Tuesday, October 02, 2007

My Yesteryear Raya

Around this time of the year, during the Ramadan month, the most anticipated day will always be 1st Syawal... Hari Raya Eidulfitri.

It is the celebration of faith after a month of abstaining from food and drink, and leaving the bad habits like smoking and trivial-yet-destructive habits like idle gossiping from sunrise till sunset.

Passing by the office cafeteria that is being renovated, the smell of fresh paint reminded me of the coming Raya excitement that always felt intensely while I was a child.

Those Wonderful Kampung Days...

It never ceased to make me smile to myself whenever I recall the wonderful times I had while I was a child back in the kampung days during Ramadan.

As a child of seven to ten years old, the toughest thing to do was to not break my fast. I was really hungry at about lunch time and the worst stomach-groaning hunger pains at about 3 to 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

From then onwards, I would survive the rest of the hours until break fast at about 7:oo pm.

The most challenging was to skip playing... running around across the village, climbing trees and other physically demanding activities a hyperactive child that I was, would play with my friends until we were flat out.

After the fun came the thirst. Tough luck! None of us would give up and break our fasting by quenching our thirsts with a gulp of water. We were that competitive then, I guess.

Instead, I think we dozed off once we were back in our homes... all energy spent.

One funny thing that happens to many children and some adults... I guess I am included, would accidentally reach for a drink and some times actually gulped down before we realized that we have started fasting early into Ramadan.

Fortunately, rule for the day's fast will still be valid as long as it was not intentional. Phew!

I was totally skinny child mainly because I spent more calories than I took in. On top of that, I was too choosy with food. I chose not to eat and suffered the hunger pains than being forced to eat something... yucky.

Yet, during Ramadan, all was reversed. All the food Mom or Sis cooked looked and smelt delicious. I would eat anything that was served at break fast... it tasted heavenly at sunset.

Hari Raya Is Coming Soon...

All that fasting was telling me that Hari Raya was coming soon. Simply because the many wonderful things my senses told me...

The smell of fresh paint in the air when Dad and my elder Brothers started to pain our wooden house with new colors for the year.

The smell of Mom's and elder Sisters' baked Raya cookies and cakes a couple of weeks before Syawal. The whole village would smell heavenly. My friends and I would go around the village homes, went very near to the kitchen windows to smell and guess what cookie our neighbours were baking.

Fasting then became even more challenging to not break it when the aunties would give us a piece or two cookies. We would save it for break fast. I can still remember Bik Aton who gave me Kuih Bantal Peluk or pineapple roll cookie that looked like a miniature bolster.

At home, I would always loiter around my Mom and elder Sisters who were baking cookies hoping that they would break or burn a few pieces that had to be discarded instead of going into the air-tight container for the visiting guests.

I would get a few to save and eat them after the break fast. Though on occasions, I failed and eat it there and then and regretted it later when I was not able to join the family at the same table during break fast... for I had broken mine halfway.

I would watch my Mom sow the Raya drapes with the manual leg-powered sowing machine... seeing all the mechanical parts moving in sync. She made beautiful curtains every year that would be hung the night before Syawal.

And the most interactive and actually meant something to me was when I finally get to contribute in the preparations of Hari Raya - weaving the Ketupat cases, a traditional Malay rice dumpling cooked in a weaved coconut shoots.

I think it is an ingenious Malay creation easily hundreds of year ago, when Malay merchants had to bring food while traveling long distances for weeks. The cooked rice cases could last for weeks.

They would weave and cook new ones when there was opportunity to stay in one place long enough. It may very well have been an early version of eco-friendly packed meal-on-the-go.

Ketupat Equals Hari Raya...

Today, the ketupat is a traditional symbol of Malays celebration Eidulfitri... though not many Malays actually know how to weave it.

It is somewhat a dying tradition as the new generations fore-go the hassle to weave and cook it. Some have a ribbon version of it for decoration purposes only.

I remember learning the weaving techniques from Dad and Mom through repeated practices after numerous wrong turns and torn leaves.

Once we weaved about a hundred cases, Mom would prepare the rice after cleaning it with water, ready to be placed into each case before sealing it with a last slide-in-lock of the leave.

The cooking took 8 hours or more. The longer the hours the longer the ketupat will last. My job was to keep a lookout and top-up the residing water level in the big steel pot while keeping the fire going.

Dad makes the most tightly woven and consistent size ketupats. It was always too beautiful to eat and he knew it... and proud of it. My eldest Brother had since succeeded Dad for the title.

These cases were hung to dry and cut down each case whenever anyone wanted to eat it.

The rice dumpling was eaten with almost any Raya dish... Rendang, Kuah Satay, Sambal Goreng and many more than I care to elaborate, now that I start to feel hungry talking about food.

The Express Generation...

Nowadays, many young families choose to buy either the woven cases or the cooked ketupat from Geylang Serai market out of convenience since both parents work and have little time to toil in the kitchen.

Hope the art of weaving ketupat will not die with my generation.

I would certainly like to impart it down to my son.


  1. When I'm really hungry, nothing is worse than the smell of rice cooking- for some reason, that makes me more hungry than anything else!!

    Thank you for sharing this tradition with us- it is eye opening and fun to learn how folks live in other parts of the world.

    We fast for our faith too- it's not usually a scheduled time, but rather left up to the individual as to when and how often we do it.

  2. I learned a lot about Ramadon, thanks Imran.

    I especially like those rice cases, very handy and beautiful.

  3. time moves on -- this is so interesting

  4. what fond memories and tradition Imran. I hope too that the the skill of wooving ketupat wont die, because there is something real, something so connecting in following traditions, like connecting with your roots.

    You can't know where you are going until you know where you have been..

    Only a week left of Holy Ramadhan - make the best of it bro.

  5. I enjoyed this story of your childhood Ramadan memories. Thank you for telling it!


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Muhd Imran
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