Kuih Bangkit

‘Kuih Bangkit’ my personal favourite Chinese New Year cookie, enjoys the same popularity with the Malay communities during Hari Raya, and particularly those from Riau in Indonesia, and the Baba Nyonya communities of Malacca, Penang and Singapore. Bangkit which means “rise” in Bahasa, traditionally has a little red dot tipped on the body (which turns pink when mixed with the flour), on each piece of the Nyonya version. And these pieces were usually of animal form — Goldfishes, Chickens, etc. casted from wooden moulds then baked.

This peculiarity of consecrating objects with red dots, is ceremonial, and has its belief rooted in Taoism. For it was believed that these red dots would bring man-made objects to life, hence it is with the annual initiation of the Lion and Dragon Dance by their troupes, and the paper effigies burnt for the deceased during funerals. Taoist mediums also dispenses yellow paper blessings written with red ink, or blood splatterings from their tongues, when in trance-like state. Believers would then burnt them, throw them into a glass of water, and drink from it, as divine panacea.

This shared delicacy probably has its roots all over the archipelago, the result of harmonious communal living, and the intermarriages between the two races, the Chinese with the Malay in the Straits, from whence resulted the Baba and Nyonya community.

Casting out Charm

To know if a person is charmed (In Hokkien’Tiok Kong Thau’), experienced mediums or deliverers will look into the victims pupil and observe its dilation and sheen.

To confirm his suspicion , he will make the suspect crawl under fishing nets left basking at the beach during sunrise or make him cross a river. For it was said that evil spirits wouldn’t cross a river or sea, and so are charms.

For if a person can do that with ease, that means he/she is not suffering from some kind of charm or possession. Evil spirits will also get themselves trapped in the net and so are charms, therefore the possessed will refuse to crawl beneath them. That is the reason why fishing nets has always been part of the accoutrement found above door entrances in shophouses, besides the more popular pakua ‘Eight trigrams’ used in Taoist rituals that has a curve mirror smacked in the centre of it.

If a person is found charmed, the medium or bomoh will first search for the ‘opening’, a gateway where the charm enters from, and then determine the origin of the charm inflicting him. That opening is usually an object left in the garden or main door of the home of that person charmed. Without that gateway, the charm cannot enter the home and attack the person. Evil spirits can also enter homes through other means, like sneaking under umbrellas for instance, which is also another reason why locals shun carrying open umbrellas when they enter into their own houses at night, whilst our fellow Malay friends washes their feet before entering.

The openings or gateway are usually claypots wrapped in cloth left perched in between branches of a tree. Inside the pot, depending on the severity of the infliction, were found rusty nails, amongst other things. The colour of the cloth will also determine where the charm originates from. That will direct the medium to the source if he needs to seek aid, if the charm is too powerful hence refuses to leave that person. A yellow cloth is left by a Chinese shaman, the red, by the Thais, and the black, the Malays. So it was believed that the most fearful charms comes from the Thais.

When they are found, the medium will then perform some incantations, climb up the tree, and dislodge it by the kick of his feet. The act of kicking or knocking it down with the feet is sacred, for if hands were used, the charm will also enter the medium when he picks it up. Other than football, our feet cannot pick up things.

Hence the old wives tale of shunning the idea of picking up things left on the roadside not meant for you.

Game of Kalituay

  • Kalituay is a home grown game, fun and lively, played between two opposing teams. It’s origin can be disputed, but it has been played both in the kampongs as well as the city.

It demands the players to be agile with their eyes, swift with their reach, yet nimble on their legs and to win, and the running team should not be caught by the catching team.

The running team must compromise through each of the compartments from line 1 till line 4 and back to line 1 without being caught, hit, touched or slapped by anyone from the catching team.

A perfect run through scores 4 points for the running team. And deducted accordingly if one or more members are caught.

There are three sets for each opposing team, taking turns to be the runner as well as the catcher, and the team that scores highest in the run through without being caught wins the game.

Usually the court size will determine the number of people needed on one team and on a normal scale, a badminton court is ideal with each player from the catching side standing on lines 1,2,3 and 4 as guards. Only the player standing on line 1 is allowed to run up and down the spine and catch, touch, hit or slap any unsuspecting runner that lingers on its spine.

The game begins with both sides getting ready and one runner and the first catcher slapping their palms.

A referee can be appointed to dispute a hit.

(Image outsourced without permission)

Tiandihui in Malaya

The triads were very much the make-up of overseas Chinese in Malaya back in the 1800s, with 7 out of 10 persons either belonging to one brotherhood or the other, depending on which side bullies them. It is an olden day form of a trade union, and it propagated mutual aid and a sense of security to individuals indeed, if one works in the mining field. And a strong cluster cannot be overstated in the wake of problems encountered in a land alien to them. Every member undergoes induction rites and their rituals took on the version of their Chinese counterpart, the ‘Tiandihui’ , otherwise known as the ‘Heaven Earth Sect’ – a Ming loyalists secret society that originates to resist the invasion of Manchus during the Qing Dynasty.

