Daring to speak Bahasa

August 3, 2007

Coffee does wonders for the brain. Along with a nice, long chat about political realities in Malaysia. Then had an insightful quick LJ discussion with one of my old RP friends, a round of adventuring in BG, and falling asleep after talking to sayang. Today, I wake up half-muddled (which was apparent in one telephone conversation) but hopefully with my mind working well.

I realise that some of my friends tend to make inflammatory statements, and I go right along with them. This can lead me to posting things I really shouldn’t, although in hindsight, I still think that if you allow someone to represent a group, or allow your group to represent you, then you have to take the consequences of that group’s/spokesperson’s actions. My opinions of the men I mentioned yesterday remains though. Will republish that part later (the individuals, dear, not the organisation they supposedly represent). Forgive me if I ruffled anyone’s feathers last night.

Moving right along into the main topic of this post, I would like to say that I’m proud to speak Bahasa Malaysia, but my reason is purely vanity. I can generally speak much better Malay than a large number of my friends, including the Malays themselves. That’s all there is, truly. That and the fact that BM is generally understood in the places I frequent. In places where they don’t speak, being a banana means I can’t quite tell them what I want to eat for dinner/lunch.

But that’s not the only thing. BM is part of my identity, just less than how English is. I grew up reading stories about Mahsuri, Hang Tuah, Bawang Putih dan Bawang Merah, Sang Kancil… All local fairytales (well, they were all mainly in BM). I grew up feeling appreciated in this country for who I am, not what skin colour I am. I was lucky to have grown up in a fairly loving and sheltered environment. When people insulted my name and my appearance (I was rather chubby) I took them as personal attacks rather than attacks against my race, because the concept of race did not sink in until I was in college.

I grew up on stories about Malay warriors who were impervious to steel because they had undergone some kind of mystic ritual (they could be killed with bamboo spears though). I loved Che Siti Wan Kembang and her daughter, Princess Saadong. They were the only two female monarchs in the history of Malaya, and they ruled a state that one politician recently said, “Its people are very independent, so BN has to adopt a different tactic there.” Kelantan, which is ruled by Pas, is supposed to be a deeply spiritual place. I admire Kelantan for the women. One or two Malay women, both whom I met during my days as a salesgirl, both said similar things about the spirit of the Kelantanese women.

“He’s a Kelantanese, so he also married a Kelantan girl. Now my brother in law has forgotten about his first wife. She (the second wife) knows how to take his heart, but I don’t know whether she got use ilmu or not. And then ah, the Kelatanese women are very fierce. Better not to marry them,” that’s more or less what she said, but she was basically complaining about how her sister had not taken the initiative to cook for the husband when he comes home from work (Malay phrase: ambik hati, or take heart/wooing hearts).

And another told me, “Kelantanese women are very independent, that’s why mothers don’t want to their sons to marry them. They’re as fierce as tigers, like Che Siti Wan Kembang.”

I’ve only met one Kelantanese woman (a collegemate) and although she was Chinese, she did struck me as being what a Kelantanese woman would be (regardless of race). She was outspoken, confident, and jovial at the same time. It doesn’t seem to gel, does it, with the image of the Kelantan that’s been cowed by Pas, does it? Perhaps they’re deeply spiritual, rather than depending on rhetorics. Most of the East Coast looks underdeveloped to the eye, but there’s a quiet spirit about it that makes them deeply tranquil.

If you go to Pulau Kapas via car like I did, that means you have to take the federal roads after leaving the highway, and it takes about 1 hour to reach the jetty once you leave the highway. Along the way, you’ll see the Kerteh Refinery, where Petronas has their main refinery. When I went on this trip with my family, I went without any expectations. Rather, I was looking forward to swimming in the sea again and feeding the fishes. However, the trip opened my eyes to a reality I rarely saw. I appreciated the professionalism that runs Petronas, enabling it to be a money-maker no matter what the economic situation is like (think about it; their refinery has NOT blown up, and the security is tight like hell. Think Perwaja Steel, MAS and Proton as examples and you’ll see what I mean).

Past Kerteh, we were confronted with mangrove trees still on either side of the road, and the road expansion works made my heart cry. Seeing land being cleared for roads is never a happy sight, although I do know the reason for it. Expanding the roads for the safety and economic benefits of the people are good aims, but I can’t help but feel a little sad at the emptiness. Soon we reached the town, and Terengganu, like Kelantan, close on Fridays. So most shops were closed, and I couldn’t help feeling that I was really on a holiday because everyone else was on holiday too.

It’s really easy to start conversations with the people here. The best one I had while I was on Kapas with this round (and yes, she is round) woman who was running a small grocery store. She was friendly and nice to talk to. Of course, it helps that she spoke the Malay I’m used to, which is very different from the Malay spoken on the East Coast. City Malay is quite similar to the Malay in school; the only difference are those who use “Hang”, “bini” and the like. I can never quite get the hang of those.

