In modern day Singapore, on the occasion of Hari Raya, we often see our Malay friends decked out in colourful traditional outfits, visiting relatives amidst much feasting. But how was Hari Raya celebrated in the past, when Malay kampongs were numerous and found in many parts of the island?
We spoke to three Malay Singaporeans to find out the answer. Speaking of kampongs, do you know that there is only one kampong left on mainland Singapore? Read further to check out photos of Singapore’s last kampong!
Hari Raya morning at the mosque
Abdul Shariff, a Pasir Ris resident who was born in the mid-60s shared, “During the kampong days, families knew one another by name. A typical first day of Hari Raya starts with the morning prayers. The males across generations – grandfathers, fathers and sons – go to the mosques and, being a close-knit kampong community then, they knew one another in the mosques. So, after prayers, there will be exchanges of hugs and forgiveness. Today, however, congregations in mosques disperse more quickly after prayers, probably because neighbourhood mosques today are larger and the close ties that the smaller kampong environment engendered may be absent.”
Spaces for celebration
Muhd Fadli, a resident of Bedok Reservoir, shared how celebrations were “noisier” in the old days. “My dad who used to live in Bussorah Street in Kampong Glam, told me that they used to play with firecrackers, of the bamboo type then, when firecrackers weren’t banned yet. It helped to put everyone in a celebratory mood. The kids would go around collecting money from their family and friends. The money was not much, at most a dollar from those well-to-do ones. Families would then visit the New World amusement park, and took rides on the carousel, bumper cars and played shooting games. If they had money to spare, they would watch a movie.”
Bonding over a feast after the fast
Mohd Fairoz, a candidate of the WP team that contested in East Coast GRC last year, recalls his childhood memories of the eve of Hari Raya. It was a time when the whole family – grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins – would come together at his late grandmother’s flat to help cook ketupat, rendang, and everything else in between for the feast on Hari Raya.
When it comes to Hari Raya visiting, Fairoz’s family – meaning parents, uncles, aunties and cousins – has always been the kind that would go visiting together. “Back when most of us did not own cars, we would rent a van or mini-bus to go Hari Raya visiting together. Nowadays, my family’s Hari Raya visiting is done with a convoy of our own cars.”
Attributes of the kampong community
Shariff adds on, “Many of the past practices still prevail today but the attributes of the kampong community, such as close relationships between neighbours, seem to have waned probably because the present housing environment is more diverse in terms of ethnicity and nationality. The lack of a kampong environment meant that the celebrations these days are less vibrant. But there are still colourful sights today such as entire families decked in the same outfit colours.”
Tastes that stand the test of time
Some things, such as Hari Raya dishes and delicacies, as we found out, have largely remained unchanged through the decades. According to Shariff, “The dish that is most associated with Hari Raya is the ketupat. It is eaten together with sambal goreng or rendang.
“Cakes and cookies come next. These include kueh tart (pineapple tarts), kueh bahulu, kueh suji and a whole range of other cookies…What are less common these days are those that require bamboo and banana leaves to cook, such as lemang (glutinous rice). One hardly comes across lemang these days.”
According to Fadli, “During my dad’s time, Hari Raya was a much-awaited day where the kids would look forward to savoring goodies that they don’t usually do during normal days. It is a day where they will indulge in soft drinks like Fanta orange, chicken and ice cream.”
Anecdotes of yesteryears
Shariff: “There was one Hari Raya in the early seventies when rain fell ceaselessly for days, resulting in flooding. One would have thought that it would dampen the celebratory mood but it turned out not to be the case. Families braved the floods to visit relatives and friends. I was a young child at that time, probably about three to five years old, and was on my way to my uncle’s house in then-Bernam Street, a street located near Tanjong Pagar. I could see in the distance children beaming with joy, not one bit bothered by the floods, making their way through the waters probably, like me, on their way to visit relatives. Children get a dollar or two each from each of their relatives.”
Fairoz: “I was around 5 years old when I had a very nasty accident during Hari Raya which ended up with me being hospitalised. There were some relatives visiting my house for Hari Raya, and my mum had made a pot of tea for them. Being the eager 5-year-old that I was back then, I tried to pour myself a cup of tea and accidentally poured the hot tea all over my chest. In his panic to stop the scalding, my step-father smeared a tube of toothpaste over my scalded chest before we all went to SGH. Up to today, I can still remember the doctor in the operating theatre exclaiming “Aiya, why put Colgate?!” when he first looked at my scalded chest, and me screaming my lungs out as the doctor washed the toothpaste off my chest. That is one Hari Raya that I will always remember.”
Over the years, as time and our pace of development have caught up, practices surrounding the celebration of Hari Raya have changed in various ways. Nonetheless, the core traditions of Hari Raya, a day to celebrate the joyous completion of the fasting month, remain intact as community and family take centre stage as before. The Workers’ Party wishes one and all Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri!
Written by WP Newsdesk volunteers ~