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Popular Malay Proverbs: timeless wisdom in a few words

By Penghulu - Posted on 14 May 2010

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Contributed by Ms Siswahani Saban
 Here are some common Malay proverbs. As you can see, many are universal enough that we even have English equivalents.

Sehari selembar benang lama-lama jadi kain
Sedikit-sedikit lama-lama jadi bukit
Incremental efforts do make a difference as the benefits accumulate. A little effort in time makes a hill, and a thread woven eventually becomes cloth.
Berakit-rakit kehulu
Berenang-renang ketepian
Bersakit-sakit dahulu
Bersenang-senang kemudian
An old pantun (quatrain) that contains within it a proverb. "Tis better to suffer in the beginning for the pleasure that comes later.
Air yang tenang jangan disangka tiada buaya
Still water runs deep. Never take for granted a quiet person, for he may have qualities that belie his quiet nature.
Bagai aur dengan tebing
Bagai kuku dengan isi
Like the bamboo and the river bank, and like the fingernail and the flesh beneath, each is dependent on the other for their mutual survival.
Air dicincang takkan putus
Biduk lalu kiambang bertaut
Water cannot be cut, and blood is thicker than water. Like the seaweed that clings to each other after each passing boat separates them, so too a family will come together with the passing of each crisis.
Kalau menggenggam bara biar sampai jadi abu
Alang-alang menyeluk pekasam biar sampai kepangkal lengan
Something is worth doing that is worth doing well. If you choose to hold a burning ember in your hand, hold fast until it turns to ashes. So too, should you decide to plunge your hand into a pot of pickles, go in all the way up to your elbow.
Kalau meluntur buluh, biarlah waktu rebong
To bend a bamboo, start when it's still a shoot. To mould a person's character, begin when he's still young and impressionable.

Quran 15:71

He said: "There are my daughters (to marry), if ye must act (so)."

Awards & Mentions


TIME Magazine, 16 Dec. 1996
"A must for on-line believers in Southeast Asia."
-- TIME, Dec. 16, 1996