Headhunters

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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There are headhunting tribes documented in many countries around the world – Taiwan, New Zealand, India and also Malaysia. In Malaysia, the headhunting tribe is known as Iban or sea dayaks (sea people).  Most Ibans are from Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo.

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Dayak women dancing with human heads, 1912 (Wikipedia Commons)

There were many reasons for why the Ibans mounted headhunting expeditions – avenging theft or murder, being the dominant reason. Another equally important reason the Iban men headhunted was that the Iban women showed a preference for a man who’s able to give proof of his bravery by killing one of the enemy. In this instance, I suppose, the enemy’s head was more valuable to the woman being courted, than a bunch of roses!

When I was writing this post, I found out that there’s a legend related among the Ibans as a reason for this custom –

Once upon a time, a young man loved a maiden, but she refused to marry him until he had brought to her some proof of what he was able to do. He went out hunting and killed a deer, and brought it to her, but still she would have nothing to say to him. He went again into the jungle, and, to show his courage fought and killed an orangutan, and brought it home as proof of his courage; but still she turned away from him. Then, in anger and disappointment, he rushed out and killed the first man he saw, and, throwing the victim’s head at the maiden’s feet, he blamed her for the crime she had led him to commit. To his surprise, she smiled on him, and said to him that at least, he had brought her a worthy gift, and she was ready to marry him. 

Okay, so that also proved that us Iban women are bloodthirsty. Yes, us. I’m Iban 🙂

Of course, headhunting is no longer being practiced by the Ibans (As far as I’m aware) as it was banned by Sir James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak, in the 1800s. So, the Iban women had to settle for receiving something else other than heads, I suppose.

A long time ago, my father told me that our family has kept the heads of our enemies, heads that were cut by my ancestors. I’ve never seen them as the heads are in my father’s longhouse which is deep in the interior of Sarawak. Undoubtedly, I’m curious about these “heirlooms”. I’m also curious as to how many of these heads were used to win the hand of Iban maidens in the family.

Gas men

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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Gas is frequently used for cooking in most homes in Malaysia. Though an increasing number of households use electricity too. Gas is supplied to homes or restaurants in two ways – they’re delivered in canisters or via gas mains. Homes in rural areas can only get gas for cooking in canisters.

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We call these guys gas men though that’s not their official job title. They’ll pick up empty canisters from restaurants and replace with full canisters. Sometimes, gas canisters are delivered via motorcycle. Yep, it’s a sight to see these gas men on their motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic with all those gas canisters!

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Ever cooked using gas supplied in canisters?

A Famosa

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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Malacca, one of the thirteen states in Malaysia, was a Portugese colony from 1511 – 1641. To protect the colony from attacks, the Portugese built a fortress called A Famosa (The Famous).

School children all over the country would’ve visited Malacca during a school trip as it figures prominently in our history books. The last time I was there was in 2013 and even then, I was still in awe at how much history this structure has seen.

While I was researching for this post though, I came across some sources that indicate that this structure which I know is A Famosa, is not exactly A Famosa! In fact, this gate could be part of the Fortaleza de Malaca, another fortress built by the Portugese, and also could actually be called the Porta de Santiago! Now, I’m confused. And slightly bewildered.

Also, because A Famosa is such a well-known name in Malaysia, it’s also the name of a water-themed park and resort. Sorry, Portugal!  1389169610126

Tell me about the historical monuments/ buildings/ structures in your city/ country!

Eid al-fitr

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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In Malaysia, Eid al-fitr, a religious holiday that marks the end of a month of fasting, is commonly referred to as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and this year it falls on the 25th of June. Being a non-Muslim in a Muslim country, you can’t help but be entrenched in the rhythm and practices of this holiday. Here are several things to know about how Eid al-fitri or Aidilfitri is celebrated in Malaysia:

#1. We get a looooong holiday – This year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri will fall on a Sunday. In Malaysia, whenever a festival falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is the public holiday. For this particular festival though, we get TWO days off, so Tuesday’s also a holiday! Long weekend!

