Fasting Ends! Let the Feasting Begin
Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – The preparations for the celebration of Hari Raya or Eid usually begins during the fasting month of Ramadan. The paint store in town displays cans of colorful products that spill out the front door onto the sidewalk. The most sought after colors are green, the color of Islam, or yellow, the royal colors of Malaysia.
After the walls are refreshed, the curtains are changed. Bolts of cloth, piled high in the millinery stores, are sold in a frenzy. Sewing machine whirr as each window is covered with new decorations Ties are used to pull them back for breezes and released for privacy at night.
Throughout Malaysia, tailors begin working nonstop to sew the new clothes worn during the festivities. For the men, the pants and the shirt are the same color. A muted sarong, weaved with gold or silver thread, drapes from the waist to the knees.
The ladies wear a matching top and long skirt, usually with flowery or abstract designs. The tudung, the head covering worn by most, matches the outfit. It is a matter of choice For example, the wife and daughter-in-law of the prime minister did not wear one during his Hari Raya greeting. My wife does not sport one either.
A few days before the end of Ramadan, the cooking begins. Curries of all sorts, cakes, sweets and veggies are prepared. Mostly “mom’s home cooking,” hours are spent grinding spices in mortars, collecting herbs from the markets or jungle, and purchasing beef and chicken to be stewed into a concoction of delicious wonderments. Many different types of rice are boiled just before the visitors arrive.
As in all countries, the children have migrated to the cities because of better economic opportunities. There is not much use for a finance degree in the jungle. When I meet people, I usually ask where they are from. They usually answer “from where they work." My next question is where their village is, and the answer varies from the many settlements through this tropical paradise. Known as “balik kampung” (back to the village), a great migration occurs. Trains, planes, boats and other modes of transportation are fully booked.
The festivities cannot begin until the sliver of the new moon is sighted. This was okay gazing across the desert where there were clear skies, but here in the tropics where clouds are the norm, one waits for the king’s announcement. The televisions and radios are turned on in anticipation. Finally, the king’s representative calmly, and in a reserved voice devoid of any excitement, announces that the moon has been sighted.
Across from my condo, the holiday lights are switched on, turning the usual twilight village into a blaze of illumination. Fireworks sound and cannon blast announcing the end of the fasting month. The Imam in the mosque voices the announcement across the village.
The next morning, the men and the male children arrive at the mosque and begin chanting prayers. The women stay home and finish preparing the food. Then, the seven-day-long feasting begins. The first day is reserved for families while on the other six anyone can turn up at a Moslem house and be served a delicious meal.
One enters the door and greets the host. Handshakes are in order with the right hand going to the heart. This symbolizes “I will always remember you in my heart.” For people older than you, the hand of the person is put to your forehead as a sign of respect. Usually, the guest asks the host to forgive him for any slights during the previous year.
The guests are then seated before an array of sweets in many different containers, an appetizer, I discovered. Drinks of the non-alcohol variety are presented. Next, the group moves to the dining table where a feast has been arranged.
The goal for house hopping (my term) is to consume just a little bit at each house, a difficult task as the curries and other foods are so delicious. The host and hostess repeat the words makan! makan (eat, eat). We stayed at my wife’s parents house most of the time as our small condo could not possibly hold many for entertaining.
For us, the procedure continued for the next three days visiting and eating and eating and eating………...
…Life is good. . . . .