Growing Up In Trengganu

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Growing Up In Trengganu #29036

It's been a week of topsy-turvy. I saw a pontianak, but only on celluloid, and she turned out to be a real banshee. Why don't pontianaks fly properly, I wonder. The one I saw came down vertical and went for the jugular; but I'm happy that this Malaysian film's raked in 3 awards in Estapona, Spain, and another in Tokyo. Respect, as they say in hip-hop circles. Since seeing this banshee I've not wronged ladies nor trod their painted toes. I can't bear to think what they'd come back as if wronged by me.

There weren't many pontianaks in Trengganu, but pelesits seemed to roam quite free. Pelesits were creatures apart and were kept mostly by some crones of the community. I remember my mother telling me one day that so and so had a pelesit handy. Only a few days ago I met a Captain with the Malaysian airlines who said that when he was growing up in Trengganu he'd lived in a house in Hiliran with his parents and brothers and a few other things that did the bump thing in the nocturnal hour.

Istana Maziah, 1920s.

Oh, I said, I know the house because my cousin lived there when it was still painted yellow, and there was a lady who never looked you in the eye who used to do the chores for the wife that he'd just wed. This was before the Captain grew up in the house of course, and what's interesting about elderly ladies who didn't look you in the eye was that in Trengganu they were believed to be harbouring little companions beside themselves to do the chores. And of the many things I heard when I too was little was that this lady had kept a pelesit which she was anxious to be rid of. Pelesits came to you in many ways but I shall not bore you with that right now.

Do you think that was the same thing that was bothering us? The Capt asked. Funny you asked, but I don't know.

I've not seen ghouls but many fools on my way to where I'm now. All the ghouls I've seen are made on celluloid, and the fools they go where wise men fear. There weren't many ghosts in the Trengganu that I grew up in and the ones I knew I never saw. This pelesit of the little lady was the whispering type that kept whispering this and that to her ear. That's from what my cousin told my mother one day. My cousin was a religious man who spent many a year in the al-Azhar of Cairo, so he must've exorcised the little lady of her trouble. Funny that the little fellow chose to stay on to visit the man who'd one day fly our national carrier.

There was another ghost that we heard of vaguely but never got to know as we were never allowed to roam about in the bewitching hour. That was the hantu kangkang of the gateway to the Istana Maziah in the Kuala Trengganu harbour. The Istana Maziah was the ceremonial palace that sat in the back of a sloping span of green that was known to us as Padang Malaya, but later it became the Padang Maziah. It had a couple of flaming trees of the forest — the delonix regia — as I remember, and a row of tall palm-like trees that we called the pinang gatal. The pinang gatal was a handy tree for pranksters who were so enamoured of the fruits they bore. They were small pellet-like seeds covered in soft reddish skins that made your friend itch badly if you rubbed one hard enough on his exposed parts. Well, you wouldn't do it on your enemy, would you, or on a total stranger. So there we were, returning from a day in Padang Malaya, cheering and jeering while a friend scratched and scratched the back of his neck, which was the favourite spot for an attack with the pinang gatal..

But back to the ghost of the Palace gateway now, the hantu kangkang of the late hour. To do the kangkang on the palace gate was a feat even for ghosts, as it involved the parking of one foot on a foothold on one side of the gate and another on the other, a span of at least four or five yards I dare say. It was said too that the hantu kangkang came out at midnight and bestrode the gate in this curious and rude way for no reason that I know.

One day someone came and told my mother that so and so the pelesit keeper had died, but my mother, a woman who never missed a funeral, simply made don't know as we English speakers used to say in Trengganu. You just don't go to the funeral of a pelesit keeper.

September 28th, 2004


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