Monday, June 28, 2010

Of Buah Nona and Tok Yek...

This is my story. The happening was in the midforties. It is a story of my childhood living in a Kampong [village] in Kuantan. Then the Kampong was known as Tanah Putih. Behind this kampong is Kampong Tengah where most of the Malay lives at that time. We live in a traditional Malay house with a Chinese neighbor who built a typical Chinese house that is on the ground. At that time there was hardly any house built on the ground. All houses especially the Malay house are built aboveground. Near our house is about two acres of Rubber plantation. Between the trees are bushes which became our playground. It is also a place where we went collecting dried wood for the fuel, for at that time all cooking was done by burning firewood. So it was sort of a ritual to go collecting firewood and stack it under the house to be used when needed. Electricity and running water has yet to come to this rural community in Kuantan.

Across our house on the other side of the road there was a rather dilapidated Malay house and this is where Tok Yek and his family live. I was then about five years old and to me Tok Yek is an old man who in his spare time acts as a sage or medicine man to folks in this small community which includes our family. In Malay he is often referred to as the Dukun or Pawang or Bomoh. But to me he is just a Dukun whom we often call to the house to cure or healed the sick. To make a living he works at the Sanitation Board which we Malay at that time just call it as Stribot. It was later when I went to school that I realized that Stribot is actually Sanitation Board. It is an institution during the colonial era that takes care of the sanitation of the district. When he is not working especially in the afternoon onward he would sit under the Nona tree and do his daily ritual of sharpening his tools of parang, knife and cangkul using a Sharpening Block of rock. The rock has slightly turned on the upside into a semicircular shape for the many years of using it as a Sharpening Block. I would often go and watch him sharpening his tools and never during all the years spoke to him unless spoken to which is rather rare. I just watch and actually fascinated with the way he patiently sharpening his tools. Behind him is the Nona tree which at times has fruits hanging from the branches. Funny though that up till now I still could picture the tree and the fruits as vividly as ever with that Tok Yek bending down doing his work careless of his surrounding. He too never spoke much; it was just me watching him and him working with his tool in silence. In my little mind I began to adore him as a grand sage of sort and wanted to know more about his ritual of healing folks but never got the courage to ask. Anyway he was part of the story of my life. That is the reason I had titled this posting as such. That old man is Tok Yek to me for I do not really know what his real name is. He is Tok Yek to all in the community and he remains so to me. And I like this old man.

In the forties there are not that many doctors around and most are at the Government Hospital which is some three kilometers away from our Kampong. Other than that there were two private practitioners in the Kuantan town and most folks could not afford to go to see the private doctors when they get sick. Either goes to the Government Hospital where one had to wait for hours to get attention or go and see the local Dukun or in the western world is know as the medicine man. Tok Yek is the Dukun that I would call when someone get sick in the house. He would always say that he would come over in a moment and he never failed to be there when needed. His service was of a civic nature and never once did I hear him asking for payment or something like that. He would give advice and then leaves with a prayer that the patience recovered.

I have always loved the Buah Nona or the Custard Apple and would buy it when it appears in the market. And then I thought that why not I grow this plant and see whether it would bear fruits like that plant at Tok Yek's house. Buah Nona have many seeds so I decided to try to grown this plant from the seeds. And I just did that by planting the seeds in a flowerpot. After a few months the seeds in the pot germinate and that really excite me. As it grows I move it to a bigger pot to see whether it would really grow into a tree. As it grows I move it to a patch of enclosure on the ground and plant it there. After months of waiting it did grow into a full-blown tree like the one I saw in my childhood days in the Kampong. And soon I began to see flowers, not many, only one or two here and there. Unlike the ordinary flower this one does not have any color; it just look like a small buds light green in color. I kept nurturing it with the help of my spouse and eventually it bears it first fruits. I was delighted to see that first fruits and soon learn that one must not allow this fruits to ripen on the tree. It must be pick up at the right time and let it ripen in the house. If it is left to ripen on the tree it would get soft and fell to the ground and wasted. If it is pluck when soft it does not taste as good, it is less sweet then the one that has been picked just in time for it to ripen on your table. Now it is the favorite tree of my spouse who nurtured it with love. Thus it continues to bear fruits all the year around.

