Thursday 26 February 2015

Appeasing the Sea Spirits at Pulau Carey Part 2

The Puja Pantai ritual got underway when the tide ebbed and revealed part of the sea bed of the Straits of Malacca. Three 'shamans' led the way to the shrine there which moments ago was partly submerged in water.

Traversing the mudflats through the mangrove stumps was a pretty dicey affair but the sure-footed ones helped others along. For the masked dancer Diaman, it was easy-peasy so he was all smiles getting to the shrine while assisting others (including moi) along.

Three 'shamans' conducted the ritual, two (representing the Moyang Bate' and Moyang Gabus?) very obviously in a state of trance. Offerings of chamai (betel leaves), areca nuts and tobacco (among other things) were made to appease the spirits of the sea and pray for a bountiful year.

Then the celebratory dance of Mayin Jo-oh was performed by youthful dancers who were then joined by all the other children present. The chief 'shaman' kept a watchful eye on the children and the ceremony ended with him blessing them as they queued to clasp his hands.

He was joined by the other two 'shamans' and together they blessed all the Mah Meri villagers among the spectators who came up to them.

23 February 2015

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Appeasing the Sea Spirits at Pulau Carey Part 1

On the 23rd February 2015, the Mah Meri Cultural Village (MMCV) played host to the Minister of Tourism & Culture during the Mah Meri Puja Pantai ceremony at Pulau Carey. Puja Pantai* is the thanksgiving ritual during Hari Moyang to appease the spirits of the seas which the Mah Meri have carried out since a very long time ago. It coincides with the 'new year' of these descendants of a seafaring people who had depended on the sea for their livelihood.

                                          Outdoor panga (altar) with offerings

The event for the Minister's entourage started at the MMCV site, where Mah Meri arts and crafts of Kampung Sungai Bumbun were showcased for the visitors. Maznah Unyan exhibited her skill in anyam hake' (pandanus leaf weaving) and Pelat, his wood carving skills of topeng (masks) and patong (sculptures).

Not to be left out is the (mock) Mah Meri wedding ritual, of course. And (uh-oh), surprise, surprise, the Minister found himself  to be the pretend bridegroom! He was grinning from ear to ear the whole time during the 'ritual', so he must have found it (and the pretend bride?) amusing/pleasing. As is customary, the Mayin Jo-oh (traditional mask dance) was also performed.

From the MMCV, we all went on to the site on the beach where the Puja Pantai ritual would be carried out. This time the folks of another Mah Meri village, Kampung Sungai Judah are the main players. When we arrived, the tide was still not out yet so we mingled with the rather nice people of the kampung who had turned out then. There was the Mayin Jo-oh dance on the beach by the mangroves, and lots of picture taking of everything and everybody around, including the shy little children, the jubilant youth and the quite friendly adults. Anyi and Armah were two ladies I befriended, who enlightened me a bit on the Puja Pantai ritual.

The wait for the tide to subside enabled the mingling with the kampung folks who had come out to take part in this annual event on the sea bed of the Straits of Malacca. Even the poyang ('shamans') were obliging and ready to strike a pose.

For the Mayin Jo-oh, there was a beautifully woven decorative Busot; representing a so' (mountain). It is the focus around which dancers form a circle and move counter-clockwise.

Youthful Mayin Jo-oh dancers, Azlan and Mohd Fauzi, strike poses for my camera.  And 'Peace' from teen in pink, Diana (in the background of the left picture below).   To be continued...

*Puja Pantai rituals by the Malay farmers and fisherfolk in the East Coast states of Kelantan and Trengganu were carried out till 1960, after which it was banned and deemed unIslamic. In Melaka, Negri Sembilan, Sabah and Sarawak the equivalent was 'Mandi Safar'.

Note: There are five Mah Meri villages in Pulau Carey namely; Kampung Sungai Bumbun, Kampung Sungai Judah, Kampung Rambai, Kampung Sungai Kurau and Kampung Kepau Laut.

Ref: Chita' Hae; Culture, Crafts and Customs of the Hma' Meri in Kampung Sungai Bumbon, Pulau Carey. Centre for Orang Asli Concerns for Tompoq Topoh, 2007.

23 February 2015

Tuesday 24 February 2015

My Taste of Sri Lanka

When in Sri Lanka, I forgo my usual continental breakfasts in favour of the local. So I mostly eat dosa (thosai), hoppers or appa and string hoppers with the various curries (fish, parippu/dhal, polos/young jackfruit, potato, squid, shrimp, etc.), and sambols (Gotukola/Pennywort, Pol/spicy coconut, Lunu miris/onion, etc.). Then usually there are the various breads like Paratha, Pittu (flour & coconut funnel cakes), and Pol roti (like our lempeng kelapa). I also like the other Sri Lankan traditional food of kiribath (milk rice) which you eat with sambols, although I prefer the sweet, especially the one with the mung beans.

I really like the breakfast at Mount Lavinia Hotel (MLH) because they make the iconic appa fresh on request. It is rather odd (read: different) though, that you can have an egg sunny side-up in the middle of the appa. I still do prefer our Malaysian version of a sweet centre.

