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once upon a norza

i am norza and this is my blog

Living Room of the Malays

A good read from rantauan. I think this is sooo 80s. Some of the decors have been changed for a modern taste but fake flowers and fancy curtains are still Malay fav. I would definitely prefer a bare room with as lil things as possible...the minimalistic way. It makes more sense since it's easier for a growing kid to move around the house. So do you have any of these in your homes? :D


It has been said that one of the Malays’ most extravagant symptom of thriftlessness lies in interior decoration. Indeed, this holds true for many Malay houses, where curtains are considered threadbare if they do not appear with three layers and all blank spaces should be blotted out with the voluptuous colours of plastic flowers. With this rudimentary inventory, I hope to also offer a document of the layout of a Malay living room, sorely overlooked in many interior design magazines which tend to valorise those cannibalistic self-orientalising furnishings (antique rosewood, decapitated Buddha ornament, ikat fabrics) which are pale and pompous resemblances of an ‘indigenous’ style. Perhaps what I hope to do, ultimately, is to create a sketch of the ‘aesthetic’ of the Malay living room.

1) The kerusi Pak Awang—literally, ‘Pak Awang’s sofa set’. The biggest piece of this set consists of a long wooden chair, with slats, fitted with six rectangular cushions. The other two chairs are single-seaters of two-cushions each—a backrest and a seat. Cushion covers are washable, usually velvety, with floral motifs. Popular colours are purple or brown. When I was small I liked lying on the floor to look at the doughy cushions being squeezed between the slats by the weight of someone sitting above—it vaguely suggested to me a kind of almost-bursting fecundity.

Unlike what some people of my generation might assume, Pak Awang is not the name of a famous furniture maker. The sofa’s name is derived from a black-and-white 60’s Malay sitcom called ‘Pak Awang Temberang’ (Pak Awang’s Antics), which starred the child siblings Rahimah Rahim and Rahman Rahim. The show was such a hit that its furniture inspired mass copying trends in Malay homes.

(It should be noted though that in middle-class Malay houses, the furniture of choice is Italian-style, with ornate flourishes.)

2) Cornices--Of which a popular one is that from which a chandelier will sprout as if from an inverted whale-spout.

3) A patio swing—Often in the form of a hemispheric rattan cradle, filled with cushions, often found in a patio-less house with children, or at least a lightweight woman prone to daydreaming.

4) Crocheted elements—In addition to the anti-macassar, which is used to protect the cushion backrests against hair-grease (the word macassar itself comes from macassar oil, which was once used during Victorian times for scalp treatment), the Malay house often makes extensive use of crochet in its furnishings. And thus it is common to find anti-macassars extending their roles as anti-dust-collection and anti-spills and anti-just-old-plain-and-boring, in the form of covers for the coffee table, television, hi-fi system, speakers, as well as mats for vases and other ornaments. The discreet will choose white as their colour of choice for their crochet improvisations, but the adventurous might opt for bandung pink, or tumeric.

5) Giant wall-mounted wooden fork and spoon—The origins of how this particular ornament began colonising Malay homes (especially in the eighties, when it reached its vogueish heights in HDB homes) has always puzzled me, since it is a Malay custom to eat with hands. Failing to be culturally symbolic by a long haul, one can only make the conjecture that its presence is purely ornamental, with perhaps a faint homage to the Malay artisan’s mastery in woodcarving. It is also entirely plausible that an extremely charismatic salesman first introduced the idea that it was fashionable to decorate one’s house with oversized eating implements.

6) Fake flowers—Those hybrids of fantasy and pragmatism—any species can be mimicked by wire, plastic and cloth, and more importantly, they do not wither. There are no popular species however, preferred in Malay houses—varieties can range from fountains of roses to signposts of sunflowers, or even those that advertise their counterfeit nature: petals veined by glitter or roses of dubious blues. There was once on television when I saw a Malay house so suffocated by flowers that it brought a new meaning to the term ‘baju butterfly’, that rectangular-cut batik garment worn by Malay women at home. Indeed, I imagined the inhabitants of the garden-maisonette drifting around among the odourless efflorescence like matriarchal butterflies.

7) Curtains—These are often elaborate, consisting of features like scallops, trimmings, tassels. Anything less and the curtain, that instrument for providing privacy, is considered naked in itself.

