Ancient Wisdom & Beauty in the Malay Peribahasa

I have always been fascinated by Malay peribahasa or proverbs. They are even more fascinating to me than pantun which is darn right cool and one of it’s kind prose in the world.

Practically all is cryptic yet there are ones that are more than others. These really cryptic ones are the ones I love most. These one are the ones that on the surface is saying something uncomprehensible yet it is actually referring to a certain context in a totally different world than what was being said. For example, Sudah Gaharu Cendana Pula. The crytic-ness of it is amazing. We need to understand what is Gaharu and what is Cendana. That is not enough. We also need to know what are the similarities between this two wood. Once we know that we then need to figure what these two type of wood is being pitted together. It is almost like a Dan Brown short story.

Imagine this being so confusing to those that are not familiar with these type of saying. I read somewhere once that the English when they first encountered these peribahasa being used in a conversation was perplex and astounded to the point that they thought the people were communicating in some form of a code which if you think about it is actually some what true. Yet, it is a code that can be deciphered by every Malay at that time which means it is not a secret.

Two things that fascinated me as I dwell into this. There is so much wisdom in coming out and using it. Once, you need to be an astute observer of all things. Two you have to be darn good at sythesizing the context of what you see with that of the real meaning you are trying to convey. These are not easy tasks. That is why for me peribahasa is ancient wisdoms handed down through generations.

And the beauty of why it exist makes it even more fascinating to me. It is used to not only teach moral lessons but is also used to be gentle in communicating feedback, advice and point of views. As we know, the Malays are famous in being gentle in their comments and criticism. We are not very good at being direct therefore, peribahasa is a perfect tool.

So, next time you hear a peribahass, stop and admire the words, the way it is structured and imagine how all that concept and context came about. Also remember what you are hearing is oral ancient wisdom being passed down in the most beautiful of ways.

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