Di Bawoh Rang Ikang Kering
Random Ramblings of A Retired Retainer


Thursday, September 23, 2004
Malay peribahasa (a blanket term for proverbs, idioms, similes, allegories etc.) is probably as old as the Malay language itself. The collection of sayings, truism, aphorisms or whatever you pigeonhole them are concise, meaningful and relate to Malay society and the environment then.

The sayings either literally or figuratively are usually profound, humorous or just plain common sense advice:

Bunga gugur, putik pun gugur, tua gugur, masak pun gugur.

(Flowers and buds fall, and the old and ripe fall. Death comes to all, irrespective of age.)

Apa sakit berbini janda, anak tiri boleh disuruh.

(Why worry at marrying a widow? You will have step-children at your beck and call. A jibe at pampered young man marrying an old widow)

Orang baharu kaya jangan diutangi, orang baharu nikah jangan ditandangi. (Don't lend to the newly rich, don't visit the newly-wed).

Unfortunately, many modern, city-dwelling kids like my grandson Adam are having difficulties understanding the concept and the moral of these sayings. To illustrate, let me pick at random a saying from Winsted's Malay Proverbs (John Murray Ltd. UK, 1950)

Pipit tuli makan berhujan dihalau kain basah, tak dihalau padi habis.

(Deaf sparrows are eating the padi out in the rain; if you drive them away you will get wet. If you do not, your padi will be finished. The dilemma you get when dealing with a stubborn person: to intervene or not to intervene?)

I doubt if the above is in Adam's syllabus but it will do to argue my case (if any).

I have doubts that Adam or other 9 year olds living in the city is familiar with any pipit (the bird), let alone a hearing-impaired one. He might have seen padi fields during his trips out of the city. If the trips were in the right season, he might see stalks of padi swaying in the wind. He wouldn't understand the process of getting a grain of rice from a grain of padi unless it was clearly explained to him. To him, you get rice in bags from Jusco, Giant or the corner mini market and he knows the rice comes from factories printed on the bags. So drying padi would be a bit difficult to grasp unless the teacher asked him to imagine the padi sunbathing. Adam has been to many beaches before.

If I could get into Adam's head when he is faced with this proverb I would hear him thinking:

Ok, now it is raining, why isn't the padi moved to a drier place like what Kak Ti (his maid) always do to the washing? Wouldn't the pipit catch a cold eating in the rain? Would the parent pipit get upset? Why can't the padi owner chase the pipit away without getting wet? What happened to his umbrella or rain coat? Didn't somebody tell him "Sediakan payung sebelum hujan?" (Get yout umbrella ready before it rains).

It's the same for other forms of peribahasa. Tell Adam that someone drives like a pelesit (banshee) and he will get a quizzical look. Tell him someone drives like Schumacher and he will understand. Adam is a great F1 fan. He has enough images of that. Bapa borek anak rintik (If the father is spotted, the children are sure to be speckled) will give Adam a mental picture of a spotted man with an equally polka-dotted son. At least he can picture that. He has seen "101 Dalmatians" many times.

| 10:48 AM :: ::
5 CommentsOldStyle:
  • Papa, actually if Adam heard that pepatah, he would say : "If I had a gun, I could blow that pipit away".

    By Blogger mokciknab, at 4:01 PM  
  • Oh this is glorious! I've just discovered this site, thanks to your daughter :)

    By Blogger Bovril Lavigne, at 3:12 AM  
  • oh man...
    maybe you should start teaching again, Pa.
    'Kelas Peribahasa bersama Ki'
    (proverb lessons with your grandfather).

    By Blogger elisataufik, at 7:49 AM  
  • To tell you the truth, I've never heard of the pipit peribahasa either, though I can somewhat guess the meaning.
    Should I be ashamed calling myself Melayu?

    By Blogger Nectar, at 12:53 PM  
  • Hi!

    I stumbled across this post while trying to figure out song lyrics of putik vs putih... Big Brother Google pointed me to the first peribahasa you featured here... funnily enough, my book of Malay proverbs features the same saying but uses putih, not putik! Aarrgh! Both can work, but what's "correct"? I vote for putik :)

    Hope you get some sort of notification for comments on old posts: you wrote this over 5 years ago! yikes!

    Take care,

    By Anonymous *lynne*, at 9:28 PM  
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