#2. Bazaars pop up during the fasting month – During the fasting month of Ramadan, food or Ramadan bazaars pop up in and around the city. These bazaars start setting up at about 3pm (or earlier) and folks on the way home after work would stop by to get food to break their fast with. One key difference between Ramadan bazaars and other food bazaars is that eager customers will be able to find their favourite food that only appears during Ramadan, food like bubur lambuk, a type of porridge.

#3. Change in working hours – Working hours differ for those celebrating Aidilfitri. Since they spend the day fasting, their lunch duration is shortened (normally by 30 minutes) which means they get to go home earlier to prepare to break their fast!

#4. Homemade firecrackers make the news – Most firecrackers and fireworks are banned in Malaysia. However, since we’re an innovative lot, folks make their own firecrackers. Yep, DIY firecrackers. And since these DIY firecrackers do not go through stringent safety and health testing, etc… they often perform unpredictably. This is when the news start reporting about “…15-year old boy loses 4 fingers playing with his homemade firecrackers…” or …”9-year old boy loses 3 fingers and tore his palm while playing with firecrackers…” Some of these DIY firecrackers are made from bamboo!

a91b29f83345d4ed#5. Dates abound – Supermarkets start selling dates by the caseloads. And I mean all kinds of dates – medjool, dayri, thoory. Most restaurants will also have a small plate of dates on the table for those who break their fast. After an entire day of fasting, the body may experience lethargy and low blood sugar. Starting off with dates before digging in to richer food is a good way to replenish the body.

If you celebrate Eid, what are the traditions practiced in your country? Also, do you eat dates?

Durian

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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turpentine and onion, garnished with gym socks

rich, sweet, sulfury, pungent

sewage, rotting flesh, or at best, ripe cheese…onions and meat. Dead rats.

These are just a few ways that the stench smell of durian, king of fruits, have been described. How would I describe the odour of durian? Yummilicious and inviting!

durian201Whenever a non-Malaysian visits us, one of the questions we’d ask eventually is “Have you tried eating durian?” Most would answer “Ugh! It smells awful!” The rare individual will reply with “Alamak! I love it!” We love the non-Malaysians who answer with the latter ;P

Truly, durian is a divisive fruit – you either love it. Or you loathe it.

In my hometown, the durian season is one of the most important seasons of all fruit seasons. Not many families have durian trees on their property so when durians are dropping to the ground, it could get pretty cutthroat. There’s been more than one occasion when we hear a durian fall to the ground and when we rush out of our house to where we think it fell, the fruit’s been taken by someone else who was waiting! These durian fruits obtained illegally would normally be sold at a roadside stall.

We Malaysians love durian so much that we even have roadside durian buffets. Like a typical buffet, you pay a fixed fee and eat as many durians as you can!

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Here’s a video of folks trying durian for the first time. I thought it was pretty hilarious especially the way they were cutting into it like it was a dead animal!

So, have you tried durian before? And if not, would you dare? ;P

Congkak

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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I grew up during a time when as kids, we entertained ourselves by playing games like congkak (chong-kuck). What the heck is congkak? Well, it’s a two-person logic game played using  a papan congkak or congkak board.

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congkak board filled with marbles. 

I used to play congkak during free periods in primary school. The congkak boards were usually kept in the library and we’d sign it out and bring it back to our classrooms.

This is not unique to Malaysia though as Indonesia, Singapore and even the Philippines have their version of it.

In a congkak board, the smaller holes in the middle are called the “houses” while the two larger ones on each end are the “storehouses”. Each player sits on one side of the board and the houses facing them as well as the storehouse to their left belong to that player and vice versa. The game starts by filling each house with marbles or pebbles, the number of which corresponds to how many houses there are on the board. In this case, since there are 7 houses, you’ll need 7 marbles per house so you’ll start with a total of 49 marbles per player. The ultimate objective is to collect the most marbles (or all of them) in your storehouse! This website explains the rules far better than I do 🙂 I also came across this extremely simplified instruction manual –

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Source: Happy City Penang Project

Instead of using marbles or pebbles in congkak, you could also use cowrie shells or saga seeds to fill the houses. My preference was always for saga seeds, though they weren’t easy to obtain.

