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In ‘Mums of The World’, we ask mothers from around the world about their cultures, traits, babies, parenting and unique traditions. This week we look at the unique ‘7 Bulanan’ tradition – seventh-month baby shower tradition of Peranakan Indonesians, better known as “Benteng Chinese” – a mixed descent of Native Jakartan and Chinese, similar to the Malaysian Baba Nyonya.

7 Bulanan Baby Shower

The seventh-month baby shower is one of the most important traditions for expectant mothers  in the Benteng-Chinese community, especially first-time mothers.

Who are the Benteng-Chinese? This community in Indonesia dates back to as early as the 1400s. They are among the earliest Chinese immigrants who arrived in Indonesia, specifically Jakarta. Later on, under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company during the Dutch colonial era, more of the community arrived in Indonesia.

Initially populating the area of Tangerang, Banten and West Java, the Benteng-Chinese are famously known as ‘Peranakan’. Their heritage carries heavy mixed influences of Betawi (native Batavia/Jakartan descent) and Chinese.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Certain cultural traits and traditions of the Benteng-Chinese are also heavily influenced by the Javanese and Sundanese ethnicities of Indonesia. The ethnic Benteng-Chinese do not speak Chinese, they converse in Indonesian. They are also fluent in the Sundanese and/or Javanese dialect.

The 7th Month

This traditional ceremony is very close to the Javanese and Sundanese baby shower. The belief is that this tradition acts as a blessing  for the infant and mother to have a safe and smooth delivery.

We followed Lina and Elsie through their seventh-month ceremony that left us with a sense of amazement at how this tradition brought friends, family and neighbours together.

The day begins with prayers and offerings to their ancestors. They pray that the mother and infant continue to be safe, and for a smooth delivery. Offerings of fruits, turmeric coconut glutinous rice called ‘Nasi Kuning’, traditional cakes and snacks with coffee or tea symbolise gratitude for granting safety to both the mother and infant throughout.

Elsie and Johan during prayer time

The praying ceremony takes around 20 minutes to complete. The expectant mother proceeds to assemble a unique version of ‘Rujak’ made with 7 ingredients.

 

The unique traits of this ‘Rujakan’ is that the whole family (mostly the women) will come together and prepare ingredients comprising shredded pomelo, pomegranates, round white turnips, rose apples, pineapples, grounded chilli paste and brown sugar.

The expectant mother will then have to mix the ingredients and create her version of the Rujak, without the privilege of pre-tasting it.

“If the outcome taste is refreshing and sweet then it is believed that the baby will have a calm and introverted temperament. If it comes out to be spicier or with an uneven taste, it signifies a potentially bolder and more rebellious baby on the way,” said Lina amid her excitement in assembling her Rujak.

The first 7 jars of the Rujak will have to be distributed by the expectant mother to close family (parents, in-laws, siblings) and the elderly. The remainder will then be distributed to all the other relatives, friends and people around the neighbourhood.

Lina’s Rujak ready to be distributed to family, friends and neighbours

After the Rujakan, the expectant mom will then be given a traditional pre-natal massage by a traditional elderly masseur who understands the Chinese-Benteng 7 Bulanan tradition.

A pre-natal massage and gender

The massage will then continue with a symbolic 7 flowers floral bath. It is basically a water bath mixed with 7 different colourful fresh flowers.

This bathing ritual is performed by the masseur, husband, elderly in the family like the mother or mother-in-law or grandmother.

The masseur will perform a blessing, followed by a ritual of rolling an egg from the head of the expectant mother slowly down her body, through her torso area, over her baby bump and over the groin, following the birth passage of the baby. The egg will be left to roll off the mother’s body from that point.

Elsie explains that “if the egg is smashed or breaks apart, it signifies that the baby will be a girl; if it withstands the fall or merely cracks then it signifies a baby boy.”

Known and greeted as ‘Mak’,  this traditional masseur is 99 years-old. Shehas been a traditional masseur and mid-wife for more than five decades.

The baby shower is a very important and unique traditional ceremony for the Benteng-Chinese. Family and friends from near and far as well as people around the neighbourhood will make time to visit the house to offer their well-wishes.

Post natal

After the delivery, Elsie and Lina had to go through 40 days of confinement. During this time, they are required to stay at home and eat special food  that has been prepared to help them with recovery after child-birth.