As at MLH, our breakfasts at the Berjaya (Malaysian) Hotel were also mostly local Sri Lankan dishes.

Then there are many kinds of fruits in Sri Lanka, and so many are similar to ours, both our countries being in the tropics; banana, papaya, mango, rambutan, avocado, durian, pomegranate, carambola, water melon, mangosteen, lime, pomelo, dragon fruit, jack fruit, etc. There are passion fruits of both the yellow or purple variety, and really sweet ananas or pineapple. There are the Kilo Pera or Kilo Gram Guava (known to weigh 1 kilogram mostly) savoured with chilli powder and salt.

A rather unique tasting fruit juice I discovered is that of the Wood apple (mostly growing wild), with its slight taste of sweet and sour but quite nice. Some describe its taste as that of blue cheese with tamarind. I like to eat blue cheese so I guess I am okay with wood apple. (I have just found out that we do have wood apple in Malaysia - gelinggai/belinggai - but I have never seen or tasted one before this!)

Our favourite drink in Sri Lanka is of course the Thambili or King coconut (water), which we try to get at every opportunity. The heat makes thambili the drink of choice. It is good that you can find this orange coloured coconut in many places on the streets. And it only costs 50 rupees!

One evening we dined at the Rasa Malaysia restaurant by the ocean. Okay, the Chef was Malaysian, especially flown out from Pulau Tioman, so the food was not quite Sri Lankan, yet not quite rasa Malaysia. Anyway A was feeling under the weather and wanted to 'cool down'. But there was no thambili on the menu. Then we spied a tree in front of the restaurant that had coconuts on it. We asked and they obliged! Thank you for the sweetest thambili ever. Or is it sweetest because it was gratis?

                            Thambili @ Rasa Malaysia                            Thambili @ Pinnawala

Mostly the thambili is consumed au naturel but sometimes I go for sweet, so jaggery (like our gula melaka) is added.

                                          Kurumba hora - Thambili with jaggery @ The Shore by O!

On our road trip to Kandy we passed by Cadjugama/Kajugama, where kaju or cashews grow in abundance. You can buy these nuts from roadside vendors (usually ladies in colourful attire) or some little shops. Eat them roasted and also spiced with chili. We bought enough to munch our way throughout our stay in the island.

                                          Cashew nuts of Kajugama

Sri Lanka is a spice island especially famous for cinnamon. There are many spice gardens to visit throughout the country, and again the herbs and spice plants are rather similar to what we have in Malaysia. But they do grow the second most expensive spice in the world (vanilla) rather more successfully than us.

When we visited the Island Grove Spice Garden, it was lunch time. I had fried rice which is not really Sri Lankan food, but is now ubiquitous in most eateries. My prawn fried rice was served with the local condiment of mango chutney.

                            Island Grove Vanilla                                       The Village Restaurant fried rice

With so much tea fame, of course Sri Lankans do drink a lot of tea. Our driver/guide stops for our bio-breaks at eateries or places that also serve tea. Quite Anglophile really... Visits to tea plantations and factories are a must for tourists, including us (although a train ride in tea country still eludes me). 

                                          White tea at Glenloch Tea Factory

                                          Tea and cakes at Barefoot

Then of course you have to have your last cup of Ceylon tea at the airport where there are many tea pavilions/cafes to choose from. Bon appe...tea!

10-15 February 2015

Sunday 22 February 2015

Colombo and Sunsets on a Suburban Beach

We went sight-seeing in Colombo the rather lazy way. No adventurous walking, no nervous rides in the ubiquitous three-wheelers, no crowded public buses either. So most of the city and its various landmarks were viewed through rather dusty car windows.

But I made a special request to get out in the ever busy and chaotic Pettah to get close-up pictures of the Jami Ul Alfar Mosque with its interesting candy-striped red and white brickwork. There was renovation going on and parking nearby was practically impossible! But our kind driver/guide stopped and waited for me right in front of the mosque, to enable me to quickly go in and take a few pictures. For a while, we literally and practically stopped the crazy traffic in Pettah!

Colombo is a mix of old and new. Old colonial buildings, new modern skyscrapers. Also historic and contemporary religious buildings of temples, dagoba (Buddhist stupa), mosques and churches.

Another stop was the Gangaramaya Temple. (We missed their Navam Perahera {procession of some 50 or more elaborately decorated elephants, cultural & folk dancers, jugglers, stilt-walkers, fire twirlers, and drummers, etc.} on the February poya {full moon} day, which fell on the 14th & 15th or was it on the 2nd & 3rd? Never mind, we missed it alright.)

A... waiting for a bus at the Gangaramaya bus stop. As if!

In our continuing rendezvous around the city of Colombo, we spot more of its important landmarks - the City Hall, the Lotus Pond Theatre, etc., etc.

We also stopped a while at the Independence Memorial for our obligatory photo shot.

On this trip we spent more time on the beach at the southern Colombo suburb of Mount Lavinia. Because Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean, so we thought we'd get our feet really wet with the waters of this vast mysterious ocean. And... the beautiful sunsets completed the experience.

10-15 February 2015