breaking the fast. WE'd start off with a date each - in the tradition of our reverred Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Then only would be allowed to eat. Grandfather was a stickler for rules and traditions. He'd normally recite the prayers first before slowly taking a date from the plate. Once he had taken his date, then only were we allowed to take one each. We'd have to chew slowly, sipping water only after the date is completely eaten. As a child you can imagine my impatience to really start the meal and gulp down a whole glass of water! After the meal, he'd do his maghrib prayers then get ready to go to the madrasah. This would be for the Tarawih prayers. Girls, especially the young ones were not encouraged to go because it would be crowded and there wouldn't be enough space. I only went for Tarawih when I was in my teens. Walking back after Tarawih is also a memory much loved. The madrasah was quite far - just outside the kampung, next to the Fire Station in Jalan Banda Kaba. WE'd have to pass a huge Bunga Tanjung tree, which was reputed to be haunted by Langsuyar - the eerie and frightening looking vampires that preyed on young men! We'd be deliciously frightened as we passed this dark lane filled with shadows of the tree. There was no light in this part and it was very dark. Heart beating fast we'd dare each other to pass the tree alone until one of us would run past the tree with the others following suit, laughing and shouting loudly because it was known that langsuyars are afraid of noise.

After I got married and moved away from the kampung, this was one of the things I missed. There is no place that has all these traditions anywhere in Malacca I think. Raya is always best in Banda Kaba. At least it was when both my parents were alive.

On the eve of Hari Raya we'd all be very busy. The house would have been ready by then - spring cleaned and painted, new curtains hung and new cushion covers for the living room chairs. My dad and brothers would be busy stirring the dodol, which is sticky paste made of coconut milk, the brown sugar from coconut which we call gula tuak and glutinous rice flour. This would be mixed together and stirred for hours over a huge wok called a kawah over a slow open fire, usually made of coconut shells and coal. The end result is a sweet sticky brownish paste called dodol. This was my mum's specialty. She made such good dodol that neighbours and relatives from everywhere would ask her to make it for them. This would also be the day for us to boil the ketupat, prepare the sambal and rendang as well as the urap kelapa - the special accompaniments of our special dish - the ketupat. Ketupat is actually rice - cooked in specially made coconut leaves woven to form a squarish shaped container.

The rice is put into these and boiled until cooked. Picture of ketupat below:


Its eaten with the sambal - chilli cooked with prawns or anchovy, rendang and urap kelapa. On the first day of raya all the houses will have this favourite dish, plus special raya cakes. Normally my parents would hardly sleep on the eve of raya and neither would us kids. The excitement and suspense and general happiness at the ending of a month of self -deprivations would make us kids so full of excitement that sleep seemed impossible. Then there would be the fire crackers and fireworks that everyone would be playing. It was like a fiesta. The whole village would be alive with the laughter of children running here and there, shouts of "hari raya" filled your ears, interspersed with the sounds of the Takbeer. Just thinking of those happy, carefree days makes me nostalgic.

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