7 days has passed since my stepmother's passing, and according to our local custom, we hold praying ceremonies during the 7th, 40th, and 100th day. I took the day off and my mum and I took the 2-hour taxi drive from kk city to keningau. When we reached there early afternoon, my aunties and cousins are already in the kitchen cooking up dishes for the night includin chicken curry, chicken cooked with soya sauce, mixed veggies, stir-fried long beans with sliced fishcake, salted fish cooked with chilli+tamarind sauce, and not forgetting local desserts such as kuih lenggang, pisang goreng, and doughnuts. All home-cooked yum! Living in the city, we rarely get to see this type of gotong-royong whereby all people gather together and cook up a huge fest using huge kualis and enormous pots and pans. The wonderful smell of spices around you and the hands-on experience of making kuehs are totally a privilege for a city girl like me :D
Yummy foods aside, the 'highlight' for the 7th day is also the 'lights out' process and preparing food on the dining table for the deceased. The 'lights out' process usually occurs at night whereby all people in the house group together in the living room and keep silent for 10-15 minutes in the dark. The purpose of this is to enable the deceased to go back to its house to pay its last visit before going to the Other Side. For as long as I know, this event is scary and exciting at the same time for most people as they are expecting to hear 'noises' supposedly being caused by the deceased. There was even stories for this occasion whereby certain people who can 'see' the spirits or have utterly low willpower have been possessed by the spirits of the deceased and they talk in a totally different voice. Some people said that it's all fake, but there are times when they doubt themselves as the possessed who does not know the deceased well is able to talk about things that only the closest family members is aware about.
For Kadazan customs, the lights out process normally occurs around 7 or 8pm. But here in Keningau, the lights out only begins at 12 midnight! So at the strike of twelve, when I was still surfing online, my stepbrother started to walk around the house and switched off all active lightbulbs. I wasn't feeling particularly scared, but my stepsister and her sis-in-law quickly got out of their room to join me outside. Another relative even asked to be accompanied in the bathroom while she took her bath in the dark haha! During the lights out period, we didn't see anything but the dogs were barking outside. And my aunt claimed that she saw my stepmother walking outside nearby the house. Plus, my another aunt could smell something rotten. Eek!
The next morning was another exciting part...to check out whether the food prepared for the deceased has been 'touched'. One of my relative's annoyingly loud handphone message alerts of hip-hop songs woke us up at 6.15am. As we were all sleeping in the living room, when everyone got up I had also no choice but to wake up as well...ah, I miss the luxury of long weekend slumbers :p Few minutes later, my mum excitedly came to my side and practically dragged me to the kitchen. And there we saw, the food being 'touched' by the deceased. My aunt had prepared a plate of rice with side dishes of chicken curry, a kampung-style fish dish, kuehs, chilli paste, vegetable soup, a glass of water, and a glass of coffee. Right in front of our eyes, the plate of kueh was totally empty (there was 3 types of kueh initially), a small portion of the chilli paste and fish was gone, and the kitchen window facing the food was opened! Some said that it could be eaten by one of the cats, but the others argued that if it were a cat, the whole food would have been gobbled up and the table would be messy and littered with scraps of the food. We were full of awe...but not Dad. He dismissed the whole thing as a fake hehe :p
So that was the happenings of the 7th day. Whatever happened depends on whether or not we want to believe, but it's a part of our local customs and these type of events will still continue in the future generations to come.