A state of birthday cheer


  • #Abidinideas
  • Friday, 17 Jan 2020

A once-in-a-year celebration that brings the Ruler and people closer together and even the weather cooperated this time.

THE Kenaboi River Challenge at the end of 2019 – my seventh – provided a wonderful reminder of the physical beauty of Negri Sembilan, a characteristic that is often overlooked.

Perhaps this is because the human-induced history and customs of the state are so interesting that people cite those rather than our stunning riverscapes or hiking trails as being unique (or khusus as per the state’s honorific).

Sometimes, though, both human and physical features coincide beautifully, and new drone footage taken during the Istiadat Penghulu Mengadap at Seri Menanti revealed the serene beauty of the royal town from new angles as well, particularly the Londa Naga lake and the rolling hills in the distance, punctuated with the splendour of the Takhta Rencana being escorted by clansmen.

This can be seen in a new documentary entitled Payung Naungan Darul Khusus about the ceremony that sees the five Penghulus of the Luak Tanah Mengandung

renew their loyalty to the Yang di-Pertuan Besar (see also my article of Nov 22,2019).

While that ceremony is steeped in ancient traditions (and sensible political objectives), it is the birthday of the Yang di-Pertuan Besar that more widely invites members of the public to witness, participate in and enjoy a plethora of events.

This year, the celebrations were preceded by two evenings of prayers: one at Seri Menanti’s Royal Mosque (named after the ninth Ruler Tuanku Munawir) and another at the Padang next door, which also featured a multimedia account of the arrival of Islam into the Nusantara region.

Then the various events began across all districts, though the majority were at Seri Menanti itself.

Sport and games form a major component: a cycle ride and fun run in the environs of the royal town, a chess competition, drone flying, tug-of-war tournament, fishing competition, basketball and various versions of football, from three-a-side, futsal and FIFA on the PS4.

Perhaps the most impactful, though, is the Piala Keputeraan Tuanku Muhriz organised by Malaysia Connecting Communities, whose programmes have uplifted the football skills and lifetime opportunities of hundreds of kids from rural areas over the years.

The library organised a programme to teach children the role of Constitutional monarchy and Negri Sembilan’s adat perpatih in a treasure hunt format, while parents availed themselves of health check-ups offered by Institut Jantung Negara and Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz.

The Padang continued to stay lively in the evenings, with entrepreneurs setting up stalls and Negri FM organising concerts.

Coincidentally, Datuk Khatijah Ibrahim, with whom I performed at UiTM last month, was invited to sing, so it seemed appropriate to accompany her again.

On the morning of the birthday itself, the weather cooperated and a massive crowd turned up to listen to the music of the Royal Armoured Corps military band, whose synchronisation with the blasts from the 105mm howitzers during the state anthem gets better each year – there is an increased rate of fire during the line “Musuhnya habis binasa” (“He who shall oppose us perish” in an old official translation).

The Royal Malaysian Navy were the main stars this year, and their hugely impressive silent drill with their M16s was accompanied by their equally fine wind ensemble.

Later in the Balairung Seri the Yang di-Pertuan Besar repeated his frequent calls for unity and good governance, and for the first time, the current and former mentris besar from different parties were in the audience together (the latter is the Rantau state assemblyman, and the Istana always invites all elected representatives).

His Royal Highness reminded recipients of state awards to continue serving their noble causes, and among the doctors, soldiers and job creators I was particularly glad that the world-renowned Negri Sembilan-born astrophysicist Prof Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman became a Datuk Seri, while another alumna of Tunku Kurshiah College, Dr Hartini Zainudin, received the Darjah Setia Tuanku Muhriz which bestows the title of Datuk.

Dr Tini was one of the earliest activists I met when I returned to Malaysia and her contribution to children’s protection and welfare – both in terms of policy and countless personal interventions – has improved and even saved many lives.

As described in this newspaper’s special section in conjunction with my father’s birthday, the royal family aims to support all areas of Negri Sembilan life, from the Constitu-tional, religious, military and educational roles to charitable causes, sports and culture.

But it is, at the end of day, still a birthday, and even though formal events dominate the calendar, moments with family and friends are thoroughly cherished.

At the lush and fertile environs of Seri Menanti Valley, the connections between Ruler, People, State and Nature crystallised beautifully once again.

Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin is the second son of the Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan.

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