I accompanied Air Asia Zest’s maiden flight from Kalibo, Aklan to Kuala Lumpur last week. But instead of staying in the capital, my gracious hosts took me off the well-trodden tourist route to experience the traditional “kampung” (village) lifestyle and Malaysian cuisine – which is actually a combination of so many flavors – ethnic, Indian, Chinese, you name it.
Selangor, 30 kilometers from KL, took its name from the river, Sungai Selangor, though the derivation of the word itself remains unclear.
One story says it was derived from the name “langau” – bluebottle fly – the big greenish fly which vanquished an undefeated warrior from Melaka who tried to take a nap by the riverbank on a journey north with his men. The “langau” landed on his nose and flew away as he swatted it. Outwitted by a mere fly, the mighty warrior laid down his arms and settled in the area, which came to be known as Se-langau – “one bluebottle fly”, later uttered as Selangor.
Another version says Selangor’s beach was once a place of punishment for criminals. Its name derived from two words – “salang” and “jemur” as convicts were tied on wooden stilts known as “salang” (although still another version says “salang” meant execution by thrusting a “keris” sword through the heart) and left to bake under the sun – “jemur”.
A third says it’s a combination of a Malay word “selang” which means strait, and a Tamil word “ur” which means city. Hence, “Selangur” connotes a dream-like “city by the strait” as it is indeed close to the Strait of Malacca.
No matter, from its first landmark, Selangor took my breath away.
When I arrived in its capital, I beheld Shah Alam, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque), the emblem of the city, dominating the landscape. Once, it went on record for having the largest dome in the world, and the tallest minarets, before the Sultan of Morocco built a mosque to outdo it. Still, it remains a magnificent masterpiece of Moorish and Malay architecture, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia to this day.
Close by, stood the Sultan Alam Shah Museum, with a grand old locomotive parked just outside. Going in, I browsed through dioramas showing the history of the state and its capital – tin mining was its biggest money maker in the olden days, together with rubber tapping, now it’s manufacturing and tourism.
Archaeological digs uncovered ancient granite cist graves strewn with funereal jewelry – glass and carnelian beads. War time exhibits showed kris swords with their serrated blades so they can’t be pulled out when thrust in and the wounds they inflict can’t be sutured – along with bells, medieval chain mail vests – and cannon balls.
Selangor’s ancient tin currency fascinated me. They were made of tin ingots valued according to their weight and shaped as grasshoppers, tortoises, elephants, cockerels, crocodiles and fish. A gold peacock, the state symbol of dignity, is hanged over the sultan’s throne while he gives audience to his people. The Sultan is king. Anyone who contravenes his sovereignty begets calamity, the people believed.
Betel nut chewing is part of every day life. They even crafted copper jugs where they spit out betel nuts and leaves. Brides are bestowed gifts of stacked betel leaves.
And I found their wedding customs most intriguing.
Malay wedding rites combine indigenous, Hindu and Islamic traditions. And there’s a lot of preliminaries too, before the bride and groom march to the beat of the
“kompang” and sit on the “pelamin” – wedding dais.
Upon finding a suitable candidate, the boy’s parents dispatch a fact-finding mission comprising close family friends to meet the girl herself and to learn more about her. This is the investigation stage, “merisik” or spying.
Once both parties agree to the union, an engagement ring is placed on the girl’s finger in the “pertunangan” or betrothal. The wedding date is fixed between six months to two years after the engagement and the two families discuss the “akad nika” – wedding contract – including the amount of gift money to be paid by the bridegroom and the gifts for the wedding day.
Next comes the “hantaran”- sending of gifts and part of the amount of money (wang belanja) for expenses (wang belanja) which the groom’s family give to the bride’s. And only then can they proceed with the “persandigan” – wedding ceremony.
The wedding rites climax in the “bersanding” or sitting-in-state ceremony. After receiving the “sirih latlat” or “sirih genggam” – a prepared betel leaf – from the bride’s side, the groom’s entourage proceed to the bride’s house. A group of married women lead the procession, followed by the groom flanked on both sides by two people holding the “bunga maggar” – sprays of mango flowers – now improvised as paper flowers on sprigs – symbols of fertility.
When they arrive in the bride’s house, her elders welcome the groom’s party with a shower of saffron-colored rice and rose water. The groom enters the house and is brought to a sit-in-state beside the bride who is waiting on the dais. Then they feedeach other with sweetened rice, assisted by a “mak andam” – a beautician or member of the bride’s family. The ritual symbolizes the couple’s responsibility to each other.
After that, eggs decorated with paper flowers are distributed to female guests.
However, the newlyweds don’t consummate their union until the fourth night, when the bride clads herself in white and lies down in a bed covered with white sheets and pillows encased in white. On the next day, the bridegroom presents the “mak andam” with a bloodied white cloth proving his wife’s virginity.
My guide shrugged when I pointed at the museum’s pink satin honeymoon bed. “Times have changed. Now, young people go straight to their honeymoons.”