August 24, 2008


'Pantun' festival presents Malay hospitality

Kalau ada sumur di ladang
Boleh hamba menumpang mandi
Kalau ada umurku panjang
Boleh kita berjumpa lagi

If you have a well at your farm
Let me use the water for taking a shower
If long-lived I am
Let us, again, be together

Pantun is not boring poetry sitting dead in a book, waiting to be recited by a poet or the melancholic. It is a lively tradition by which Malay-speaking societies communicate, with humor, respect and wisdom.

"Pantun is an oral tradition that is not only preserved, but also developed and practiced in ceremonial events and in daily life. It is still rooted in the community," Tanjungpinang Mayor Suryatati A. Manan said. Tanjungpinang is the capital of Riau Islands province.

The Malay, unlike the Javanese, do not speak in allusions, but they do use poetry to convey ideas to others.

"We the Malay are not used to being blunt when communicating or telling other people to do certain things," said Aslim Rofina, 34, from Serdang Bedagai regency, North Sumatra.

Aslim, known as telangkai (a man who creates pantun professionally) and his two colleagues put the newly formed regency on the map by winning the competition at the Southeast Asian Pantun Festival, held by Yayasan Panggung Melayu on April 25-29 at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) cultural center in Central Jakarta.

The four-day festival was a feast of Malay hospitality, which can be found in many parts of the archipelago. The competition participants, organizers, guests and impromptu attendants were all amused by the witticism of the festival.

Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam did not make it to the final stage of the competition, but they still gave a hilarious performance when they, along with the other losing participants, shared pantun before the final match between Bengkalis and Serdang Bedagai.

A Brunei participant, Awang Haji Suhaili bin Haji Ajak, the oldest participant, hilariously repeated a pantun saying his country was oil-rich, a fact well-known to the audience.

A pantun competition is held between two parties. The first challenges the second with a question in the form of pantun, to which they also reply in the form of pantun.

Hence, they must have a broad knowledge of their own regions and many other things. Pantun is a quatrain, the first couplet of which is called sampiran, which functions as a prelude to the message it tries to convey.

"First, we have to know the answer to the question posed and the message we are trying to deliver. We do not merely play with words," Aslim said.

However, pantun can be meaningless and used as a way of introduction or as a joke, especially by TV comedians and amateurs.

Parni Hadi, the director of Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI), for example, used this pantun as an introduction: Tua-tua keladi/Jangan dibiarkan tidur sendiri/Saya Parni Hadi/Direktur RRI (An old man/Don't let him sleep alone/I'm Parni Hardi/The Director of RRI).

Parni's pantun is of course very simple. The judges rate the pantun according to its complexity -- the variation of words used and the correlation between the first and the second couplets.

During the pantun majlis session, where state officials such as governors, mayors and ambassadors recite pantun, Depok Mayor Nur Mahmudi Ismail stole the show with his simple witty pantun.

Even Jaya Suprana of the Indonesian Museum of Records made a pantun before awarding the Tanjungpinang youth the record for conducting the longest pantun exhibition.

The record shows the pantun tradition is becoming stronger and is alive today among Malay youth.

Ary Hermawan
cited from The Jakarta Post, Tuesday, May 13, 2008