28 July 2005
It is Thursday, 8.40 pm.
Dr. M. Bakri Musa mentioned to search for Alhady. I searched Google for Alhady and found a book authored by Alhady (128 pp, 5x7.25", illustrated by 13 plates, priced at US$17.82). I wrote to En. Ramli Abdul Samad, Perpustakaan Hamzah Sendut (PHS) 1, USM Penang to enquire. En. Ramli wrote back on 27 May 2005 that PHS1 had the book among its collections. I filled in the interlibrary loan form on 29 May 2005 and submitted it to En. Amran Mamat in the library on USM Health Campus as I did previously. I waited and received the book on 12 June 2005 (USM library call number: DS 594 A478).
"Malay Customs and Traditions" is a small blue book and deals with the general and royal Malay customs and traditions in two parts. The same author's name was spelt differently on the hardcover and on the title page. The hardcover had his name as Syed Alwi bin Sheikh Al-Hadi but the title page had his name as Alwi bin Sheikh Alhady. It was first published in Singapore in 1962 by Donald Moore for Eastern Universities Press, Ltd. It was reprinted in 1967 by Donald Moore Press Ltd. What does the word Eastern Universities imply? Does this mean there were more than one university in Singapore in 1962? Who was Donald Moore? The book was printed by Ho Printing Co., Singapore. Does the printing company still exist today? Would it have records of all the printed matters it printed? The Foreword was written by En. Ismail bin Abu Bakar, Dato' Penghulu Isti'adat, Johore. This gave me an impression that Johore was well-established and probably had good records kept of its Malay courts (istana). I was just wondering whether the Johore Malay Customs department had anything to do with the early Malay doctors, or would the early Malay doctors have anything to do with the Malay courts. En. Ismail addressed the author as Tuan Syed Alwi bin Sheikh Alhady, a salutation for a man of Arab descent (Syed Alwi). So, the Arabs were involved in the Johore Malay courts in 1962. Alwi bin Sheikh Alhady was born in 1895 in Rhio and came to Singapore at age 13 in 1908.
It is interesting to note from this small book the meaning of rare Malay words. Chindai emas refers to a type of fabric with gold flowers. Khasa bunga emas refers to a muslin cloth with gold flowers.Kain antelas refers to satin. These fabrics give the impression that there were different cloths which were used among the Malay community then. The fact that muslin was used indicates an advanced textile industry existed and was connected with the Malays. Textile would be a key link between the community and a hospital in its vicinity. Naturally, a Malay court would have a good link with a local textile supplier for its fabric needs, and a hospital would be nearby too for the same reason. So, doctors would have something to do with the Malay courts.
There are also other words which may help toward a better understanding of the Malay culture and lifestyle, and which I feel both Malay and non-Malay medical students and doctors must learn to familiarize themselves with if they have not already done so.
Masjid is a mosque and not a temple. Mukim is a district round a mosque; every district has a mosque. Siak is the caretaker of the mosque. Bilal is the person who cries the call to prayer (azan). When the azan is heard, the Muslim stops talking, remains silent and listens to it attentively and replies to it in his heart. The volume on the TV or radio is also turned down (or simply muted) so that theazan is heard above everything else. I must say it is very enchanting to hear the azan when everything else is turned down. Imam is a leader of a congregational prayer. Lebai is a clergy. There are no priests or priesthood in Islam. Sembahyang refers to prayer. Sembahyang jemaah is a congregational prayer held either at home or in the mosque. A minimum of two persons is needed to qualify a prayer as sembahyang jemaah. Do'a refers to prayer. A do'a precedes everything that a Muslim plans or wishes to do, including examining a patient. Do'a selamat is a prayer for blessing and thanksgiving. It is usually held before someone or a company embarks on a big plan or something new, for example, going for further studies, opening a new project or factory. Maulud (maulid; maulidur rasul) is the birth of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
Bergotong-royong is communal assistance and often applies to villagers working together in an activity, for example, in cleaning their village or preparing for a feast. Kenduri is a quasi-religious feast and often involves inviting the entire village. Jamuan just refers to feast. Hidangan is a tray of dishes served in a feast. Each hidangan serves 5 adults. There are many types of feasts in the Malay community! Some imply payment while others do not; you have to ask (I have to ask sometimes). The implied minimal payment is now roughly RM10 per adult in Kelantan. Even if you get an invitation but cannot make an attempt to attend, you may still want to make a small contribution of roughly RM10 as a gesture of generosity. Do it with sincerity.
With regard to music, only percussion instruments are allowed such as kompang (hand drum or tamborine). The serunai (flute) is not preferred as it is a wind instrument.
Haji is a Muslim male who has performed the pilgrimage to Mekah (Mecca; Makkah; Makkahtul Mukarramah). Hajah is a Muslim female who has performed the pilgrimage to Mekah. It is not compulsory nor necessary to use the title Haji or Hajah but most people prefer to use it. 'Alim is a religious scholar. Khatam Quran marks the completion of reading Al-Quran. It indicates an educational milestone of any Muslim, regardless of rank and birth. Many Muslim children are able to read Al-Quran by age 6 and complete the entire Al-Quran by age 12, before puberty. So, if a doctor asks his patient, "Have you Khatam Quran?", and the reply is "Yes, at age 9", then the doctor should immediately know that he is dealing with an intelligent child. Most children can recite well before they attend formal school, i.e., before age 7.
