Ever since I was seven, I was taught in schools about peribahasa (“proverb” in the Malay language) as it was vital to score extra marks in my karangan (“essay”). So everyone resorted to memorizing numerous Malay proverbs and idiom to get that extra marks allocated for using some phrases smartly. Of course, most of us used that few common ones that everyone knows of.
Then I went into secondary school and we were encouraged to not use the simple ones. So we resorted to memorizing another set of newer and trickier ones. Once in awhile, we’d try to act smart and use one obsolete proverb and ended up misunderstanding it thus having that whole paragraph wrong.
That wasn’t fun at all.
For me, I’ve always had a harder time with Malay proverbs. English proverbs, no problem; but the ones in the Malay language seem to always confuse me. Give me an English proverb that I’ve never heard of and ask me define it, I’ll be able to get the main idea right. Give me a Malay proverb I’ve never heard of, I’d usually be way off point. Don’t get me wrong, I converse and understand Malay well. Not the best but I’d say I’m good.
So, in this post I want to bring up famous Malay proverbs and attempt to translate it directly and also find for a similar proverb in English. Here it goes…
Sediakan payung sebelum hujan
Direct Translation (DT): Prepare the umbrella before it rains.
English Proverb (EP): Prevention is better than cure
Air yang tenang jangan disangka tiada buaya
DT: Don’t think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm
EP: Still waters run deep
Bertepuk sebelah tangan, tidak akan berbunyi
DT: Clapping with the right hand only will not produce a noise
EP: It takes two to tango
Tong kosong nyaring bunyinya
DT: A fool is like the drum that beats fast but does not realize its hollowness
EP: Empty vessels make the most noise
Sikit-sikit, lama-lama jadi bukit
DT: Bit by bit, in the end it becomes a hill
Sehari selembar benang, lama-lama menjadi kain
DT: Everyday a thread, soon a cloth
EP: Mighty oaks from little acorns grow
Seperti kera kena belacan
DT: Like a monkey who eats belacan (chilli)
EP: Like a cat on hot bricks
Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung
DT: On which soil we stand on, that is where we carry the weight of the sky.
Masuk kandang kambing mengembik, masuk kandang kerbau menguak
DT: Enter a goat’s shed, you bleat; enter a buffalo’s shed, you moo
EP: When in Rome, do as the Romans do
Tanam lalang tak akan tumbuh padi
DT: If you plant grass, you won’t get rice
EP: You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
Sambil berdiang nasi masak
DT: While toasting, cook the rice
Sambil Menyelam Minum Air
DT: While diving, drink water
EP: Killing two birds with one stone
Sudah jatuh ditimpa tangga
DT: After Falling, The ladder falls on you.
Terlepas dari mulut buaya, masuk ke mulut harimau
DT: Escaped from a crocodile’s mouth, enter a tiger’s mouth
EP: It never rains but it pours
Diberi betis hendak paha
DT: Calf is given, but then thigh is requested.
EP: Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile
Sepandai-pandai tupai melompat, akhirnya jatuh ke tanah juga
DT: No matter how high the squirrel jumps, it will eventually fall onto the ground.
EP: Curses, like chickens, come home to roost
Diam-diam ubi berisi, diam-diam besi berkarat
DT: The Potato grows in silence, The iron corrodes in silence.
EP: Speech is silver, silence is golden
Jika tidak dipecahkan ruyung, manakan dapat sagunya
DT: You can’t get at the precious sago without first breaking the bark.
EP: You can’t make bricks without straw
Ukur baju dibadan sendiri
DT: Measure your coat on your body.
EP: Cut your coat according to your cloth
Bagaimana acuan begitulah kuihnya
DT: How the mould is, that’s how the cake turns out
EP: Like father like son
Minyak setitik di laut timbul juga
DT: Because of a drop of blue dye, a whole pot of milk is contaminated.
EP: One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel
(Thank you for helping, Ana!)
For these proverbs, they translate directly into English Proverbs. That means both English and Malay have the same proverb using the exact words!
Bersatu teguh, bercerai roboh
United we stand, divided we fall
Nasi sudah menjadi bubur
It’s no use crying over spilt milk
Di mana ada kemahuan, di situ ada jalan
When there’s a will, there’s a way
Kata periuk belanga hitam
The pot calls the kettle black
Biar lambat asalkan selamat
Better late than never
As for these, I could not find the English proverb. I know there’s a similar one out there but I can’t seem to think of it now. If you know, do let me know in the comments below and I will add!
Hendak seribu daya, tak hendak seribu dalih
DT: If you want something, you’ll do a thousand things to obtain it. But if you don’t want something, you’ll give a thousand excuses to refrain from it.
Seperti kacang lupakan kulit
DT: Like the peanut, who forgets its shell.
Lembu punya susu, sapi dapat nama
DT: Milk belongs to the cow, but the bull cow gets the publicity.
Hutang emas boleh dibayar, hutang budi dibawa mati
DT: One can pay back the loan of gold, but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind.
Harimau mati meninggalkan belang, manusia mati meninggalkan nama
DT: Tigers die and leave their stripes, but humans die leaving their names.
Melentur buluh biarlah daripada rebungnya
DT: To bend a bamboo, start when it is a shoot.
Semut mati kerana gula
DT: Ants die in sugar.
Ada gula ada semut
DT: Where there is sugar, there are bound to be ants.
If you know of anymore similar Malay and English proverb or even another language, comment down below!