They are attended to with daily traditional binding and post-natal massages. During this period of time the mother is not allowed to shower or wash her hair.

As for the precious new-born, they are not allowed a bath until their umbilical cord drops. They will be attended to by elders, usually the mother or a confinement lady.  A confinement lady understands the customs, and aids with food preparation and bathing the new-born.

 

By Dessy Barnaby

Dessy left her PR career in exchange for perfecting her critical negotiation skills with her two children. She has found solace in writing and is now a freelance writer.

Chinese New Year is almost here, and preparations are underway for new clothes, eve dinners and ang pow packets. Parenting books and websites often talk about the benefits of tradition and ritual and how they provide stability and familiarity for children.

But for the second time in my nearly four decades of life, I have no travel plans for Chinese New Year. Since Grandma passed on, we no longer travel to Sitiawan for the celebrations. Instead, we hang out in KL and PJ and get excited about driving around with hardly any traffic. Although these days, traffic in town can still be heavy, because many others have also stopped going to Taiping, Sungai Petani, Melaka, or whichever hometown they once went to.

So I’ve been wondering, how do you pass on traditions and rituals you grew up with when the context in which they were practiced no longer exist?

Tree-lined driveway

Chinese New Year for me, always started with the journey back home to Sitiawan. Loading the bags, Mum forgetting something and making Dad turn back, heavy traffic, and finally, driving up the 200-metre gravelly driveway to Grandfather’s house, set amidst six acres of rubber trees. Grandpa, Grandma, and Great-Grandma, would come out and greet us, and when he was younger, Grandpa would wash our car, travel-stained from our journey.

Then, would come the wait for my cousins. My sister and I were often in the upstairs front room, with two floor-length windows with wooden shutters overlooking the long driveway. I can still hear the crunch of the gravel as their car drove in, followed by banging car doors, loud voices, and the pounding footsteps running up the steep staircase with the dark timber boards. Once they arrived, Chinese New Year officially began.

The next few days would be busy ones – pinching Grandfather’s chalk to draw hopscotch patterns on the concrete outside, picking out new and shiny rubber seeds from amongst the dead leaves, and playing hide-and-seek amongst the trees. Once, in a modified game of team hide-and-seek, my oldest cousin placed me under some banana trees and told me to wait there; which I did, even when a long, black snake dropped at my feet from the tree above and slithered off.

The clan

My Great-Grandmother lived till I was 14, and we stayed in her house. She had 10 children, and they in turn, had many children of their own. So, over the course of Chinese New Year, it was normal for us to receive over 100 visitors. We would often peek into the living room to check if anyone of interest had come to visit or whether there was a chance of adding an extra angpow to our tally.

One uncle would take us on a motorbike around the estate – three kids and one adult on a bike – bumping on the roots, laughing our heads off. Another would light fireworks with more glee than any of us kids. The adults played Gin Rummy to pass time over long hot afternoons, and when they put their cards down, we would take over and imitate them.

After the first few days, we would go visiting too – to my aunt’s medicine shop in Dad’s little town, and to Grandaunt’s house full of flowering fruit trees. We went every year, without fail, a familiar well-worn routine.

Even when we were grown, we continued these traditions of gathering, visiting and being visited. Grandaunt’s fruit trees were cut down, as she couldn’t tend to them. But, we still crowded into her living room, ate groundnuts, and talked about nothing for hours, which only families can do so well. And the uncle with the fireworks still lit them with the same glee.

New traditions

As they say, those days are now gone. Although not so long ago for me, as my grandparents lived long lives, and only left us in my 30s. The old traditions, practised for decades, disintegrated astonishingly quickly. Grandaunt’s family stopped going to Sitiawan after she passed. We stay in PJ, with one aunt still in Sitiawan, and others in various places, or on overseas holidays.

It’s a new era, and I know we can make new traditions for our kids; we don’t have to replicate our childhood for them. I’m organising a lunch gathering with some of the old crowd a week before Chinese New Year, before people disperse. And we have a four-table gathering with friends, which modern wisdom calls the new family. We visit and are visited, as before, just with different faces.

