MALAYS OF YORE AS I SAW IT

MALAYS OF YORE AS I SAW IT
A note by Geoffery Meedin


NfC:22nd May 2016

Many things can be told about Malays of yore; they were a simple, happy go lucky, down to earth bunch of people, unassuming in their ways & habits, hardly having much ambition to excel in society & quite contended with what they possessed. Often self underrating them as a community of ‘malas’, a statement even remarked by Dr. Mahathir Mohammed, they obtained self satisfaction in calling themselves a ‘makan, menum, thandak, tedor’ class who would take pride in busting their pay packets on the very pay day.
Malays had an easy passport to white color jobs because they were the most sought after community following the Burghers due to their exceptional skill of the English language & owing to their zealous loyalty & impeccable honesty they displayed to their masters.
Their dominance in the Armed services, Police, Fire Brigade & Prison department was due to their bravery & martial instinct inherited from their forefathers who had come to our country for this very purpose. Constable Saban was the first Malay to sacrifice his life in the call of duty whilst trying to arrest a legendry outlaw bandit of that time named Saradial in colonial Ceylon.

In the Three-decade long war that ended recently Malays have played a decisive part in achieving victory over the separatists. From a minority population of nearly 60,000 people at least 40 gallant Malays warriors have laid down their lives for their motherland, a significant proportion when compared to the members of other majority communities who have taken to the security service as their occupation mainly due to economic necessity.

Ethnically the Malays became only the second highest number of security servicemen killed in action after the majority Sinhalese. Among the war heroes are many officers who held high ranking posts, meaning that Malays have led from the front. Their outstanding heroism, chivalry and versatility in military matters found them placements in sensitive departments in the armed forces like intelligence, logistics etc.

Malays of yore had high praise and held with great esteem Tuan Branudin Jayah the only Malay National Hero of Sri Lanka. He was the longest served Principal of the Colombo Zahira College who later took to politics & went on to become the Labour Minister of the first Cabinet of Independent Ceylon under Hon D S Senanayake as the Prime Minister. M.D. Kitchilan, MK Saldin, Zahier Lye, M H Amit were other famous Malays who took to politics at the highest level.

Malays had diehard loyalty, unswerving allegiance & blind respect for anything British. Some Malays who served in the British Army during World War 2 , having suffered minor ailments as a result of war weariness were entitled to a stipend, not actually a pension, which they received till death. They would often claim personal pride of this additional income which would supplement their monthly salary. The Sterling pension would come from U K to the General Treasury which in turn arrived as money order to the local Post Office.

They would never by any chance scorn or refer with contempt the white man (kulit putih), bragging that they still received their bowl of porridge from the HM the Queen even during their ripe age. Like all Malays of yore their knowledge & command of the English language was of par excellence. They were walking dictionaries, repositories of history & store houses of knowledge. Some of the City Malays who attended Colombo’s premier educational institutions would boast of their contemporaries at school who became prime ministers, civil servants and renowned professionals of Ceylon. Their diehard affection for the alma mater never receded at any time of their life & rose to the acme during the annual Big Matches.

Ardent lovers of History & Classics, the subjects they offered for Cambridge examinations. Like all men of this generation they would often quote with ease The Bible, Shakespeare & Milton frequently criticized by their children for not citing The Holy Quran & Prophet Muhammad’s traditions with equal fluency. They would struggle to remember the names of the Prophet’s household or the Beautiful names of Allah but would parrot in a jiffy names of the genealogy of British royalty from King George VI downwards. The obvious outcome & influence from values instilled in every Anglican school run by the British & other foreign invaders before independence.

They were so much head over heel in love with the Englishmen that they went on to giving their children English names. There was no dearth of Toms, Bonnys, Sonnas, Buntys, Gertys, Lizas, Dautys, Dollys, Johnys, Jeffs among the Malays of yore. They encouraged us to only read classics from Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy & the likes & would take us to see only films mostly of historical value like Tombs of the Pharohs, Ben Hur, Ten Commandments, Oliver Cromwell, Sound of Music among many other celebrated movies.

