I was born in a small village called Kg.Tangok in Bachok, Kelantan, Malaysia in mid 50’s of last millennium, at home and not hospital or clinic as was the norm then, attended by a local bidan or midwife. I do not remember the exact condition of my appearance into this world; how I felt seeing (well, metaphorically speaking of course since a baby is normally born with eyes closed shut) the new world, my tired, labour-worn but smiling mother, the many grinning smudgy faces peering into my slimy new-born face and of course the buzzes and fusses that surround that very special occasion.
Tangok was locally known as Gong Tangok. `Gong‘ in Malay means a hump, a piece of elevated ground. It used to be a refuge centre for nearby villages in the lower lying area during particularly severe flood season. Our house was at such times used as a refuge center.
I still remember sad looking families, some with small babies in sarong formed into a cradle around the house in small groups on the cement floor laid with worn tikar mengkuang (mengkuang mat) as place to rest their tired body and whatever meagre belonging they manage to save from the flood. Dad was busy helping around and giving succour, smiling with his tobacco stained teeth in a weather beaten countenance topped by a ketayap lembik (soft skull cap).
The kampung was quite an obscure place in Bachok District then. Now however it has become an education complex siting the main administration centre of the new Kelantan University and a host of other education facilities. Despite that, a particular pantun; a form of Malay poem was popularised then, used to encourage local kids into brushing their teeth and immortalising the kampung name thus;
Gi (pergi) Tangok, balik gelap, (A trip to Tangok, returning dark), Gigi rongak makan dek ulat (Worned out teeth, eaten by worms)
Origin of Kg Tangok Name
Village Malays loved folklores, many of which are filled with magical tales which modern day netizen would laugh and scoff at. For every village named, there is a folklore to it to help retain the memory. One such folklore was about the origin of the name Tangok.
It tells of a pawang (witch doctor) named Tok Tangok. This Pawang was a master of the Main Teri, a form of ritual to invoke the ‘semangat’ which is the energy vitalising self of a person, and drive off the evil spirits that suppress this semangat and thereafter causing illness.
In this particular ritual, the evil spirit was said to be very powerful and in the spiritual battle that took place, the spirit ran to a nearby river. The Pawang followed suit, jumped into the river and disappeared underneath its murky water. Moments later strong underwater currents were seen bubbling up in great turbulence, showing the fierce battle that took place underneath the surface. During the period some villagers reported seeing a white crocodile in battle with a big common crocodile.
Many villagers believed the white crocodile to be the Pawang and the common crocodile, the evil spirit. The Pawang was not seen again. To his memory, the village was called Kampung Tangok.
My earliest memory was sitting on a straw mat in front of our shop house, painted almost black with used cylinder oil. I could still smell the oil-painted walls, tantalising in far distant memory. Paint was expensive then and only used by the well-to-do families in town.
(Me and Brother Nawi in front of our shop house home)
The house seemed huge then. Everything was big. The space around was wide and every grain of sand seemed so clear and have a life of its own.
I remember my father in baggy white trouser arriving in a big, black Peugeot like a bat-mobile, walked over to me briskly and carry me off on his shoulder.
Next I remember sitting in the car, moving slowly on a wooden bridge with workers, 20-30 of them hard at work repairing the wooden deck and balustrade. I must have been not more than one year old then.
Can anyone carry a memory of anything from that age into adulthood? it seem impossible but there it is. The memory is still there, fuzzy in distant, but a memory nevertheless. I did not remember anything else until about 4 – 5 years old.
(Brother Nawi in front of the giant yam tree)
Another such memory was of a huge keladi (yam) plant near our house. I used to ponder and wonder over its size. Over the large wooden house window, yes everything seem large, the yam tree seemed huge and the spot where it grew was mud soaked. It must have grown there on its own volition for nobody seemed to care about it, just leaving it there.
Another memory was the early morning rituals of taking down `ketereh’ or `gajus’ fruits with granny using a long bamboo pole with an iron spike at the end. Granny was my father’s mother, a frail woman and seemingly helpless until she poked her fingers onto your body.
Granny’s Magic Fingers
Then you can feel her iron like fingers treading, finding the knots in your muscles and methodically smoothing them out. Yes, she could massage very well.
Probably it was her talent that filtered down onto me and my eldest daughter Fatihah. Yes, I could sort of feel knotted muscles and ease the out the tension but not like a true medicine man.
