Malay Pearls of Wisdom


I do not know what it is but lately, I have been getting rather more philosophical than usual.

Could there be something in the wind that affects me so? I mean its late June now and August is just around the corner, and for the Chinese, August coincides with the Hungry Ghosts Festival (if I am not mistaken) and you know what that means.

‘Weird things’ have been known to happen during this time, and so the question is , are my ‘senses’ working overtime and giving me advance warning?

Anniversary of my near fatal cardio infarction? Not exactly but yes, its was nine years ago when I was wheeled into the emergency room, which was, in essence, all that I can remember, before I embarked on my ‘eventful journey’, only to have ‘woken up’ eleven days later.

Ironically, that ‘event’ happened in August that year and not only did it coincided with the Hungry Ghost Festival but also the holy month of Ramadan and most of all, my birthday. The irony of ironies.

My birthday? Well, yes, that too is coming soon enough and although the fun of reversing my age does not make me any younger, life is good and no complaints there.

He has definitely been more than kind to me. A second chance at making it right in life is never easy to come by and once given, not one to be spurned.

Casting my eyes towards the heavens, the skies seem clear and blue. Have been so almost every day where I am staying, except for the occasional dark clouds whenever the Heavens decided to let loose the wettest of showers. Never forgetting the bolts of lightning. Scary that!

No sign yet, of the annual haze migration. Be it from the across the Straits of Melaka or the peat lands of the west coast of the Peninsular. Or anywhere else for that matter. So all clear on that front.

Looking closer to home and all that is around me, could it be because of the sarcasm-laced murmurings of discontent that I hear oft late on the streets? Or is it caused by the murmurings of disquiet brought about by the breaking of promises made?

Or is this philosophical phase of mine brought about by the murmurings of a collective and growing realisation that a big mistake has been made and followed by a greater realization and increasing panic that the mistake made may be irreversible?


Maybe it’s the uncertain and wavering tone of social media, long since casted in the role of the alternative voice to the official media that has gotten me in this reflective phase of mine.

Its time to ponder, I guess. With the help of a mug of hot strong steaming coffee. Black, of course.

It has long been my strong belief based on observations gathered from my travels that when it comes to the Malays, as like any other civilization, have over generations, developed a codes of ethics, values and conduct that is no less inferior to any other.

Heavily influenced by Islam, the Malay’s codes of ethics, values and conduct developed are also influenced by significant events in the history of the Malays which in turn gives rise to sayings or proverbs or idioms, call it what you may.

It would be fair to say that these sayings, proverbs and idioms are reflective of the Malays collective conscience, psyche and personality, borned from the many lessons that have been learnt since time immemorial.

Throughout the history of the Nusantara, there has been no shortage of great kingdoms and empires, and hence no shortage of great kings, distinguished and honourable noblemen and warriors.

Likewise, as there will always be night and day, ying and yang, east and west, and north and south, there is also no shortage of tyrannical and despotic kings, selfish noblemen and treasonous traitors as well.

As life is ultimately a cycle, no kingdom remains forever. There are stories behind the rise and fall of these kingdoms, and over time, these stories morph into myths and legends, prompting some to remark ‘Seriously!?’.

No matter what some would think of these myths and legends, it is fair to say that behind the telling of all these myths and legends, therein lies valuable lessons to be learnt, if one keeps an eye out for them. Or rather, an ear. Better still, both ears.

Little pearls of wisdom, some would say.


Like ‘menang bersorak, kampung tergadai’ which essentially means that you may win the battle but you lose the war. In the language of today, the lesson learnt is to never lose sight of the bigger picture.

Oh, by the way, language-wise, ‘menang’ means win, ‘bersorak’ means cheering, ‘kampung’ means village, and ‘tergadai’ means forfeited. Put them all together, you’ll get the picture.

Another pearl of wisdom is ‘marahkan nyamuk, kelambu dibakar’. In the Malay language, ‘marahkan’ means angry, ‘nyamuk’ is mosquito, ‘kelambu’ is mosquito net and ‘dibakar’ is to burn.

Stringing these words together, picture your bed enveloped by a mosquito net. And in this net is a teeny, weeny mosquito flying around the length and breadth of your bed.

Those with experience with mosquitoes know very well that mosquitoes practice a variation of Murphy’s Law i.e they will buzz in your ear when you are just about to fall asleep. Just you imagine, of all the spaces available within the mosquito net and they just had to buzz in your ear.

How infuriating can that be? Repeat that scenario several times and you’ll be wanting to burn the whole bed, never mind the mosquito net, just to get rid of that one pesky mosquito.

Surely the lesson to be learnt is to keep things in perspective and direct your anger or dissatisfaction to the cause of your dissatisfaction and not at others. How true.

There are many more where such pearls of wisdom came from eg ‘pandai pandai tupai melompat, jatuh ke tanah jua’, ‘dimana bumi di pijak, di situ langit di junjung’, ‘lupa daratan’, ‘kacang lupakan kulit’, and many more.


Some may call them idioms, some may call it proverbs, but as far as I am concerned, they are precious pearls of wisdom, and wisdom is fast becoming another precious but rare commodity.

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