Malays constitute the majority of the archipelago's population, and their way of life is no different from that of the Malays in Malaysia.
Popular Malaysian dishes such as asam pedas and sambal tumis are also the favourites among the people here.
This writer's first stop was Tanjungpinang a town that resembles Kuala Lumpur in the early 1980s, with its rows of shops, busy traffic and hectic movement of people.
According to expedition member Saiful Anwar Yahaya, the scene reminded him of Kuala Lumpur's Kampung Baru area in the early 80s.
"The food, drinks and people are similar. It reminded me of eating in Kampung Baru," he remarked while dining at a shop here.
However, Tanjungpinang is decades behind Kuala Lumpur and other major towns in Malaysia in terms of development and progress.
During the ferry ride to an island here, this writer came to know Henry Santoso, 38, who is a freelance writer of Malay/Javanese origin.
After hearing that writer hails from Malaysia, an excited Santoso began to describe the history and life of the Malays of Riau-Lingga.
"We have the same roots, but were separated by the colonialists. The Malays in Lingga have many similarities with the Malays in Malaysia," said Santoso, who has visited Malaysia on several occasions.
According to him, the Malays in Malaysia are fortunate to have better opportunities, in terms of education and economic matters, than the Malays here.
"Now even though we are in different countries, we should not forget that originally we are one. We should unite as a single community," he remarked.
The expedition later proceeded to Pulau Benan, and after alighting from the ferry that took us there, we were welcomed by the Malays with 'bunga manggar' and 'kompang' beats, which made this writer recall a similar incident that had occurred Batu Pahat, Johor.
According to Sahlan, 42, who accompanied this writer on a tour of the island, Malays constitute more than 90 percent of the island's 1,000-odd population, while Javanese and Chinese people constitute the rest.
"Kompang and silat are common on this island, and have been inherited over the generations. The youths still practice the silat cekak and sendeng, particularly at night.
"Many of us here depend on the sea for a living. We are trying to boost tourism and hope that it will improve our life," he added.
Hamidah, 49, served the expedition members with coconut juice mixed with palm sugar. When asked where she learnt to make palm sugar, her response was, in Melaka."
"Many of us here have roots in Melaka and Johor. Melaka's traditional dishes like asam pedas and sweets made from palm sugar are among our favourites."
"Some of us also know how to play ghazal music and dance the zapin, which are very popular in Johor," she remarked, adding that the song 'Gadis Melayu' by Jamal Abdillah is a favourite among the Malays on the island.
Mohammad Salim, 51, who breeds fish on the island, invited this writer and other expedition members to his home for a meal.
The cuttlefish sambal and roasted dried cencaru eaten with warm rice reminded this writer of the food served by his grandmother back home.
After the meal, Mohammad Salim told us, "We do not have opportunities like the Malays in Malaysia, which is why we have to grab any opportunity that is available here."
"The Malays have enabled Malaysia to make progress; the efforts of your forefathers have benefited the younger generation," he added.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
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