8) A carpet weaving of the Ka’abah—This is often placed on the wall, with the Ka’abah as its centrepiece, God’s residence on earth and the locus where Muslims all over the world direct their prayers to. The Ka’abah is often depicted as the centre of a whirlpool of pilgrims, and the requirements of perspective often solves the problem of aniconism in Islam (that which discourages the representation of human and animal form)—the pilgrims are often no more than tiny knots of fibre.

9) Cuckoo clock—again, the fact that the cuckoo clock involves considerable craftsmanship with wood might explain its ubiquity in Malay houses, despite its incorrigibly European origins. Another theory proposes that the cuckoo clock satisfies a certain instinct for bird-rearing.

10) Arabic calligraphy, or ‘Khat’—these usually consist of the names of God and his Messenger—‘Allah’ and ‘Muhammad’. The calligraphy can be found painted on plates, embroidered on cloth, sequinned on velvet, and there are some who believe they might have talismanic properties—to ward off evil, or to create an environment congenial to passing angels. A more practical reason is that the calligraphy invites its beholder to recite the exalted names—although some of the calligraphy has reached such a level of aesthetic abstraction they are no longer legible.

11) Under the coffee table—One will expect to find magazines like Gila-Gila, a humour monthly, entertainment rags like URTV and Hiburan, and Variasari, that irrefutably unique magazine which carried stories of mystery illnesses, heirlooms of shamanistic healing rings from ancestors who were once albino crocodiles, and rosewater-bathed weddings performed in the spirit plane. There would also invariably be an album, whose cover would be that of a faded waterfall, a sunset, or dahlias.

12) In the display cabinet—while the Chinese display cabinet usually consists of dolls, golden pineapples, fortune cats and effigies of the Three Prosperities, the Malay one showcases Sports Day trophies, Langkawi souvenirs, ceramic vases received from weddings, a miniature replica of a jong (a light sailcraft), and other woodcarvings, of which my favourite shows a father, mother and baby elephant trooping placidly in a row, tail-to-trunk.

And what's up with people covering their tv sets, radio, and furniture sets with a piece of cloth? Fortunately my mil only covers the tables. lol!

From rantauan:

I was just thinking of this. An ustadzah in SPore once said,
"Dirumah semua nya bertudung. Telebisen ada tudung, radio ada tudung, kipas angin pun ada tudung, meja jangan cakap lagi....tapi tuan rumah tak bertudung. " The audience ketawa berdekah dekah.
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At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hahah this is too funny!

my mum must be in the grp of makciks who love all crocheted elements..macam tudung kat atas tv, vcd, meja etc..

had to tell her no more such things when we were moving out..hahah. thankfully no giant forks and spoon likings for her..

but never know, what horrible interior decor taste of mine my kid will later laugh or scorn at..kherhehhe    

At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ooops that prev post was by me


At 1:59 AM, Anonymous moby said...

Do I have any of these in my home? No, no, no and hell no to all 12 items in the list! :D

Malays, especially the older generation just don't get the concept of "less is more". Probably to make up for what they don't have, they stuff their homes with a lot of crap.

The previous owners of my mum-in-law's place is a prime example. Even my MIL had a headache looking at all the pictures amd decoration on the wall. All not matching with the rest of the decor! Yucks!!    

At 6:56 AM, Blogger mummy jam said...

I'm the crochet crazy mummy, but only for the tables and not anywhere else ah....as I also love flowers so kat rumah ni dah kira macam kedai bunga jugak lah...hehehehe

one thing missing from the list ; carpets! almost suma rumah mesti ada carpet!! except mine ah....menyemak lah tu karpet, dah spend thousands on the tiles tak kan nak tutop dengan carpet yang collect abok pulak....hehehhe    

At 4:04 PM, Anonymous katak said...

I think the reason is prolly due to the fact that Malays like to show-off aka strut their stuff.

So they like to invite others to their house and show it to them how ELEGANT and how GRAND their houses are with all these peripherals included inside.

And about the therapist issue Kak Nor, I charge by the hour (1 hr = $65) GST is absorbed for session that is more than 2 hours.

Hahahah.. Giler ko, I just did some research and thought that its best to publish it out for all to know and AVOID if possible.    

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous anne said...

this goes to show tht a malay house can NEVER be minimalistic. My own 'new' house for example are so full of these junks tht i dont have the heart to put/throw away. Mcm mana seh nak jadi minimalist?    

At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

babe !!!!

omigod!! can u email me??!

i lost my h/p and i couldnt get thru yr email and sob..sob..what happened to the photoshoot? :(


pls email me, pls....


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