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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hari Raya in Langkawi: the Party after Ramadan

At a Hari Raya party in Langkawi, Malaysia, a newspaper reporter observed that political foes become chums during the holiday season. “Soon they fight for politics; now Hari Raya, everyone friends.”
Liza Hasan, the local reporter for Sinar Harian, was watching Langkawi’s representative to Parliament posing next to the man who lost the race. Together they were smiling for the cameras. After all, forgiving past quarrels is a focus of Hari Raya.
Earlier that day, my neighbor Liza called while I was eating lunch at home. I was gazing as usual into the green of mountains covered with rainforest when she said, “I invite you to meet my governor.”
With a mouth full of food, I gulped, “What?” Liza said, “I will meet you downstairs at 1:15.” It was 1 p.m.
During the rush to put on a dress and lipstick, and gather camera, writing pad, and pens, I wondered where we were going. It turned out to be an outdoor “open house” for Hari Raya sponsored by the state of Kedah.

Johari bin Abdul, Kedah parliamentarian, Liza, Wan Sallet Wan Isa, chief Justice Party, Langkawi 
 We walked into festive rows of canvas rooftops, blue and white, pink, and yellow. Under most of the rooftops, people were eating. At a long table, women dressed in hijabs were serving chicken curry and beef stewed with cloves.
The tent at the front was like a stage where the governor of Kedah state and other politicians appeared to be on exhibit (top photo). The politicians were dressed in traditional clothing, print or lime green or turquoise tunics with color coordinated sarongs. They topped their outfits with a fez, either black or white.
Then excitement mounted when a raffle was announced for pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, expenses paid. Liza explained bits of speeches made in the Malay language. In the background, a song was playing merrily, “Selamat Hari Raya” ( Hari Raya greetings ).
At the start of the Hari Raya season, fireworks lit up Langkawi’s sky. The chanting of the muezzin broadcast from the mosques turned into a din. Their prayers droned later than usual into the night. They were welcoming the transition from famine to feast. That first night of Hari Raya also marked the end of Ramadan when Muslims fast for a month from sunrise to sunset for spiritual reasons.
Stores around town displayed banners with holiday greetings, “Selamat Hari Raya.” Some spots on the island, such as the Temurun waterfall, were no longer secluded. Suddenly, vacationers from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, were splashing in its waters.
Drums rolled as the governor was driven out of the crowd at the Hari Raya party.
During the 30 days of Hari Raya, different official entities sponsor parties open to the public, Liza explained. The events are advertised on enormous posters, but most foreigners living in Langkawi are not likely to know about them. The writing on the posters is in Behasa Melayu, the Malay language.
In fact at the party when politicians made speeches, I could understand only a few phrases in Arabic, such as the greeting, “Assalam u alaikum,” may peace be with you.
The politicians asked me, the only person who could not understand the speeches, why I was there. Then they invited me to sit in the head tent next to the governor and other dignitaries; they asked me to pose with them for official photos.
Filed away somewhere in a Kedah state archive in Hari Raya 2010 photos, next to the governor towers a white 5’4” giant.
Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter, copyright 2011


  1. Wow! Quite an honor! You do get invitations to some amazing events. It's cool that you are willing to drop everything to go. I wonder if the politicians there are full of hot air, as they are everywhere else?

  2. I think many people would suddenly leave in order to attend an event like that one. All I left was half of a lunch. The bigger hassle was getting dressed since I didn't know where I was headed and "meeting the government" sounded fancy.

    The politicians seemed to be relatively humble and accessible. However, what do I know. They were intent on posing for photos, like politicians anywhere. I have an interesting photo of the Langkawi rep to Parliament, who was eating but put down his fork and posed when my camera was pointing at him. I wanted to include that photo here, but its dimensions made it difficult layout. I might attempt it again.