Saturday, 28 November 2009

My Most Unforgettable Experience During Hajj

(Masjidil Haram - The Grand Mosque)

Today, 11th Dzulhijjah, four years ago, I was in Mina, celebrating Eid-ul-Adha with my husband and son. It was the year I performed Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam. The Hajj pilgrimage was the most amazing experience in my life, leaving me with unforgettable memories and valuable lessons, teaching me the meaning of life through real encounters. TsuMina, the big flood in Mina, left me with a remarkable memory of my 2005 Hajj pilgrimage. Mina, a low lying area just outside Makkah, is a valley surrounded by mountains. It is part of the Hajj ritual to be at Mina in order to perform the stoning of the Jamrah. Jamrah are three pillars built to signify the incident that took place long ago during the lifetime of Prophet Abraham a.s. whereby Satan tried three times to stop him from having his son, Ishmael a.s., to be sacrificed.

(At the Jamrah area in Mina)
The flood happened on the third day of my stay at Mina. It was after lunch that I noticed the sky was not as sunny as the previous two days and it was rather windy. I was attending to my son, entertaining him with a little touring around the campsite. It was a wonderful breezy day. Just minutes before Asar, I brought my son to the toilet area to have him showered. He was happy to have his shower done and eager to get back to the camp. While walking towards Hahnemann’s camp against the developing strong wind, I noticed the grey sky and soon droplets of water fell from the sky. By the time I reached the camp, it was raining heavily.
(In the camp at Mina)
The rain grew heavier and pools of water were forming outside along the walk-way. I quickly gathered my belongings, put on my shoes, and carried my son. Soon I could see sandals outside the camp being washed down the slope. I was already standing with my handbag full of medicine on one shoulder, carrying one luggage bag in one hand and holding my son in the other when water began rushing into the camp. In about less than ten minutes, the water level was up to my knee. I was terrified but remained calm nonetheless. I looked up at the steel poles that were holding up the camp. They were putting up a weak resistance, swaying with the strong wind. I looked on, worried and anxious for my husband’s presence to help me get out of the camp to safety.
(Mina Campsite)
Finally when my husband came, we hurriedly left the camp in search for higher ground. By then, the water was already level to my waist. We walked in the heavy rain, shivering in the cold for about ten minutes before entering into another camp. The camp had an entrance leading us to the campsite's toilet area that was situated on a higher ground. We then took shelter in one of the cubicles until the rain stopped. That night we slept in the camp which was left empty by the Bruneians who moved on to Makkah to complete their Hajj rituals. Our Hajj package operator, Hahnemann Travel and Tours Private Limited, was very responsible. The safety and well-being of its Jema’ah as well as their intention in completing the Hajj rituals were its priority. We felt grateful to Hahnemann Travel for instructing its Hajj pilgrims to stay at Mina to complete the stoning of the Jamrah.
(Flood aftermath)
That night, I could not sleep much and pondered on what had happened. The flood was a warning as well as a blessing to me. I felt that Almighty Allah had pardoned me and given His mercy by fulfilling my wish of wanting to perform the stoning of the Jamrah easily for the sake of my son, who was then two years nine months. Unlike the first two days of my stay, the stoning area was rather deserted as there were very little people performing the ritual after the flood. Indeed, the flood in Mina was a test of faith, testing my trust in Almighty Allah in a time of difficulty in which my unrelenting faith was rewarded with easy stoning of the three Jamrah.
(At the Jamrah)
Al-Hamdulillah, this incident enabled me to see the beauty of Islam and the significance of Hajj. From it, I learned that I was given the opportunity to experience receiving the reward for having and putting faith in Almighty Allah (Allah is an Arabic word for God), trusting Him as the only Protector, the only One with the ability to save anybody from everything and anything. Indeed, nothing escapes Allah’s will and all is possible except Allah the Most High -with Allah, everything is possible, no one can imitate Allah's creations, and there is only one God.
(Wuquf at Arafah)

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Reasons behind the similarity in culture between Baweanese and Malays


It is not surprising that the culture of the Bawean people is similar in many ways with that of the Malays (here I am referring to Malay ethnic group i.e. the Malays in Singapore, Malaysia and Riau Lingga including part of Sumatra). The Baweanese and the Malays originated from the same ancestors (i.e. from the people of mainland Asia) and practiced the same belief (i.e. Islam)! According to history, the evidences that have been uncovered by archaeology clearly showed that in prehistoric times, the Malay Peninsula formed part of a land bridge for successive waves of migrants moving southwards from the Asian mainland towards Indonesia and Australia.

