In almost all societies of the world, the eldest male normally assume the role of the head of a family; making decisions which especially affect the family as a whole, acting as the peacemaker in disputes between members; and sometimes putting their life or honour at stake for the sake of a family member who may have gone a wee bit out of line. Occasionally, a decision may come into disfavour of several and leads to a rift where the head has to stand his ground either for the good of many or the unity of the family itself; this very decision or act may see one or 2 members leaving the family for a new life elsewhere. But the practice of Head of family is coming to a past due to many reasons mainly due to migration for the want of a greener pasture.
By the way, I should stress that the term family here refers to extended large families living cohesively in a certain area. Though such living may be rare now, it still exist in many areas of the world where an entire community are blood-related. Perhaps, the longhouses in Sarawak and Sabah may still practice this. Closer to home, or perhaps I should say 'yours truly', such was the practice albeit in smaller units some very many years ago in the state of Melaka. Though there are gaps which need to be filled or verified, I will try to stay true to the knowledge that has been passed to me by the elder generation of the family.
A certain Abdul Rahman and his wife lived Melaka Pindah, a small village some several kilometers from the town of Alor Gajah. They had several children of which one son became a teacher and was posted to Ulu Bendol, Negeri Sembilan, where the son married a pretty woman by the name of Zainun. At the around the same time, one of his daughters married a teacher by the name of Jetti Ahmad from Pantai Belimbing, Melaka, where the couple then bought and made their house opposite Abdul Rahman's. A son of Abdul Rahman, Yassin, then moved to Kuala Lumpur and became a teacher as well as one of the leading members of the Scout Movement in Malaysia. 2 other sons, perhaps lured by stories of sea adventures, moved to Singapore and joined the sea merchants. But even with the family members far flung, the family members would still keep in constant touch, affirming their family bond and Abdul Rahman as the Head of the family. All matters of family concerned were left to Abdul Rahman's wisdom to make.
As the years rolled by, so do human age; Abdul Rahman and his wife passed away long before I was born - he was my great grandfather, on my mother's mother side. With his passing away, the role of patriarch was left to his son-in-law, Jetti Ahmad - my grandfather. And when my grandfather passed away some 20 years back, there were no real figures to step in. Without a patriarch acting as an anchor, the family drifts apart ever futher. The only senior member of the family who might have been able to fill the vacuum is a lady by the name of Zainun, the once pretty young lady in Ulu Bendol who married a son of Abdul Rahman. But at 90 and with failing eyesight and hearing, plus a deteriorating health, she is in no condition to be a matriarch commanding respect from the younger generations. Still, she commands our affection.
Thin and frail looking, she still bear semblance to the pretty lady she once must have been. Of fair complexion and standing a mere 5 feet tall or so, she has a soft melodious voice and would always greet her family members with a smile and a big hug. Perhaps, once of the most memorable thing I remember when visiting her many years ago in Ulu Bendol, was her signature dish of (a fish) masak lemak cili padi - though I sweat profusely from the hot dish, I took a liking for it as it had a sweet flavour unlike most masak lemak cili padi and it appealed to my taste buds. Off course, I was only what, 10 or 11 then? A mere child who had yet to experience the bitter sweet taste of life. But the memory of the dish and the visit to her house in the small village came rushing to my mind when emak, makcik yam, Azman and I went to see her in her son's house in Bangi, Selangor.
Zainun, or Nek Besar as those of my generation would call her, was recently discharged from the hospital. Earlier, she had some indigestion problem and was also suffering from dehydration. When we visited her then, and as we did this morning, her memory too seem to fail her, as it would anyone of her age. Still, she was cheery as any could be.
When I took into consideration of the visitors Nek Besar had at the hospital, and before or after our presence in the house, I was numbed for a moment. When I totaled the relatives that came a visiting, there were 5 generations in all still living from the family Abdul Rahman had built! Abdul Rahman's wife, Nek Besar, is the eldest member at 90. The generation below her, where my emak is, about 70-80; my generation is between 35-50; the generation below me, 25-35; and the youngest generation of the family is between 3-7 years old. Now, while this does make me feel old - being a granduncle at 45 - I am also comforted in thought that my youngest brother is only 15, and can also be called a granduncle! In other words then, I am still young...in spirit and mind, at least.
While my writing this is of little significance to anyone outside the family, it would, I hope, be a small guide for any member of this family who would like to trace the family tree.
Back to Nek Besar, though I do not pray it so, perhaps the time for Changing of The Guards looms nearer. But life and death is a matter only Allah s.w.t. knows. As mortals, our life is not defined by age, rather the circumstances of it. Death, has no respect for age; it comes at the precise time anointed - not a moment too soon, nor a moment too late. Young or old, is not within the dictionary of death.
I bear witness there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad (s.a.w.) is His Messenger.