Tuesday, November 28

Rocking a cradle to preserve a tradition, and a way of life


ALOR GAJAH: Think babies, and one thinks of that first squeal of the new born and of a mother rocking the cradle and singing a lullaby.

There was a time when celebrating the customary rite of “Naik Buai” or rocking a baby in a cradle for the first time was just as exciting a cultural practice among Malay couples as listening to the first cries of a new born, but as modernity took over, this ritual soon joined the traditions that the younger generation gave up.

Traditionally, Naik Buai event is held after the hair shaving ceremony, which is conducted on the seventh day after the baby’s birth and sometimes on the last day of ‘pantang’ (period of abstinence) for the mother or the 44th day after the delivery.

The event is held to formally welcome the baby into the family and to inform the community that a child has come into this world.

However, with the times changing and people increasingly veering towards modern views, many of the traditions practised in the past, such as the ‘Naik Buai’ custom are now seen as outdated and no longer necessary.

While the Malays who still follow customary laws such as the Adat Perpatih Melayu or the traditional Malay cultural and customary practices that have some of their roots in Hinduism, still practice the ‘Naik Buai’ ceremony, there is a vast difference in the way events are conducted now compared to what was practised in the past.

In Melaka, people still carry out such practices in areas like ‘Taboh Naning’, ‘Melaka Pindah’ and ‘Lubok Cina’.

Maharam Tambi, 71, from Ramuan China Besar here, who follows the tradition, said in the past, the ceremony used to be held on the 44th day after the delivery of the baby and only close relatives would attend the function.

Maharam, who is also called Wan (grandmother) Meram, added that in the past, there used to be other accompanying rites, including placing a piece of freshly cut wood in the cradle first to ward off any ‘evil’ influence.

People used to believe that the wood would absorb any negative force in the cradle, and once the log was removed, the baby used to be placed in the cradle, Wan Meram told Bernama.

Unlike the modern factory made cradles that one sees today, the traditional cradle itself used to be a hammock spun by the grandmother or the eldest member of the family using pokok enau leaves.

When it comes to protecting a new born, no one wants to take even the slightest risk. No wonder, she said, sometimes metal objects such as parang would be placed underneath the cradle during the ceremony to keep evil spirits at bay.

“The baby’s cradle will then be rocked by the grandmother until the baby goes to sleep before the mother takes over,” she added.

The ceremony, thus, held a manifold significance, including welcoming a new life, respect for elders, a recognition of the role of mother and underlining the power of age old traditions in keeping communities closely knit.

However, the ceremony has undergone many changes, and while a larger number of people are now invited to these events, certain rites have been discarded. Couples who carry out the tradition today usually opt for cradles made from sarung and decorated with paper flowers.

These days, the ceremony begins with a prayer, followed by marhaban or Islamic recitation of good wishes by a group of ladies.

The baby is then placed in the cradle by the grandmother or grandfather, accompanied by the recitation.

Wan Meram said before the ceremony is concluded, the guests are served pulut kuning (glutinous rice) or sweet porridge and decorated eggs as a token of appreciation for participating in the ceremony.

The ceremony featuring rocking the baby’s cradle, meanwhile, is among the 154 customary and cultural practices in the country that had been declared as National Heritage on May 10, 2012, by the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture (now known as Ministry of Communication and Multimedia).

So next time when you come across a granny rocking a cradle, think of Naik Buai, of motherhood, of the joy of a new life, of the power of tradition, and above all, of the blessings that God showers upon us. Director of Melaka’s Department of Culture and Arts (JKKN) Rodzuan Ismail admitted that the Naik Buai practice is not popular, and is only carried out by a few couples. They conduct the ceremony by reciting prayers and messages of advice to ensure that their children learn good values.

To further encourage the custom, the department organised a special Naik Buai ceremony for 30 babies on June 14, with the cooperation of people from the Kampung Melaka Pindah here.

“It was a programme to enlighten the rural community about our cultural traditions and indirectly promote Melaka Pindah, which has already been acknowledged by Melaka State Muzium Corporation as a heritage village,” he said.

The programme will also provide exposure to young Malaysians so that they can promote these traditions and prevent them from becoming extinct.

He added that the ceremony in the village will be held annually to enlighten the tourists about the traditions.

For Mohd Attas Abdullah, 48, and his wife, the birth of their eldest son, Harith Hamzah, who is now five months, was the happiest moment of life.

The couple, who got married three years ago, were happy to be invited to the ceremony organised by JKKN to celebrate the birth of their first born, together with other couples.

“The ceremony reflects our gratitude for the blessings and the greatness of Allah, who has blessed us with a child,” he said.

Meanwhile, for another couple, Azman Abd Ghani and Zurina Osman, both in their 30s, the event gave them a rare opportunity to participate in a ceremony that many did not even know about.

As parents to twin boys, Azril and Azrizil, who are two months old, they hope that the ceremony will remain part of the tradition so that other couples have the opportunity to share their happiness with their communities.

It will certainly help to keep the customs and traditions of the Malay community alive for the benefit of future generations, Azman said.

So next time when you come across a granny rocking a cradle, think of Naik Buai, of motherhood, of the joy of a new life, of the power of tradition, and above all, of the blessings that God showers upon us. — Bernama