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Public Talk: Sacred Sirih-Traditions and Symbolism in the Malay World
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Public talk by Mr Khir Johari, organised by the Singapore Heritage Society and the National Library Board.

The Singapore Heritage Society and the National Library Board invites you to a public talk by Mr Khir Johari.

Sacred Sirih: Traditions and Symbolism in the Malay Word

Regional museums abound with sirih (betel) sets. We marvel at their beauty, and the considerable variation in style and decorative form. As we admire the loving skill of distant craftsmen, we sense that lurking beneath, are interesting stories about traditions and belief system.

This talk is about the culture behind the objects. We will also trace a path through time. How did the simple practice of chewing betel leaf become a central meme of Nusantaran civilisation? While sirih chewing is generally no longer practised in urban settings, we continue to celebrate not just the ornate receptacles, but also their medicinal properties and their role in traditional wedding ceremonies.

So just where does the sirih culture come from? What are the beliefs associated with it? Among other things, it is considered important in fostering social relationships. It was at once today’s tea and coffee, also tobacco smoking, and in addition, functioning as an aphrodisiac. It appears prominently in the language, folklore, and poetry of the region. Each ingredient in a “quid” of sirih, and every manner of its presentation signifies a message to the culturally attuned. Through learning more about this seemingly humble practice, we hope to leave with a deeper understanding of Malay culture.

About the Speaker

Khir Johari is a collector and an independent researcher on the history and culture of the Malay world. He was born and grew up in Gedung Kuning, in Kampong Gelam. Khir obtained a BSc in Mathematics from the Santa Clara University and a Master in Education from Stanford University. His 7 year stint teaching mathematics in the American public education system was marked by a Teacher of the Year Award, and winning the USA National PTA Excellence in Education Partnership Award for his community/teacher support project initiatives.

Khir is currently a Director at Chersonese Capital Ltd, an investment management firm. In his free time he enjoys documenting oral history, and amassing materials originating from Insular Southeast Asia such as old publications, artefacts, food and music. Khir also conceptualised and designed the Singapore Heritage Society’s various Historic Kampong Gelam Walking Tours.

Event Details

Date: 18 May 2013 (Saturday)

Time: 3.00 pm to 5.00 pm

Venue: Possibility Room, Level 5, National Library Building

Registration: Event is free but registration is required. Click HERE to register.

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