They sit surrounded by items they have prepared for the ritual of Jejak Tanah: fine sand, peat soil, pea gravel, petals from seven kinds of flowers, a baby bathtub, and a large terrarium bowl
Editor’s Note: Today’s play excerpt is part of a notebook of Lullabies published by the Transpacific Literary Project. Each piece of the notebook is paired with a pencil drawing by the artist Trương Công Tùng. Read the other Lullabies in this notebook here.
A child is a valley embraced by a mother who is the mountain and a father who is the sea.
Walk the earth. Jejak tanah.
A child of a Rawa descent does not step on bare earth until they are a year old. A stricter form of this tradition that was practiced by the royals meant that a newborn child was always to be carried and held and embraced from the day they were born until their first birthday.
Jejak tanah is a ritual to connect to the land, to introduce the earth to a child whose feet have never touched the ground. The oldest matriarch in the family, usually the grandmother, would grace the ritual by rubbing a lump of earth on the child’s feet. Some families would introduce metals like gold or silver on the child’s unsullied soles. Carpeting the ground is a length of cloth in royal yellow, a transitional surface that reaches from inside the house to the world outside. Petals plucked from seven kinds of flowers are scattered as the child toddles, its hands held by the mother and the father at either side.
Always in the embrace of a loved one—always lifted, away from the ground, seemingly hovering from mother to father, to aunts and uncles, to grandmothers and grandfathers—the child is lulled to sleep. A mantra in the guise of a lullaby is performed. Jejak Tanah: A Lullaby is a short verse that stresses our momentary placement in this land, that expresses thankfulness, that invokes a sense of security from parental pillars.
Below is an excerpt from Zed Adam Idris’ play “Samar” staged in 2017 in which a couple performs the jejak tanah ritual.
WAVE 4, 2007 – JEJAK TANAH
RUANG TAMU – NINA dan DAMAR duduk di atas kain kuning yang direntangkan di lantai ruang tamu, dikelilingi oleh barang-barang persediaan untuk upacara jejak tanah: tiga kantung plastik lut sinar berisi pasir halus, tanah gambut dan batu kelikir, sebakul kelopak bunga tujuh jenis, satu balang kaca besar dan satu balang kaca terarium.
NINA dan DAMAR sedang memetik kelopak dua kuntum bunga yang terakhir.
DAMAR beralih ke balang terarium dan diisikannya dengan selapis batu kelikir, selapis tanah gambut dan selapis pasir halus.
NINA mengisi balang kaca besar dengan air. Dalamnya ditaburi kelopak bunga.
Okay. Dah ready? Amik Zaha.
NINA mengambil Zaha (yang tidak kelihatan) daripada playpen. Dengan tuala di bahu, dia mengesat muka anaknya. NINA memimpin tangan anaknya yang berdiri di dalam balang berisi air. Zaha bermandi bunga. NINA mencedok air menyirami Zaha. Kelopak bunga ditaburkan lagi.
NINA dan DAMAR tertawa melihat memek muka Zaha.
NINA mengangkat Zaha dan mengeringkannya dengan kain kuning.
Zaha diberikan kepada DAMAR.
DAMAR menyambut Zaha yang diselubungi kain kuning. Zaha dipimpin untuk berdiri di atas tanah dalam balang kaca terarium. Sebaik kaki Zaha berjejak tanah, DAMAR bertawarkan mantra.
Yang memegang bumi
aku menumpang anakku
tatahlah anakku ke tanah
ibu di hulu, ayah di hilir
Setelah tiga kali berjejak, Zaha didukung, tenteram di dalam dakapan DAMAR. Di telinga Zaha DAMAR berbisik sesuatu.
Aku ayahmu kurniaan Tuhan.
WAVE 4, 2007 – JEJAK TANAH (WALK THE EARTH)
LIVING ROOM – NINA and DAMAR unfurl a length of royal yellow cloth in the middle of the living room. They arrange on the spread an array of jars, bowls and trays. They sit surrounded by items they have prepared for the ritual of Jejak Tanah: fine sand, peat soil, pea gravel, petals from seven kinds of flowers, a baby bathtub, and a large terrarium bowl from DAMAR’s terrarium kit.
DAMAR layers the three kinds of soil into the large terrarium bowl: pea gravel as the base, followed by peat soil, and fine sand on top.
NINA fills the baby bathtub with water. Into it she scatters the plucked flower petals.
Okay. Are we ready? Fetch Zaha.
NINA carries their daughter, Zaha, to the yellow spread that now stretches from the living room to the balcony. She lowers the child into the bathtub as her legs start to kick about anticipating the water. NINA bathes the child in a floral bath. She scoops and pours onto the child a palmful of colourful petals. Then more petals are added to the water.
With a washcloth on her shoulder, NINA washes Zaha’s face. NINA and DAMAR smile and giggle watching the child reacting to her face being washed.
NINA lifts Zaha up. She dries her off with a piece of yellow cloth cut from the spread. She kisses the child before she passes her to DAMAR.
DAMAR embraces Zaha cosy in her yellow wrap and gives her a kiss on the forehead. He lowers the child into the terrarium bowl now filled with three layers of earth. As the child’s feet touch the soil, DAMAR lulls a verse of mantra.
They who hold the earth
here I brace my child
o kind spirit
o kind spirit
bear her on this land
mother to the east, father to the west
o kind spirit
o kind spirit.
DAMAR rocks Zaha in his embrace. He repeats the lullaby until the child is asleep in his arms. In her ear he whispers:
I am your god-given father.