Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Midnight Visitor

The postpartum Malay woman is fraught with pantang larang (taboos). Modernisation notwithstanding, many new Malay mothers still adhere to age-old beliefs, resonating with their own mothers and generations of mothers before them.

Thus we find TLC-deprived husbands heroically putting up with the 44-day abstinence, among others, for Malay culture dictates that a new mother needs ample time to recover after the imperilment of childbirth.

When I delivered my eldest child Naj in London, halfway through the winter of 1975, I wasn't too concerned with some of the pantangs. I couldn't afford to, actually.

I certainly couldn't remain housebound for 44 days at a stretch because I had a job to go back to and my leave didn't cover that long.

Furthermore, I needed to fill the larder regularly as well as buy baby things; his father was all over Britain and the Continent most times to care about the nitty gritty.

Being far away from home, my sphere of worry was very basic and mundane - how to cope with this helpless bundle of joy swathed in layers of blankets to ward off the cold.

The darker, evil side of things didn't even cross my mind. Thankfully enough, they didn't cross my path either at that point in time.

In reality, however, the new mother, in her exhausted state of body and mind, offers a window of opportunity to evil manifestations to try and take advantage of her vulnerability.

The role of the traditional bidan (midwife) is of prime importance in this aspect for, not only is she required to help with the physical healing of the weakened woman, but also to act as a pengadang (barrier) in warding off such malevolent spirits.

The late Mak Cik Besah, the family's resident midwife, masseur and traditional healer, was a no-nonsense woman with manly strength in massaging and pummelling one's aches and pains away.

When I had my second child, Joe, in Kuantan in 1977, my mother-in-law decided to dispatch rotund Mak Cik Besah as my live-in midwife for the entire 44-day confinement period.

Her main function was to look after the well-being of both mother and child. If I may add, she also took it unto herself to lord it over the maid as well!

Mak Cik Besah arrived a couple of days after I returned home from the clinic. Along with her came batu tungku (heating stone), daun gelenggang (a kind of leaves to rest the heated stones on), herbal pastes and that extremely bitter medicinal paste, maajun, and numerous other tools of her trade.

She immediately swung into action, putting me through the usual postpartum paces of bertungku (placement of heated stone on the belly, purportedly to help shrink the uterus), bertangas (standing with legs apart over medicinal leaves left to sizzle underneath batu tungku), berbegkung (wearing of the traditional girdle) et al.

I looked like a pagan priest, with some yellowish potion streaked across my forehead. I also smelled like an advertisement for minyak urut (special massage oil), the fragrance spreading all over the house and beyond.

And all I was allowed to eat was soft rice with grounded black pepper. Eggs, vegetables, dairy products were absolute no-nos. After the indulgences of London, I meekly surrendered to my fate.

A few days after settling in, she muttered darkly: "Ada benda dok hurung rumah ni nak cuba masuk." (There's something circling this house waiting for an opportunity to enter).

Her words chilled me to the bone. I was afraid more for the well-being of the child than for myself. Not one to take chances, Mak Cik Besah warned me to remain indoors and never to answer any call to my name.

One evening as azan Maghrib (muezzin's call to dusk prayer) filled the air, I heard a woman's voice at the front door gently calling; "Kama! Ooooo Kama!" Without thinking I answered: "Yaa!"

Almost immediately baby Joe started crying. As his wail increased, Mak Cik Besah emerged from her room and admonished me roughly for responding. I apologised profusely, telling her it was reflex action on my part.

That night she made us both (baby and I) sleep in the living room. She 'fenced' off our sleeping parameter with Quranic verses to keep evil spirits at bay. She also placed a small pair of scissors underneath baby Joe's mattress.

If it was a terrible night for me, it was an absolutely horrendous one for Mak Cik Besah for, in the wee hours of the morning, she received a 'visitor' at her bedroom window.

I was blinking away in the dim living room light, sleepless and restless, and reciting Quranic verses to calm my nerves, when I heard Mak Cik Besah's raised voice. It was loud.

Because her bedroom door was closed, I couldn't make out her words. But she sounded angry. Eventually the quarrelsome voice abated and all was quiet again. I managed to find sleep soon after.

In the morning she told us that something knocked on her window pane and demanded to be let in. She said she berated 'it' and tried to shoo 'it' away before 'it' finally left. She added that the being told her 'it' came invited by me; I had responded to its greeting!

She had earlier refused to divulge who or what 'it' was, but after much persistence on our part, she conceded that the midnight visitor was in the form of an old woman, purportedly seeking to feed on the uri (afterbirth).

This was one of the creepiest, spookiest episodes of my life. Thank be to God, nothing untoward happened in the days and months after Mak Cik Besah's scary exchange.


cn said...

aisayyy..Is this another "hantu" story?? eeyyeerrrr..
Saya baca esok..bila brani sikit....

