Actor Suhaimi Yusof responds to PA gaffe with light-hearted meme on traditional Malay costumes

Ensure your songkok is sized properly.

Karen Lui | June 03, 2021, 03:11 PM

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On May 28, a Singaporean woman called out the People's Association (PA) for using her wedding picture without her permission as part of the Hari Raya decorations at Tiong Bahru Orchid estate in Bukit Merah.

In response to the situation, local comedian Suhaimi Yusof took the opportunity to educate others about Malay costumes.

Educational picture collage

On May 31, the 51-year-old shared a picture collage titled "Malay Costumes in A Nutshell".

The collage features pictures of himself wearing different Malay costumes, with phrases on each picture to indicate the different occasion for the outfit.

The baju Melayu is a traditional Malay costume for men with variations in the outfit design to suit the various occasions.

For ceremonial functions such as weddings, the tanjak (headgear), samping (side cloth tied around the waist), and sometimes a keris (asymmetrical dagger), complete the groom's formal and elaborate baju Melayu look.

Image from Suhaimi Yusof's Instagram.

In the top row, Suhaimi is dressed in all-white wedding garb on the left while on the right, he is dressed as a Kadi/Naib Kadi, religious officials who solemnise Muslim marriages.

In the bottom row, he is wearing an outfit appropriate for Hari Raya festivities on the left and a more elaborate ceremonial outfit with a tanjak and samping worn by male Silat practitioners.

Suhaimi finishes the educational graphic on a light-hearted note by wearing an oversized songkok that covers his face to express the embarrassment of making "a mistake" in the picture on the bottom right corner.

He explained the joke to 8 Days by premising "a Malay proverb", which literally translates as, "Don’t draw charcoal on my face".

It means "Don’t embarrass me", alluding to "face value", Suhaimi said.

"So if you’ve done something embarrassing, it’s very hard to face others, so I symbolised that by using that huge songkok to cover my face.”

Different outfit for different occasion

He posted the picture with a caption that acknowledges the "recent error by PA".

Although the faux-pas "upset the community a bit", Suhaimi wrote, "everyone makes mistakes" and encouraged people to "look on the bright side" as it offered an opportunity for Singaporeans to learn and know each other's cultures "better".

The local actor shared how Malay weddings have commonly been used to represent the Malay community since his schooling days in the late seventies.

Suhaimi also joked about how he had to dress in drag and play the role of the Mak Andam, a wedding stylist/makeup artist that is typically female, in his all-boys school.

The Instagram caption ends with an expression of thanks "for trying" and a suggestion not to cut out the faces without permission.

He added, "Must say 'minta maaf zahir dan batin," which highlighted the irony of the PA's gaffe.

"Minta maaf zahir dan batin" is a phrase in Malay that means, "I seek forgiveness from you both physically and spiritually", traditionally said during Hari Raya Aidilfitri, as it is a time for atonement and forgiveness.

Suhaimi told 8 Days that he chose to respond to this situation with a gentler approach as he felt that "people will tend to have a bit more respect and listen to you".

Although he is not defending the PA for their blunder, he recognised that "this was clearly a misunderstanding", hence his goal was "to make people understand" with a bit of humour.

As someone who confessed to mixing up Chinese New Year icons for a greeting to a friend, Suhaimi understood the importance of countering the lack of knowledge with education to allow others to learn from the mistake.

What happened

A woman named Sarah Bagharib was notified that her wedding photograph was used as a standee with cut-out faces through a friend.

To read the full version of her open letter to the Radin Mas SMC and PA, click here.

The PA and Radin Mas SMC MP Melvin Yong have published public statements on Facebook, addressing the matter on the afternoon of May 29.

For a more detailed account of the events, click here.

On Jun. 2, Bagharib shared her email response to PA's public apology via an Instagram post.

She acknowledged and appreciated the apology, but pointed out the "superficial understanding of" her culture as an "ethnic minority" that affects the "wider Malay/Muslim community".

A suggestion she made was to "help bridge that gap where possible through real and respectful conversations so that we can move beyond superficial understanding and promote deeper social cohesion".

Read more

Top images by Suhaimi Yusof's and Sarah Bagharib's Instagram pages.