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Sexy Or Sexist? Malaysians Outraged Over “Tumbuk Sambal” Pantun Shared By DBP

Sexy Or Sexist? Malaysians Outraged Over “Tumbuk Sambal” Pantun Shared By DBP

Everyone’s arguing over the meaning of “tumbuk sambal”.

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A very “spicy” pantun shared by Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka (DBP) online has been the subject of much furor as Malaysians argue if it’s sexist or sexy.

The four line pantun, which translates to “What’s the use of wearing batik, If one isnt wearing a capal (sandal); What’s the use of a beautiful wife, If one can’t pound sambal.”

Immediately, a heated discussion ensued with many Malaysians interpreting the pantun to indicate that a wife is essentially useless unless she can cook.

The real meaning of the “tumbuk sambal” pantun


A UKM publication on Malay pantuns specifically mentions this contentious piece and describes it as one that highlights the responsibility of a wife to her husband.

One of the roles of wives in the community is to provide food and drink for her husband and children. In addition, family socialization is to teach children traditional Malay girls with various household management skills including cooking.

Pantun Sebagai Perakam Norma: Penelitian Awal Terhadap Perkahwinan dan Keluarga Melayu.

However, some have argued against the sexist connotations of the pantun by pointing out that it was typical to have a “hidden” meaning – a very naughty meaning.

Nisah Haji Haron, a Malaysian writer and former lawyer argued that this specific pantun actually points out the importance of a husband being able to “please” his wife.

The Malaysian writer explains that she interprets the pantun as a reminder of a husband’s responsibility to his wife.

“Having a beautiful wife but if she is not appreciated, then it’s like an inner torture for her. Or in English “it is how you please your woman.”

Nisah Haji Haron.
Screenshot from Facebook

She explains that old pantuns should be read in depth as private topics like these were often delivered in subtle, layered messages.

And she’s right.

Principal Research Fellow of the Institute of Malay World and Civilization (ATMA) at the National University of Malaysia (UKM) Professor Dr Ding Choo Ming explained that the pantun – the four line verses which is a hallmark of the Malays- was originally used to express sorrow, joy, love or lust for revenge through hints.

He explains that it functioned as entertainment, education and recited during festivals and the wooing of girls or marriage proposals.

However, Professor Ding points out that increasing literacy and the advent of technology has changed the role of the pantun from an oral tradition to a written format adapted for commercial purposes.

He also says that modern pantuns are lacking in the creative emotions usually attributed to verses found in traditional pantuns.

So, what do you think of the pantun – sexist or sexy?

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