There are various opinions on the etymological meaning of the word “Melayu” (Malay), among these are the opinions that the word “Melayu” originated from the word “Malaju”, which means “faster speed, swift, agile”. Hence, the Malays are considered people with characters of fast and quick actions.
A.H.Keane, an anthropologist has the opinion that the Malay race descended from Caucasians and Mongolians. This opinion is based on the theory that the Malays came from the northern parts of South East Asia. Hence, from a wider socio-cultural perspective, the definition of “Malay” includes people from Peninsular Malaya and the Malay Archipelago (Nusantara). As such, Malays are considered the largest groups of people in the world.
Visits To Malay Houses
The following are some guidelines on Malay customs to be observed when visiting Malay houses:
- Visitors who are Muslims should inform the host by saying “Assalamualaikum” upon arrival at the house.
- Visitors must remove their shoes before entering the house.
- If at that moment, there are already other guests in the house, then the visitors must introduce themselves, at the same time bow slightly and shake hands with these guests as a sign of respect.
- If someone wishes to walk past a group of people, he/she should bow slightly and cover part of the face with one hand, saying suitable words like “ Excuse me, please allow me to walk past” (Maaf saya, tumpang lalu).
- It is a tradition that in a Malay house, the host and guests will sit on the floor. Men can sit cross-legged while women will sit with both legs sideways (bersimpuh). If sitting on chairs, it is considered impolite if some one sits cross-legged, exposing the soles of his feet, stretching his legs straight or with legs wide open.
- When the host serves food, it is impolite for the guest to refuse. Even if the guest is not hungry, he should still eat a little bit of the food.
- Young ladies should scoop rice into the plates of the elders. Scoop moderate amount of rice, not too much or too little. Always let the elders take the food first. It is impolite for the elders to eat the remaining food of younger people. Some families prefer to have separate table for the younger generation, or to request the elders to eat first. But such practice is not suitable if we want to instill the spirit of family togetherness.
- Always take the nearest food, and not food that is placed further away on the table. If someone wishes to take food that is placed further away, seek help from those seated near that particular food.
- When extending or accepting a greeting, it is polite to place one hand on the elbow of the other hand when stretching out the hand .
- Use the left hand to scoop gravy or rice so that the spoon will not get dirty. Do not talk while eating, especially when the mouth is full of food.
- Do not talk on matters that may make others uneasy or embarrassed , or may affect their appetite or even cause an argument.
- Do not whistle inside the house as this is considered impolite and not showing respect to others.
- Talk in a moderate tone, especially the young people. Do not raise your voice as though you are quarrelling.
- If one wishes to talk to someone seated further away, go near him. Do not shout across the room.
- A wife should always wake up earlier and go to bed earlier than her husband. She should sleep facing her husband and not showing her back to him.
When a woman is pregnant, several ceremonies, practices and taboos have to be carried out. The purpose of the ceremonies are to pray for the safety of the pregnant woman and her foetus so that they can both be healthy and protected from all kinds of misfortune.
The Malays believe that a happy pregnant woman will give birth to a happy and healthy baby. Hence, a pregnant woman is prohibited from hearing, seeing or talking bad things. Among the ceremonies and rituals to be carried out during pregnancy are as follows:
- Book the midwife (Menempah Bidan)
- Touch the stomach (Menjamah Perut)
- Roll the stomach (Melenggang Perut)
- Bathe the stomach (Mandi Melenggang Perut)
- Consult the spirits (Mengadap Semangat)
Book the midwife (Menempah Bidan)
When the woman is 7 months pregnant, her mother-in-law will make preparations to book the midwife to perform certain rituals and ceremonies. The best day to do that is on Thursday. On that particular day, the mother-in-law will change the curtains and decorate the house as well as invite relatives to the house.
Usually this ceremony is carried out at the end of the month, between the 21st and 29th day of the Muslim calendar. Tuesday is considered as a bad day to book the midwife, more so if there is any death of relatives on that day.
The booking of midwife is usually done only for a woman’s first pregnancy. The purpose is to ensure a reliable and responsible midwife is available to handle the birth of the baby. If a formal booking is not done, no midwife may be available at the time of childbirth as other midwives would have already acceped booking from other people.
Touch The Stomach (Melenggang Perut)
Most Malays in the states of Malacca and Johore use the term “melenggang perut” while those in the northern states of Perak, Kedah and Perlis use the term “kirim perut”.
