Thursday, 4 April 2013

Malay House

It is well-known that Malay houses in the old days did not use any metal nails but only wooden pegs. Some of these old house still stand today and visitors can view them while passing through villages.

There is one Malay model house on display called the tiang 12. I'm uncertain what tiang 12 refers to. I took photos underneath the model house but it had more than 12 stilts. I didn't take any photos of the model interior as I don't know whether visitors can take the roof off and count how many posts there were inside the house. So, tiang 12 remains a mystery.

The roof tiles are made of thick baked clay. There are 2 sources of this clay tiles, one is Malacca and the other is Singgora in Thailand. The Malacca clay roof tiles were of high quality and were also preferred when the builders made Captain Francis Light's bungalow, Suffolk House, near Jalan Air Hitam in Penang. The Singgora roof tiles were also superior to other roof tiles at the time.

There is a small bangsal (bamboo shed) adjoining the main house at one side, usually nearest the bathing area and bathing well, and near the kitchen entrance. This shed is important for privacy and serves as a most private quarters for the house owners - this is where mating occurs. Malay couples do not mate inside the master bedroom of the main house but inside the bamboo shed. After all the children  are born and the couple no longer needs to use the shed, the shed is then demolished.

Malay families are known to have a dozen babies or so, year after year or two years apart, till the mother reaches menopause.

I don't know whether the bamboo shed is the practice of other Malay couples but that's the story narrated by my father about his parents' lifestyle. His father Walid mated with his wife Inche, in a bamboo shed adjacent to the main house and the shed was later demolished, well before I was born. I only saw the main house before it too was demolished. According to my late father, surviving aunt and uncle, it was a flimsy shed, not as good as the main house.

The main house with an open platform or verandah (anjung) attached to the central part of the house. The bamboo shed is at the rear portion of the house. 
Rear aspect of the house. The main house is at left. The bamboo shed is at right.

Malay Medical Manuscripts

There were 2 Malay medical manuscripts displayed in Muzium Islam Kelantan. The manuscripts were written in Jawi script.

 This 80-page manuscript contains medical knowledge, tip and amulets for a variety of diseases. It is written on 40 pieces of paper which is folded into 2.

This 40-page manuscript contains supplications and amulet on various types of diseases and magic spells. It is written on a bark (kulit kayu) using ink extracted the roots of plants.


I had interviewed the late Tan Sri Dr Abdul Majid bin Ismail on 11 May 2007 for his life story to write his biography. It was Tan Sri Dr Abdul Majid who informed me about the jebak which he used to catch birds when he was a young boy. Even though Tan Sri Dr Abdul Majid has passed on, I still remember the jebak story he told me about at the interview, which I have included in his biography. He tried his very best to describe the jebak but I still didn't know what it looked like.

I saw the jebak for the first time when I visited Muzium Islam Kelantan on 30 March 2013. It is a bird trap made from bamboo pieces strung together to make a cage. Another piece forms the front gate for the bird trap. Two big metal rings hold the gate trap to the cage. A narrow white plastic water bottle is fixed near the entrance to the jebak. Please read about the jebak in Tan Sri Dr Abdul Majid's biography.


There are reasons to burn incense. The Malays burn incense to shoo away mosquitoes that fly at dusk (waktu maghrib). They smoke the entire house and compound to kill the mosquitoes. If done correctly, there should not be any mosquitoes after dark. Still, we find people dying of malaria. But that was long ago when we were British Malaya.

Malaria is non existent today in modern Malaysia. However, haemorrhaging dengue is here to stay. Many Malays have stopped burning incense at dusk today. My grandmother burned incense but I don't, even though I went to Bukit Uhud to buy my incense. I keep the incense for teaching purposes. Will burning incense kill mosquitoes?

The Indians and Chinese also burn incense.

Incense burners

Malay Weapons


There are several weapons unique to the Malay world. The keris is already known as a weapon that is uniquely Malay. It is carried in the waist belt (bengkong) of the ruler and also the groom during a Malay wedding. The keris is often not much talked about or a range of collection open for public viewing. Even though we may have seen a few keris, the Malay keris collection is very large and varied among the Malay rulers who own them. Almost all Malay rulers have a keris that represents their kingdom or rule. Malay males have inherited the keris from their noble forefathers. My father also inherited a few Minangkabau keris from his forefathers but he went to Sumatra to return them to their rightful owners. Usually, females do not own a keris as they don't need to.

Malay weapons. The keris is at far left. 