It’s been years since I’ve seen anyone, especially kids play congkak. Though I’m sure if someone’s created a congkak app, they’ll probably play it. Oh, I just googled it, apparently there’s already a congkak app.

Tell me about the childhood games you played!

Banana leaf

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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We have a lot of bananas in Malaysia. In fact, it’s the second most widely cultivated fruit in the country! Most homes (with a yard) would have a banana tree (or two). I’ve got two trees that seem to be fruiting all year round!

But this post isn’t about bananas, it’s about the banana leaf. Yep. With bananas being ubiquitous, we’ve found a variety of ways to use its leaves, which is abundant. Of course, most of its usage (if not all) involves food.

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Yummy lemang (Santacruzly)

Lemang is a traditional rice dish that’s most often prepared during festivals. It’s a mixture of glutinous rice and coconut milk, which is cooked in bamboo. Before pouring the mixture into the bamboo, banana leaves are used to line the inside of the bamboo so that the rice mixture doesn’t stick to the bamboo.

One of my favourite food is nasi lemak, which translates directly to fatty rice. Don’t let the name fool you though, in 2016, TIME magazine listed it as one of the 10 healthy international breakfast foods 🙂 There are many versions of this fatty rice but the type that I always seek out is the type that’s ready-packed, wrapped using the banana leaf and sold at roadside stalls. This version of nasi lemak can cost as low as RM1.50 or less than 25 US cents.

 

Being a multicultural society, we have all sorts of cuisine available to us. One of these is South Indian cuisine and in particular banana leaf rice. There are so many banana leaf rice restaurants and everyone has their favourite. In this type of restaurant, food is served on the banana leaf, so effectively, it’s your plate! You’ll be provided your own banana leaf plate when you’re seated and someone will come around to dish out rice, vegetables and curries of your choice. And once you’re done with the meal, you fold the leaf towards yourself, if you’re happy with what you ate, and if you’re not, you fold the leaf in the other direction.

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So, have you ever eaten anything that’s cooked using banana leaves?

Alamak!

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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The Brits have their “Blimey!”

The Americans  have their “Oh my God/ goodness!”

Us Malaysians, we prefer “Alamak!”

Similar to Blimey and OMG!, Alamak is an expression of dismay, surprise or alarm. Although, it’s actually pretty versatile and can be used in a variety of situations other than when you’re in dismay, surprised or alarmed.

The origins of ‘alamak’ is sort of hazy. Some sources indicate that this expression is actually a combination of two words “alaa” (oh) and “mak” (mother). And there are other sources that say that it’s actually a Japanese word! Totally not buying that.

Anyway, when should you use ‘alamak’? Well, I’ll most likely use the expression in the following situations:

After a torrential rainfall, I’ll go out and discover that my garden is flooded and the cats have resorted to swimming to access their food in the non-flooded area. I’ll exclaim “Alamak!” In this instance, the expression is used to express shock.

Or…

After sending my dog to obedience school and I wake up in the morning to find that my precious shoes have been mutilated by the cute puppy I brought home, all I can say is “Alamak…” In this situation, this expression is used to express dismay and also regret at the amount of money spent on sending the cute puppy to obedience school.

So, next time, when you hear someone in your neck of the woods exclaim “Alamak!”, it’s entirely likely that you’re in the woods with a Malaysian 🙂

My April A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal 2017

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My theme this year came to me immediately after I was done with the challenge last year. In fact, I even started brainstorming some post ideas! So, this year, for 26 days, my posts will be centered on the theme

Malaysiana

I’m excited to write about the food, culture and everything else about Malaysia. So far though, the posts I’ve drafted are food-related 😀 Which isn’t surprising because we Malaysians are food-obsessed! Can’t wait to start posting as well as reading everyone else’s posts!