Still, a part of me misses the old days and wishes my son could have experienced some of it. And that watching the acrobatic lion dance at 1Utama and driving around KL because your mother loves the jam-free roads, doesn’t quite live up to six children running around unsupervised on a rubber estate, with snakes falling out of the trees.

Making memories

I dropped my son off recently at my mother-in-law’s, and before we left, he protested, saying he wanted to go with me instead. He was asleep when we got there, so we carried him down. As we crossed the threshold, he heard his cousin’s voice and his eyes popped open. He got down and they walked off together chatting, my son immediately forgetting about my existence; lost in a made-up world of their own.

It was baking day at my mother-in-law’s and they were the first to sample Ma-Ma’s mouth-watering kuih bangkit, which she makes only for Chinese New Year. We will have a big feast on eve night, and new year food on the first day, which after 12 years of marriage, I am still not entirely used to (I’m looking at you – waxed duck and lap cheong). We will sit in my mother-in-law’s 50-year-old sofa set and talk for hours about nothing, as families do so well. There will be love, acceptance, familiarity and fun, which are all childhood memories really need to be precious. My son doesn’t know it yet, but he will miss these times one day.

 

By Ding Jo-Ann

Ding Jo-Ann is a full-time mum, part-time writer, and once-upon-a-time lawyer.

 

Makchic’s tips for creating new family traditions:

  • Think about your family identity: Are you a musical family, or are you concerned about social welfare? A little cultural performance or volunteering experience together with your children may be the right fit. Think about what you would like to share with your children that is both fun and meaningful.
  • Be creative: Don’t be afraid to think up new additions or tweaks to old family rituals you hold dear. Were there fireworks in the past? A little session with sparklers or lanterns with the kids could work just as well.
  • Ease it in: Gently introduce new traditions or rituals in a relaxed and engaging way. Do not rush to implement ‘rules’ or force things on family, as that may create bad memories instead of warm ones! Remember to have fun with your family.

 

Image Credits: Ding Jo-Ann

Chinese New Year is fast approaching, and if you still have not bought new clothes for your kids, fear not. Here are some places you can hurry to get some beautiful clothes for the little ones.

Ginger Duck

This label can be found at Robinsons inTthe Gardens Mall, as well as in the Bangsar Shopping Centre Chinese New Year display in the main foyer.

Robinsons, The Gardens Mall

The selection of Chinese New Year wear at Robinsons is also worth exploring, with plenty of colourful traditional outfits that are priced from RM69 to RM160.

Poney

Whether it is adorable Chinese outfits or bright little offerings, local brand Poney has many choices for parents. They have a collection that is quite modern and cute, starting from around RM129.

Le Moomba

You can find Le Moomba at the current Chinese New Year display at the Mid Valley Mall’s foyer (Centre Court).  There are fine and classic outfits available, but they can be expensive, with prices from RM100 to RM300.

Somerset Bay

The collection from Somerset Bay (seen here at Metrojaya) is a sweet and elegant one for Chinese New Year. It’s definitely something different from the brighter and ‘more red’ selections around.

Le Petit Society

Le Petit Society’s clothing may be the perfect choice for parents looking for less traditional Chinese New Year outfits. Home to the signature Bubble Tulle Dresses and some seriously adorable baby outfits, this Singapore-based brand can be found in Shoes Shoes Shoes, Bangsar Shopping Center (BSC).’

 

Purple Fish

This label can be found in Metrojaya and all major departmental store chains, and stock a wide variety of delightful little cheongsam and samfu for kids.

Mini Pink

It’s sweet little dresses galore at Mini Pink, and this label can currently be found at Metrojaya, Curve.  Their selections are in all the colours you can think of, but there is a definite bias towards cheongsams for girls.

Dodo Art Craft and Fashion

For something a little different, parents can head to Dodo Art Craft and Fashion – this writer headed there to get a beautiful Nyonya kebaya for her daughter in a nod to her Nyonya lineage and roots!

 

By Li-Hsian

Li-Hsian left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role.

 

Image Credits: Li-Hsian, Le Petit Society and Poney.

Related Posts:

How to Survive – and Enjoy – Chinese New Year with a Toddler Top Tips for “Balik Kampung” Journeys with Babies Where to get your Cheongsam/Qipao & New Outfits for Chinese New Year 2018