The mystic of Tok Yek's Pokok Nona now live on in our backyard garden. Providing us with a regular supply of that exotic fruits Buah Nona. The fruits has many seeds that are hard and one must have the patience to enjoy the fruits. The flesh around the seeds is just like custard; thus I believe the reason it is call Custard Apple in English. The trees now stand majestically in my little garden, except that there is no longer anyone under that tree sharpening his knife and other working tools. But my childhood memory of that image of Tok Yek working under the Pokok Nona [Custard Apple tree] is still as vivid as ever. Nostalgic indeed!

Have a nice day folks. [Please click the image to enlarge]


Howard said...

Beautiful post, Pak Idrus! Thank you!

Temuk said...

Salam Pak Idrus
Alhamdulillah sudah sihat semula. Wow, you really had a lot of patience waiting for your nona tree to grow and bear its fruits! That was indeed a beautiful recollection of lovely memories of the dukun, whom I must say had not only shown his expertise in healing sick people but also his rare skill in sharpening those traditional tools. Sharpening a parang, for instance, using a sharpening stone is not as easy as many people think. Only a skillful person like Tok Yek would know the correct angle, number of strokes, etc. to make sure the 'thin' (lampir) shape of the blade as well as its sharpness is maintained. Have a nice day!

~Covert_Operations'78~ said...

Salam, Pak Idrus! What a charming narration! You should write a book. My parents too remember Dukuns, Pawangs and Bomohs in their villages. My mother's maternal grandfather was a Chinese dukun of sorts. He was trained in kungfu and thit-thar (the art of fixing sprains, fractures and broken bones) and could fix broken bones. Modern society has lost touch with traditional and natural forms of healing and relies too much on quick-fixes and painkillers. I wish I had the opportunity to learn thit-thar from my great-grandfather. I could help lots more animals and people then.

Buah nona brings back many fond memories for me too. We had 3 in my parents' home in Rawang and we mostly cultivated them to attract birds, which we all love. The green fruit has a smoother texture than the red-skinned ones. The red-skinned fruit has a rather grainy texture. The fruit attracted a lot of aphids which had white larvae all over the bumpy contours of the fruit.

Your post brought back many memories. Thank you for sharing your lovely stories with us.

louis said...

Idrus, what a powerful, living link your Buah Nona and your memories of the sharpening stone and the local medicine man are with your past, and as it happens with mine, even though that past was in Trinidad, half a world away from Kuantan but as close to the Equator. There was also a Custard Apple tree in my yard. We called it both "Custard Apple" and "Sugar Apple". My brother used a sharpening stone for the blades on the chisels and planes he used for his woodworking hobby. And there was always an unofficial neighborhood medicine man or woman to consult with when illnesses struck. My siblings and I often were sent to gather various herbs for medicines and most households always kept some such remedies on hand. All kids knew which herbs to pluck on the way home if our adventures had caused sprains for application as a poultice when we got home.

Thanks for the memories.

Martin Lee said...

I remember those buah nona trees too in my village home, a favorite fruit of my grandmother. The seeds were hard and the fruits tasted very sweet. We plucked them and kept them by burying them inside the rice container until they grew ripe and ate them. Yes, they attracted birds and aphids!

In older days, people normally had a phobia to go hospitals. Illness not cured by traditional ways and GP were then sent to hospitals. It was almost like death sentence to them, almost 99% sent to hospitals ended up becoming corpses back home! It is scarely to mention about going to hospitals and my grandpa died in Tapah hospital!

Pak Idrus said...

Howard, thanks for the visit and the good words on this posting.

I am glad that you enjoy that memory journey of mine. It is one of the memories that is still vivid as ever and now with that Buah Nona all the time in my fruit bowls, it does add color to my living culture.

