Boom Boom !!

The end of Ramadan, the fasting month, is a religious holiday, celebrated by Muslims all over the world. In Malaysia it is called Hari Raya Aidilfitri, often shortened to Hari Raya which is Malay for Celebration Day. Traditionally all Muslims go back to their hometown (“balik kampung”), but as it is a public holiday, also non-Muslims often do the same.

This year we went back to Aric’s hometown, Parit Baru. This part of Selangor is rural and very Malay. It is a tradition that with Hari Raya, the driveways and boundaries of farmhouses are decorated with small oil lamps, very romantic and peaceful.

Another tradition, less peaceful, actually extremely noisy, is the firing of the “meriam kelapa”, which translates as”coconut cannon” Before you reach Parit Baru, you will see this, near the mosque: Meriam Kelapa These medieval looking contraptions are made of a coconut tree trunk, sawed in two halves, which are hollowed out and then tied together again. Not an easy job!

The resulting “cannon” is tilted upward, and a mixture of carbid and water is put inside the hollow trunk. Carbid (calcium carbide) reacts with water, forming acetylene which is flammable and highly explosive. The acetylene vapor is heavier than air and fills the hollow trunk. When it is ignited through a small hole at the bottom of the trunk, a major explosion occurs.

In the right picture the remains of old meriams, the left picture shows a new one.

Meriam Kelapa Old meriam

In the night we went out to see them in action. You will find these cannons  all over the place, just follow the direction where the “boom” comes from. Not far from Aric’s house we noticed men preparing three of them.

I was taking pictures when the first “shot” was fired. And almost literally shocked. I was standing quite close, the shock wave took away my breath and for some time I was worried that the shock wave had damaged my eardrum. Fortunately that was not the case. With some tissue paper in my ears, I watched the next salvo’s. It was fascinating, but also a bit frightening, like being in a war.

Here is a video, quite dark, but I hope it gives an impression. The next evening we went to another location, where they had only one cannon, but what a monster it was! Officially it is illegal to build and fire these cannons, accidents happen, and even buildings can be damaged by the shock wave. After the first shot, neighbours were complaining loudly, so the direction of the cannon was changed. This time I had put real earplugs in my ears…:-) Spectators meriam

My iPhone has a repeat option, taking pictures every 1/10th of a second. Here is a collage of several pictures (click to enlarge) Fire! What an interesting experience!

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Maaf Zahir dan Batin!

12 thoughts on “Boom Boom !!

  1. Powerful stuff is calcium carbide, many years ago when I was a younger man than I am now I used to go caving in the Mendip hills, I was a member of the Bristol exploitation Club, your caving friend will know it well. We had at the time a outside toilet, and someone being a tad Drunk, mind we were always drunk..LOL thought it would be a good idea to tip a tin of Carbide into the toilet. Needless to say some while later someone decided that he needed to use the toilet whilst smoking a cigarette, the bang was really loud, the explosion demolished the toilet building completely spreading the contents all over the site. Lucky for the Guy he was not so badly hurt, it was amazing how much damage a small tin of Carbide could do, it sure taught us to respect the stuff.

  2. Similar tradition around new year in The Netherlands: Carbid and milk cans.
    Google “Carbid schieten” and look at the pictures.

  3. When I was a young boy, I used to see the rubber tappers bringing the carbide lamps with them to light up the trunks of the rubbers trees for tapping well before dawn. I did not hear of any rubber tapper being blown up by these carbide lamp. The carbide lamps must have some safety device in them to prevent explosion. Cheers. From Richard Yap.

    • In the early days, carbide lamps were used on Cars and bicycles, the carbide lamps used for caving and still in use to this day, did not have any safety device built in. The work by having two sections, a water reservoir on top and the carbide is kept in the lower section, and an adjustable lever regulates the flow of water that drips onto the carbide, which in turn regulates the amount acetylene gas being is produced.
      Sometimes gas pressure would build up in the carbide section which would force the gas pass the the rubber gasket, this would ignite with a bloody big whoosh and flare up. could be a little disturbing as the lamp was on the safety helmet just inches above ones eyes

      • Rubber tappers in Msia and Thailand still use carbide lights when tapping early morning and you still see them using carbide whilst riding their bicycles home in the evening .
        And carbide lamps are used in pasar malam for lighting and also the stones are used for ripening fruit.

  4. Ahhhhhhhhh, memories of caving with carbide. Jan, look at our photos of the 6 Mile Tunnel trip in 2006 and you will see I was using my carbide light.

  5. I stopped using carbide in Feb 2006, so the 6MT trip was one of the last occasions, being in Jan 2006!
    I only used carbide in SE Asia, have never used it in UK – though it’s banned in most caves as it is a pollutant (the black smoke).

    • Sorry Liz for my Poor spelling..LOL, the BEC, would never exploit anyone.
      the use of Carbide was not only banned because the smoke damage, but some cavers used to dump the spent Carbide in the cave, which was most unsightly, also it used to stink somewhat, as often it was still producing acetylene Gas, I know when I first started caving in Mendip in the Late 1960, the sump area in Swildons was a favourite place to dump old carbide behind a rock as it was the point where folks refilled and relit their lamps after a trip through Sump One, it could make one feel quite sick. Ohh the good old days caving during the day and getting p**sed in the Hunters inn in the evening.

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