Tuesday, 8 February 2005

Customs and exercising it...

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!!!


shidah said...

kak teh: I got to see them cycling in the middle of the afternoon that saturday somewhere at Cheras Bt 9. But I did't watch TV that nite to see who won, and sad to say I also don't read much of a newspaper. Who is the unlucky royalty?

Kak Teh said...

shidah, I read this di Harian Metro - and its the AGUNG!!!

Blabarella said...

Having never read the Sejarah Melayu myself, reading your little excerpts is SO enlightening!! Besides, I doubt I'll be able to understand the true meaning behind the text, so better let dear Kak Teh do the explaining for me! Hehehe!

A few observations:-

An uncomfortable one - what is it with calling the Indian Muslims "Keling"? Where did that originate from? I'm not saying this because I have mamak blood in me myself (courtesy of me grampa who tried to drag me into the jewelery store to meet u-know-who), but I've always found that terms rather derogatory. Whilst I fully agree and subscribe to the implementation and application of the Malay adat (hence that Graeme should thank his lucky stars that the present Agung is the congenial Raja Perlis and not Sultan Johor!), as it denotes culture, "tertibness" and stuff, .. I find it hard to collate that with the tendency of Malays to be rather bigoted. Please, please, please don't melompat - this is just me thinking out loud. I'm Malay too, but quite rojak lah. :) What do you think, dear Kak Teh?

An "I-didnt-know-that!" observation - Really? Brit expats and their families would go for those "orientation" courses? Is it compulsory for them or strictly voluntary? Hmm.. good move, though.

Nadia said...

I especially love our custom of taking off shoes in the house. the westerners would consider that to be the opposite. i can't quite fathom wearing shoes in the house as being comfortable. but what I did ponder on is the weather...kalau tgk little house in the prairie you can see that winter gilala kalau tak pakai kasut hence their culture and custms developed partly due to the weather and surroundisng as do ours..(makan atas daun pisang, pakai tgn, bare feet..kan senang sbb seng nak jumpa air and panas..) I do love the tropics!

atenah said...

Translated: Oik, foreigner, wait for the king, first lah! Then we can talk at Starbucks!”

Kak Teh: LOL and I thought you're a true blue academic

Kak Teh said...

Blabs: I did a search in the Malay Concordance Project (a kind of Bible for Malay Lit students) and I found 398 mentions of the word Keling throughout the Hikayats, Sejarah Melayu etc - all relating to benua Keling, bahasa Keling, orang Keling but none in derogatory manner. It was mentioned in the same way as Orang China, orang Islam and orang Arab. I think, sometimes it is the tone and the manner with which a word is spoken that makes it derigatory.

Yes, most multi-national companies send their staff for language and cultural courses before they go off somewhere to work.

Nadia: I particularly like our habit of pointing with thethumb and tunduk masa lalu depan orang. So sopan!

Atenah: me - true blue academic???? Dak aihhhhhhhh! Lok lak macam ni mana boleh jadi academik!!

nuriyah said...

hello kak teh! have been following your blog and (at the risk of sounding like a certain very annoying advertisement)am loving it, also enjoying learning more about malay history and culture. i live in rural cornwall and am very excited to learn that a restaurant called 'cantik' has opened in our nearest city!! have been a bit disillusioned about the brits attempt to cook our food since seeing 'potato rendang' in a restaurant and 'indonesian vegetarian paella' in a hospital canteen...

iJun said...

Well the Aussies are infamous for being the "crooks" that got deported from the UK hehe.. nice post Kak Teh!

Kak Teh said...

Nuriyah: thank you for surfacing! Dari Cornwall? Such a nice place but never been there. One day I'll take up an offer of a friend to stay at her holiday cottage there. Ya, as for the English trying to cook Malaysian food - hmm tell me about it. Where I was working before, they had Malaysian nasi goreng, apparently fried in tumeric, dried prunes and guess what? bananas!
You know when you said '...I'm loving it" I actually read that with the tune in my head!
iJunnnnnn!!!: yes, we do know abt them Aussies. But my best camera crew and editors come from there!

Nadia said...

oooo yaa yaaa that too...i realize that I'm the only one tunduk lalu depan org bila kat gathering dgn sisters...org lain selamba jek...yg pakai thumb tu alamak nak kene train diri sendiri balik hihi...lembut kan budaya melayu ni

Mutiara said...

Some one asked about the origin of the panggilan keling for orang India Muslim. I can't remember where i read it, but panggilan Keling tu sebab orang India muslim kebanyakannya asal dari Kalinga in India. btw Kalinga maybe called something else now. kena tengok peta lama dan baru.

atiza said...

We Malaysians have a rich culture but it's so sad to see that we had to resort to a nationwide mind-your-manners campaign.

