Di Bawoh Rang Ikang Kering
Random Ramblings of A Retired Retainer


Monday, March 14, 2005

MALU, both in Terengganuspeak and in Standard Bahasa has many meanings. It can be translated into English as shy, coy, embarrassed, ashamed, shame or disgrace, depending on circumstances. In the West, a lady who is not ashamed to show off her navel and other assets in a bikini, polka-dot or otherwise, will scream in embarrassment if you see her in pyjamas or a bathrobe and curlers. She will be embarrassed too if you see her face covered in some gooey night cream. Long long ago, in the eastern states of Malaysia, long before toilets were available, men were not embarrassed to do their business on public beaches as long as they can cover their face with their sarong. No shame when you are anonymous.

Malu was the invisible policeman of social mores. You did not do certain things because of malu. Malu disciplined you. You took pains not to disgrace yourself and worse, your parents and your family. You were told not to "scrawl charcoal on your parent's face" or otherwise disgrace your parents and family. The Japanese know this better than the rest. They invented hara-kiri to solve malu -related problems. The Malays did not resort to such drastic and final measure. They believed in "Prevention Is Better than Cure". So all members of the community played their part. They nipped the problems in the bud. Knowing that they are known to everyone in the village, people who harboured thoughts of doing anything disgraceful would think twice. Malu prevented them from doing anything stupid. So the kampong was peaceful.

Then people moved to the cities. Malu was lost when anonymity was found. In the cities, nobody knows, or bothers who your parents are. One of the reasons to be malu was gone. Establishments in the cities too are conducive to anonymity. There are dark places. When you can't be seen, you can't be malu right? Even if you are seen, like the men on the beaches, they wouldn't know you. Thus, everything you wouldn't do in your kampong would be done in the cities and more. When malu is gone, anything (and everything) goes. With malu long-forgotten, some are driven to criminal activities. The malu will only resurface when they are caught and photographed in court. Then they will cover their face. A bit of misplaced malu there.

Malu to go against the norm of proper behaviour is replaced by another malu. The fear of losing face or simply the fear of losing. Call it kiasu or whatever as long as you don't lose. Towards this end, you will not be ashamed to borrow, beg or steal as long you can better your competitor. Of course there is a story to make the point clearer.

Pok Derih, P.J.K. is a neighbour of Mr. Tong. Their semi-d house is next to each other in a posh neighbourhood. When Mr.Tong installed automatic gate, Pok Derih followed suit with a shiny stainless-steel version. Then Mr. Tong made Pok Derih malu by buying a big 54 inches tv. They had to break the front door to bring the tv in. Soon after, Pok Derih sold his kebun derian and bought a home theatre system with a plasma screen. Then Mr.Tong bought a Mercedes. Pok Derih had some money left over and promptly bought one too. Cannot malu one. One morning, Mr. Tong, a Catholic, baptised his new Mercedes with holy water. On seeing this, Pok Derih went inside, came out with a hacksaw and cut a bit of his Mercedes' exhaust pipe. He told Mr.Thong:

"You baptised your car, I sunnat mine!"