Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Jerunai; a hanging coffins and burial poles at Lamin Dana, Sarawak

Creepily fascinating or fascinatingly creepy? You be the judge.

Bridging the past and the present, the old and young, the world and Mukah, Diana Rose passion drove her to embark in a fulfilling journey to share Melanau wonderful heritage with the world by introducing Lamin Dana on 14 February, 1999. A sense of ownership to her beloved Melanau tribe, Diana Rose is a living prove that where there's a will, there's a way. Now it is internationally known, news coverage came from local, national and foreign medias the likes of History Asia - Hidden Cities, Wild Asia talking about Lamin Dana, Mukah iconic traveler destination.

Lamin Dana Cultural Boutique is located at Tellian Village in Mukah hinterland, a 3 hours drive from Sibu town. Mukah can also be reached by flight via MASwings from Kuching or speedboat via Dalat from Sibu, either route would be enlightening as Sarawak scenery is known to be very diversified and soulful.

"Lamin Dana means traditional house in archaic Melanau" is what Diana Rose wants to do, conserving and reviving her Melanau heritage. Built as a boutique guesthouse with proper local activity packages, its main objective is to ensure Melanau culture and history are well preserved for future generation and made known to the world. Traditionally a fishermen, padi and sago farmers, Melanau are among the earliest settlers in Sarawak, previously known as "A-Likou" meaning 'people of the river' until the tribe name Melanau was given. Sago being the staple food here, are normally systematically planted and cultivated for its produce.

A 2-minute walking distance away from Lamin Dana stands a tall totem pole that is a few hundred years old. This totem pole is known as Jerunai; a burial pole. I was told that Jerunai is reserved mainly for Melanau aristocrats (bangsawan) here in Mukah, Sarawak. It is made from the Borneo ironwood tree or pokok Belian, full of intricate animal and plant motif carvings to symbolize their status and level. The aristocrats' bodies would be left in a hanging coffin for a year before its remains are transferred into a Jerunai. Every aristocrat will bring 2 human sacrifices with them into the afterlife, one male slave and one female slave around 12-13 years of age. The male slave will be placed at the bottom below the aristocrat and the female above, both tied to the Jerunai and left to starve to death. This is an ancient practice some 175 years ago before the light of Islam arrived on Sarawakin soil.

There is a famous story of a royalty whose death asked for multiple human sacrifices and it's jerunai bears the scars of the rescue effort by the sacrifices' loved ones? This, and many other jerunai stories, can be found from the Sarawak Tourism Board.

Each Jerunai stands at around 10 to 15 meters. It requires 15 to 30 locals that must be of Melanau bloodline; a descendant. A blessing ceremony is held for commemoration when erecting a Jerunai.
Diana Rose has taken the initiative to beautify Kampung Sri Tellian's jerunai for the convenience of her guests and tourists visiting Mukah. Her vision and dream of making Melanau known to the rest of the country and the world has started to show results.

Able to accommodate family and single travelers, Lamin Dana ensures that guest experienced the best of Melanau heritage and Mukah scenes. Providing guest with "Sago Experience" where guests are exposed to how and why Sago is made, boat ride along the river and mangroves at sunsets, basket weaving hands-on experience or learning simple traditional Melanau culinary are some of the activities offered here. Wanting to share Lamin Dana with the world, Diana has also prepared a "3D2N Student Culture Package" where she can cultivate the younger generation to love our culture, heritage and history. Her gift to Melanau tribe, Sarawak and Malaysia.

I hope that this Melanau history and heritage will never be forgotten, for those who forget their roots are those bound to repeat their regrets.

DiGi's Amazing Malaysian 2005 has selected Diana Rose as one of their award recipients. Her mission to conserve and promote Malaysia's natural and cultural heritage has honoured her as "The Knowledge Keeper of Sarawak". Amazing Malaysians is part of DiGi's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Javanese Delicacies in Kampung Sungai Haji Dorani Homestay, Selangor

Of course I have heard of Nasi Ambeng, Lemper, Punten, Getok and Ketiwol
There are certain districts in Selangor that are populated with Javanese and Minangs, I knew very little of their history and background, let alone their heritage, culture and customs. But the story that goes with it? Well, we learn new things everyday, don't we?