Pok Deng said...

I believe that's some kinda hantu raya that loves to feed on uri orang baru lepas beranok.

There are too much stories regarding this kind of creature during an afterbirth period. It's really beyond logic.

Anonymous said...

Hok aloh,

I am so lucky, mother is always around during my confinement period, I loved her ikan kunyit with the herbs. Moreover, orang dalam patang jer got eat. Sian Kak Kama, sorang sorang dengan baby , but you see, it makes a stronger you. To yang dia punya beauty.

Wow Kak, you are loved by them, jeng jeng jeng Kak, take care Kak.

Selalu selalu baca 3 kul tu Kak, jauh sikit depa...mesti Kak lagi tau naa...

Anonymous said...

Komen Pak Malim, kucing ray yg alim.

Hari ni Pak Malim tak boleh komen apa-apa. (Kelihatan Pak Malim sedang lari dgn biskut kelapa). Takut! Takut! kata Pak Malim sambil memakai kot. Lari! Lari! kata Pak Malim sambil naik lori.

Kak Teh said...

Puteri, you promised no more hantu story! It is exactly midnite in london and i am reading this.

anyway, i didnt have any pantang larang with all my four. Five days after giving birth - was out in hyde park with the newborn. I didnt want to miss the sun. Then someone said to me, be careful of the toes. Until today, I dont know what that means.

ArahMan7 said...

And I was told it was for the good of the menfolk as well. A question, does it really made a difference? The before and after thingy?

Greetings and lots of love from Kuale Kangsor.

mamasita said...

Puteri,as usual,you have a sharp way of recounting your confinement experience.
Tumpang lalu, thanks Puteri.KT?You maknanya ikut style MatSalleh..and I tengok majority sihat and slim semacam most of the time.You tengok kitaorang yang berbengkung and mandi air daun?Many of us menggelebeh jugak.Eg..just look at our kampong folks.Kuatnya ikut pantang.Yet ramai badan macam tong berjalan..besar!Tummy macam pregnant!Justlike me!Luckily,sejak yoga and more off than on aerobics,dah kurang sikit the pouch and lost some extra inches..

Kama At-Tarawis said...

CN - cikgu, for you all the cerita seram must be read during the day..

ppk deng - i always err on the side of caution. takutlah all these benda2 halus..

anon 7:36 - you were lucky to hv a mother who would jaga her daughter during my confinement. I really do admire women yg boleh balik kampung to be looked after by their mums masa dalam pantang. beruntungnya..

wahai pak malim kucing ray yg alim
kucing beranak kama amat suka
kittens selalunya comel2 belaka
dok perati dan layan sampai leka
jadi penghibur hati yg luka :)

kak teh - ni story seram last kopek. cannot resist! anyway, i would prefer less of the pantang and more of common sense, especialy bab makan2. banyak sangat benda yg tak boleh makan! hehehe

arahman - before and after thingy apatu beb? eee, tak sior teman ... LOL

mamasita - i think kita patut ikut berpada2. somehow mamasita, i am a firm believer in all those maajun and jamu stuff. dulu tak lekang makan jamu. now ni dah berumur takdah..:)

mekyam said...

alamak puteri!

i think i'm letting this entry pass,. lily-livered sorry twit that i am.

baca siang esok ajalah... the title already gives me the willies. ;D

Pi Bani said...

Aik? Another spooky story? Nasib baiklah I ni jenis kuat semangatlah juga, so insyaAllah no problem kalau baca your blog at midnight pun.

Pok Deng tu suku-sakat Pak Malim ke? Bukan apa, gambarnya gambar kucing... :)

Typhoon Sue said...

uiks! i thought u're done with spooky stories??

hmmm... heran ye? masa tak ikut pantang takde hantu nak kacau tapi bila ikut aje, terus ada yg dtg panggil.... :-)
agaknye hantu mesia tak buleh naik kapalterbang gi london sbb bayar tiket pakai daun kut...hahaha

Kama At-Tarawis said...

pi & sue - i couldnt resist one last shot at hantu story..LOL

MrsNordin said...

Eeee... scary!! I didn't follow the pantang strictly either. At 25 days, dah pegi tengok konsert Jamal Abdillah! Hee... heee... my makcik urut said ok, so I pegi lah!

I wonder if any ghost came knocking at my window at that time...

ArahMan7 said...

Sorry for making you tak sior, but the question has been answered.

At the end of the day even after heroically putting up with the 44-day abstinence the womenfolk usually end-up with spare tyres and all that jazz.

Or be like minah omputih and take up gruesome exercises. Same thing what? At least you don't have to eat/drink air kunyit or whatchayoucallit herb?

Just my two cent, Kak Puteri.