BM usage has fallen off with some people though. For them, why should they speak BM? This was where the conversation I had with a friend recently:

It’s the language of the new colonists, of people so insistent of pushing the Malay agenda that has marginalised non-Malays, which was the gist of his statement. When I pointed out that it’s easier to promote one language (whose people, btw, are the majority in this country), he admits the point but suggests instead that we come out with our own language instead, one that’s invented. While he held up Manglish as an example, I couldn’t help but think that most would be turned off by it, because of the English connection. He then threw a phrase at me, which went by me completely (as I said earlier, I’m a Banana- I look Chinese and yet can’t speak any dialect for nuts). Manglish is not as universal as they claim to be. The process of creating a new language would also take much longer to teach and learn, though the payoff would be great.

For me though, I couldn’t care less. Perhaps some might call me traitor for supporting the Malay language, but I find most languages to be beautiful, regardless of whether I know them or not. I like using BM when I talk. It simply rolls off the tongue. But then again, that could be simply because I speak it well.

Apakah pendapat saudara/saudari? Dan saya meminta maaf kerana rencana ini terlalu panjang.

So, what do you think? And I apologise for the too-long article. ^_^

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8 Responses to “Daring to speak Bahasa”

  1. Raz said

    Traitor!!! don’t support that language! support the universal language aka binary :D

    Anyway just speak whatever language that you like, as long as the target audience get your point it does not matter really what language you use (or don’t use).

    The language of your thoughts are however different, and that it is a personal choice on which language that you want to think on.

    Gemianianeyes: O_o Then why does my brain switch to Malay when I want to speak in Malay? :P

  2. pelf said

    I’ve never thought of it as supporting or not-supporting a language. It’s just that we use one language more than the others at different places, and I guess that’s how we grow fond of it :)

    Gemianianeyes: That too. ^_^

  3. Bagi saya, walupun saya lebih fasih bertutur dalam Bahasa Inggeris, saya tetap menyanjungi Bahasa negara kami. Saya tidak pernah bercakap buruk tentang mana-mana bahasa, seperti adinda, saya menganggap semua bahasa di dunia ini mempunyai keindahan, keistimewaan dan keunikannya tersendiri.

    Oleh itu, saya memang benci mereka yang memandang rendah terhadap bahasa orang lain dan kelemahan orang lain dalam bertutur atau menulis dalam bahasa yang mereka anggap sebagai bahasa kepunyaan mereka sendiri.

  4. Lord Zhilbar said

    Incidentally, I want to learn Icelandic just so that I can say whatever I feel like HOWEVER I feel like it, and be reasonably certain that nobody will have a clue what the hell I’m saying.

    It’s like the ultimate linguistic trump card, the same way actually being able to speak in binary cements one’s geekhood unshakably. Obscure languages For The Win!

  5. stROZze said

    very good article. i’m from east coast and last time studied in school together with non-malay and they’re very fluent in malay and yet scored more points in BM paper than malays! when i started working in west coast, i found out some of non-malays (sorry, esp. chinese) who can’t even understand BM and let alone wanna speak BM. my observation is that they are people who were raised in their own community and seldom interact with other races.

    i find it funny to see non malays who appear in tv shows choose to speak english rather than bm. when interviewed by tv, in tv news esp. tv3, they speak english for malay news. of course they can speak whatever languages but ‘biarlah kena pada tempat’.

    i also feel that some might claim speaking bm is new sort of colonisation but that’s not the case here. you can speak thousand languages.. this is not indonesia where chinese can’t speak chinese dialects (in jawa especially) and southern thailand where malay can’t speak malay dialect there. you can speak whatever language and you can switch which language to speak when appropriate.

    pls don’t use manglish – enough with broken english or colloquial malay. manglish only spoken by chinese urban and now has influenced few malay and indian urban. org. kampung can’t even understand, so only bm is ideal lingua franca for malaysia.

    sorry, panjang sikit… : )

  6. [...] the most helpful pages on Cik Siti Wan Kembang were anecdotal blog posts but it was inevitable. Daring to Speak Bahasa is a thoughtful post which touches on malay folklores and legends. I particularly appreciated the [...]

  7. [...] the most helpful pages on Cik Siti Wan Kembang were anecdotal blog posts but it was inevitable. Daring to Speak Bahasa is a thoughtful post which touches on malay folklores and legends. The blogger writes about how [...]

  8. minorandom said

    great post heheh

    i’m a kelantanese woman myself and yeh some of us ARE fierce *roar*

    doing an assignment on my cultural heritage and i’m a minority in my uni hahah

    so it’s nice to see that somebody out there actually appreciates bm, n don’t mind speaking it

    cool la u *thumbs up* =)

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