The title of today's post seems a bit like a paradox, but that's exactly how I can describe some relatives of mine who live in Sabak Bernam, Selangor.
Last Saturday, I attended the wedding reception of my third cousin at Kampung Sungai Air Tawar in Sabak Bernam. Since I was already in KL to help my brother-in-law move house (see earlier post), it was just a couple hours drive to get to the wedding. It was an extreme of sorts from my BIL's place to the groom's house. From the swanky condo at Bukit Jalil to a simple wooden kampung house whose planks show obvious signs of age. Although they are not well-to-do, the groom's family received us with their customary warmth and kindness.
I consider the relationship between the groom and myself as distant because we are third cousins (in Malay we call it tiga pupu). My father and the groom's mother are second cousins because my father's birth mother is a cousin of the groom's mother's father. I hope I have not confused my readers by that description. Anyway, apart from the distant family ties, the physical distance between our homes also meant that we seldom get to meet. This however, does not mean that we are not close. Whenever there is a reason such as this (a wedding invitation), I make the effort to travel up to meet them.
Our arrival was greeted with warm hugs all around. Throughout the reception I can hear fair-skinned ladies talking excitedly in thick but familiar Banjar accent. The Banjarese are a minority Malay sub-ethnic group who originally hail from the Kalimantan region of Indonesia. In Malaysia, large groups of Banjar people can be found residing in Sungai Besar, Sabak Bernam and in the southern districts of Perak. In Johor state, the Banjarese are concentrated in Batu Pahat and Mersing.
My grandparents, both on my mother's and father's side are pure Banjar. Unfortunately, I cannot speak the language although I can understand it well enough. My childhood friends are from a mixed bag of races... Malay (mostly from Javanese and Bawean descent), Chinese (from the Hokkien and Teochew dialects), Tamils and even Eurasians. We converse in Malay and English. While growing up, my mother sometimes speaks to me in the Banjar language but I only reply to her in Malay. Those days, I didn't know anybody else who are from the Banjar sub-ethnic group.
In Sabak Bernam, I can hear the language spoken in its almost pure form. Some of the newly-introduced relatives started to talk to me in Banjar but I could only politely reply in Malay. Luckily, I knew enough of the language to understand what they were saying.
My wife always reminds me that it is a pity I'm losing part of my heritage by not being able to speak my grandparent's language. Well... what to do? I can try to re-learn the language but I don't think it will help much. It is more important for me to strengthen family ties with my distant relatives, no matter how far they may be.