In a recent advice to Malaysians in general, the promoters and opponents of streets demonstration, His Highness YDP Agong quoted two peribahasa, “Bumi mana yang tidak ditimpa hujan, lautan mana yang tidak bergelora” and "Yang dikejar tak dapat, Yang dikendong berciciran". Those who understand the subtleties of the advice, would have appreciated His Highnesses’ gentle reminder and acted accordingly. But, many Malaysians have yet to grasp the Pribahasa. I see a need to educate our brother and sister Malaysians in the understanding and embracing the gems of this Malay wisdom… I see it as one of our platform for Unity. Below is a Q and A approach explaining the idea.
Why is peribahasa important?
I see peribahasa as the cumulative wisdom of the Malay culture. These kiasan or idioms are a wonderful example of two thousand or more years of Malay civilization. Beautiful strings of words which contain a big idea, covering values which are universal. It is a great way to understand the Malay culture by knowing it and practicing it.
How can peribahasa be used as a platform for unity?
I believe that if Malaysians really learn to practice peribahasa, we will begin to internalize the Malay culture. It is the power of applying language to help form our framework of the world.
The key to communication is shared symbols. When we share the same pool of sayings, they may act as the shared symbol to communicate our ideas with one another. I think the peribahasa could be a great channel for us to do that. It is our best platform. If we force non-Malays to learn Islamic elements they will be turned off, but learning Malay culture is a good way to unify people of different backgrounds.
Why Malay culture?
This goes back to the historical reality of our land. By Malay Culture, we are talking about native cultures that include the cultures of our brother and sister East Malaysians. For hundreds of years before the arrival of any foreign forces, the native Malays were already practicing their culture and the Malay language was the lingua franca of the region. Hence in choosing a core cultural identity for Malaysia, based on this history the Malay culture should be retained. This doesn’t mean that it will replace other cultures, but that all Malaysians may recognize the Malay and Native culture as the collective culture of the land even while they practice their own cultures. In fact, these cultures like the Chinese and Indian cultures can play a pertinent supporting role adding color to the center.
Why is it important for all Malaysians to know Malay culture?
If we go to Bali, a child of about eight or nine years old can either sing or dance, or do something from Balinese culture. We need to have something like that here. So we should have the Malay culture, as well as the Iban and the Kadazan culture incorporated in our school system. By the time a child is about twelve years old, he should be able to know something cultural, like the mak yong or ulit bandar from Kelantan. We should bring these cultural traditions back and make it part and parcel of our day to day living. I believe that as we embody more cultural values, what will happen is that we tend to be more balanced – more in control, less easily angered.
How can we use elements of Malay culture in school?
Perhaps we could use peribahasa as a platform for children to look at the larger Malay culture. Starting from primary school we can already teach them some simple peribahasa and the values behind it.
There is so much culture to draw from, for example things like batik making, the keris, how to make a wau – these should be made part and parcel of our education system. These are the things we need to use as our uniting factor. By the time our children are twelve, for example they know how to make a kite - I would love to know that and to teach my kids that.
What are some examples of how peribahasa can be used today?
Let’s take sociopolitics for example. There are so many interesting ones - let’s just pick a few. When I read comments and blogs of all the different opinions held by Malaysians, especially those in urban areas, I think it looks like ‘jika hati tidak suka, madu diminum terasa cuka” – if the heart dislikes it, even when you drink honey it will taste sour. It means when you don’t like someone, everything that comes from him or her becomes negative. This is commonly seen now – if someone dislikes Dr. Mahathir or Anwar, or PM Najib, for example, everything they say will be seen as negative even though it may be something good.
That’s interesting. What other peribahasa can be used to describe our political situation?
Another interesting one is “kurang bubur, lebih sudu” – there are more spoons than porridge. It means that something which is not that big a deal becomes blown up into a huge issue as everyone jumps on the bandwagon to start harping about it. And this is what we see happen a lot in our country’s politics too.
Let’s look at another one – “mudah bengkok bagai barang timah” – easily bent like a milo tin. Orang yang sensitif. Sensitive people. Here in Malaysia, there are too many ‘sensitive’ things; we are so easily bent out of shape. Another one that I feel we have to be careful of is ‘udang hendak mengata ikan’, like a prawn gossiping about a fish. Nampak salah orang lain, tapi salah sendiri tidak nampak – you see other people’s faults but not your own. And this happens all the time in Malaysia. What about ‘si buta membilang bintang di langit’ – the blind counting stars in the sky. It is kerja sia-sia, a wasteful effort.
What are some ways we can use peribahasa?
I got this book called ‘koleksi terindah peribahasa Melayu’ (a beautiful collection of Malay peribahasa) by Ainon Muhammad and Prof. Abdullah Hassan. It says, use this collection for surat cinta - for love letters - or senikata lagu, when penning lyrics for songs; for poetry and for cards you send your loved ones, in product advertisements or when giving speeches.
Peribahasa can be applied in vast contexts, from schools right up until businesses. It can be very practical. For example the saying ‘sediakan payung sebelum hujan’. For school students, this means, prepare well for your exam. In the business world, it means be prepared in your business dealings. In debates, this can be used as a core anchor.
What peribahasa describes how Malaysians should be?
There are so many. “Jika diukur sama panjang, jika diidas sama besar” – if you measure, it must be the right length; if you carry it, it must be the right width - in all things there must be appropriateness.
There’s another one – ‘telur sesangkar, pecah satu pecah semua’ – a basket of eggs, when one is broken all is broken. This is something we as Malaysians must learn, that if one community of Malaysians is not doing well, all of us will break as well. Another beautiful one is ‘berdiri sama tinggi, duduk sama rendah’ – when we stand we stand tall together, when we sit we sit as modestly as one another – again, its about fairness and equality.
I like this one - ‘jika salah sebatang dicabut, salah serumpun dibongkar”, meaning if only one stick is wrong we need to pull that stick out; if one bush is in the wrong we’ll have to get rid of the bush. In other words, hukuman hendaklah adil, yang salah hendaklah dihukum – those who do wrong must be fairly punished. Of course some things we always have to remember is “jika rajin mengakas, namun selera lepas jua” – if we work hard, we will achieve success.
How can we learn to incorporate peribahasa in our conversations?
We should first go get a book on peribahasa. A recommendation is ‘Koleksi terindah peribahasa Melayu’ by Ainon Muhammad and Abdullah Hassan.
The good news is, in school we already have some element of peribahasa being taught. Once we’ve learnt a few, we’ll be able to start using it. For example that’s what I do in the office – I’ll just blurt out a peribahasa and ask my colleagues, you all know what this means?
How can we further encourage it in schools?
Peribahasa should be incorporated more in the classrooms. We can start with one peribahasa, and teach different elements of what it means – for example we can use it in our moral classes. The saying ‘sediakan payung sebelum hujan’ can be used to teach our children the value of being prepared, measuring the cost, whenever we do something.
Shall we ‘sediakan payung sebelum hujan’ – work on Unity of this country instead of seeing it break apart? So have you used a Peribahasa today?