They were great believers in education for life’s success and struggled to put children in the right track by educating them at Sri Lanka’s finest schools. They often would plead us to learn harder & was always prepared to invest on education. Unlike their co-religionists the Moors who groomed their children towards the family business very early in life, till the advent of TB Jayah who encouraged them to pursue higher education, the Malays generally valued secular & religious education and took special interest in mastering of the King’s English. They simply had no business acumen in their blood or inherited astute trading talents but preferred taking up the uniformed jobs, mercantile services & estate administration.

Malays of yore were very dress conscious. They would love to wear the Malay attire at any given function. Malay weddings would glimmer with brightness having in attendance smartly clad Tuans in Batik & Sunko with their Beebis in glitzy Baju kurung . Malays would often boast that the word sarong is borrowed from Bahasa Melayu & the entire sarong wearing nation owed the Malays a franchise right. Malays would also look very smart in Western & Indian dresses

As to the religiosity of the Malays of yore they took a moderate stand. They were neither too fanatical nor very un- Islamic. Although steadfastness in 5 times prayers among the full household was apparently not visible & undertaking the annual Haj pilgrimage was never a serious priority there remained wholesale & rampant presence of saint worship where vows were made with annual visits to Kataragama, Jilani, and Thursday drop-in to Devatagaha mosque & sometimes ritual observances at places like Ossen Beebi Ziyaram. Many houses had tills to collect funds for the annual Kandiri. Money was dropped into such tills every time they had to undergo an operation, face an interview or examination or undertook an important journey. Yet many Malays believed in superstition & Jinn wasilan (a form of Black magic).

Malay folklore from Slave Island narrates of how Melayu policeman using his supernatural influence overcame seven hefty money lending Afghans when he was waylaid down a deserted alley. The legend was thenceforth called ‘Elu Bai Oru Dole (the sergeant)' among the locals. Malays of yore often boasted to their Muslim friends that their progenitors were Auliyas (saints).
They would jokingly claim to their co-religionists who usually heckled them as irreligious commenting on the looks of our feminine dresses and life style, that Malays had a Bahasa & Auliyas whereas their brothers in faith had neither. The early Malays claimed they were not hypocrites who would smuggle, pick pockets and be denizens of the underworld who indulge in crime, later to only be seen at Masjids with a handkerchief on the head for Salat. They told us that they held extremes like how the adage goes ‘Malays are either in the Heaven or in the Tavern’ meaning whatever they did it was done properly.

Although not in its pristine form religion played a leading role in the Melayu houses by them holding annually Mowloods, Asurahs (Nasi kuning) where families with their better halves, dozens of their children, parents & grandparents would gather for a Rateeb, Kattam or Fathiya generally followed by partaking of a scrumptious spread of nasi kebuli , daging masak & goreng, kaliya, kola-curry, ubi masak, sukung goreng and finish with firni with koli kuttu served in traditional six-a-side sawans . They would also be observing other holy days in the calendar like Miraj, Barath, Lailathul Qadr (Thujulukur), Odukathupothan & celebrating Hejiri, Ramadhan & Hajj. On days of Eid they would wear their Sunkos & Batik shirts to occupy the front rows of their traditional Malay mosques to perform Eid Salat & thereafter solemnly stroll towards the graves of their lost ones to recite a Sura Yasin or two. When evening fell they would beeline to their ‘mahagederas’ to offer ‘sumba salam’ to their elders. The young ones like us would be presented with a Rupee coin or two as ‘peranal diwit’ which was most looked forward to be splurged on sweetmeats at tuck shops

Almost all Malays of old were good eaters. They would always say that it was better to die after having eaten well. It was hard to find elderly men & women known to be dieting in order to keep their figure in shape. Even after over -consuming high fat food from Dagin, Babath, Puruth, Thenteng, Limpa, Otak sambol to Kaki soup the Malay couple of yore would maintain a figure like a trigger. Their fondness for Dagin over Ekan made them to leave home for marketing early during the day to be at the Pasar Dagin(Butcher) before the others could pick up the babath. Some old Malay folks even hoodwinked the Butcher by cycling to the stall in khaki trousers giving an impression that he was an off duty policeman. The ‘Malay Doray’ would benefit from a extremely fair deal and return home laughing.