Greetings and lots of love from Kuale Kangsor.

~ ArahMan7

elviza said...

Kak Puteri (actually you more like a mother to me since Naj and I were both 75 babies, never mind that),

I thought you are done with the freaky storyyyy! I takut lah... *Shudder*

Anyway, during my confinement period, both my mom and mom-in-law told all sorts of pantang for me to follow.

As though that alone weren't enough, they peppered it with, "kalau tak ikut pantang, nanti badan jadi gemoooookkkk! Nanti laki carik lain!"

Honestly, how shallow was that?

Oh well, with the aide of my darling husband, I sometimes cheated. I had sipped of cold drinks and flushed the ubat periuk down the toilet (poor toilet had to eat that!).

But God loves me. I lost all the weight after 6 months. Phew!

(Nih kalau pregnant lagi sekali nih, tah apa lagi lah kan...)

Anonymous said...

I had almost the same experience as you did when I was in confinement with my second child. Everyday at the stroke of midnight the dogs would come howling at the window near my bedroom. And everytime my daughter would stary to cry and scream endlessly till about subuh. It was very nervewrecking. So my mum sought the help of a bomoh who told us that that "thing" was looking for somebody in the house and trying to get in. He asked if there was anyone new in the house. We said no, except for my new maid from Indon. He said, her ancestors were looking for her. She might not be aware of it. That gave us the creeps. He helped us got rid of the gangguan because right after that there was no more wailing and screaming at midnight. I sent my maid back right after.

ann said...

This was during Joe's birth? Heheh all this while I thought the baby was me! :P

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Ann - i think hantu pun takut kat you..LOL

Kama At-Tarawis said...

mekyam - I pun penakut mekyam, but love to menakut2kan orang..heheh

mrs N - entahlah, i think takyah tunggu sampai 44 days kot. as long makan ubat and dont overstretch oneself, ok kot.

arahman - i still feel there is a long of faedah in bertungku, bertangas, berbengkung and all those ... yg jadi gemuk tu man, tak exercise! hehehe

elviza - actually it is not difficult to lose weight after pregnancy. jangan overdo the makan part, exercise sepatutnya.. insyaallah..

anon 12:06 - wallah, your maid bawak bodigad dari seberang? oh dear..

Aida said...

Kak Puteri,

my mil was very superstitious, so during my first confinement I sought my mum's help but being the very modern mum that she was, she hardly new any pantang larang and all that... which was fun but at the same time was tiring for me cos she could not help or maybe would not help with the baby feigning that it was more than 27 years ago since she last held a baby that small. But whenever my mil came to visit or we visited her, she insisted on the gunting bawah tilam and a tiny Quran under the pillow and the baby should be facing the door and not the other way.

Even though she warned me against doing any laborous work, she did not warn me to take care of my toes. I stubbed my big toe against the crib and OMG it hurt and it took so much longer to heal.

My second one, I had a maid so I observed my confinement in my own house. My mum visited daily just to admire the baby and play with the elder one hehehehe I watched what I ate and did the mandi air daun (cos it made me smell nice) but I skipped the maajun and foul stuff ehhehe

oppsss what I wanted to say was, I was lucky I had no "visitors"... though my elder baby would cry every night from 12 to 4 am for two weeks... later we found out that she was allergic to cow's milk and had caused her to be bloated... after a visit to the dr and a change of baby formula, all was well. But during that two week crying spree there was suggestions to change the baby's name hehehe

Aida - sorry took up so much comment space hehehe

ArahMan7 said...

Kak Puteri,

Forgive me for my ignorance, tp letak gunting bawah bantal tu buat apa?

Who knows one of these days, I shall have my very own baby I can amuse my beloved wife that I do know something about the old ways. Not forgetting my mil, sil, bil and even my own sista.

Psst! Just between us, don't tell them I learned it from you. Lol!

p/s Wanna see my mil, sil, bil and dear wife? Come on over @ my journey's blog. Maybe you know some of them.

Greetings and lots of love from Kuale Kangsor.

~ ArahMan7

kay_leeda said...

Kak Puteri,

Lagi ada ka cerita seram?? Think I'll say what I need to say and leave before midnite.

I did experience "visitors" like you did after I delivered my eldest. You see one of my neighbours had died in an accident just after I finished my pantang. And boy...what a tough time I had managing little Faris after that. He cried and cried from 11.00pm till azan subuh. It went on for a few weeks. In the end, I had to bring him to see a bidan kampung to get "things" fixed.

Ms B said...

Hi Kak Puteri,

I may appear very chic but when it comes to pantang, I will ensure that i follow every single bit. My mother & late grandma still look awesome for their age. More important, having a flat tummy. I gained my body figure within 2 months.

well, i think it's a small sacrifice ie 2 months of confinement & pantang larang, unless u want the easy way ie nip tuck. *LOL* but not all surgery leads to a happy ending, eh? So again, no harm listening to the old folks.

