Friday, March 9, 2012

Thinking of the inevitable

My Article in The Star Metro today. =)

I have a morbid fascination with funerals. It is probably because I have never witnessed death or attended a memorial service while living in the UK during my early childhood, and what I knew of funerals, were those portrayed beautifully on television. So when I came back to Malaysia and had to say goodbye to my grandfather or Aki whom I was getting so handsomely reacquainted with (he was the only one amongst my relatives who could understand my cockney English), I had mixed feelings about the whole ordeal.

I was his ‘main nurse’ when he came to fight throat cancer living with us in Kota Kinabalu, so naturally I was sad when he passed away. But I didn’t stay sad for too long. Aki and my parents prepared my siblings and I for his departure and I saw how he suffered through the whole ordeal, so I was actually glad he was at a better place. He had requested for a simple burial – nothing fancy. I watched my relatives from the kampung prepare a simple casket made from cheap plywood and some wooden planks. And this is where it ‘gets interesting’ for me.

When a death occurs in the village, everyone is informed. Back then, phones were unheard of, so gunfire was shot using gunpowder cleverly burnt in homemade bamboo cannons. There was also the soft beating of gongs and I was given a chance to play with these suspended instruments, something not allowed given a different scenario. The sounds of gongs are meant to give solace to the mourners. I found the soft drumming soothing yet entertaining at the same time.

Aki’s body was kept in the house for two days before the burial. While his body was in the house, all occupants must keep awake for the vigil. I loved the fact that my parents didn’t force me to retire early for bed and I got to sit around with them, listening to tales of my grandfather’s life.

There were also some young boys who would set up a ketam-ketam table – a ‘roulette’ game of pictures but without the wheel - and I was thrilled that I was able to make a little fortune from that guessing game consisting of a crab, prawn, fish, chicken, jars, a moon and two large pictorial dices. My dad disapproved, but that only added to the thrill of things because as soon as he walked away, my brother and I would sneak back another 10sen onto our chosen picture. I think I made enough money to buy myself a new Christopher Pike book!

On the sixth day, a ceremony called the momisok is carried out. This is done for a few reasons – firstly, to allow the deceased to go in peace now that he/she ‘knows’ he is no longer alive and secondly, for the deceased to ‘take’ his/her personal belongings and to have the ‘last favorite meal’ before departing for good.

Aki’s most treasured stuff and his favorite meal was placed in the middle of the room. The lights were switched off before a special ‘calling’ was carried out to allow Aki’s soul to come and visit the house for the last time and to ‘take his belongings’. My cousins and I found this part creepily exciting! Someone told me to place talcum powder on the floor to see Aki’s footprints, but my dad would not have it. I think I heard a creak on the bamboo floor, but on a hindsight, it could just be someone shifting their weight off the chilly floor.

This custom has been a controversial debate amongst the Kadazan-Dusun community due to the paranormal understanding that it is against the Christian views and beliefs and because the ceremony was initiated by our Pagan ancestors. Some folks say it has nothing to do with religion and that it is okay to observe this practice because it’s the custom and tradition of the Kadazan-Dusun people. I feel lucky that I got to witness this custom before it obsoletes.

Instead of black dresses with pearls or suits for the men; there was a color-grading of some sort. Black or dark blue attire for Aki’s children, and simple white tees with a little black square material stuck with a safety pin on our sleeves for the grandkids. I wore that little square material over my uniform sleeve for a period of a month and was proud wearing it, treating it like an honorary badge. I think I felt that way because the Prefects in school could not stop me from wearing something that was not part of the uniform and the rebel in me had some form of bragging rights due to this. Lame, but true.

Since then, I’ve always been fascinated by funerals and had even penned out my memorial plans which includes a small fund (so no one gets burdened financially with my passing), and details about the color of my casket, dress and nails, to the selection of prayers, hymns and songs to be played. Now that I’ve reverted, I guess my burial wishes no longer apply, but I still have the fund ready, just in case. As morbid as it sounds, I think everyone should pen down their burial wishes and prepare a will, cause as the saying goes, life is short. You never know when HE takes us away. At least the ones we leave behind are not troubled over expenses and decision making. But that’s just my personal opinion.

Daphne has had her fair share of eccentric funerals, which include dancing for her best friend’s memorial service because on the day he was murdered, he was supposed to perform to Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive”. Do you have any morbid stories to share with Daphne? Email her at

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