Seeking for a brighter future and from being colonized by the Dutch, the Javanese or masyarakat Jawa migrated from the island of Java in Indonesia to Malaysia. During this period; from 1880 to 1930, the Javanese population grew and migrated from Melaka to other state such as Perak and Kedah, while majority moved to Selangor, populating areas such as Tanjung Karang, Sabak Bernam, Kuala Selangor, Kelang, Banting and Sepang. Today, their livelihoods are highly dependent on agriculture; paddy field, coconut farm and coffee plantation. What makes it interesting is, up until now, is that the Javanese in Kuala Selangor still converse in Javanese language, upholding and practicing their Javanese culture and customs. These can be clearly seen in their ceremonies and delicacies especially, traditional art such as ‘kuda kepang’, ‘silat’ and ‘gamelan’; the few example of Javanese culture.

The earliest Javanese settlement in Selangor was in early 1900 at Kampung Sungai Haji Dorani, in Sabak Bernam district, Selangor. And here, where the culture and custom is strongly upheld, I get to sample some of the most authentic Javanese delicacies. Proud of their heritage, I was promised unique dishes that will make my mouth waters and new craving created. To sample all this unique delicacies, one can pay a visit to Kampung Sungai Haji Dorani on a day trip or choose to stay in the homestay to experience the local culture hands-on.

Nasi Ambeng
Nasi Ambeng (pronounce as ambeng not ambang) is a fragrant rice set consisting of white rice served with 7 types of side dishes - Semur-style chicken (or Ayam Masak Kicap), fried sambal with soya bean cake (tempe), fried noddle (Mee or Bihun goring), salted fish, crackers (Rempeyek) and coconut floss. These dishes vary according to clan or district. That said, the 5 -7 dishes served above are pretty common for the Javanese. What distinguishes it is the style of cooking, and the taste. Nasi Ambeng is as popular cuisine for the Javanese-Malay communities in Kuala Selangor and Johor, not to mention Singapore.

Originating from the Indonesian island of Java, Nasi Ambeng is usually prepared for festivities such as weddings, birthdays and thanksgiving (doa selamat). It is presented in a large tray or ‘dulang’ and each serving is meant to be enjoyed together by a group of 4 to 5 people. The Javanese - like most Malay ethnicities - are very communal, and the dish symbolizes this very unity and togetherness. The manner in which it is served encourages the act of caring and sharing among family members, friends and fellow villagers. The host prays for guests' well being before everyone starts eating, wishing for the abundance of wealth. Some say that the food is to be divided equally and the guests has to bring it home to be shared with their family members.

Nasi Ambeng is also seen to promote fairness and equality, hence the sharing in a single ‘dulang’. Locals believe that there should not be any differentiation between status, wealth and power because everyone is the same in the eyes of God. This is belief is strongly upheld by the Javanese-Malay communities as early as 1890 – 1900.

Normally served during festivities or as afternoon snack, lemper is made of glutinous rice with chicken or beef floss filling, sometimes grated coconut, it is then wrapped with coconut leaf. Some lemper in Java island is served as it is, grilled or fried.

A favourite breakfast food; nasi impit (compressed rice) served with sambal (chili paste). The different with this breakfast set is that the nasi impit is cooked with santan (coconut milk) unlike our usual nasi impit. It is also served with sardine, depending on one’s area or custom.

Getok Ubi
Made from pounded tapioca or cassava (ubi kayu) with brown sugar and grated coconut, it is one of the popular light snack in Sabak Bernam. This delicious delicacy is also popular in Singapore and readily available. A few other traditional getok that is also common in its native country is getok pisang, getok goreng, getuk lindri etc.

Ketiwol, tiwul, or thiwul is the staple food substitute for rice made from tapioca or cassava, similar to getok ubi. It is believed to prevent disease heartburn , stomach rumbling, and been used as staple food during the Japanese occupation.

The success of Dorani Homestay of Kampung Sungai Haji Dorani has created massive opportunities not only for the locals’ livelihood but also to highlight their exquisite heritage and culture. This great accomplishment has brought respective ministries together with Ministry of Tourism to assist in building and upgrading new communal facilities such as the activity center for homestay event purposes, training the locals on tourism and hospitality management as well as educating them on agricultural development; a concerted effort for the betterment of the villagers, homestay establishment and the wondrous state of Selangor.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ramadhan Galore in Perak

From buka puasa (iftar) food to Raya food. Food and Malaysia berpisah tiada (till death do us part). Hence I don’t think words or description for this entry are required, I rather you enjoy the visual and remember the venues as it might be your (food) hunting ground for next Ramadhan/Raya *wink*.

