"A Malaysian runs
into a clinic, blood pouring from his head. He inquires after
the doctor's and his family's health, not omitting grandma.
After a few remarks about the weather he admits he's had a little
bother with a brick falling off a building ..."
This exaggerated story has a germ of truth in it: Malaysians are a
reserved people, given to ceremonious politeness that seems
pointless to an outside observer. Rules of behavior must be
carefully observed within the family and one's own circle of friends
although "people we don't know" are, somehow, outside this
There are personal disagreements between parents and children from
time to time, but nobody seriously doubts that the elders' blessing,
however formalized, is necessary for congratulatory formula.
Malay boys and girls kiss their parents' hands and beg forgiveness
on Hari Raya, the end of Ramadan. Chinese children kneel
before their elders on Chinese New Year.
The whole performance seems incredibly embarrassing to foreigners
while the parties involved see nothing strange in it.
boys and girls kiss their parents'
hands and beg for forgiveness on Hari
Raya, the end of Ramadan.
Strong Family Ties
Traditionally, most Malaysians lived
within easy reach of their close
relatives. Villagers were
likely to marry within their own or
a neighboring community; any joyous
or sad event was shared with a big
crowd of cousins, aunts and uncles.
However small a house, there is
always room for a relative to stay
for a few days...or a few weeks...or
a few years!
It never fails to astonish
Malaysians when foreign friends
casually admit that they do not know
all their own second cousins.
A Malaysian certainly does --- and
he knows what to call them: elder
cousin, younger cousin, eldest aunt,
youngest uncle. Names are not
much used within the family context;
everybody has a "status name."
Baby is called "worm" or something
similar to protect it from the
jealousy of evil spirits.
Recent immigrants have kept up their
family connections with the "old
country", be it China, India,
Sumatra or wherever. Some
conservative Indian parents make
sure their children marry into a
suitable family by contacting a
matchmaker in the Indian
subcontinent to arrange a match for
a son or daughter. These
arrangements do not always come to
fruition: the young people may have
different ideas, though they usually
feel bad about disobeying their
parents on so vital a point.
Birth - Rites
|Malaysian women share a
deep concern for their married daughters' and grandchildren's
welfare. Pregnant women and newborn babies are guarded against
all harm. The father-to-be has to watch his step too. Among some
communities he is not allowed to kill anything, not even a snake,
because the unborn baby would be marked if he did!
Two things pregnant or newly delivered mothers of all races are kept
away from are "cold" and "wind".
"Cold" foods like vegetables and fruit are out; as for
iced drinks, forget them! The mother's head is swathed in
cloth to keep the "wind" out. Chinese mothers are
fed on chicken soup with wine and herbs for forty days to keep them
warm, and they cannot shampoo their hair for the duration --- never
mind how hot and sticky they feel. No newborn baby may be
taken outside --- "wind" would be bad for him. Some modern women refuse to be hampered by such taboos. They
put up with the soup for a week or so, then get a conniving friend
to smuggle fresh fruit into the house.
Malay babies have their heads ceremonially shaved when they are
forty days old, at the time the mother's confinement ends.
Some are also taught to "tread the ground" at this
age. Of course, they are far too small to walk so tiny feet
are made to touch the ground, or a handful of earth is carefully
held against pink soles.