by Wan Hulaimi a.k.a. Awang Goneng – author of Growing Up in Trengganu and A Map of Trengganu
IN the Kuala Terengganu where I was born, Hari Raya came with clanging from over the hill. A rousing time for a little town, a stirring that came once every year to a hollow. We were not quite in the valley, but in our minds we were: to the left of us was Bukit Puteri, massive in our minds but small to the eye of the beholder. To our right was the massive wall of the sky, far out in the South China Sea.
It is all so distant now, but I — and I’m sure many Terengganu people do — still think of this when Raya’s in the air, for of the Hari Rayas that we keep in our heads for posterity, the ones that shape them most are those of our early years.
One night, we climbed atop this hill in an inexplicable act of bravado, for in our childhood, and in yours, too, I dare say, were surely ghouls and things of indistinct shapes creeping in woods and darker nooks, but climb the hill we did after maghrib, and that was the early evening prayer.
Our guide was an older friend who was a part-time clanger, but first I must tell you what brought the clangs. Atop this hill was a bell of solid brass, mounted on a stout beam in a hut that stood unlit among the rustles of the trees.
We were brave in numbers, but still, we clung close to each other and there, standing solitarily in the hut as the hours of the Kuala Terengganu down the hill was coming to a close, was this bell. It was called the genta.
The clanging was done manually, hand on beater, and “klaaang-klaang-klaaang” the genta went, tintinnabulations compared to the sounds of the great bells of this world, but I used to hear them loudly as I lay in bed before dawn of the next day, after the meal of sahur. Sahur got us up in the early hours for the family meal before the beginning of the fast of Ramadan, mother scurrying to and from the kitchen with freshly reheated food from yesterday’s iftar; then, the genta, and the peals took us to almost the end of eating time, and so began another foodless day. It was known to Terengganufolk as the ‘goncang’, time of the stirrings of the bell.
The Bukit Puteri was the paperweight that kept our community firmly to the soil, a meagre town with a small General post office looking out into the river, a population that were mostly on nodding terms with one another, newspaper readers who waited for the arrival of their dailies almost as the day was ending because the delivery lorries took the whole day to come from Kuala Lumpur to deliver.
But we had the bell that existed in no other town for Ramadhan and Hari Raya. In the crisp morning, as the light was already intensifying the colours of the holiday clothes of bright blue and yellow and gold, the genta measured the passing minutes before we walked out in the street, or bicycled as Father did, to the mosque for prayers on the morning of Hari Raya. Even the trishaw pedallers came out in special clothes, shirts brightly white and khanki trousers with creases ironed sharp and reinforced at the laundry stage by starch. But first there was food on the table.
I do not remember one Hari Raya that was not a sunshiny day; it is the effect that joyous days have whenever we look back. The sun on my Terengganu Hari Raya mornings was always a soft glow as we walked out into the street in Terengganu songket and shoes complimenting the cheerfulness of the sun by glowing white in the morning air. Father always insisted on white canvas shoes from a brand that, in Trengganuspeak, sounded like the word we used for a pillow. We had to have those shoes because after Hari Raya we could continue to wear them to school.
In the air was the genta, bold brass bell made in the foundry of the brassmakers who were among our people in this little community by the shore. In the faces were smiles and our bellies were already full with foretastings of a slab or rice that had compressed from spending the night in a wrap and groaning under weight of the stone slab Mother used for grinding spices for the table. Cut into cubes, they dipped well in Mother’s peanut sauce or kuah satay.
And the booms of cannon fire came from another hilltop further into the interior (read about Being Under the Explosion of the Bedil), and the lilt of Arabic enunciation coming to the seafront in the wind that blew from the towers of the White Mosque next door to my favourite photography shop called the Lay Sing Studio. The sweet flow of the Malaysian takbeer for Hari Raya is probably the most heart-wrenching, the most mellifluous in the world.
So wherever you are, whoever you are, in this little big country of Malaysia, I wish you all Selamat Hari Raya.
from NST 27 Jul 2014