My pantang experience – excerpts from an interview with Mrs. Yusnita

For Yusnita Moslin, 44, having her first child at 27 was something that she had always looked forward to. She counted the days until she could hold her little bundle of joy Aiman Qayyum in her own arms, thanks to the assistance of the team at Assunta Hospital, Petaling Jaya. That day finally came on the 22nd of February 1999…and so began Yusnita’s 44-day pantang experience.

For starters, before she left the hospital, Yusnita was advised by her late grandmother to wear warm socks at all times – especially during the 44-day confinement period. This was to prevent wind from entering her body through her feet. In addition to that, her hair was also tied up into a very tight bunch, with the aim of promoting better blood flow in the head. After being in the hospital for about 2 days, she was discharged and proceeded to undergo her confinement period at her late grandmother’s home in Klang, under her watchful and caring eye.

For Yusnita, her confinement period consisted of a few daily practices that became almost routine during her stay in Teluk Pulai, Klang. Her day would begin with the practice of ‘bertungku’, which consisted of heating a metal cannonball (an antique artifact kept by her late grandmother) on the gas stove. The hot metal cannonball was then cooled down a bit with some water before being wrapped up in ‘daun mengkudu’ and a few layers of cloth. ‘Bertungku’ involved moving this hot compress around her abdominal region with the aim of dispelling ‘wind’, improving blood flow, shrinking the womb etc. This morning session would be carried out before her morning bath.

Her bath was like a normal bath, but it was always done with hot water. Cold water is a big taboo for Malay ladies during confinement as it is believed to encourage ‘wind’ into the body. After her bath, Yusnita would be covered in ‘param’ – again to ‘wind’ and heat up the body. The ‘param’ is akin to ‘bedak sejuk’ @ ‘cold powder’, but it contains herbs like ‘cekur, jerangau, cendana’, kaffir lime skin, ‘rambai’ skin, ginger, garlic, tamarind and turmeric. The ‘param’ is used to smoothen and soften skin, prevent ‘wind’, keep the body warm, reduce the sense of coldness and numbness and prevent split skin.

In addition to ‘param’, her late grandmother also applied ‘pilis’ on her forehead. ‘Pilis’ consisted of rice flour, turmeric, ‘kapulaga’ fruit, ‘sintok’, cinnamon, fenugreek, betel chalk and lime juice. Amongst the many benefits of ‘pilis’ include reducing heat around the head, eliminating pain around the temples, eliminating dizziness, refreshes the eyes and prevents white blood cells from going to the head, reduces poor eyesight for young people, reduces fainting and low blood pressure, eliminates ‘merian’ wind, which is usually experienced by new mothers who are under emotional stress.

Next in her itinerary of daily routine was the ‘bengkung’. Prior to putting on this abdominal wrap, she first applied ‘barut’ (girdle) massage oil, which was a hot ointment consisting of ‘air kapur’ + tamarind juice – around her waist, back and stomach area. She then wrapped the cloth around the abdomen before tying the ‘bengkung’ in a criss-cross fashion. The ‘bengkung’ was worn for almost 24 hours each day and was only removed for bathing and passing bowel motion.

One of the most dreaded practices during confinement for Yusnita was consuming jamu. This came in the form of a powder which was stirred into a small amount of warm water and swallowed all at once, in one go – once in the morning and once at night. According to her, it was very bitter – as all good medicines are usually – and the sooner she was done with it, the better. Ha ha ha!

As if the jamu wasn’t bad enough, she also had to regularly drink a herbal concoction known as rempah periuk. This consisted of medicinal herbs boiled in a claypot. The herbs was made up of ‘akar-akar kayu’, ‘kacip fatimah’ etc. in their original form and sold in packets. For daily consumption, one packet could last for 2-3 days, and was continually replenished until the end of her 44-day confinement period.

On the 3rd day of being ‘dalam pantang’, a masseuse specializing in confinement period massages paid a visit and gave her a whole body massage. It was after this massage that Yusnita noted a sudden surge in breast milk production, proving that the massage was having a very beneficial effect on her.

The rest of the day consisted of ‘bertungku’ once again around 5:00pm, another bath, re-applying the ‘bengkung’, followed by drinking the ‘rempah periuk’ herbal remedy and resting during the night, cooing sweetly to her newborn son, and watching his gradual development as each day passed by.

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