Some other words have to do with the Malay childbirth practices and closely mimick the Indian practices. Many doctors may be aware of these already but I was not when I first had my own child and I had to learn from many people, in order to earn the respect of the Malay society I lived in. Bersalin is childbirth or delivery. Bidan is a medicine-woman who sees to women folk. Bomoh is a medicine-man who sees to both men and women. Nasi kunyit is cooked glutinous rice and is often used as an offering (I am not too sure to whom). Berteh is parched or par-boiled rice which resembles rolled oatmeal. Setawar are leaves of a type of plant. Air tepung tawar is spell water prepared by the bidan or bomoh using plain water, for the patient to take home to drink daily; it can only be taken by the patient for whom the water was specially prepared. Berpantang is taboo during confinement and must be observed for forty-four days. Bertungku is the application of a heated hearth stone (roughly about the size of an ostrich egg) to the abdomen of the mother for about 30 minutes to 1 hour once or twice daily, to rapidly reduce the abdomen to pre-pregnant state. This works is a few mothers but not in many; it did not work for me! Berdiang is medicinal heating of the mother's abdomen and back alternately by charcoal fire placed beneath the mother's rattan bed, for about 30 minutes to 1 hour also once or twice daily. This is the equivalent of a sauna bath except that it is a dry bath. My late mother once said this was a painful procedure and not to try it. Mandi bunga is a bath with flower petals, fragrant pandanus leaves and rose water, to refresh the mother's body and mask the smell of blood. Mandi tolak bala is a bath to dispel harm and misfortune. Mandi pelepas is a ritual bath to break the evil spell between a mother and her newborn (or child) so that they will bond well and the child is freed from afflictions. I did this bath when my last child was afflicted with severe ringworm (tinae capititus) and she lost so much hair. Her scalp was covered with pus all over. It came to a hopeless point and I was desperate; the child was simply crying from so much pain to her scalp. The bidan used chewed areca nut and spat on my child's raw scalp - it worked! I never went back to study the details of her procedure. It sure took the antibodies a long time before my child was able to fight her affliction. But all is well now. Kacip is areca-nut slicer which resembles a blunt pruning shears. Sintok is bark of a tree used for cleaning the hair. It is agitated vigorously in river or well water to yield a fragrant shampoo. Limau purut is a medicinal lemon; the juice is used to overcome body odours. It is also used for the dead. Betan is recurrence of illness due to the violation of a taboo. Tangkal is talisman (and this is forbidden in Islam).
Death is respected and the onus is on the community to proceed with full burial rites. Islam enjoins that the burial of a dead body should not be unnecessarily delayed for more than 6 hours after death. Thus, this means that the dead body must be buried before the upcoming prayer or immediately following it. The following words may have to do with Community Medicine, Pathology and the mortuary. Mayat is dead body or corpse. Hantu is ghost. Syaitan is devil. Iblis is evil spirit. Setanggi gaharu is joss-stick with sandalwood or agilawood incense prepared by bomoh. Tukang mandi mayat is the person who bathes the dead body. Kain kapan or kapan mayat is two pieces of white cotton cloth or grave clothes. Kapan is to enshroud. Kubur or tanah perkuburan is graveyard which usually adjoins a mosque. Sembahyang mayat is congregational prayer before burying the dead (before interment). Men and women can perform the sembahyang mayat. Talqin is a short prayer read by a clergy for the dead soon after burial while still at the grave. It is also a reminder for those left behind by the dead (that we all come from Allah and that will all die one day, and therefore return to Him). Tahlil is praising Allah and is held during kenduri arwah. Kenduri arwah is a night feast held in the honour of the dead. It is held in the house of the dead for a week and is repeated weekly, fortnightly, monthly and then on the 100th day of death. Only men are involved in the tahlil. Dinner is provided by the family of the dead; neighbours sometimes assist with the dinner preparation. We should know that Islam never enjoins any feast to help the dead in the hereafter.
In the Appendix lies a great surprise! It did not have anything concerning the early Malay doctors but it carried a brief biography of Engku Mai, a woman of the royal Malay court. Engku Mai was born in Kuala Linggi, Malacca as Raja Maimunah binti Raja Hassan ibni Almarhum Raja Abdullah. Rajah Abdullah was Tengku Panglima Besar and son-in-law to Almarhum Sultan Muhammad. Sultan Muhammad ruled Selangor from 1826 to 1856. Who ruled Selangor from 1857 onward? Were the Malay courts of Selangor and Johore close? Did they share the same doctors? Engku Mai was 15 at the time of the Battle of Raja Mahdi in Selangor. When did this battle occur? What was this battle about? Who took care of the wounded? Engku Mai was more than 120 years at the time the book was written (1962). Thus, we now have evidence that the longest surviving woman was a Malay, and not French as the world understands.
I had to stop writing for a while as my brother in-law came knocking on our front door asking for urgent help. His youngest son aged 2 has a bead stuck in his nose and he could not get it out. My husband told him to rush the son to hospital before the bead goes down any further. He is heading for HKB.
It is 10.05 pm.
Malay Customs and Traditions
Syed Alwi bin Sheikh Al-Hadi (hardcover)
Alwi bin Sheikh Alhady (title page inside)
First published in Singapore in 1962 by Donald Moore for Eastern Universities Press, Ltd.
Reprinted in 1967 by Donald Moore Press Ltd.
(USM library call number: DS 594 A478)
Encik Ramli Abdul Samad
Perpustakaan Hamzah Sendut (PHS) 1
Universiti Sains Malaysia
11800 USM, Penang
Dr. M. Bakri Musa
Telehealth Research Group
School of Medical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia
School of Medical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia