It’s a shame to see popular Malay proverbs being interpreted or used wrongly despite the Malay language being our national language. The following are two examples of Malay proverbs that have been wrongly used by our generation.
(Wrong) “Harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi” (loosely translates to relying on the fence, the fence eats the paddy)
A very common proverb that has been used wrongly, although it is understandable how it evolved from the original due to the context it is used in. The proverb is a lesson reminding us not to trust the wrong person, where a farmer relies on the fence to protect his crops, but the fence instead eats the crops. Why this made sense for many is that the analogy of fence does fit into the proverb as fences are often associated with guarding or protecting something. The main problem here is that a fence is an inanimate object and incapable of consuming anything which is the ultimate flaw of this error.
(Correct) “Harapkan pegar, pegar makan padi” (loosely translates to relying on the pheasant, the pheasant eats the paddy)
The ongoing debate surrounding this proverb involves whether it is actually “pagar” which means fence or “pegar” which refers to a pheasant bird. The pheasant makes much more sense as pheasants were used by farmers to guard crops against insects and vermin. The proverb makes much more sense as the farmer who relies on the pheasant to protect his crops, instead finds the bird eating the crops, as crops were a food source for these birds which seems more historically accurate to the purpose of the proverb and the situation it is based on.
(Wrong) “Melepaskan batuk di tangga” (loosely translates to coughing at the stairs)
The proverb intends to refer to performing an action half-heartedly, where despite an explicit meaning to the proverb, many people actually never understood the relevance of coughing at the stairs to performing an action half-heartedly.
(Correct) “Melepaskan batok di tangga” (loosely translates to letting go of the coconut shell on the stairs)
To explain this proverb, some context will help to assist the imagination. In the past and perhaps even now, if you visit an authentic village house in Malaysia, you will likely see a large container of water at the base of the stairs. This has been used by people to wash their legs before they proceed to enter the house. The coconut shell (the “batok”) was used in the past as a tool for scooping up the water from the container in order to wash their feet.
Now the proper etiquette in using the “batok” is to of course place it back in the container for someone else to use. The proverb refers to those who simply let go of the shell from the top of the stairs which causes the shell to become dirty or broken. This act is referred to as the half-hearted action that we should avoid doing.
In conclusion, as proverbs are lessons passed down from generations, it is important for us as the bearers of this responsibility to ensure we are able to accurately pass down the wisdom of our ancestors onto the next generation so that the lessons may be able to assist them should the need arise.
Kage is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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