Perambahan: A unique feature of Brunei Malay

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

THE official language of Brunei Darussalam is Bahasa Melayu or Brunei Malay. This language is similar to the standard Malay language that people from Peninsular Malaysia and Indonesia can understand.

However, looking at the Brunei Malay language at a deeper level, one will find out that it differs from standard Malay in pronunciation, vocabulary, expressions and idioms.

Perambahan (pronounced pa-ram-bah-an) or proverbs are one very unique feature of Brunei Malay. These are the creations of the old Brunei Malay society and have been handed down for generations.

Perambahan are similar to that of Peribahasa in standard Malay language, but perambahan creatively use symbols found in society to beautify the language which are appropriate yet succinct and to the point.

"The use of perambahan is not so common these days, but it's a beautiful part of the Brunei Malay language as there are many subtleties and clever references in the phrases and words, which vividly and aptly describe the meaning that the speaker is trying to get across." said Hjh Nurlela Zainal, a Malay teacher from a local school.

"Perambahan Brunei is what differs Brunei Malay from standard Malay. Many of the terms used come from when our ancestors or elders who lived in the kampong, and their observations and feelings were used to describe their thoughts," explained Hjh Nurlela.

"The importance of kemukaan (face) in Malay society was important, and one did not outrightly insult their friends or neighbours, especially in a small community. So the subtleties in the language conveyed the true meaning, without letting anyone lose face," Hjh Nurlela added.

According to "Forms Courtesy Among Asean Member Countries Research Reports", perambahan are used not just as a form of communication, but also as means to display the culture and mannerisms of Malay society. They are able to conceal words which may sound harsh or rude with sarcasm, with gentle pleadings, teachings and persuasion.

The use of such words enables the Malay language to be a more effective tool of communication for some specific purpose the speaker intends.

It is obvious that perambahan is a reflection of the society. The belief in the adat or customs which have been inherited and are passed down from generation to generation, encourage the younger generation to be educated as to be courteous and respectful in terms of language and speech.

Perambahan are not only witty, but descriptive, and are intelligent manners of speech. For example, one perambahan bekulat tangga (the mossy steps) is aimed at those who do not wish to visit their neighbours, while mengayam bini (as a hen) emphasizes the meaning of humility in the presence of outsiders or at another's home.

Another distinguishing feature of perambahan in Brunei Malay dialect is that it comes across in single words. Some examples follow - berangin (windy) means a person who is not certain in his ideas, bungkasan means children who are easily angered. Some common ones you may hear include bibiran (lips and lips) which means repeating oneself or to be unnecessarily talkative, and one that will be popular during the Hari Raya season is malanggar (crash into) which means to visit the house unheralded or unexpectedly.

Some perambahan are pluralised by repeating the word twice, such as capi-capi meaning an action or deed which is improper and angat-angat dingin which means not feeling well or indisposed.

There are three sources in the creation of perambahan, first, taking a story or extraordinary incidents as comparisons; second, comparing things that are similar to those found in daily life; and third, originating from the beliefs of the people in the distant past.

The story of Abu Nawas, who is known for being clever in making excuses and Nakhoda Manis, a tale of a young man who refused to acknowledge his poor mother after returning to Brunei with riches and wealth, are prime examples of taking stories as comparisons, as a person who made many excuses would be referred to rather teasingly as "Abu Nawas" and children who went against the wishes of their parents would be called "Nakhoda Ragam". Many other colourful tales with prominent characters would also be used as perambahan, such as Malay folk tales and stories from the times of the Prophets.

The perambahan "hitam melangut" which literally means black fish, is used to describe a very dark complexioned person, and is an example of comparing things with daily life. Other such perambahan are kaki ayam (chicken feet) is to go barefooted, and biawak punggur (monitor lizard) which refers to a male who is lazy and refuses to make efforts to find a living.

For proverbs originating from beliefs, the perambahan "Buruk siku tambal balang" (rotten elbow) is one such example from Malay belief, according to a story from long ago. In a tale long forgotten, someone demanded the return of some items which he had given to someone else. After this event, the person was afflicted with a kind of disease that impaired his elbow. According to the belief of many people, the impairment was a consequence of his action in demanding the return of the item which had been given.

Perambahan portray life in society as being integrated, helping to summarise the feelings, way of thinking, actions, likes and dislikes of the individuals in society, and as a result, are thought of reflections of the life of Brunei Malay society.

For example, many perambahan are associated with ayam (chicken) which was reared by many in older times, and having observed its actions, has given rise to a number of perambahan connected to it, e.g. lagau-lagau ayam means an insincere invitation, mengayam laki means to be a proud cockerel or person. The Brunei Times