By NUR IZZATY SHAIFULLIZAN & AMIELIA KARIM

The road leading to Terachi, Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan is especially busy the weekend before the start of Ramadan. Stalls line the road as customers stop for itik salai (smoked duck), ikan masin (salted fish) and lemang. There’s also a makeshift stall selling beef that’s doing roaring business.

Locals are returning to Kuala Pilah for Hari Mantai, a term that folks from Negri Sembilan and Melaka use to describe a tradition observed on the eve of Ramadan, Hari Raya and Hari Raya Haji, when families balik kampung to butcher meat and prepare traditional dishes for the festivities.

In Kampung Lanjut Manis, just off the main road, all seems quiet as the villagers are indoors, seeking refuge from the sun. There’s hardly anyone out among the huge compounds or narrow lanes.

But the village community hall, located by the mosque, is a hive of activity. Residents have gathered to prepare kerepek pisang (banana chips). Four women stand around two woks, deftly shaving slivers of banana with a mandoline into the hot oil.

Sodap amek tekau (It’s very delicious, trust me),” the ladies promise.

They have been making these chips for three years and know just how hot the oil needs to be, how much margarine to add, and when to sprinkle salted water into the wok.

Another group of women are hard at work behind the hall. Their job is to peel the bananas. Unfazed by the sap sticking to their hands and clothes, they don’t even try to scrub it off with water and soap. They know a remedy that works better.

Takdolah susah amek nak cuci. Ambik yo minyak, gosok kek tangan dongan baju (Don’t worry. Just lather up a bit of oil on the stains and off they go),” says 61-year-old Nur Madiah Hassan.

She has lived in Lanjut Manis for as long as she can remember. Everyone in the village calls her Mak Long Normah. It’s a close-knit group, bonded by blood and lifelong friendships.

Kampung Lanjut Manis

The kampung folks work together from start to finish to ensure the perfect outcome of flavour and crunch of the kerepek pisang.

Lanjut Manis has been around for at least six generations. There are now about 280 residents living here, mostly older folk and younger children. There’s an awareness that family ties getting loose. Most of the young adults have left for jobs in the big cities

On weekends, those who work in the Klang Valley and Seremban usually come home for a visit. It’s a full house particularly on Hari Raya because everyone returns for the celebration.

“Back then, the older generation was close to each other,” says businessman Mazlan Mulub, 55, who, along with several other village elders, have been working to build a stronger community.

“Villagers knew the names of their peers’ children and grandchildren, and what they do for a living. They did many things together. We could sleep over at each others’ homes. Since many have left to find jobs elsewhere, we are not as close as we used to be.”

Kampung Lanjut Manis

Mak Long Normah, an expert at frying banana chips, will teach anyone who”sa hand.

Four years ago, Mazlan and retiree Hajjah Rupiah Meon, 61, formed Persatuan Anak Kampung Lanjut Manis (Paklam) and started organising activities to bring the villagers together.

The banana chip enterprise is one of their initiatives. The association got villagers to leverage on the abundance of local produce and use their skills to make traditional favourites such as wajik, dodol and rendang. The funds then go towards their big Hari Raya kenduri (feast).

Since they started this enterprise, villagers have been gathering at the community hall on weekends to work together. In fact, on the weekend before we met, the villagers had spent their day stirring a big cauldron of dodol.

Don’t be deceived by their looks: These seniors are raring to go! Though they be anywhere from 50 to 70, the village’s uwan (as the older folks are called) have been working tirelessly to cook all that food. Meanwhile, laughter rings out as they trade stories and news over the hot stoves.

“When the villagers have nothing to do , their days become dull. By coming to these cooking sessions, they have something to look forward to,” says Rupiah, the community’s Ibu Soko. 

Ibu Soko is a revered motherly leader, elected according to Adat Perpatih for her wisdom and knowledge. Villagers look up to her and seek her counsel for all kinds of matters, from customs to inheritance.