Have you been to Kuala Kangsar Bazaar Ramadhan?

The offering there is crazy cool such as multi-flavoured donuts and giant murtabak (no photo on the rest of the 'juadah' as my hand is full carrying them yummeh food for iftar), among others. I truly believe the locals here have a secret regime work-out, reason being, despite all these food options, most of them look healthy and fit (and thin too). Kuala Kangsarian, what's your secret huh?

Buka Puasa/Iftar venue in Ipoh

Once a hostel for orphanage under BAKIP, this refurbished premise in the compound of Kompleks Badan Khidmat Islam Perak is now THUMB'S Cafe, a fusion Malay-Western cuisine  cafe served at a reasonable price with delicious menu options. Somewhat a hispter cafe, Thumb's is popular among Instagrammers and photographers as the kampung ambience with travelogue decor fit the current market craze.

No. 133, Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil,
30450 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Opening Hours : 7am onwards for breakfast, 5pm – 1am for dinner, close on Monday

Kacang and muruku for Raya

Do you know the story behind Kampung Kacang Putih in Ipoh, Perak?
Back in 1920s, 10 people from India started a small business selling kacang putih. They settled near a limestone hill in Gunung Cheroh, of which in 1970s part of the hill collapsed killing about 40 residents there.The state government relocated them to Buntong for safety reason and there, their business flourished till now.

There are approximately 120 type nuts and crackers being sold here, the popular ones are kerepek ubi pedas, omapodi, muruku bintang, muruku kari, kacang tanah kari, kacang telur and kacang susu.

Raya with Rendang Tok

The famous Perakian rendang tok was once served to only royalty is now available in supermarkets and selected outlets. Started their rendang business in 1985, Shariffudin Mohamed uses the original recipe handed down by his beloved mother Allahyarhamah Nafsiah Yeop Abdullah (Mak Nik) and has since marketed it to Brunei, Middle East and a few other countries.

Have you been or tried all these places/food?

Perak World of Wonders -- Ramadhan Edition 2017 Media Fam Trip are organised by Tourism Malaysia with #GayaTravel as media coordinator respectively.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Masjid Ihsaniah Iskandariah | Intricacy of Kelarai

Masjid Ihsaniah Iskandariah; a mosque like Istana Kenangan that I never knew existed. Until now.

The intricacy of kelarai (woven bamboo strips) - a cultural and artistic heritage from the mosque's walls - have made Masjid Ihsaniah Iskandariah's famous nationwide. Also known as Masjid Kampung Kuala Dal, it shares many similiarities with Istana Kenangan in Bukit Chandan, one of its main influences.

Located just 4.8km from the centre of Royal Town of Kuala Kangsar, this unique 1936 mosque with Arabesque influences was financed by Al-Marhum Paduka Seri Sultan Iskandar Shah, the Sultan of Perak. Leafy windows (approximately 20 of them) decorated with "straight punch, no silat" carved with peanuts, crescent moon and star motifs are located around the mosque. It is said that what makes Masjid Ihsaniah Iskandariah unique is its architectural design - aside from its combination of kelarai and Arabesque influences, it is aslo said to resemble a bird cage.

The story behind it is pretty interesting. According to Jabatan Warisan Negara, the mosque was built after the Sultan had fulfilled the vow to build a mosque when one of his children recovered from an illness, promising to donate RM 8,000.00 to build a new mosque on a piece of land granted by Juragan Abdul Shukur bin Mohamad Ali. This decision was made upon the Sultan returning from a picnic at Lata Bubu, seeing his subjects praying in a dilapidated madrasah. Being a pious leader, he believed that a mosque is not just a house of God but an important community centre. Thus, Masjid Ihsaniah Iskandariah was commissioned, and fittingly named after him.

The architecture of the mosque was inspired by the Sultan himself. The mosque was built by Chinese artisans and assisted by local residents. The ornamentations and wall of the mosque were carved and woven by locals, making it even more special. The mosque had a relatively short life - it stopped being used in 1976 after the Al-Wahidiah Mosque was built next to it.

