Sunday, 24 November 2013

Village life in the 60s at the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia.


A typical Kampung (village) house in the early years of 1960s.
 
During the founding years of the 1960s, Malaysia was still struggling to make itself known as an independent country, while other South East Asian nations kept a cautious distance to observe how long the democratic constitution monarchy could sustain. The Western powers led by Britain and the USA were betting among themselves the time needed if Malaysia were to fall into communist hands. Thousands of young people flocked into bigger towns of Ipoh, Penang, and Kuala Lumpur in search of better life or to continue their higher education.

A herd of buffalo feed themselves on wet rice field before planting begins.
This is a picturesque scene taken in the island  paradise of Langkawi.

 
Back at the rural areas in the state of Kelanan, everything remained as it was since 50 years ago. Most villagers were either farmers or fishermen, with some working in the banks, civil services and some joined the military as soldiers. There was not much development; livelihood for the villagers were tough and some families found it hard to meet both ends. Despite being poor, children sought fun time to roam the beaches, farm lands and jungle tracks adjacent to the low hills. Racial harmony was the order of the day, nobody was segregated nor side-lined from any function or communal event. Chinese children mixed freely among the Malay children as they spoke fluent Bahasa Melayu with a Kelantan twang. They picked up some Thai language too as some children were of mixed parentage.

A buffalo family stands vigilant when a picture of them was taken.
 
Yap Ah Meng's family was one of five Chinese households living among 50 Malay families in a small Kelantanese village.  One afternoon while having his simple lunch upon his return from his school, the 11 -year old boy was told to follow his buddy Mat to go into the jungle. Why? Well, their mission was to track down a missing buffalo his uncle owned and to bring it home. Two them hopped onto the back of a lorry truck, with a huge male buffalo and its master Daud, an old hand in buffalo breeding and trading, keeping them company. Mat's uncle Abdullah  was seated and chatting with the driver-cum owner of the truck Hassan at the driver's cabin. Just after 5 miles they entered the fringe of the jungle where all of them got down from the truck, including the menacing buffalo.  After half an hour walk along a gentle-sloped trek through secondary forest, they caught sight of the wayward run-away 2-year old male buffalo.

A lone water buffalo grazes at a rice field next to village houses
when there is no farming activities going on.
 
Younger and smaller sized buffalo, male of female would look up to a bigger sized, older buffalo as the leader of the herd to which they pledged subordination and obedience. As Daud the old buffalo handler led his king buffalo close to the younger bull, Uncle Abdullah placed a dark cloth on the head of the run-away buffalo, thus blinded it. It was subdued without a fight and everything was over within an hour. How about the cost of bringing back the run-away buffalo? It was almost unbelievable but was true, buffalo owner Abdullah did not pay a dime to the owner of the truck owner Hassan as he was his childhood friend and a neighbour. How about the service rendered with a loan of guiding buffalo? Well, Daud would not charge a cent as he was the one who sold the young buffalo to Abdullah. The two kids were happily seeping tea together with the uncles later at a road-side coffee shop. They were in a haste to munch the "pisang goreng" viz. fried banana before parting company, while the adults smoked and chatted loudly. This time of course, owner of the two-year old buffalo, Abdullah paid the bill.  

A clean looking pond with abundance of hyacinth water plants.
It belongs to the water lily family.
This is where lively fishes thrive.
The perch or puyu as known to the Malaysian villagers,
is a hardy fish that can survive through drought season.
Its fins could harm human hands when caught.

During those difficult years it was not popular to rear fresh water fish in dug ponds in the rural areas in Kelantan but somehow there were lots of ponds around. Unlike Perak, Selangor states and elsewhere in the peninsula where there were large tin-ore mining operations going on, Kelantan was not endowed with the rich mineral resources. In those states, large areas of sandy excavated pits were left in the open after the mining activities ceased.  Rain water quickly filled the pits into ponds. Quick minded farmers began to rear edible fish for human consumption. Whereas the ponds in Kelantan were always filled with floating hyacinth plants. The Chinese people would harvest the water plants and cut them into fine pieces to feed the pigs. The gentle Muslim neighbours would watch in amusement but they had never complained. Some small sized (about 1 to 1.5 ft. long) snake-head fish were found in abundance in the ponds together with other smaller species of perch (Ikan Puyu), gourami, and catfishes etc. The snake-heads were easily spotted in the ponds with the babies fishes in bright yellow-golden colour, swimming en masse at the water surface.

A small species of gourami; it is a gentle
fish suitable for aquarium rearing.
A fresh water catfish.
 
Came the dry season (April to June/July) the generally shallow ponds dried up rather quickly, leaving the hyacinth plants all over at the bottom.  Then the kids would realised that the fishes had all gone into oblivion - they all disappeared overnight. Upon close inspection it would not difficult to spot some water sprouts oozing clear water out of the ground. The curious children would dig with bamboo knives a little bit down and lo they would find: a small school of tiny baby fishes still flourish underground. What about the larger fishes? The snake-heads were all well prepared to burrow holes into the side, and bottom of the ponds when water level was getting low. There they would find sanctuary snug themselves cosy with their tails got in first. When the rain began to pour in to fill the ponds again, the fishes would rejuvenate themselves and thrive vigorously in their natural habitat. 


The predatory snakehead could grow up to 3-5 ft.
long in the wild, like those found in natural habitat
 of Sungei Tahan, Taman Negara.
A specimen of the snakehead fish.
A cute duckling stares at the camera for a candid shot,
while its mother hen watches on.
Out for a leisure stroll. Don't get too
near the pond; she seems to say.
Ducklings taking a break after a swim.
They will be too eager to go
into the water for another round.
 
It was common to see a mother hen taking a nest (infant flock) of ducklings for a walk around in the village farm or just around the kampong house. Not all ducks hatched the eggs they laid as the owner usually hastily collected the eggs for consumption. So mother hens were roped in to do the 28-days hatching of the duck eggs. Due to its instinct, the surrogate mother hen did a dutiful, faithful job to turn up a nest of lively, healthy ducklings. For the first few days the duckling clung closely with the mother hen either when they remained in the nest or when they moved about just a short distance away. After about one to two weeks, the duckling would attempt to enter the water to try their natural skill in swimming, when they chanced upon a pond, or a small stream. Being unable to swim, the mother hen would display her anxiety and concern at the edge of the pond, wobbling up and down and making calls to her newly hatched nestlings to come back to dry ground. It was mother's love abound without reservation. It was sheer fun just looking at them combing the farm and village house territory before night fall.


Mother hen is teaching the ducklings
 to find worms from the ground,
or anything that's edible.

A true story written
Alan CY Kok
  

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