In Malaya, their sworn brotherhood and protectionist policy instinctively appeals to many, especially when succumbed to duress or bully. Their brotherhood ensures peace, and a stable income for all. And so it was, that the British had a hard time flushing them out that gradually, a triad member named Yap Ah Loy had to be deployed to mediate and ensure peace on behalf of their rule.

Gang wars was a natural occurrence then, when differences cannot be reconciled, and some went full blown, making its way into our annals of history. Every initiated member were issued weapons, many self made, the most popular being the Malay parang once used for clearing lands is now used for butchering, the trident-like spears, wooden poles, and of course, knuckle dusters (a recent find shown below) which delivers excruciating pain when a blow is received.

Gradually, the British, in dire straits and concern over their strength, devised a way to outlaw these secret societies, by encouraging them to register their societies legally, so that every member is a statistic, on the pretext of being philomantic to their cause, grouping themselves by the district that one originates, by dialect spoken, by common surname, and by the trade one belongs to. Of course many remained undercover to work their so called secret activities.

(Below: a zoomorphic shaped bronze knuckle duster)

Hidden Rules

“It is alarming that Chinese has many hidden rules that even I am not aware of. Until I was recently made aware that the paint color used on tombstones, if it is gold, represents dead relatives and red, signifies the living. Thus on the grave of my grandparents, upon my discovery, my beloved cousins, siblings and I, have been dead for more than half a century already . Cant get more incredible than this years Cheng Beng. Drown me please somebody !”

Bedak Sejuk

“The making of ‘Bedak Sejuk’.

My mother’s concoction of rice powder for teenagers was quiet well known. It was supposed to give u a nice complexion and keep ugly pimples away. Her concoction was to soak rice grains for 24 hours and the decanter the smelly water every night b4 bedtime. This would go on for a couple of nights until there was no unwanted smell and the rice grains fermented completely.

To make them smoother she would have them put between the grinding stones and the substance came out smooth. Then she wld mix the paste with grounded sandal wood, maram grass roots and nutmeg seed also grounded.

When she got it to the right consistency everyone was invited to fill up their cones and drip the the drops on to a heshian cloth. Then dried out in the sun.

A cone would sell for 20 sen and a smaller one for half the price. Everybody swore to the efficacy of her ,Bedak Sejuk’. No pimples and claimed a smoother complexion.”

– Reposting an article shared by the late Tan Sri Ani Arope 5th Mar 2014.

Correcting Peranakan Popular Believes

“The Peranakans weren’t Chinese immigrants who adopted the culture of the Malay archipelago. The word “adopted” as opposed to “adapt” is similar but not the same. It was more of an intercultural amalgamation at a time which saw different communities living together happily which resulted in the assimilation of local lingua into their colloquial and vice versa but of course there are amongst them, intermarriages, which saw Malay maidens being welcomed into the Chinese household. The Peranakans were and is truly Chinese whom at that time are pseudo-Buddhist hence their Confucian and Taoist values, rites, beliefs and practices. Cuisine is purely Chinese but a little experimentation with local spices and adaptation of cooking styles of other inhabitants led to newer recipes considered distinctive to the Peranakans. The comparison of taste from different curries will tell you. However, the many claims by die hard peranakans with regards to recipes such as Jew hu char, bali juak, kiam chye ark and curry kapitan has no basis simply because they were truly Hokkien and Hainanese dishes and not as claimed by these pseudo Peranakans. Most of these recipes were and is still found on the altar and offering tables of the Hokkien community during cultural and divine festivities which were by and large the single largest grouping ever to span the Straits Settlements thence comprising Penang, Malacca, Singapore, Cocos Keeling Islands and Dindings in Perak. Marital, birth and funerary rites were strictly pseudo-Buddhism celebrated in compliance to the Chinese calendar. The Peranakan’s ostentatious taste of finery, garnitures, crockery, embroidery, clothing and furniture are mostly commissioned from countries within and beyond the Malay archipelago, the most obvious being namwood furnitures from China and Czechoslovakian designed coffee shop chairs and enameled tiffin carriers. However it must be noted that highly skilled local craftsmen of Shanghainese origin were also producing pseudo-Victorian era furnitures and architectural motifs to cater to the taste of their English-speaking ponytailed clienteles. These often comprises sideboards, roofing gables and umbrella stands and they usually spot marble tops, claw feet and barley twist balustrades. The habit of chewing tobacco and betel nut is not Malay but archipelagic as observed from the designs of the sireh cutter which were folkloric to the Hindus. Peranakans has their own perkakas. The habit of wearing Baju panjangs and kebayas were a fashion statement of that time. However it should be noted that the keronsang that adorns the blouse differ in taste and make and so are the appliqués .