The keris sundang is a long keris with a round tip.

Keris sundang

Kapak kecil

In the early 1970s, there was a young Malay male who showed up at our front door one fine evening. My father answered the door. His face was covered with  blood and his clothes were stained with blood from a sustained head injury.

My father had let in the injured man live with us for the night. After much interrogation, it was made known to us kids that this young man had sustained severe head injuries after he was attacked with a kapak kecil (kapak kechilkapak kecikkapak kechik). I was made to nurse him! I didn't like the unwelcome injured visitor. We didn't have a telephone in the house then. My father went to 'work' the next day and reported him to the police. He was taken away by the police while I was in school. I didn't see him after school. It was good that he was gone but the memories of that incident remained.

The man's name was Abdul Rashid, just like my father's. What happened to him? This injured young man was a bogus doctor at GH Kota Bharu. He had tried to woo and date a Malay kampung girl from Pengkalan Chepa, a seaside village well-known for numerous kapak kecil attacks back then. The girl refused to marry him and he went to the girl's village to pick a fight with the villagers. Of course the villagers attacked him with their infamous weapon, a kapak kecil. The detailed nature of the attack was unknown but the villagers had used the girl to con him to the village. They spilled little stones on the narrow village road. He road a scooter and had fallen off from his scooter when he came to the spilled stones. The villagers then attacked him with a kapak kecil and he bled. He got away and came to our house. He found our house in Pengkalan Chepa after asking around for my father, then a lecturer at Maktab Perguruan Kota Bharu (MPKB), now Instiutut Perguruan Kota Bharu (IPKB).

At age 12, I didn't know what kapak kecil was but I was curios to find out what kind of weapon it was. I saw kapak kecil for the first time when I visited Muzium Islam Kelantan on 28 March 2013. It was displayed along with the other Malay weapons, many are deadly weapons. The kapak kecil is a small light hammer that is carried in the back pocket of a man's trousers. It is meant to knock a person on the head (katok kepala).


The badik is a curved weapon for stabbing (senjata untuk menikam). It is similar to the sickle (sabit) used to cut grass.

Sengat Pari

The Malays eat sting rays (ikan pari). The ivory is used as a weapon for stabbing called sengat pari (sting ray). Steve Irwin, in the TV serial Crocodile Hunter, died after he was accidentally pierced by a sting ray.


There was a big ornate weapon that I never knew and never heard about - the kerewang. The kerewang looks like it was made for a play or drama, and has ornate carvings, 'Mak Yong' designs. I don't know what they used it for but it serves to knock a person on the head (katok kepala). I have not heard about injuries sustained from a kerewang attack. I do not know where they make the kerewang.

Other Malay weapons

There are other Malay weapons which have not made their way to museums. One is the parang. In Kelantan, the parang is narrow and straight, with a bound handle made of stiff nylon rope, and an 8-in long narrow blade. In Malacca, the parang is a wide and with a curved blade, and the entire parang and handle are one moulded piece made of cast iron. Almost every Malay home will have a parang, mainly to crack open a coconut (for obtaining santan for cooking) and to clear bushes around the house or cut small stems and to chop small trees.

There have been incidences of Malay men running amok (from the Malay root verb amok and the verb mengamuk). Amok happens all of a sudden, when anger ticks a man and he turns to a killing spree, and the parang is used to chase after victims. Of course the outcome of such amok is fatal. The amok man may turn upon himself and kill himself in the end. Amok is not well researched in Malaysia. It may run in families. It probably relates to extreme uncontrollable anger that has to vent at some point. It could be due to many reasons - excessive pressure (amat tertekan), excessive jeering (banyak diejek), loss of a wife to another man (bini diambil orang), disturbing another man's wife (kacau bini orang), loss of money or land (kehilangan duit atau tanah), family feud (perkelahian antara ahli keluarga), fight with another man in the village (berkelahi dengan orang kampung), someone stole another man's possession (mencuri), etc. It could be revenge or some other causes.

Bewah Cave Dwellers

This is the first time that I heard about Bewah Cave. Bewah Cave is a limstone cave near Tasik Kenyir in Terengganu. It has fossil remains.

There was a human skeletal remains (replica) of a Bewah Cave inhabitant who was buried in foetal position, the legs were not straightened as with the Egyptian mummies.

The Bewah Cave dwellers were quite skilled and had used some of the most unique tools known in the history of man. Some of these tools were well formed (well made). They looked really good and functional.