(Two relatives related by marriage met during Eid - One Javanese and the other a Baweanese wearing a Mandarin Collar button-up shirt)

In a history text book, "Jessy: Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei 1400-1965" by Joginder Singh (2nd revised edition 1974, Publisher: Longman Malaysia Sdn Bhd, Kuala Lumpur), it mentioned that the first of these migrants may have been living in the Peninsula for as long as five hundred thousand years B.C. Then a new group of people arrived from the Indo-China in about 8,000 B.C. Their descendants are the Senoi and the Semang aborigines of modern Malaysia. Following that, there were the migrants from the north from Southern China about five thousand years ago, bringing with them an advanced Stone Age culture. They are known as the Proto-Malays (i.e. Melayu asli) and they are the ancestors of the present Malays (Deutero Malays -i.e. the Malays with mixed blood) of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

(Surah Al-Fateha, the opening of Al-Quran -the sacred book of Islam)
Hence, sharing the same ancestors, the Baweanese and the Malays (ethnic group) are the likeness of two cousins sharing the same grandfather! It is the same too for the other ethnic groups in this Nusantara region such as the Achenese, Bataks, Bugis, Minangkabaus, Banjarees, Javanese, Balinese, Ambonese and etc. However among the above ethnic groups, generally the Achenese, Bugis, Minangkabaus and Banjarees are Muslims. [Take note: the Malays (referring to the Malay race) in the Philippines are majority Catholics/Christians - Filipinos too belong to several Asian ethnic groups, grouped within the Malay or Malayo-Polynesian speaking people, who speak Austronesian languages. The concept of Malay race is not the same as in the concept of Malay ethnic group]
(During a Baweanese matrimonial ceremony -1980s)
(Aqad Nikah)

Sharing the same religion is another reason for the similarity in culture between the Baweanese and the Malays. For example, 'Aqiqa, Qurban, Eid, Aqad Nikah, Circumcise, Thanks-giving (Doa Selamat), Tahlil, etc… are derived from the Islamic culture. However, the way they are being performed varies.

For example, the Baweanese regard 'Aqiqa as necessary even though they knew it is not compulsory in Islam. 'Aqiqa is a ceremony for a new born baby. Usually it is being held grandly to express one's gratitude to Almighty Allah for the gift of life. Often during this ceremony there will be ''Berzanji'' (the reciting of the History of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w). This is to commemorate the struggles and sacrifices made by Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. Generally, the Baweanese people are strong believers of Islam and they want to emulate closely the good act of the Prophet s.a.w. They are very good in "Berzanji" and most of them were blessed with good reciting voice. Most of them are proficient in reciting Al-Quran with perfect "Tajwid". Many among them are "Hafiz" (a term used to describe those who memorise the entirety of the Quran).
However, I was told by my late grandfather that before Islam, the Bawean Islanders practiced Shamanism (a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world). Then a pious Muslim (believed to be from Middle-East) came to Bawean Island and taught Islam to the Islanders. Gradually, they accepted Islam and finally 100% of the inhabitants became Muslims. As a little girl, I used to hear the Pondok people talking about the Mystical Bawean Island. They said that non-Muslims would not get out of the Island alive once they stepped into it -they would die mysteriously. Air-planes could not fly over the island too- it would crash! Is it true?... I have no comment.

(A typical Baweanese meal)

Likewise the Bugis, Javanese, Minangkabaus and others, the Baweanese and the Malays shared the same culture and traditions with minimal differences -the likeness of the similarity in appearance of two cousins due to sharing the same grandparents but not parents. For example in the art of self-defence, the Bawean people called it “Pokolan” and use the “Parang” while the Malays called it “Pencak Silat” and use the “Keris”. Look at their dishes; the Malays called the red chilli soupy gravy, ‘Asam Pedas’ but the Baweanese called it ‘Kela Tomes’ –the dishes look the same but taste quite different due to the portion of ingredients used.
(Notice the Baweanese teenage wearing green Baju Kurong while behind her, is a Baweanese woman wearing the kebaya with sarong batik -photo taken in 1990s)

How about their attire? –the traditional older generation Baweanese women prefer Kebaya with sarong batik rather than the Malay Baju Kurong. Often, the young Bawean ladies wear Baju Kurong thinking that it is the traditional dress. However, this is not true. The traditional costume of the Baweanese ladies is the kebaya with sarong batik and for the Baweanese men is the Mandarin collar button-up shirt (influenced by the Dutch colonialists in Indoneasia) with sarong 'pelikat' or pants –there is no 'kain samping'…. just like any other typical traditional Indonesian attire!

(A Baweanese couple from Ipoh, Perak in traditional attire -1970s)
Gradually through the years, the differences in culture between the Baweanese of Singapore and the Malays of Singapore (as well as the Baweanese and Malays of Malaysia) lessen due to intermarriage between the people in these two ethnic groups. This is another reason for the similarity in culture between the Baweanese and the Malays. The same happened to the other ethnic groups living in the Malay community. Today the differences in culture between these ethnic groups are so minimal that some of them in this community identify themselves as Malays, especially to the Chinese, Indians, Eurasians and foreigners. The reason given behind this is that, it saves them the trouble of explaining their true ethnicity backgrounds.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Who are the Baweanese (Boyanese)?

