I WAS a speaker at the recent Seminar on Malay and Chinese Philosophy of Sciences in Kuala Lumpur. My focus was on budi and studying media in the Malay world, in particular Malaysia.
I was essentialising the budi — from the Sanskrit Buddhi meaning “intelligence”, “spirit” and “emotion” — in relation to its various avatars (manifestations). The budi as manifestation of Malay thought and psyche is concretised in the abstract and the actual.
At the seminar and on previous occasions, I had suggested that to comprehend Malay thought, we need to conceptualise the budi, variably defined as concepts and general notions of intelligence, reason, intellect, mind, discernment and judgment.
As part of the Malay jiwa (soul) and vocabulary, its meaning was extended to cover ethics as well as intellect and reason to accommodate Malay culture and thinking.
Budi carries many nuances of meanings in the Malay cosmological, epistemological and metaphysical dimensions, and plays a pivotal role in every aspect of Malay life. It has a complex meaning, covering the areas of goodness, wisdom, decorum, kindness, behaviour, morality and service. The phrase akal budi means “common sense”, “kindness” or “virtue”.
I argued that the Malay pantun is the essence of the budi, as illustrated in the last two lines of the following:
Pisang emas bawa belayar
Masuk sebiji di bawah peti
Hutang emas boleh dibayar
Hutang budi dibawa mati
(Sail away with a bunch of bananas
One ripe fruit remains on the box
Debts of money we can repay
Debts of kindness we take to the grave)
Budi can also mean the “mind” — thinking with our brains (akal) and with our hearts (qalbu) — hence akal budi. The conscious and subconscious construction of the Malay world view, projecting the social world and the unseen universe, are encapsulated in the budi and are abundantly manifested in Malay texts — the pepatah or proverbs, peribahasa, syair, gurindam and the most vibrant of traditional Malay poetic forms — the pantun.
The Malay pantun essentialises a network of thought, rationality and arrationality. It is reason and feeling — encompassing virtual and concrete meanings at the same time. It characterises the jiwa (soul), rasa (feel) andrupa (form) of the Malay budi.
Indeed, the budi is the jiwa of the pantun. The pantun is both medium and message in Malay society. It is a capsule of the Malay weltanschauung.
Much misunderstood and under-appreciated, the pantun is essentially an oral form in the Malay world — the Peninsula, Riau, Betawi, Ambon, Acheh and Minangkabau heartlands. The pantun is the embodiment of the world before us as a teacher, as the Minangkabau saying goes: alam terkembang jadi guru (the world before us becomes the teacher).
The genius of the pantun is the simultaneous projection of the pembayang(virtual/foreshadowed) and maksud (meaning proper).
The pantun itself appears in many forms — the two-line verse, the popular four-line model and stretching to six, eight and 12. The Minangkabaupantun can stretch to 20 lines.
What is significant is that the pantun exponent creates the structure orally and spontaneously to convey meanings through the conscious use of language.
The abstract and the concrete emerge all at once in the pantun — the virtual and the real at the same time. This is the medium of the pantun. Taken at another level, it is a vehicle for the transmission of origins, observations, criticisms and news. It is a narration, a form of unwritten communication. It is Malay orality at its best.
Has the pantun succumbed to writing, visual forms and so-called modern technologies of literacy? We have seen, read and heard the pantun in advertisements, lyrics, comics, introductory lines on television and radio, and in plays and films.
The pantun needs a fresh understanding. Not long ago, I wrote a letter to a national daily calling for the use of pantun in daily life. Apart from other media, why not display the form on billboards (conventional or electronic) or public spaces like parks and junctions? Local councils can work something out.
Schools should indeed be well-placed in projecting the pantun’s meaning and aesthetics. Its study in schools as a form of philosophy, thought, reasoning, aesthetics and expression has to be reconsidered beyond the literary form.
Also, studies on the pantun should traverse the boundaries of academic disciplines into sociology, science, technology studies, media and communication studies, and the like. It should not unduly reside in the Malay Studies/Literature domain.
We have to relearn the oral form. Orality is also part of us.
I have seen a pantun on a wall of a house on the shores of Lake Maninjau in the Minangkabau heartland.
What was inscribed was a popular one in the Minangkabau dialect:
Yang kuriak itu kundi
Yang merah itu sago
Yang baik itu budi
Yang indah itu baso
The speckled is the spotted
The Indian pea is red in form
The virtuous is kindness
The resplendent is decorum. NST Learning Curve 27/07/2014