Have a nice day.

Pak Idrus said...

Temuk, thanks for your visit and the good words on this posting. As well as sharing your valuable thought related to the subject especially on the part of the Sharpening Stone.

Yes, Sharpening knife or other tools look easy but it is not as I had found when try to sharpen the kitchen knifes in my home. It doe take lots of skills and patience to get a good job done. I saw that was why Tok Yek was very patience with his works and in the end got his tool in the best of shape for his next day jobs.

As for the planting of that Nona tree I dream when I was a kids to study agriculture but due to the circumstances at that time was not able to do so. Anyway I learn the skill here and there and eventually got the hang of it and now in what little patch I have, I am doing gardening daily and that Temuk kept me busy in the morning and late afternoon. My love for nature goes back when I grew up in the Kampong and the bushes of greens was my only play ground and my appreciation of the greens continue until this day.

I love the green environment, that is why if you ever visit my humble home in Ampang Jaya, the first thing you would see in front of my house is a small dense jungle out front of my patio. That is my little jungle I would tell everyone who come over to my home. It is my way of showing appreciation toward nature and be part of it all the time.

Have a nice day.

Pak Idrus said...

~Covert_Operations'78~, Ee Lynn thanks for the visit and the good words on this posting. As for writing a book, it is my dream to do so and I think eventually I would get there. Thanks for that thoughts, much appreciated.

Thanks as well for sharing your thoughts on Buah Nona and the additional information on that wonderful trees and it varieties of fruits. As for the traditional medicine we lost lots of the wisdom of the old when the Western Medicine invaded our world. There were so much wisdom in the preparation of medicine and means and method of curing that we lost. I hope that the authority would do something on this, like setting up a college for the study of the traditional medicine like is now done in Indonesia, India and China.

Like the Chinese the Malay have experts in curing broken bone in human and animals and I hope these skill could be regain as we progress. It is still not too late to study in places like Indonesia, India and China. It would be great if both Western Medicine and the traditional part works hand in hand to improve the quality of life in the not too distance future.

Have a nice day.

Pak Idrus said...

louis, thanks for the visit and the beautiful words you had on this posting. Thanks as well for sharing your thoughts especially on the similarity of the course of our journey of life has taken place.

Folks of our generation especially those who comes from the developing countries has many similar stories to tell. We were colonized and with that come many cultural subversion, where some of our tradition were uprooted especially in the way western medicine was introduce and at the same time our traditional way of curing and healing the sick became an outcast in its own country. We as a society had progressed from the cave because of those wisdom of the old that our folks inherit from one generation to another and this includes how to cure and healed the sick. Had it not been for the wisdom of the old especially on their knowledge on medicine I do not believe our people would have survived up till the western medicine was introduce to our world. All the years before that we had relied on our traditional medicine for our survival, surely it has benefited us all, if not our people would have perished a long time ago.

We lost so much wisdom of the old when the West colonized us and I hope that we would continue to do research on this important aspect of our cultural heritage. And with that would help to improved the quality of life of our people.

As for the many happening that are of similar nature, like Buah Nona, the Sharpening Stone and collection herbs or firewood during our early years, I think that what make us understand each other better. Look I hardly know you in cyberspace and yet when we met in Seattle you took us to your home and we at once felt at home in your home as thought we had been friend for a long time already. I believe it is because of the cultural background that our chemistry click that fast and now we are friends with greater bonding the ever before.

Thanks again for the kind words on this posting. Have a nice day.

Pak Idrus said...

Martin Lee, thanks for the visit and sharing your thoughts on the subject of this posting. It look like we all have been linked somehow with this exotic fruit the Buah Nona.

Your experiences with the Buan Nona has similarity with others that I had talk about this wonderful fruits. In one such stories a lady who now works in the Middle East relate of her great grandmother who hid the Buah Nona under her pillow to ripen it to give to her when she return home. It shows the great bonding of love in this fruits as well. Your parent plant this trees perhaps for the same reason.. Love.

