What is cukur jambul?
Cukur jambul is the baby's very first haircut, done in accordance with Malay tradition. It is an important rite of passage and is very much seen as an occasion for the extended family to come together, renew bonds and welcome the new baby into the clan. "It is a time for us to share our joy with friends and relatives," explains Sharliza Salleh, who remembers the cukur jambul ceremonies for her son Afiq and daughter Alya, with great fondness. Afiq's ceremony had been held in his paternal grandmother's house in the Klang Valley; Alya's was held in her great-grandparents' home in Tapah, Perak.
Many cultures around the world practise some form of tonsure ritual for newborns or babies. Some remove just a few locks; others call for baby's hair to be completely shaved. Both seem to be acceptable for the cukur jambul (also known in the northern peninsula as berendoi).
When and where is the cukur jambul held?
The cukur jambul ceremony generally coincides with the end of the confinement period (pantang) observed by the new mother, which lasts between 40 and 44 days. Sharliza's children had theirs 42 days after birth.
On the other hand, Hanani Liza Abdul Jalil of Ipoh, Perak, organised the cukur jambul for her niece's daughter Aqilah when the baby was five months old – an unusual delay, but no less festive and meaningful for it. "The ceremony was held at her great-grandmother's house in Kuala Sungai Baru in Melaka as she was keen to show off her first great-grandchild. The whole clan went all the way back there although her parents, Fazlina and Amir, are based in Kuala Lumpur." Not surprisingly, Aqilah's great-grandmother had invited the entire kampung to the kenduri, where she served up traditional delights such as nasi minyak, rendang and ayam masak merah.
Indeed, many new parents choose to hold the ceremony at the home of a respected family elder, but this is not always convenient or possible, owing to sheer logistics such as the size of the property and the number of guests.
Is the cukur jambul always a big event?
Most new parents invite family and close friends. Yet others also include neighbours and colleagues. However, a big and lavish kenduri is not mandatory. A low-key and intimate affair with only close family members can be just as meaningful. Some new parents choose to hold no party at all.
What happens during the cukur jambul ceremony?
In a traditional cukur jambul, the baby's hair is tonsured and then ultimately buried in the ground. The closest family members are always invited to witness the event. Usually, prayers are recited or sung (also known as marhaban or berzanji). Everything in-between depends largely on family tradition and regional customs.
The cukur jambul usually begins in the late morning with a reading from the Quran or the marhaban or berzanji.
The new father or mother then carries the baby to each person who will snip off a lock – usually grandparents, family or village elders, members of the marhaban or berzanji group, and religious leaders. It is customary (though not compulsory) for those who do the honours to present the baby with a little gift in cash or kind. The locks are put into either a bowl of water or a young coconut cut and shaped into a bowl. In some families, it is also customary to weigh the locks and donate its weight in gold (or the cash equivalent) to the poor and needy. Once the ceremony ends, this hair is then buried.
Another important element in the cukur jambul is the dulang or ceremonial tray which holds the scissors and the young coconut (or bowl of water). Often, these are accompanied by daun kunyit (turmeric leaves), bunga rampai (fragrant bouquet which usually includes pandan leaves, jasmine and frangipani), and perhaps some honey and dates.
Guests are usually then served food and drinks. These days, it is common to see traditional Malay dishes such as nasi briyani, nasi minyak, kambing guling, ayam masak merah and gulai daging served alongside chocolate cakes and Western fare.
And while it used to be that guests were presented with a quintessentially Malay bunga telur (a hardboiled egg enclosed within a single flower) as a party favour, these days they are sent off with sweets and cakes, too. Little Aqilah's guests in Melaka also received slices of layer cakes packed in tiny silver boxes, sweets and yellow sticky rice with rendang in cups. Baby Dani's guests even got muffins and little chocolates embossed with his face!