The gajus fruits were then sold to a neighbour who would take a human powered taxi, a trishaw actually, to sell at the nearby market in Jelawat, about 2km away.
`Gajus’ plants were in abundance then. Ripe `gajus’ fruit is golden yellow in colour and taste bitter sweet. It is best eaten with a special sauce; `pencolek’ made with vinegar, salt, sugar and the never to forget belacan which turned it into such a delicous concoction. I could just eat the ketere just like that though many would stare almost disbelievingly at me doing it.
I must be quite a chubby and fair boy then, because I recalled that people normally squeezed my cheek and said; `ttubuh‘ (or `semangat‘) budak nih!‘ I remember of an occasion when Mek, my mother took me on a taxi (trishaw) to her former village after Jelawat and people would crowd round us, greeting her and taking turn squeezing, patting my cheeks and murmuring those words like it was a mantra. She was daughter of a headman. That should explain all those fusses around us.
My late father was a disciplinarian despite having no formal education. He could hardly read properly and his writing is only decipherable by himself. Our village is near a stretch of padi field. As a kid I loved to walk along the bunds separating the fields looking for the `ikan karin’ (fighting fish) and `ikan sempilai, another breed of the fighting fish.
Not to go playing at the padi fields was on my father’s don’ts list and what a long list it was!. As a village retailer, he frequently went to Kota Bharu for supplies. That was the time I was looking for, and off to the fields I went the moment he got onto a taxi. It was not difficult to find the fish then as insecticides were seldom used.
Fighting Fish Resting Place
I would look for a lump of bubbles on a spot of clear water. Don’t get mistaken with another lump of bubbles though, thicker and yellower ones which are frogs’ bubbles.
Bringing along a small plastic bag filled with clear water, I would form the palm of my hands together and circle the bubbles. Gradually I would tighten the circle and trap the fish if it is there. A good one would look healthy with shiny blue black body and speckles of blue-red glints plus having a good wide colourful tail that would bloom like a vibrant coloured flower.
A whack to Remember
Engrossed in the sight of my capture I sometime failed to notice the purposeful quick stride of a white skull-capped figure coming towards me, and …. with the quite familiar result ….a whack on my buttock or calf. And….. wail I would all the way back home. The drama would repeat itself many times.
Berries and Soccer
My village was a sandy Berisland. A type of plant found in abundance were `kamunting‘ trees (a type of small blue berries). I used to look for the fruits with my cousins and sister though I did not really like them that much. A ripe one is dark blue in colour. It was not on my father’s don’ts list and I could scout for them without fear all day long.
Another on his don’t list is, would you believe it, soccer!!! The reason he gave was that accidents would occur and he don’t want any of his children ending up with a broken or twisted leg. After a few times being chased away in the middle of a game, we were not welcome again by the gang. It was like being ostracised and feelings of resentment against my father for that stuck for a long time.
In a Malay kampungs of the sixties where modern entertainment were quite foreign, kids resort to all kinds of activities for their pastimes such as kite flying, birds’ eggs hunting, fish fighting and `jerat biawak‘ (iguana trapping).
To trap an iguana, we would carry a length of thin gunny rope, suitably formed into a lasso. We would then chase it until it disappeared into its hole in the ground. We would then carefully placed the lasso onto the entrance of its hole and waited patiently.
The lasso must not be too loose nor too tight. When the iguana slowly peek its head outside, we readied ourselves. To jerk the rope too soon would be to loose it. As it tried to get out we jerked the rope fast and heyyyyy….the alligator was trapped. We then let it run, holding onto the rope, controlling it, preventing it from entering its hole, playing and toying with it until it got tired and surrendered itself. We would then lose it. It was a harmless game then, and…..NOT RECOMMENDED anymore.
One of the games we used to play then were target shooting using soft clay moulded into small bullets. We would split into 2 gangs and hide. Then we would try to locate members of the other group. If you manage to hit any one of the opponent he would be considered dead.
During one of the game I was hit very hard by the leader of the other group though I managed to hit him first and he should have been dead (he was leader of our age groups and quite a bully). In order to get back at him, I hatched a plan with my partner, Mazlan. In the next game, we put a bit of cow dung inside our bullets. When my time came, my shot was true. The cow dung stuck onto his back and me and my partner had a great laugh that day and a secret to share!!!!!!