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Muhammad Haji Salleh, Pantun: The poetry of passion, Kuala Lumpur, University of Malaya Press, 2018, 108 p. + x, ill.. ISBN: 9789831009765

Jyh Wee Sew
p. 187-188
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Kuala Lumpur, University of Malaya Press, 108 p. + x, ill.. ISBN: 9789831009765

Texte intégral

1As an oral literary genre, pantun is a type of traditional Malay poetry that may come in two, four, eight or twelve lines. Observable on YouTube, the four-line pantun has become the customary verbal exchange in a Malay wedding (or engagement) ceremony, especially as part of the culturally sanctioned greetings between the representatives of the bridegroom and the bride upon their arrival at the bride house (cf. Abdul Rahim Hashim, 2012). Based on this ceremonial function, it is apt for the subtitle of this book to classify pantun as the poetry of passion. The book informs us that pantun is one the oldest verse forms from the Southeast Asian Archipelago. Muhammad tells us that this poetic verse has been recorded from Kalimantan to Java, via the island of Celebes (Sulawesi) as well as in Nusa Tenggara and Papua. It is pointed out that the existence of pantun predates the use of the Rencong Ka Nga Ga script in southern Sumatra (p. 2).

2Notably, the significance of pantun as a definitive Malay oral heritage may be traced to the phrase, “rendang kayu kerana daun, terpandang Melayu kerana pantunnya,” “the tree is shady because of its foliage, the Malay is admired because of his pantuns” (p. 3). The definitions of pantun collected in the second chapter suggest that pantun as an oral tradition is typically defined as a four-line Malay quatrain. It has been a popularly transacted verse in verbal interaction among the Malay peoples in the region for such a long time because of its simplicity, structured composition of parallel lines and a rhyme scheme (p. 14). The alternating rhyme patterns in a typical pantun underwrite the sound aesthetics typical of Asian cultural grammar (Sew, 2015). Rhyming in pantun may be perceived as a hierarchical culmination at the discourse level, originating from the mimetic design of onomatopoeia at the Malay lexical level, as elaborated in Wilkinson (1936).

3There are many ways whereby pantun has spread across the world. Muhammad notes that the migration of Malays as immigrants and/or laborers to Christmas Island, the Cocos, Sri Lanka, South Africa, the Netherlands and Suriname has resulted in the composition and use of pantun in performing traditional and new functions (p. 27). Interestingly, through the use of flora and fauna, the content of nature may be exploited in the composition of Malay pantun. Since the world is at one’s disposal, the creative spectrum in pantun offers its maker a vast space of emotional expression. Through the selection of natural resources as specific metaphorical references one may allude to complex feelings such as angst, desire, fear, passion, worry, etc. Among the Malay flora, padi (paddy) is a valuable choice often incorporated into the pantun creation. Muhammad posits the rhyming potential with budi (kindness) and hati (heart) as the reason for padi’s becoming a typical metaphor in pantun. Another flora that makes a clever allusion of discontent is limau manis (sweet lime) as in the following pantun (p. 33):

Limau manis condong ke paya,
Boleh buat sampaian kain; (punctuation, mine)

Mulut manis kepada saya,
Hati kasih kepada yang lain.

The sweet lime stands inclined,
May we use it as a clothes line?
Sweet words to me you announced,

But to another your heart is inclined.

4According to Muhammad, poetic Malay genres such as syair, gurindam and talibun lacked the qualities of pantun, as these genres have been overtaken by contemporary technologies (p. 46). Readers may find it heartening to read that pantun remains robust on the Internet. It is the only poetic Malay verse that can find new life in the cyber world. As a matter of fact, if we watch the popular Malay animation Upin Ipin, which is searchable from YouTube, a two-line pantun such as “hadiah manis kukur kelapa; hari ini aku nak makan apa?” could be incorporated into the Malay conversation among the cartoon characters towards a comical outcome (Qonny Q, 2013).

5In explaining the magic of the Malay pantun, Muhammad offers some cultural viewpoints. The world comes with things that are paired which results in the messages of pantun represented in two-part codification. If one appreciates this idea, a pantun may become a Malay universe containing reflections of mirror images of two occurrences, parallel in varying scales along similar points. However, readers may find it a bit difficult to follow the alignment in his example that describes padi (paddy) as the external expression of hati (heart) (p. 93). Perhaps, budi (kindness) makes a better external expression of hati. Logically, one’s intention is expressed in one’s behaviors.

6Muhammad has devoted a significant amount of effort to discussing the many aspects of Malay pantun in the book. The illustrations and photographs offer vivid glimpses of the cultural artefacts related to Malay pantun. Additionally, the inclusion of pantun examples in different languages of the Southeast Asian Archipelago offer insights into the design of pantun in their original forms. This is a valuable project that contributes to the understanding of Malay pantun for interested readers. The book supplies precious information for pantun lovers to further reflect on this oral tradition.

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Abdul Rahim Hashim. (2012). Pantun majlis akad nikah Umar Abdul Aziz.mp4. YouTube. Retrieved from

Qonny Q. (2013). Upin Ipin S7 - Usahawan muda (3). YouTube. Retrieved from

Sew, J.W. (2015). Cultural literacy in Chinese and Malay. WORD 61(2), pp. 165-177.

Wilkinson, R.J. (1936). Onomatopoeia in Malay. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 14, pp. 72-88.

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Référence papier

Jyh Wee Sew, « Muhammad Haji Salleh, Pantun: The poetry of passion, Kuala Lumpur, University of Malaya Press, 2018, 108 p. + x, ill.. ISBN: 9789831009765 »Archipel, 96 | 2018, 187-188.

Référence électronique

Jyh Wee Sew, « Muhammad Haji Salleh, Pantun: The poetry of passion, Kuala Lumpur, University of Malaya Press, 2018, 108 p. + x, ill.. ISBN: 9789831009765 »Archipel [En ligne], 96 | 2018, mis en ligne le 20 novembre 2018, consulté le 05 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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