Malays of yore took pride of the fact that their families were large. They often claimed with a sense of delight their true masculinity and their better halves’ fertility, saying their family was a rugger team, a cricket team, a netball team & hardly ever had children lesser enough to play a game of draughts or carom. The father was the sole breadwinner with no side income or perks to keep the home fires burning. Every child survived to live an average septuagenarian not even being immunized and beating contagious diseases like Malaria.

The Malays of yesteryear were also great sportsmen of their time. Many have represented at various disciplines at school or National levels & others were self made pundits of the game who would carefully scrutinize the sports pages in the dailies spotting Malay & other names that would appear frequently & then make smart guesses that so & so would reach the top which often turned true. Malays were honoured to start the oldest Cricket playing club in Ceylon when the rest of the country took pleasure in the pastime of gudu. The Malay CC was initially housed at Rifle Green & then at Padang. Although Malays of yore would not have heard of Duckworth & Lewis, Doosra, Dil- scoop or Twenty-Twenty, their knowledge of the Game of Gentlemen was exceptional.

They could picture in their minds a Test match played in a far away continent by simply listening to a ball- by- ball description by famous commentators like Chistopher Martin Jenkins, Richie Benaud, Brian Johnston & Trevor Bailey from a Valve radio producing low quality reception. They knew the names of all great cricketers of the past & every field position from Gully, Fine leg, Long leg, silly point to forward short leg (cannot be translated into Malay) and other cricketing terminology like out for a duck, maiden over, night watchman without the aid of the television an electronic equipment they had never seen.
At football and rugby the old Malay folks would not miss matches where Malays were scheduled to play. Soccer matches of Victory. Black Square and Java Lane SC where Malays took the field were often crowd pullers. Malays who form the main play makers have also represented leading clubs like CR, CH, Havelocks, Kandy SC at rugger.

Most Malays of yore carried with them a superiority complex over the other. We often have heard of the elites and ordinary man-on-the- street Malays usually distinguished as ‘Bagus’ or ‘Baye Melayu’ against ‘busuk’ or ‘borok Melayu’. Malay of that generation being Socialist or a Communist was unimaginable. They would frequently debate with futility the Malayness in names especially those ending in ‘Din’ over ‘Deen’. Very often the spelling of names would matter. Elders would ask whether your name was spelt with satu, duwa, tiga or empat bola meaning number of ‘O’s in a surname. When a name sounded Arabic, Persian, Urdu or Bengali they would curiously inquire more details of our father’s relatives. Sanskrit derivations held sway because of their closeness to the Malay world.

Many Malays loved music and could play different musical instruments a fact that was evident from the numerous singers & leading members of Beat groups. While the Melayu ‘pantuns’ were sang at weddings ,their versatility in attempting English, Sinhala Tamil & Hindi songs with equal gusto was admirable. On a lighter vein they would also on the sly relate rhymes like “Seetu Liyat Seeni liyat Acharu mankok, sethu ada Nona pe edong benkok”, ‘Jasson pe abang pe sarongka lobang’, ‘Sitty nona jammin, Bakki dika kincin’ to name a few (pardon the slang).

Malays of yore often yearned for a re-emergence of the colonial era where the city was peaceful, quiet uncongested & had a perfect cosmopolitan demography & there was preference and favor easily accessible for their lot. They hated the fact that somewhat formed the colonization that took place in the city through the village folks seeking greener pastures and out numbering the former dwellers in the city among them a good number of Malays. It was a “Banda comes to town” & “He comes from Jaffna” scenario they would joke. They blamed the imposition of ‘swabasha’ & cursed the Sinhala Only Act brought by the then governments.

Nostralgic thoughts of those good old, great days sadly are now fading with age taking it’s toll. Will Malay culture, language & our unique brand of life style be restricted to a limited few interested families, seeing many youth assimilating easily to other trends through, emigration, urbanization, marriage & for economic reasons? The true strength of the present Malay folks is dwindling by the day. The only hope is may landmarks like Malay Street, Ja Ela , Jawatte & Chava -kachcheri etc remain forever & forever (Esto perpetua!!)

Long live SL Malay

G. Meedin 
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