Blabarella said...

Yes, yes, you're right Kak Teh. The word in itself, is not derogatory. I agree with what you say .. it's how people say it which makes it sound derogatory. And then it's something which took place through the years, kan? In fact, I think one of my ancestors IS Kapitan Keling, now that I think about it. :)

Bustaman said...

I would put the blame squarely on the organizers for not briefing Graeme properly. Thank God, Seri Paduka was sporting about it although I could see Tan Sri Isa Samad turning white for a while while holding Graemes sunglasses I think.

Kak Teh said...

Thanks Pok ku. You watched it on telly!! I supposed there was no time for RTM or TV3 to press the delay button! Yes, thank God our Agung is quite sporting. But i don't think anyone would forgive a local for doing that. The organisers must surely be taken to task for this.

CN said...

dasat nyer.. slmt lah our ruler dah tak ada daulah (ker daulat) kalau dak sure dh mati kena panah petir mamat graeme tuh ..

and for the word k****g .. when a groups of indian arrived in zaman kesultanan melayu, the malay ppl dunno where they from..the k****g was purely based on the sound of the gelang kaki ..kringg kringg kringg .. so they named it orang k****g..*story frm my late-late grandpa*

Awang Goneng said...

If I may but in as someone with some authority on Tan Sri Isa Samad, he very kindly briefed me on the finer points of boxing in the outer hall while waiting for our boxers to enter the ring at the Manchester Commonwealth Games. I found myself there for reasons I've forgotten, but not to box, I promise you. Thinking in my head, "Wow, what a man!" I asked him: "Maaf, siapa nama Encik?" before departing. He handed me a card, on it was the legend: 'Tan Sri Isa Samad'. Can't remember the number of times I kow-towed to him to say "Minta maaf Tan Sri, Minta Maaf Tan Sri!" But he took it so calmly, and we became great friends. The man went up in my esteem.

Awang Goneng said...

Er, I mean butt in. Ah typos, where would we be without them...probably erewhon.

Kampong_Boy said...

pantang tok nenek orang melayu pegang kepala. kalau pegang j***q ok lah kot... i supposed patting are okay for them

nuriyah said...

nadia- your comment about tunduk bila lalu depan orang made me laugh!! bizarrely i have a subconscious cultural filter which means i never do it in front of english people, but it comes automatically when i am with my mother's side of the family who find it hilarious as they are from pakistan and it certainly isnt something they do there! also when i speak to them in urdu for some reason i cannot refer to myself as 'i', it has to be 'nuriyah' - which is normal back home but 'manja' anywhere else.. btw, is it just me or are there a disproportionately large amt of trengganu bloggers out there? anyone else from perlis? (we won the malaysia cup by the way...)

Iskandar Syah Ismail aka DR Bubbles said...


Translated: Oik, foreigner, wait for the king, first lah! Then we can talk at Starbucks!”

bukan atenah aje yang gelak. i pun terkekeh-kekeh gelak ni.

by the way, 'pegang kepala' is also no no in Laos. thumbs up is also no no in Iran and it proved difficult for me when i did clowning with the iranian kids in the field hospital in Bam,Iran. when they played along with clowns and we want to give them applause, we tend to show our costumary thumbs up to the horror of their carers! Oppsss!

Kak Teh said...

awang, ish you ni!!! ada ka Tan sri u panggil encik??? And of course, i did the same mistake when i saw a groupof malays at a butcher's in baywater. Wanting so much to show malaysian hospitality is very much alive in cold England, i walked up to them and after a brief chat I said, "Pak Cik , silalah datang rmah saya"
But of course, the guy standing beside him, who lookes as if he still had a coat hanger in his jacket, said: Ehem, Dato, tak ada masa!
EEEuuuuwww, sorry - manalah tau datuk - memang dia ingat I tak beradat! BUt i though, Pak cik is the highest form of respect!
nuriyah: Yes, we malays do bahasakan diri kita dengan nama sendiri, kan? I think that is so endearing. Anyway, You orang Perolehhhhhhhhhhhh???? Ish, ish, ish... kak teh orang kedah!! Memanglah orang terengganu nak declare blog ni the Bloggers replublic of Terengganu! My husband is running for presidency! haha!
Iskandar: hehe - kak teh tulih tu masa dok mengarut!
Orang Darat: hem, apo nak di kato???

Lollies said...

Kak Teh, actually this reminds me of the book by Adibah Amin-Glimpses of the past. She said the body langauge folding your ars or berpeluk tubuh project different image in different culture. If you fold your arms probably yo are reserved or not wanting to be invlove, aoof some sort.

But if berpeluk tubuhmaknanya pemalas le tu.