(Two Baweanese sisters -Grand-aunt Hamsi and Grand-aunt Hannah in 1980s)

Few days ago, an undergraduate had asked me about the Bawean race for her research work. She wanted to know the general surface of this race and the reasons to the similarity in culture to that of the Malays. I had replied her and now I like to take the opportunity to write it in this post.

(Location of Bawean Island)
As written in my previous post, the Baweanese are not Malays. They are people originated from the Bawean Island situated in the Java Sea. This tiny Island belongs to the Republic of Indonesia and is also widely known as "Pulau Puteri" which literally means ''Island of the Woman'', referring the island belongs to the women. There are more women than men living in the island because most of the men have gone ''Merantau'', leaving their homeland in search of opportunities abroad.
(Map of Bawean Island)

Hence, the traditional homeland of Bawean descents from all over the world, wherever they are today -Malaysian Baweanese, Singaporean Baweanese, Australian Baweanese, etc., is Bawean Island. The forefathers of these Baweanese were immigrants in the country they are residing now. On the other hand, the Malays are the indigenous people of the Malay Peninsula and the Riau Lingga Archipelago.
(The Nusantara Region)
The Malays speak Bahasa Melayu while the Baweanese especially the Bawean islanders converse among themselves in Bawean language. However today, among the Baweanese descents living outside Bawean Island especially in Singapore, this language is "dying". Generally, the descendants of the Bawean people in Singapore do not speak the Bawean language. The older ones are comfortable conversing in Bahasa Melayu while the younger ones are comfortable conversing in English language. This is because Bahasa Melayu is the National language of Singapore while English is the first language taught in schools as well as the language used commonly in the working sector.
(During the month of Haj in 1980s -at Changi airport sending off my Mum to Makkah)

In Singapore, the Baweanese live among the Malays in the Malay community due to the similarity in culture and having the same religion. Similarly, the Baweanese in Malaysia are part of the Malay community. Firstly, this is because they are from the same region –the Nusantara Region i.e. South-east Asia. Secondly, they are bound together by a common belief –i.e. Islam. Islam has provided a bond between the Baweanese and the Malays.
(A Baweanese family -My family with Obek Adnan and his family in 1980s)

Islam has also bound up the other Muslims from different ethnic groups with the Malays. Hence in Singapore as well as in Malaysia, the Bugis from Celebes (Sulawesi), Achenese from Acheh (Sumatra), Minangkabaus from Padang (Sumatra), Javanese from Java, Banjarees from Banjarmasin, Baweanese from Bawean and the Malays shared a common belief and they live in the one big community that is, the Malay Community!
(The Baweanese during Salam Lebaran 2009 organised by PBS)

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Am I a Baweanese or Malay?

(The Head of Batam Cultural Department giving the opening speech)

During the last June school holiday, my sister and I visited Batam Island. We stayed there for a week to get away from our busy lives in Singapore. I bought five tickets for my family and friends to attend the "Pesta Kebudayaan dan Masakan Nusantara". It was organised by the Cultural Department of Batam in an effort to forge close ties among the different ethnic groups in the Nusantara region. The Head of the Batam Cultural Department gave the opening speech.

My sister was amazed to hear him speaking fluently in Malay language. She immediately asked me, "Why is this man speaking in Malay like us, with no Indonesian accent. Shouldn’t he be speaking in Bahasa Indonesia?" I replied, "This is because he is a Malay." She asked me again, "How can he be a Malay when he was born and raised in Batam, in Indonesia." I explained to her that the indigenous people of Batam are the Malays. Batam is part of the Riau Lingga Archipelago –the homeland of the Malays.
I explained further to my sister that only the Batam Malays speak Bahasa Melayu while those who speak Bahasa Indonesia are obviously from other parts of Indonesia –immigrants mostly from mainland Java. Then she asked me again, "So, what are we? Aren’t we Malays?" I replied, "Look at your NRIC. What does it read?" She answered, "Boyanese." I replied, "Yes, we are Boyanese!" I further told her that both of us are Baweanese (Boyanese) descents because our father was born in Bawean (Boyan) Island and his forefathers were born and raised there.
Such confusion is common nowadays. Most Baweanese descents (outside Bawean Island) from the younger generation, especially in Singapore, believe that they are Malays….my sisters, brother, cousins, daughters, son, nephews and nieces … all of them thought that they are Malays. Very sad indeed!
(Two Baweanese - same race but different nationality)