There is a Malay nursery rhyme that goes like this:

Cekur udang gamit

Minta cekur bagi kunyit

Mothers will often sing this to small babies while holding their wrist, to which the baby will respond by opening and closing their fist. It is very cute. I don’t know how my wife managed to teach our kids at the age of just a few months. They pick it up very easily almost like it is some kind of reflex.

The rhyme means:

Cekur shrimp waving

Ask for cekur, give turmeric

Great, so that makes about as much sense as nursery rhymes can be expected to make. But what on earth is cekur, you ask? Maybe you’re not all that sure what turmeric is either, for that matter.
Cekur in flower  Turmeric/kunyit  Ginger/halia
[Click for larger images]

Well, turmeric, curcuma longa/domestica, kunyit in Malay, is a spice in the same family as ginger, zingiber officianale, halia in Malay, but with smaller rhizomes (not a root, technically). The rhizomes are orange-yellow and can be used fresh or in powdered form in a lot of asian cooking, especially curries. The leaf can also be used, chopped up as an herb or as a wrapping for baking or roasting fish. My turmeric is a sad specimen. It is forever being victimized by leaf-rolling caterpillars.

Now cekur, kaempfera galanga, probably, is a much rarer plant without a proper English name that I know of. Let’s just call it chekur. It is seldom used for cooking but is prized for medicinal purposes, including post-partum care. It is ground into a paste and applied as a poultice to the stomach to aid the uterus in shrinking and to tone the stomach. [You will be notified when my cekur herbal supplement MLM is ready to launch – ed.] I’ve written a bit more on malay post-partum treatment previously. Finding cekur for sale is not easy. There is only one man selling it in all the veggie markets in Kuching, and sometimes he’s out of stock, so I made sure to plant some of what we bought last time around. It has done splendidly, spreading all over and even flowering, which is unusual for some of these rhizomaceous types.

That guy down at the Gambier bus yard also sells benglay (sp?), which is a smaller and uglier rhizome even than cekur. It is an even more obscure gingerish plant. My wife had never heard the name before much less seen it till moving to Sarawak. Our local midwife allowed that it could be used in place of cekur if needs be, but it smells very bad when made into a poultice. If I wind up visiting that guy again after the baby comes, I’ll buy a bit just to photograph it. Which is likely since we went through kilos of cekur last time around, and I doubt if I’ve got quite that much here in the yard.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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