Many are supportive of Paklam’s workshops, glad for the opportunity to work and socialise, and earn a living for their efforts. They are also motivated by a bigger agenda: strengthening ties with each other.

Raya kenduri for all

As Hari Raya draws near, the residents of Kampung Lanjut Manis will be working even harder to increase their output as they want to hold a big feast for the entire village.

They have been holding these community kenduri for the past three years, and Kampung Lanjut Manis residents have been working harder each year to make and sell more products so they could host a bigger party … the more, the merrier.

It’s an event that everyone looks forward to in their small village. Everyone is invited, and villagers would come to the kenduri with their children and grandchildren wearing beautiful traditional baju kurung and baju melayu to celebrate Hari Raya, as well as to seek forgiveness from one another.

It’s the best event to meet each other, to catch up on news, renew friendships and deepen ties.

The meaningful kenduri project is much anticipated, and villagers have thrown their support behind it.

These days, some Kampung Lanjut Manis residents who live elsewhere and come home during the weekends have also opted to join in the venture. As such, the uwans’ load is eased because their children and grandchildren work with them.

College student Nur Alia Shaifullizan, the granddaughter of one of Kampung Lanjut Manis seniors, Uwan Ngah or Sawrayah Kaha, 79, likes helping out at the cooking sessions.

“The activities held around my neighborhood in Kajang, and at the kampung are very different. Back home, people gather to carry out typical gotong-activities and there is never a huge turnout. In my kampung, however, the households band together and everyone works with one another.”

“I really like spending time with these uwans because they share all kinds of stories with me and are willing to hear mine too. Not only that, I can learn new recipes and it’s not something you can get online,” says the 20-year-old student who goes back to Kampung Lanjut Manis almost every weekend with her family.

Kampung Lanjut Manis

There is abundant crop in Kampung Lanjut Manis, and Norhisham only needs to go to his backyard to cut the bamboo for making lemang.

Villagers also take great pride in their produce because most of the raw ingredients are sourced from their backyard.

Their small enterprise does not require huge capital as their fertile grounds yield bountiful crops, waiting to be harvested when the season comes.

Kampung Lanjut Manis

(From left) Zainuddin Saaban, 69, Norhisham Md Derus, 60, and Samad Kasim, 61, preparing rendang ayam for all those hard at work making banana chips.

In muhibbah spirit, villagers generously donate raw materials like bananas to contribute to the community effort to make kerepek pisang. Sometimes, the number of bananas collected could even amount to 40kg.

“We use pisang nangka for the chips, and sometimes pisang nipah. But the best variety to use is pisang abu, which is more expensive,” says Noyah Naim, 57.

When they make dodol, they’d carefully choose old coconuts that yield more milk. Some of these coconuts are from the trees in their compounds.

The association sells their produce in local shops. Some villagers who work elsewhere such as in Kuala Lumpur help to distribute and sell their village’s banana chips and dodol there, thus expanding their market.

Funds raised from the small enterprise are then used to buy ingredients such as chillies, onions, and chickens (farmed by the villagers themselves) for their annual Hari Raya kenduri. The funds collected also go to the mosque and the needy.

Kampung Lanjut Manis folk will come together for the next Hari Mantai, on the eve of Hari Raya, to cook their signature dishes such as rendang, ayam masak lemak cili api, lemang as well as lontong, pulut kuning and sambal ikan bilis for all to enjoy.

“For the rendang ayam, we only need a few ingredients. It’s blended chilli padi, fresh turmeric, tamarind slices and lots of santan. What is most important is using ayam kampung, which we rear in the village,” says the village chef, Samad Kasim, 61, reciting the tried and tested recipe he learnt from his mother.

While the women were making kerepek pisang, Samad was busy preparing his signature rendang for all who were hard at work, “so we can all eat together.”

The next big feast they are all anticipating is the upcoming big kenduri during Hari Raya, where they will be reunited with families and friends, from far and near.