In this final instalment, Raja Chulan Raja Dato’ Ahmad Tajuddin reminisces the Kuala spirit of Ramadhan he experienced as a child.
The lively atmosphere of Aidilfitri was the culmination of the true spirit of the preceding month of Ramadhan. For the whole month of Ramadhan, one could feel the bond of friendship amongst neighbours. One could also feel the anticipation of the fasting month amongst family members and friends alike – the elders preparing for moreh, mothers already planning menus for buka puasa and children looking forward to the sumptuous feasts at the mosques for the breaking of fast.
A week before the arrival of this blessed month of barakah, all mosques and even suraus in the whole district of Kuala Kangsar, from Manong to Kota Lama Kiri and Kampung Talang to Bukit Chandan, would be busy doing their spring cleaning. Whilst the town mosques have good speakers for the muezzin‘s call to prayers for Maghrib, most suraus in the kampung supplemented the azan with with the beat of the kerantong. The kerantongs were big drums usually made of bovine or buffalo skin, but the smaller suraus would have kerantongs made of six-foot hardwood tree trunks.
The townsfolk of Kuala Kangsar would feel the excitement of Ramadhan when the balai polis would blare their sirens in test runs, making sure that it was in good shape. The siren was used to signal the breaking of fast. The clarion of the balai‘s siren could be heard with the kerantongs responding almost simultaneously throughout the surrounding kampungs of Kuala Kangsar.
Fasting for us kids could be performed on a half-day basis whilst the few stronger ones would survive until the breaking of fast, earning heaps of praises from their parents, especially the mothers, when they took to the pangkins for ‘updates’!
In the day, it could be quiet at the rumah berek during Ramadhan with the elders going about their daily chores. Most of the kids would take to the shades of the trees along the slope whiling away the time which seemed to crawl at a snail’s pace and more often than not, the days during Ramadhan were hotter than usual.
I had better ideas to while away the time and to weather the hot days. With a few trusted friends, I would head for our rendezvous – the Perak river. Our escapade was at this kampung lodged between the hill slope behind the Ubudiah Mosque and the Perak river.
To reach our ‘Amazonian’ retreat, we had to take the small kampung path, at places covered with tall lalang, along the foot of the Royal mausoleum. The kampung itself was peaceful – its lush greenery aplenty with wild fruit trees. We chose this particular spot because the bend in the river was quite shallow and most convenient of all was this ara tree with plenty of long, thick flowing vines. Well, Tarzan was our idol and it was exhilarating watching him swinging from tree to tree, but for us it was swinging from the tree to the river. What better way to cool off the hot days of Ramadhan? And we sometimes naughtily literally take to the old Malay proverb “sambil menyelam, minum air”! We were excellent actors too. Of course, for fear of reprimands from our parents, we had to appear weary and listless, dragging our feet home! And we knew that in Ramadhan, our parents tend not vent any anger on us.
Towards the evening, the girls would be busy helping their mothers to prepare food for buka puasa, while the menfolk prepared themselves to go to the Ubudiah Mosque for breaking of fast and solat Maghrib. My daily chore for Ramadhan before breaking of fast was to buy ice from kedai Rahman, which was at the back of rumah berek along Jalan Raja Muda. We would buy ice the size of small rectangular stone slabs, and not packed like the ice cubes sold at 7-Eleven. They were wrapped in old newspapers covered with sawdust and tied with jute-strings. I had to trot home, with no stop over, for fear that the ice would melt.
Before following their fathers to the mosque, the boys were sent on errands, to deliver juadah berbuka puasa to next door neighbours, who in turn would reciprocate the kind gesture. Such was the neighbourly spirit that we would have three or four plates of extra juadah!
Perhaps it was this practice of mengantor and baleh (lit. give and reciprocate) juadah that gave birth to the popular practice of ‘abu‘ (ash) which has its roots in Bukit Chandan. The game would comprise two sides, the mengantor and the host (baleh). There was no age limit but most team members (if you could call it that) were in their teens. The boundary for the game covers the whole area of Bukit Chandan, way larger than a paint-ball battleground of today.
It would begin after the breaking of fast when the mengantor side would creep to the door of the host. After placing the juadah (and a list of their team members) on the steps, they would knock loudly on the door and shout “ngantor!” or “abu!”. The pengantor then must run for their lives because the actual baleh would be a mixture of cinder ash and flour to be smeared on their faces! This game of hide-and-seek could essentially last till midnight. There were no hard and fast rules to main abu, as long as you don’t hurt those who were caught. I have to say that I was never caught even once because none would have thought of looking for me at the Christian cemetery behind the Kuala Kangsar rest house!
Things are different now, as the generation of main abu and coconut upih rides have their own children (or even grandchildren) of their own. Nevertheless, whilst the simpler way of life we had in the past may not be commonplace today for the Facebook and Playstation generation, we hope to be able to remind them of how things were. Of the time when the true spirit of family and neighbourliness was much more palpable.
Raja Chulan Raja Dato’ Ahmad Tajuddin is one of the editors of SembangKuala when he is not travelling around the country giving motivational talks. He read economics at the University Malaya and unlike most Perak royal sons, including his co-editorial board colleague and second cousin, he was educated at Sekolah Dato’ Abdul Razak.