Thursday, 10 April 2014

Ritual Meals on Home Island

For Cocos Malays, as in many others cultures, rituals commonly take the form of meals. Usually, these take place at the host's house. Dozens of guests are invited. Women prepare the food during the day and then men pray and eat before sunset prayers. These kind of meals are sometimes called "kenduri" or "selametan". I've been told that they used also to be called "kondangan".  In this blog, I provide a little more detail on a typical ritual meal. 

A husband and wife play host and hostess. Their relations and friends are the guests.The hostess provides the cooking space (her open kitchen out back of her house) and cooking materials (rice, chicken, spices, etc.)

Nulung (helping out)

The first stage is the helping out or nulung. Female guests provide, individually, cash in an envelope (selawet) and, together, the  labour (preparing the food). Whether these guests are invited or expected, and the extent to which this is implicit or explicit, is unclear to me. Food preparation takes them from the morning till about 4pm. At some point in the day, usually earlier, some of the male guests will drop off cartons of drink bottles and cans (water, soft drinks etc.)

Eating some of the food prepared.

It's not all just cooking though. At some point, they also eat some of the food they have prepared. I have never been privy to these preparations--it is inappropriate for me as a man to do so. Luckily, I have my co-researcher, Moni. Moni helped out at Mak Azaha at the 1000th day anniversary of  her father's passing away. This is the final send-off for the departed. Moni's fieldnotes are quite moving, I think:

It was also very touching to have Mak Azaha go to each of the grandmothers and mothers who had been helping nulung for this final kenduri the 1000 days. She had a bowl full of slawet money and personally spoke to each one almost in a hugging fashion to say thank you so much for being there and the grandmothers like Nek Azrin nodded and said a comforting word. It seemed like they were exchanging a tear or two with Mak Azaha, which they then wiped away on their tudung (veils). After the women had their lunch they also said their goodbyes to Mak Azaha and her mother Nek Azaha; more tears and heartfelt expressions accompanied this. One grandmother comforted Nek Azaha (whose husband passed away) with the observation she still has her daughter and she also has 4 grandchildren. I wish I had said something heartfelt I think I was lost for words and only said terima kasih; I really regret I couldn’t think of anything more to say.

Male guests gathering outside.

Ngaji (praying and chanting)

The men inside have just finished praying and
chanting and are getting their take-away bags
At around 4pm the male guests become involved. Typically attired in a sarong and a baju. Some of the men they gather out 
the front They might be on the verandah, neighbouring verandahs, or simply lounge around on their 4wheelers and golf buggies. Some filter into the front room and, led by an imam, begin praying.

Jemput Makan (eating together)

Waiting to start eating
Praying completed, by about 5.30pm, some of the men will head off home or to the mosque. Others head around to the back for the next 'stage' of the ritual. We could call this eating together or jemput makan. Plates are distributed. The imam will do a short blessing on the  food. Then there is a short wait while the men exhort each other to start eating "ayo, jangan malu-malu!" (c'mon, don't be shy [get into it]!). 

Finally, each men heap some rice onto his plate and chooses from some of the dishes the women prepared earlier. These male guests sit down and eat, as is the custom, with their right hand. When they have finished, after an interval, the women and children get up to eat. By this time the men are already starting to excuse themselves ostensibly to head off to Magrib prayers, either at the mosque or at home. Others wait around for their wives and children. And with this it seems the formalities are complete. 

Female guests' turn to eat

During rituals, our actions often have an explicit meaning. Drinking champagne by yourself from a bottle is different from drinking to a toast. 

So what does a ritual meal on Home Island mean? In a simple sense it is to 'mark' or 'signify' an event. Go any deeper than this and it gets complicated and controversial, so I'll have to revisit this topic in subsequent blogs. But, if I've piqued your interest, why not look at a short piece I wrote on ritual meals in Java

In this blog I have used photographs from the ritual meal (kenduri) put on by Matt Macrae and his wife Wak Maureen for their 100 day kenduri of Wak Maureen's father. The fieldnotes excerpt by Monika comes from a kenduri held by Pak and Mak Azaha. Thank you so much to these wonderful hosts and all those involved for allowing Monika and me to take part!


  1. kondangan = going to weding
    slametan = bless ceremonial with family and neighbour
    kenduri = bless harvest fisherman or farmer ceremonial with family and neighbour

    same like javanese and sundanese ritual
    i think malay didnt do that seremonial,

    1. Yes, Malay people do it all. Each Malay community has various rites and naming for it. Malay Cocos are formed from various ethnic from Malay archipelago.