The midwife plays an important role in performing this ceremony. Among the items required for this ceremony include 7 pieces of batik cloth (various colours), one medium-size coconut, one cup of white rice, one plate of glutinous rice flavoured with turmeric (nasi kunyit) and a knife or a spoon.
The midwife will massage the pregnant woman’s stomach with oil to correct the position of the foetus. After that, she will say out mantras in the name of the Holy Prophet 3 times to ask for blessings. Then the coconut (with outer layer peeled) will be rolled on the pregnant woman’s stomach towards her legs. When the coconut rolls to her legs, the pregnant woman will give it a hard kick. It is believed that this will result in a smooth and easy childbirth. If the “eyes” of the coconut turn upwards when the coconut stops rolling, the baby is believed to be a boy and vice versa.
Next an egg will be rolled on the pregnant woman’s stomach as a symbol of getting rid of all evil spirits. Then the nasi kunyit is placed on the stomach, also symbolic of chasing away evil spirits. After that the midwife will rub the spoon on the pregnant woman’s stomach, with the belief that this will make the new born baby‘s face smooth and pretty.
Bathe The Stomach (Mandi Melenggang Perut)
Items that are required for this ceremony include rice flour mixed with betel leaves (tepung tawar), 3 limes, one old coconut (peeled), 2 candles, a pitcher of water sprinkled with 7 types of flowers and blessed water.
Usually this ceremony will be carried out in the direction facing the inside of the house. The pregnant woman will sit on a bench. The ceremony will commence with the midwife saying out the mantras in the name of the Holy Prophet to ask for blessings. She will then trim the hair of the pregnant woman, with the belief that the new born baby will not be hairy. The pregnant woman wears a sarong above the bosom and the midwife, assisted by several people, will pour water from the pitcher onto her body. As the water flows over the body, an egg will be placed in the folds of the wet cloth and then released. Then the pregnant woman will be bathed with water from 7 wells and sprinkled with 7 types of flowers. Finally, blessed water is poured onto her body and the ceremony is completed.
Consult The Spirits (Mengadap Semangat)
In the olden days, this ceremony takes place on a small, decorated dais where the pregnant woman will be seated, facing the spirits. This ceremony is only attended by women folk. Among the items that will be prepared include white rice, nasi kunyit, egg and fruits. The egg will be broken atop the nasi kunyit, and a bunch of flowers will be placed there.
Grilled chicken and beef will be put into small containers as offerings to the spirits. The pregnant woman will taste a pinch of salt, with the belief that her new born baby will be physically normal, without any handicap.
Advice and taboos during pregnancy
Taboos are actions accepted by the community. The Malay community has some taboos that should be observed by pregnant women. These taboos are important for the safety of the pregnant woman and her foetus.
There are 2 groups of taboos in the Malay community, one is on “actions” and the other one is on “food”.
Under the “actions” group, there are several advice and taboos that must be followed by the pregnant woman.
- The pregnant woman is not allowed to bathe after Maghrib and Isyak prayer time . She is also not allowed to soak her clothes overnight as it is afraid her body will be bloated during childbirth.
- The pregnant woman is prohibited to see or hear things that may frighten her as that may make her deliver a handicapped baby.
- The pregnant woman should not laugh, insult or make fun of other people. It is afraid that the characters of these people will be found in her new born baby.
- The pregnant woman is prohibited to put off the embers of any fire as it is afraid her new born baby will have a dark future.
Cut the umbilical cord
The midwife will cut and tie the umbilical cord of the new born baby. Prior to this, the scissors that will be used is blessed. The midwife will make 3 knots at the umbilical cord. These knots must be done before the umbilical cord is cut. This will stop blood from flowing out when the umbilical cord is cut.
Massage oil will be rubbed at the place where the umbilical cord is cut. Bandage will then be placed there.
Bury the placenta and afterbirth
After a woman has given birth, the placenta and afterbirth that flow out together with the baby must be disposed of properly (bury). Before that, the placenta and afterbirth will be cleansed . Placenta and afterbirth cannot be buried at 12 noon sharp because it is afraid the baby will be stubborn. The placenta and afterbirth will be buried at the door way together with tamarind, salt, needles, books and pencils so that the baby will grow up to be a hardworking child and a smart student. The placenta cannot be buried too deep as it is believed that this will delay the child from learning how to speak.