I didn’t plan to blog today, because my cats are starving and children are about to stage a coup. But I read in today’s paper about one of the most unimaginable acts listed under the do’s and don’ts when dealing with royalties, being violated. One that surely merits no less than a pancung or sula as punishment.
The champion of the Le Tour de Langkawi, Graeme Brown, in his moment of jubilation, lifted his sweat-soaked cap and put it on the royal head!!! – in front of thousands at the stadium as well as via live tv!!!
I can almost see it in slo mo effect that moment as cheers of congratulations turned into one of shock, horror, registering on the faces of Malaysians. Have you heard, Graeme, of “Biar mati anak jangan mati adat?” (Let the children die, but not the customs.) Didn’t your PR person brief you on this?
Of course Graeme knew the person who shook his hands at the podium, but he forgot!! In his excitement he forgot!!! BUT in the Malay book of adat, dear Graeme, the head is a no no! ESPECIALLY a Royal head!! Be thankful you are not living during the reign of Sultan Mahmud, or there’d be no more place for that cap of yours to rest on.
Now, let me check my notes on Sejarah Melayu.
Well, our loyalty to King and country, according to the Sejarah Melayu, goes back to the social contract as agreed between Demang Lebar Daun and Sri Tri Buana – a pledge of undivided loyalty from the subjects in return for protection by the ruler. And much, much, later of course, Sultan Muhammad, came up with a lengthy do’s and don’ts that put the ruler at their place and the subjects, where they belong. This includes the wearing of yellow, as yellow is the royal colour, speak only when spoken to, colour coded umbrellas, etcetra, etcetra - many too tedious to elaborate.
Sure, many of these adats applied and still do apply to the subjects, and a Malay who does not know an adat is as good as kurang ajar, tak tahu bahasa – lack of education. But, even then, during the height of prosperity of the Malay kingdom, when foreign traders flocked the port and dealt with the rulers personally, non conformance or outright disregard of an adat by them was also frowned upon. When Adipati Kampar bearing gifts went straight in to see Sultan Alaudin Ria’yat Shah, he was reprimanded for seeking audience without being accompanied by the Seri Nara Di Raja. According to the Sultan, that tantamount to destroying any ceremonial rites.
Bendaharas too had their own adats. They, in turn, reprimanded those who showed disrespects to the king. One of them told off Raja Mendaliar (a Muslim Indian) when he greeted the bendahara without waiting for the Sultan first.
“… maka Raja Mendaliar pun datang hendak menyembah Bendahara Seri Maharaja, lalu ditepiskan oleh Bendahara tangan Raja Mendaliar, seraya katanya, "Ceh, Keling ini, tiada tahu bahasa; patutkah tuan hamba menyembah hamba di balai raja ini? “ Sejarah Melayu:239:23
Translated: Oik, foreigner, wait for the king, first lah! Then we can talk at Starbucks!”
Suffice to say, he kept his head.
But seriously, as one of the tudungs that I don by way of earning a living in this country, I do briefings for expats before they go for their stints in our country. There is a place called Centre for International Briefing at Farnham Castle, where would-be expats and their families stay for about a week to learn, not only the language, but also the do’s and don’ts.
Yes, they want to know about our customs – about not touching the heads, not pointing the sole of your feet, about using the thumb to point, about leaving shoes outside the door..and so on and so forth.
Actually, I quite like the HSBC ads that you see along the travelator at Heathrow. Red in China is good luck, while in Western countries, a sign of danger, cheese in a mousetrap in Europe but ikang kering in Malaysia. As you travel out to the country of your destination, it is good to understand the culture there – and yeah, respect, man! Didn’t you see that one, Graeme?
Well, apparently not. I read further and it seems that dear Graeme is from Australia, whose PM patted Queen Elizabeth on the shoulder during her visit there some time ago! Ish ish ish, Aussies ni!!!