Malay Proverbs From Head to Toe

by : Wan Yee

In the past, tyrants claimed heads on whims. Nowadays, spoilt children rule as little tyrants in their homes. They are never happy with anything given by you. Give them a piggy back ride on your shoulders, they will want to ride on your head next. That's how a Malay proverb describes brats : " shoulders given, head demanded."

Folks who are not in favour of administering the cane may opt to reason with the brats. While this is the prerogative of parents, we know it is not easy to get through to unresponsive ears. Sometimes it's like talking to a wall that only an electric drill can penetrate. Therefore the Malay saying: " drilling words into the ear" to illustrate advice given on a regular basis.

Fortunately not everyone is a brat. It is possible to talk many people into performing tasks that they normally dislike. The right kind of persuasion is as powerful as great physical strength since " a sweet mouth breaks the bone." When executed gently, it is said to make one happy to "thresh" his "bone" on your behalf - a Malaysian way of denoting working extremely hard.

On the other hand, the very irresponsible way of using one's mouth is " the forked tongue of a monitor lizard." Famous in Malaysia when referring to capricious folks. Among all reptilian creatures that flicker forked tongues, why choose the monitor lizard? When you feed fresh meat to a monitor lizard in captivity, it would rather wait another two days to partake its meal rotten. Most probably due to its preference for foul- smelling food plus its relatively huge size which comes with a tongue more conspicuous makes it a suitable symbol of a big stinky liar.

"Little palms spread out with a sieve" is the Malaysian way of expressing a million thanks. Why not just take a pail to collect from the benefactor? The sieve in this proverb is used to winnow out the chaff, leaving only valuable paddy grains. So in the eyes of the grateful person, everything he has received is good.

A fast and efficient worker is liken to a common cockroach. However, a child who has "hands of the cockroach" is one whose hands are always restless. Most mothers can tell you how fast a toddler can lay his hands on almost everything and does his restlessness remind you the way a darn cockroach roaming all over your stuff? The only way to stop both is a...slap!

What happen to people who "talk to the knees?" Knees can never respond intelligently so it means speaking to fools. Why are knees compared to fools? That would be like asking why "talk to the hands." One thing for sure, the expression "talk to the knees" shows contempt but not as rude as "talk to the hands" and it is not racist.

"Feet up, head down" extols industriousness, apparently a farmer who has to bend his back to cultivate the field. A person whose head is down whenever his feet are up works continuously to earn a living. This brings us to the toe and the end of a brief discussion on proverbs the Malaysian flavour without touching a single Malay word on your part. Congratulations!