Jikalau tidak kerana bintang
Masakan bulan terbit tinggi
Jikalau tidak kerana abang
Masakan adik datang ke sini
If not for the stars above
Why would the moon venture high
If not for you, my only love
Why would I venture nigh...
(Adapted translation by Francois Rene Daillie)
Today, I am in love with the Malay pantun and literature especially the Malay Hikayat penned by unknown authors in the 16th and 17th centuries if not before. However, growing up, this branch of literature was only a pastime reading among the many poetry and fairytales of the world. Like many children, I read Grimms, Perrault and Anderson fairy tales. Mother Goose rhymes. A little bit of Malay Hikayat, Arabian. Chinese. Indian. Korean. For many years I wrote English poems and poetry, English prose, and lately English books - even though the subject is the Malay Hikayat.
As a child, I was adequately acquainted with the Malay pantun. Despite the fact my grandmother dished out her age old wisdom in pantun and gurindam form.
Siapa cepat dia dapat.
Tak tumbuh taka melata
Tak sungguh orang tak mengata
Lama lama jadi bukit
Lama lama jadi bukit
After all, I had only learnt to speak, read and write the Malay language when I was six after we returned to Malaysia from Australia. Still, once I went to live with my grandparents in our village for two years to learn our roots and religion studies, as my mother put it, I immersed myself in this way of life. I danced the Malay dances - the joget, endang, zapin. I loved Malay theatre performances like Wayang Kulit and Makyong. I played the gamelan. And took boat trips along the lazy rivers in my village. The Malay way of life slowly shaped my growing years.
Then, perchance, many years later, I found the book, Alam Pantun Melayu - A Study of The Malay Pantun, written by Francois Rene Daillie at a sale organised by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka here in Kuala Lumpur.
Monsieur Daillie wrote in the first chapter - The Malay Pantun as an Adventure in World Literature, "I have always conceived literature as an adventure, that is, etymologically, something that happens to you, that you have to go through...happenings which have an impact on your intellect, your spirit... To me, the encounter with the Malay pantun has been until now one of the most striking episodes as well as one the main elements of the whole adventure of life... of life and literature closely mixed together."
I was astounded by this man's love for the Malay pantun, which to him, was part and parcel of the Malay way of life and thinking. He shared his philosophy and research in a completely lucid and loving manner. This was the spark. By and by, I embraced my own culture - especially the pantun with alacrity.
Since then, I have studied and appreciated the Malay Pantun like never before. Find my Malay pantun here. I found my thoughts reflected so well by Monsieur F R Daillie when he says in his book, "...the pantun has never obtained the fame it deserves, in spite of its introduction into French XIXth century poetry under the adulterated name, 'pantoum'." I now agree with Monsieur Daillie that more should be done so that the Malay Pantun be internationally acclaimed for its ingenuity, form and sheer beauty. How unfortunate it is that the charm and enigma of the pantun is only appreciated and recognised within our Nusantara. The pantun of old can be witty, passionate to the point of being downright erotic, full of wisdom and hilariously comedic in nature and was an excellent tool for getting one's point across, an ice breaker or for conveying a subtle message.
The pantun has many forms. It covers love, wisdom, wit and comedy, stories anad more. There are also the Baba Nyonya Pantun and Persian syair. The first and foremost requirement in creating pantun is a keen observation of one's surroundings. The second, the conversion of this observation into a metaphor. Then the actual message of the pantun is conveyed in the formal form of the pantun. A pantun can be a 4 line, 6 line or 8 line stanza of the abab, abcabc or the abcdabcd form. In its most elegant form, the first half of the stanza is usually a metaphor or indication of what is to come in the second half. In the pantun berkait, the second alternating lines are repeated in the following stanza.
The pantun berkait was introduceed to French poets and novelists of the 19th century like Victor Hugo and Baudelaire. Many tried to emulate the form and structure which gave rise to the French avatar of the Malay pantun, the pantoum. To Daillie, "If one of the assets of poetry at its best is the magic and beauty accomplished by language, the Malay pantun can be placed among the highest achievements of mankind in this form of art... the Malay pantun, as one of the fixed forms of poetry ever devised by man, can vie with such famous genres as the Japanese haiku or the European sonnet."
I would like to invite interested poets and readers, , to learn about the pantun. Do read this beautiful indepth study of the Malay pantun by a Frenchman who certainly has only admiration, a delightful insight and respect for this form of literature that his book arouses an even stronger sense of pride in ourselves and our literature.
It is very often through the eyes of a 'foreigner' that we can become reacquainted with what we have become accustomed to or taken for granted all our lives.
Let us hope that the art of pantun will remain forever. I would hate to think my children would only get to listen to pantun at Malay Weddings. Or my unborn grandchildren, none at all.
Suggested reading for this article:
Alam Pantun Melayu by Francois Rene Daillie
Le Malaisie by Henri Fauconnier