As for the traditional medicine, it has served us very well indeed long before the coming of the western medicine and I believe we should continue to study this aspect of medicine for it not only cure the sick by healed as well. Modern western medicine just cured but not many talk about healing. Remember it was the traditional medicine that save our people all through the generations before the coming of western medicine to our part of the world, surely it has greater benefit and be given due respect. If not for the traditional medicine and the Sen Sei or the Dukun we would not have arrived to these century in greater number than before. I do believe that traditional medicine could go hand in hand with the western medicine to improve the quality of life of our people.

As for the hospital it is just a mean to give some comfort to the patience but if the patience is more comfortable in his or her house, to me it is best that they get their treatment in the place they are comfortable with.

Have a nice day and take care.

MANDALAY said...

Your story took me back into time....Our family had a brush with what I'd call the "supernatural" once and in a way I'd understand the functions of those bomohs n dukuns.

Nona, I believe is becoming pretty rare. I haven't seen one in years. Like the Durian Belanda too, I used to love them.

I love the way you blend your thoughts in the posting. Have a lovely weekend.

Pat said...

Your story of Tok Yek sharpening his tools with a stone block reminded me of my dad. He used to do the same thing - though not under a tree.

Once in a while, he'd gather all the knives in our home, along with my mum's tailoring scissors, and take them to the kitchen. Then, with the tap set at a trickle, he'd wet his stone, and gently run the blades up and down, up and down, until they were sharp. His four little girls made up this enraptured audience.

When he was satisfied that each was sharp enough, he'd do a little demo for us, by passing the blade though a piece of paper, slicing it neatly in two! We were impressed! Hahahah!

Thank you for your story, and taking me back for a visit with the memory of my dad :)


Pak Idrus said...

MANDALAY, Azimah sorry for the late reply. I went to Kuantan for a holiday and caught the flu there and is still recovering. Anyway thanks for the visit and the good words on this posting.

I am indeed glad that this story took you back to those great days of our youth, where living was simple and the Dukun was a real Dukun and are respected by all but sad to say now it is not so. Well that is what we call 'civilization' with all its meaning.

As for the Supernatural things, I read somewhere that our world is not just tree dimension but there is a forth which is yet to be understood. Maybe our forefather had a way of getting into the forth dimension and communicate, we have just to guess and wonder. I hope science would solve this mystery for the good of mankind.

As for the Buah Nona, yes it is rather rare but one could still get it at the Supermarket. Why not grow it like we did and am now enjoy the fruits of our simple labor.

Have a nice day.

Pak Idrus said...

Pat, thanks for the visit and sharing your wonderful thoughts of your dad.

I am glad that this posting did trigger your memories and sharing it here with all to enjoy and perhaps learn a thing or two about love and the family life of the past.

Sharping a knife or other tools need skill and patience and it is not an easy job to do. Your dad it seem have both, plus the love he give in doing his jobs. As we all could see it is not easy to do what you dad did and because of that those beautiful memories stick on. I am happy that you choose to share it here for all to read. I hope it would be pass on to the next generation for them to appreciate what their forefather did. Remember had it not for the wisdom of our forefather we would not be enjoying life now.

Have a nice day.

Jehan Bakar said...

A very nostalgic piece that I could relate to.

U must have super green thumbs to be able to make it grow from seed. I have tried a few times, did not grow at all. Even bought the young tree from a nursery at Kubang Buaya, tree did not survive.

Buah nona is a childhood memory for many of us at my age (and yours too, Sir). It is indeed good to have it in the garden as a mark of rememberance of the good ole days!

Pak Idrus said...

Jehan Bakar, thanks for the visit and sharing your thoughts on the subject of this posting. Yes it is difficult to plant the Nona tree but you have to try again and again. It may take years before you can see the seed germinate. I have manage to get new seedling and I have planted two at my daughter house nearby. I am still try to germinate more and if I am lucky again I would keep one for you.

Have a nice day.