Becoming legends.

Heritage is a fickle thing. It will die along with the old if it is not passed on to the next generation.

In this new world, what is in the past is unlikely to survive. Look around you. Kids do not play traditional games anymore; they would rather spend time on their computers and PS3s and Wii’s. Kids do not wear what their parents used to wear anymore; boys pretend to be black in Americanised fashion and girls pretend to be cute in Taiwanese outfits. Kids do not take up what their parents live on anymore; why be an accountant or a lame business manager when you can travel the world or be an entrepreneur.

But it is a different story in places like Terengganu. A place built upon the pillars of traditions and heritage. What will become of it when the time comes for the past to dissolve and become nothing but the fake display in the deserted museum.

I thought I saw a flicker of sadness in the makcik and pakcik‘s eyes whenever we asked them if they have children taking up what they have been doing since young. They would shrug and say, “Ah, what can you do? Kids have better things to look forward to these days. They don’t need these.” But judging from the downhearted tone in their voices, you know they would still hope their children would continue on the family business. When the time comes, they could die a happy man/woman knowing what they have lived their life on will still be alive when they are long gone.

What they do, is something that involves the entire family. No child, boy or girl, big or small, is ever left behind in this affair. Like the families making Keropok Lekor, Sata and Otak-Otak, famous tidbits in Terengganu made mainly from fish paste.

For Keropok Lekor, it is an industry. While one family goes out to sea to catch fishes, another will await the catch of the day. While one family grinds the fish to paste, another shapes them to boil. These food staples are so famous they got families – lots of them – making it. Every street you go down on, there will be at least one stall set up selling Keropok Lekor. In this case, such heritage is hard to die. Because it has become more than a heritage. It has become a breathing entity.

Modernisation is a two-edged sword when it comes to prevailing a heritage. Some may embrace it, bringing their industry to greater heights. Some will frown at it, seeing it as a threat to kill what they have known their entire life.

There is this makcik who wakes up at 3 in the morning since she was a young girl to make kuih akak, another famous Malay food in Terengganu, and selling them to fixed shops who in turn sell them to the public. The day has come and gone when modernisation came a-knocking and introduced an oven to help better their baking process. But the makcik would rather stick to the traditional way. She would still make the kuihs cooked on charcoals and covered under layers and layers of coconut shells. The old skool kind of oven, as the tour guide put it. It is something you do not see everyday.

But what amazed me more than seeing this makcik still living in the olden days, is seeing kids no older than I taking up the family legacy.

There is a famous wau-maker, who makes traditional Malay kites to professional wau-flyers. And he has got these guys, who would swing by to help carve the colour papers to perfection and cut the bamboos to make the kite frames.

And there is this girl, who is just a year older than me, and she spends every day of her life under her family’s house and by the songket-weaving machine. From 9 to 5 every day, perhaps an hour or two’s break, but every day, just sitting by the machine, memorising the torpedo’s count and weaving the silky patterns onto the cloth. And it’s not like an entire piece could be done in a day; she could only manage a few inches of it in a day and most songkets take roughly a month to finish. There is no manual or directory to teach her how to operate the machine, or what kind of pattern to take up. She grew up watching her mother doing this, and just like that, she knows. It is like the threads are weaved into her blood veins.

And there are these kids who would rather play gasing during their spare time, instead of video games. The kampung leader takes great pride in them little ones because they win awards with their favourite toy. Boys and girls dressed up in traditional Malay wears greeted us with their gasing-playing tactics. Watching them spinning the top on their thumbs, and throwing it from one player to another. Not to mention, they are good at it too.

I am a Chinese who grew up in the city, so it was an eye-opening trip to go into the depths of a Malay village and watch children and elderly breathe to life the traditions I have only read about in primary school textbooks. And as a city-dweller, it was a journey to rediscover simplicity and humility.

You don’t see things like these anymore. Even the people we visit, they are the sole makers left. In a kampung that used to have families making brassware or Keropok Lekor, today there are only a handful of them left. It makes me wonder what will become of these legendary heritage in ten years’ time. But somehow, after seeing the little ones living up to the traditions, I know it will not just disappear one day. If it were to go down in flames one day, they will let it burn bright red all the way.

Also seen on VM @ Travel Talk.

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2 Responses to “Becoming legends.”

  1. Chubby Zebra Says:

    Was this a random kampung, or an advertised “Heritage” kampung (if such a thing exists)? It’s just that the kids seem pretty dressed up! What’s the kampung name anyway? Looks like a place I’d like to visit when I’m home!

  2. Celeste Says:

    The kids are from Kampung Batu Hampar in Manir. And they dressed up because they were expecting us. I guess the Penghulu was informed that the photographers would be taking pictures so it was a perfect opportunity for them to look pretty. 🙂

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