Just me...Naz said...

Bravo Kak Puteri! another interesting post from you.
I tak pernah experience berpantang malay style sebab anak anak were born here. but my second one, asyik nangis from 10pm to subuh...for three months! i like to think of it as colic. but my friend in KT said it is *that one*. I wonder *that one* kat sini pun ada ke yang prone to these kind of things?hmmm..

mekyam said...

Kama At-Tarawis said... I pun penakut mekyam, but love to menakut2kan orang..heheh

and you do it so awesomely well. :D

love the pacings of your prose, just enough details to create goosebumping tension... delicious!

i love scary stories (esp well-told ones) but knowing how my cowardly self behave in the wake of each tale -- read, watched or heard -- i now set myself some perimeters.

NOT at night, esp late, ESP if i'm alone. NOT before i'm going out of town, alone because it took me years to not think of m.r. james 'number 13' everytime i'm alone in a hotel room, regardless the room number. hehehe!


on another note...

as i expected, you're a reading buff and a fellow devotee of the english language. may i share a title, if it isn't already on your shelf...

"the story of english" by mccrum, macneil and cran.

it's the companion book (or synopsis, if you will) to the award-winning nine-part television series broadcasted over PBS (in the US). the dvd's, a must-have acquisition for fans of the english language, are also obtainable as a boxset.

i think it'd be lovely if something like this could be undertaken for BM and its many mellifluous dialects on both sides of the south china sea.

m00n said...

Ish... Ish... Ish makmaksita neh... yang you tengok tu orang kampong mana? ... Orang kampong yang camana? Orang kampong katogeri mana? Cer you tengok i ... i pas beranak pantang derek seratus hari ... makan ngikut arahan .. bodi i walaupun dah anak lima, masih slim .. dengan ketinggian 5'5" rasa i berat 61kg ni ... Slim kan? I rasa lakan makmaksita orang yang you jumpa tu orang kampong yang memang dah tak larat nak jaga badan .. umor pun udah ober 50 ... beser la .. masa umur gitu nak jaga badan pun udah tak berapa nak di ambik hirau. Ye la kan, laki pun dah berumor 60 lebih, asik mintak minyak angin jer biler memalam. . . 0p0c0t!!

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Kamu jangan menipu, Tee-Moon. Kamu tu jantan!...:)

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Aida - At least you ikut juga sedikit sebanyak apa yg orang tua suruh buat. ok la tu..:)

Arahman - kata orang tua2, makhluk halus ni tak suka benda2 tajam. Wallahu a'alam. like I said, i prefer to err on the side of caution.

Kay - babies ni semangatnya lemah..that's why kena take extra precaution..

Mrs B - you couldn't hv put it more aptly. i always believe there is a reason for whatever pantang dispensed by orang tua2. just to share with you.. that bidan i mentioned, mak cik besah, i dont know how she did it, tapi dia "naikkan" uterus melalui urut to prevent pregnancy. and it worked. macam mana tu..

Naz - maybe betul colic kot..hehehe.. then again, benda2 halus ni are everywhere..

Mekyam - i am definitely goin to cari that title you mentioned. sounds interesting..:) tqtq.

Bijou Beads Bouquet said...

hahahaha mOOn.. bini kamu beranak, kamu mmg ler kena pantang..

Salt N Turmeric said...

I really hope this wud not be the last story. Im really a sucker for these kind of things sampai Michael pun tak kuasa nak layan. Yelah, nak tengok cerita seram, pastu tarik dia tengok sekali sbb takut. hehe.

I tak pernah beranak lagi so i dontv personal experience but my mom dulu jaga my sil. She being a modern woman and a nurse memang tak tau sgt pasal pantang but dia jaga makan betul2. Everyday dia buatkan my sil hati masak black pepper. For urut2 semua, panggil bidan aje.

Pasal benda2 halus ni, agaknya jadi kat msia/indo aje kot? i tak pernah dengar pulak any of our ppl yg live overseas experiencing these kinda stories. Wht say you Kak Puteri?


Kama At-Tarawis said...

Farina - just to let you into a story concerning my two nieces, Tati and Ina, both studying in London at the same time and sharing a flat together in the 1980s. into the wee hours of the morning they heard mcm orang berpartying in the flat above them, punyala bising with the loud music and all. Tati was so annoyed so she went out the door nak pi upstairs, until she realised their unit was on the topmost floor and there was nothing up there but the roof. the moment she stepped out the door, all went quiet. both girls swore they heard right. i pun dont understand what was going on.

Salt N Turmeric said...

alahai seramnya. thank god diorang berdua if not, mau terkucil dalam seluar.

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?