Di Bawoh Rang Ikang Kering
Random Ramblings of A Retired Retainer


Friday, June 17, 2005
I have accepted the sobering fact that I do not and will not know all the answers to everything. You know, stuffs like "What is the Meaning of Life" and "When will the traffic light beaters get caught and punished". But it didn't stop me from asking questions to myself. Autointerrogation? Probably.
So, as I was letting nature takes its course, I asked myself how did my forefathers measure time, distance, height, weight, area and volume without a measuring standard? What did we use before we adopted the Imperial System and later the Metric?
I suppose cupak and gantang would have been around long enough to be able to make their way into that defeatist peribahasa "Kalau rezeki secupak takkan jadi segantang." Fine. We know that Malays of old measured padi,rice, salt,sago with a degree of preciseness using the cupak.
Measuring other things were not as precise. Take time as an example. Before the advent of Baby G, Swatch, Seiko, Tag Heur or Rolex, time was indicated by relating it to the position of the sun and later prayer times . Hence "matahari tegak" means midday because that is when the sun is at its height. We know that at this time, buffalo calves can die if left tethered. Please refer to the pantun "tinggi tinggi si matahari, anak kerbau mati tertambat.." Earlier in the day, there used to be an expression "Matahari segalah" which is roughly 10 am in modern, clock-watching time. Galah is a pole, wooden or bamboo, used by villagers to retrieve lost buckets (timba) from wells or to nudge mangoes from the kerengga-infested trees. If that galah wielding person ever looked at the shadow, he/she would have invented the sundial. After the sun has slipped from its zenith (tergelincir matahari in religious books) the prayer times took over. Appointments were made before or after asar, zohor or maghrib. How the time was decided before Islam came to this country is beyond the scope of this post. So please don't bug me. You might ask how did our forefathers determine points in time after the sun has set.( Incidently "After The Sunset" is a good movie. Go buy the DVD). I guess they did not because without Astro and 24 hour mamak stalls, they went to bed early. But, there is a passage from Malay literature describing what I would guess as the predawn period. I could not remember the exact words only
puntung sejengkal tinggal sejari (6 inches of burning wood now left a few millimeters- this is probably the old version of mosquito coils)
budak budak dua kali jaga (kids woke up twice)
orang tua berkalih tidor ( adults changed positions)
orang muda pulang bertandang (young people came home from visiting. Whom or what they visited was not mentioned nor explained)
There were other lines about bellowing bulls and what birds did to indicate that dawn is coming. Go read the exact words here.
Now, sejengkal, sejari is common among the Malays of old. The arm and the hand were used to measure width and depth. "Kalau kail panjang sejengkal..."
(Continued later)