Notes On the "Pantun"

Category: Pantun Portal

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1.0 Introduction

The pantun (pronounced "pun-tone") is believed to be uniquely Malay in origin. It is the most popular Malay traditional poetry genre and is still very much alive today, playing important roles at traditional events like weddings and other formal functions, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia. Many old-age pantuns are learned by heart and can be fluently quoted by the Malays.

2.0 Structure
The pantun is different because of its unique structure. It has even number of lines, the most popular being four-line pantuns. Two-line pantuns are generally old pantuns which have been passed-down for generations. There are also six-line pantuns (not very common and seldom written nowadays), and even eight-line ones, as well.

For the purpose of this discussion, let us focus on the four-line pantuns.

The pantun must satisfy the following structural format:

(a) The lines of the pantun must rhyme in alternate line position and on the last word, i.e., the last word of Line 1 must rhyme with the last word of Line 3; the last word of Line 2 must rhyme with the last word of Line 4. The rhyme is described as a-b-a-b.

(b) Each line must be made-up of 8 to 12 word parts (or syllables), the best being 9 or 10. The number of words is immaterial.

Here is an example (a love pantun in Malay):

Dua tiga kucing berlari
Manakan sama kucing belang
Dua tiga boleh kucari
Manakan sama puan seorang

The message of the pantun is contained in the second half, i.e. the last two lines. The first two lines simply act as a "lead" or an "indicator" or "prelude" as to what follows. The most important role of this indicator is simply to perform the rhyming function. The first two lines together do make sense in themselves but have no relationship in meaning to the second half.

This is the English translation of the above pantun (not retaining the rhyme):

Two or three cats are a running
They are not comparable to the cat with stripes
Two or three (ladies) I can easily find
But they are not comparable to you.

Let us try to write a proper pantun (with the necessary rhymes) out of this:
Two or three cats are running on land
The cat with stripes is superior
Two or three (ladies) I can easily find
But not comparable to you, my dear.
Internal Rhyme. A pantun of high quality has rhymes not only at the end of the lines but also in the middle. This sounds good when read (because pantun is read with a short pause in the centre of the lines). However, it is more difficult to write. Eg:
Pulau Pandan / jauh ke tengah
Gunung Daik / bercabang tiga
Hancur badan / dikandung tanah
Budi yang baik / dikenang juga .
The English rendering of the above pantun (with internal rhymes) is as follows:
The Pandan Isle is far from land
Have three peaks does the Daik Mountain
Though the self has rot in the sand
The good deeds are never forgotten.

3.0 Writing A Pantun
The first half and the second half of the pantun must NOT be continuous in meaning. You start by writing the last two lines to make your point (the message), thereafter you compose the first two lines to rhyme with the last two lines (normally you would use elements of nature for this).
Eg., I want to say to a girl that I like her because of her sweet smile. I would start by writing the last two sentences of the pantun. This would be the "message" part of the pantun:
I like you, girl, you're beautiful
Your smile is heaven in my two eyes.
Then I would compose the first two "indicator" or "rhymer" lines. Say, I use flowers:
Roses and daisies are plentiful
Their beauties would in the morning rise

Then I get the complete pantun by joining the rhymer and the message:
Roses and daisies are plentiful
Their beauties would in the morning rise
I like you, girl, you're beautiful
Your smile is heaven in my two eyes.
4.0 One Stanza or More
A stand alone four-line verse is the most common way a pantun is presented. However, when you have more to say about a certain subject, you may write more than one verse talking about the same issue.
5.0 Selling and Buying Pantuns
A rather common activity at certain social functions is the game of "selling-and-buying" of pantuns. In this game, someone will recite (sell) a pantun which contains a remark or a question and the person addressed is required to response (buy) with a pantun as well.
6.0 Singing the Pantuns
The pantuns can be sung in traditional melodies like the famous "Rasa Sayang" song. The "Dondang Sayang" song is a song involving the selling and buying of pantuns between a pair of singers.
Dr irwan
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, October 8th, 2006

This article was published on:
Saturday, October 7, 2006

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