My bosom friend and classmate, Emily, came from a large extended family. She was
of Chinese and Malay blood. People of such heritage are described as "Baba" or "Peranakan."
Theirs was a loving family. There were two married sons and two unmarried
daughters. The sons, together with their wives and children, lived in a huge
bungalow with their parents. The house was always alive and full of laughter.
The family was also very traditional and had great respect for their ancestors.
The parents were greatly revered by all the other members of the family. The
children were obedient and filial and never argued with their parents. They were
a close-knit family in which members of the family who helped each other in
times of difficulty.
However, the family was also very particular about certain practices and
superstitious beliefs prevailed. No members of the family could give each other
sharp instruments like needles, knives or scissors. They believed that this
would cause quarrels between the giver and the receiver. The family also
instructed that nobody was allowed to sweep the house after sunset because this
would cause family warmth and love to be swept out of the home.
On the eve of Lunar New Year, the children were not permitted to sleep until
they had ushered in the new year at the stroke of midnight for the deities
bestowed most blessings on those they met
first. On the day a son got married, he and his spouse were each made to sweep a
large orange into the threshold of the house. The oranges signified gold and
prosperity and sweeping them in portended
sweeping good fortune into the home. If any member of the family were to fall
ill, there was to be no mention of death or hospitals for fear that these would
attract the devil to claim the soul of the sick person.
One day, my family was invited to their home for dinner. During the course of
the dinner, one of the grandchildren unwittingly rested her left hand on her
plate. Immediately, her grandmother upbraided
her. She told the child that she would never find food on her plate if she did
that because the devil would say that her plate was not for food but for her
I had never encountered such a superstitious family, but this family appeared
to be amiably united by these superstitions, both good and bad.