In 2008, Jabatan Warisan Negara (Department of National Heritage) initiated conservation work on the mosque. Upon the the completion of restoration work on 17 Dec 2009, DYMM Sultan Azlan Shah officially re-opened the mosque on 6 May 2011 with a newly accorded heritage status by the Jabatan Warisan Negara.

Above the importance of unique historical buildings and architecture, the National Heritage Department has carried out conservation work in December 2008. Among the problems faced by the project is the preparation of the backdrop due to the absence of skilled craftsmen and the lack of manufacturing materials ie bamboo oils Locally to create a cliff wall. Therefore, the National Heritage Department has obtained a wickerwork and bamboo source from Perlis State according to the original type. This conservation work has been carried out using systematic work arrangements to preserve the originality of original architecture.

- Jabatan Warisan Negara –

Personally I am very happy that Masjid Ihsaniah Iskandariah was accorded heritage status. Whether the mosque will ever serve as the center of the community again remains to be seen, but it's story and origins should always be at the center of the local community.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Tengkolok Folding (Menyolek Tengkolok/Destar)

Popularly known as tengkolok, this traditional Malay male headgear (a.k.a destar, tanjak, and setangan kepala) is nowadays being worn in official events, weddings or investiture ceremony when one is being coffered with knighthood. Historically, it is folded or binded ('solek' in Malay tengkolok term) to neaten the hair when commoners visit their Sultan. As it quickly become a great favourite, it later made into the official attire for the palace as well as for the public.

For Perak royalties, ones rank is closely related to each tengkolok binding style and colour. Each states has its own binding style and it is also said that Perak has the most beautiful tengkolok binding. However, the most famous style is called Dendam Tak Sudah from the state of Negeri Sembilan. It was learnt that the art of creating tengkolok is by folding and shaping it using hand and knee. No machine can create this piece of art.

There is a folklore pertaining how tengkolok came about in the malay sultanate custom. It was told that the first Sultan of Perak; Sultan Muzaffar Shah I ibni Almarhum Sultan Mahmud Shah (1528 – 1549) set sail to Perak to form the Perak Sultanate. Sultan Muzaffar was the second prince born to the last Sultan of Melaka, Sultan Mahmud Shah, who was then exiled to Johor following the fall of Melaka to the Portuguese (this is also the reason why Keris Taming Sari resides in Perak, under the care of the royal palace). The Melaka Sultanate royal regalia, including the Royal Crown of Melaka were brought together in his journey to Perak.

Nearing Perak, Sultan Muzaffar Shah ship entered shallow waters and was stuck hence the crew decided to lighten the load of the ship to get the ship sailing again. Many of the items carried on the ship were thrown into the sea yet the ship still refused to budge, everything was removed from the ship inclusive of the Royal Crown. Immediately the ship was able to move, pleased with the offering of the Royal Crown, and soon after Sultan Muzaffar Shah able to continue his journey.

This act of throwing the royal crown into the sea was identified as a miracle sign, he swore that he and his descendants would never wear a crown as Sultans, nor be crowned during their installation. Subsequently, this has became a practice by other states’s Sultans, thus till today, Tengkolok came as a replacement for the royal crown.

To know how tengkolok became known or existed amongst the malay culture, one has to understand the history behind it. In 7th century during the height of Sriwijaya empire, Langkasuka was conquered, and during this invasion, tengkolok was introduced and worn by the Srivijayan that eventually localized and assimilated with the locals.

There are 8 styles of Perak tengkolok folding or binding that has been recorded, namely Anak Gajah Menyusu, Dendam Tak Sudah, Ayam Patah Kepak, Alang Iskandar, Helang Menyusur Angin, Pucuk Pisang Patah, Balong Ayam and Getam Pekasam. Many might have not known that the tengkolok folding for the Sultan has a higher ‘pucuk rebung’ as compared to commoners. Hence, the art of tengkolok folding in Perak is cared for its heritage and culture are highly valued.

Below are the Perak styles and colours that are associated with ranks :
DYMM Sultan –Balong ayam. White and gold
DYTM Raja Muda –Ayam patah kepak. Yellow and gold
DYAM Raja Di-Hilir –Lang Menyusun Angin. Black and silver

Tengkolok Helang Menyusur Angin worn by Sultan Perak, Sultan Nazrin upon his coronation.

If interested, one can contact Raja Ahmad Akashah of Sentuhan Prestij located at Lembah Kuala Kangsar to showcase and demonstrate on tengkolok/destar technique.

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